Both Sotheby’s and Christie’s demonstrated that consignments of attractive material can perform as effectively in the salerooms of London as in New York, a point illustrated particularly well by the prices achieved for handsome photographs by Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff and Thomas Demand.
International collectors, such as Mrs Song-Won Hong, whose private museum in Korea is emerging as one of the really influential factors in the current market, will follow auction wherever it takes place, while other bidders can preview the material as it is toured abroad and engage in the action by telephone.
Three catalogues were offered over two consecutive evenings. Christie’s followed the formula which it devised several seasons ago and divided its consignments into Post-War and Contemporary Art. They were previewed in different venues but, on 6 February, presented as a single, seamless event in a pattern which will now be adopted in New York.
While Christie’s will have derived its profit from the earlier catalogue, its display of contemporary art, handsomely installed in a warehouse in Shoreditch and benefiting from a round of fresh disposals supplied by Hans Grothe and Charles Saatchi, looked particularly interesting.
Although its own results fell short of the figures reported by its rival in an admittedly longer auction, Sotheby’s will have taken satisfaction from the highest price of the two evenings, paid for Gerhard Richter’s melting postcard treatment of Milan’s cathedral on 7 February; and for a new auction record for Peter Doig’s masterpiece which may have been the most beautiful painting to be offered during the week.
But where was the usual spread of Warhol consignments which have enriched the auction houses and would have been expected in a week when a new survey of his art opened with loud fanfare at Tate Modern? Although it may be an aberration, there is a lingering suspicion that the supply of Warhol’s work has diminished and is no longer washing around the market in replenishable quantities.
Francis Bacon, “Portrait of man with glasses IV”, (est. £300/400,000), sold for £894,750
In spite of the skull and upper torso being defined by raw canvas, this small portrait study (lot 7) attracted admiration during the auction’s preview and emerged as the most expensive of three Bacon lots being offered in the same catalogue. New York department director Brett Gorvy submitted the winning bid, but his body language suggested that he was taking instructions from a bidder seated in the room. The same bidder, identified by a trade source, close to the Bacon market, as Bond Street jeweller Lawrence Graff, acquired a second head (lot 5), a fragment of a larger canvas, for £280,000.
Mark Rothko, “No.15”, (est. £800,000/1.2 million), sold for £1,653,750
Enhanced by an enthusiastic catalogue entry supplied by leading expert David Anfam, this painting (lot 19) carried a surprisingly modest estimate, reflecting its transitional status within the artist’s career and, perhaps, its lengthy trade history. Two telephone bidders turned it into the second most expensive Post-War consignment of the week, suggesting that London, rather than New York, where it would have received altogether less attention, was the correct venue for its auction.
Andy Warhol, “Judy Garland”, (est. £200/250,000), sold for £443,750
Two trade sources, Alberto Mugrabi and Timothy Taylor, pursued, but lost, this strikingly glamorous portrait (lot 22) to an unidentified telephone bidder who may have been Bond Street jeweller Lawrence Graff. That its auction coincided with a new exhibition of Warhol’s art at Tate Modern was fortuitous, but the canvas performed on its own merits and did not require a boost from external events. Nevertheless, the absence of great material by Warhol, regularly a dependable source of income for the auction houses, was a notable feature of the week and, if it continues, will take prices in only one direction.
Christie’s Contemporary Art
Andreas Gursky, “Untitled V”, (est. £150/200,000), sold for £432,750
By a whisker, this irresistible image of the still-life of fashion (cover lot 111) captured a new auction record for the artist, and for a contemporary art photograph, when it was acquired by Korean art advisor June Lee who was sitting with her client, Mrs Song-Won Hong, at the back of the room. The destination of the lot, and the same bidder’s purchases of two works by Thomas Demand (lots 103 and 104), is presumed to be the Ho-Am Museum, Seoul. London dealer Jay Jopling, who has been circling the Gursky market in recent seasons, was the front row underbidder of the lot which had been consigned by German collector Hans Grothe. Coincidentally, the same set of personalities was involved in the previous auction record set at Christie’s, New York, on 15 November 2001 when June Lee paid $600,000 (£416,667) for another Grothe consignment, Gursky’s photograph of a Montparnasse apartment block (lot 321, see The Art Newspaper, No.120, December 2001, p.62).
Miquel Barceló, “L’eau potable”, (est. £220/280,000), sold for £245,750
Two similar paintings by this popular younger Spanish artist fetched identical money in two consecutive evening catalogues, although the two houses had published rather different expectations for each of them. This softly textured alpine landscape carried a fatter estimate on account of its figurative content but attracted a single telephone bidder who acquired the lot for the low estimate, whereas a desert landscape offered at Sotheby’s the following evening (lot 25, est. £180,000-220,000) was chased by several bidders and purchased for the high estimate by former Christie’s Paris director Hugues Joffre. Following his unexpected dismissal at the beginning of last summer, Joffre’s visit to, and participation in, the London auctions marked his baptism as a private art advisor servicing, presumably, an address book of French clients.
Gary Hume, “Tony Blackburn”, (est. £40/60,000), sold for £78,550
For all its rather parochial appeal as a humourous image of a former Radio 1 disc jockey whose name is unlikely to be known beyond a particular generation of British pop music enthusiasts, this painting (lot 126) is one of Hume’s finest and most distinctive works and the price paid by his London gallery director, Jay Jopling, against competition from several sources, including international dealer Alberto Mugrabi, confirms its attraction and the artist’s staying power. The vendor was, of course, Charles Saatchi, who has been offering regular consignments to Christie’s ever since the auction house sponsored his “Sensation” exhibition in 1997. Other Hume disposals include “Love loves unlovable” which fetched an auction record of £190,750 at Christie’s, London, on 8 February 2001 (lot 42); and “Jealousy and passion” which was sold for $88,125 at Christie’s, New York, on 15 November 2001 (lot 313).
Gregor Schneider, “Kellerfenster”, (est. £50/70,000), sold for £47,000
The exact status of this sculpture or object (lot 129), its acquisition by its consignor and the means of its arrival in auction, are perplexing, but the catalogue informs that it is a component of the artist’s continuing home improvements and had featured in his recent installations in the “Apocalypse” exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and in the German Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Whatever Schneider’s reputation from these events may be, the lot carried a estimate and attracted a single room bidder, Belgian collector Philippe Lhibeert, competing against the reserve.
Sotheby’s Contemporary Art
Peter Doig, “Swamped”, (est. £80/120,000), sold for £322,500
This haunting composition (lot 4), even more mysterious, in some respects, than the “Friday the 13th” film-still upon which it is based, was the most beautiful painting to be auctioned in London during the week, matched only by Vlaminck’s fine Chatou riverscape offered at Christie’s on 4 February. It was widely recognised as one of the artist’s masterpieces, but even the most optimistic commentator would not have predicted the remarkable price paid by art advisor Thomas Dane on behalf of Monsoon fashion chain proprietor Peter Simon who was seated next to him at the back of the room. Private dealers John Pillar and Libby Howie were the underbidders. The unidentified consignor, who is not known to be an art collector, had acquired the canvas for £1,000 in 1990, the year in which Doig graduated from Chelsea School of Art.
Damien Hirst, “Sometimes I avoid people”, (est. £150/200,000), sold for £168,500
Seated on Thomas Dane’s other side in the back row of the room were London collectors Poju and Anita Zabludowicz for whom he acquired this three-part installation (lot 6). To be sure, it is an important work, having been featured in the artist’s first solo exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, in 1991, and accommodating, for the first time in his career, waste bags and other medical equipment. But its extravagant proportions and the suspicion that Hirst’s bloom may be fading resulted in a price at the low end of the house’s expectations. A small medicine cabinet (lot 8, est. £80/120,000) failed to attract a bid and a spin painting offered at Christie’s (lot 132, est. £70/90,000) was purchased by the artist’s London dealer, Jay Jopling, for £80,750.
Gerhard Richter, “Mailand: Dom”, (est. £1.8/2.5 million), sold for £1,763,500
Although it lacks the topographic breadth of the related “Domplatz, Mailand”, for which the Pritzker family paid £2.2 million at Sotheby’s, London, on 9 December 1998 (lot 6), this frontal version of the Duomo in Milan (cover lot 11), adorned with a border and title characteristic of an early chapter in the artist’s career, has a shimmering, even insubstantial, mood of mystery which the catalogue inevitably related to Monet’s series of Rouen Cathedral façades. That the consignor had acquired the picture in 1967, and it had not been included in any of the artist’s retrospective exhibitions, enhanced its status as an exciting rediscovery. Nevertheless, it is a sombre image and did not reproduce particularly well as the catalogue’s cover illustration. A telephone bidder, relaying instructions through New York department director Laura Paulson and subsequently identified as leading San Francisco collectors Frances and John Bowes, acquired the work against Düsseldorf dealer Paul Schoenewald for a sum which turned out to be the highest price of the two consecutive evenings of contemporary art.
Gerhard Richter, “Abstraktes Bild”, (est. £300/400,000), sold for £498,500
Several bidders were caught on the wrong foot as auctioneer Tobias Meyer skipped over the previous lot, Warhol’s gold Mona Lisa diptych which had been withdrawn, and briskly opened business for this handsome abstract painting (lot 23). Not for the only time in the evening, Düsseldorf dealer Paul Schoenewald emerged as the underbidder against the resolute paddle of Korean art advisor June Lee bidding for Mrs Song-Won Hong. She had acquired the ex-Pietzsch triptych at Sotheby’s, New York, on 14 November 2001 (see The Art Newspaper, No.120, December 2001, p.62) but, unusually, admitted defeat for a second Richter abstract in this catalogue (lot 38).