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Contemporary Art sales in London

[01 Feb 2010]


Christie’s and Sotheby’s apparent price optimism for their Impressionist and Modern sales on 2 and 3 February 2010 is equally visible in the catalogues for their Contemporary Art sales on 10 and 11 February. The two majors are expecting a combined total of £69m from their evening sales, a figure which would represent a 54% more than February 2009 high estimate.

Despite the 42.8% price contraction of contemporary art over 2008 / 2009, the encouraging results from their October / November 2009 sales have prompted the two auctioneers to post price estimates corresponding to a distinctly rising market.

Sotheby’s will be the first to test the market with a weighty catalogue of 80 works on 10 February (vs. 52 in the Christie’s catalogue the following day). Its evening sale (from which a total of £32m is expected) will be divided into 2 sessions, the first of which will offer 49 lots from the Sammlung Lenz Schönberg collection, all of which have one particularly rare and sought-after quality: they have never been auctioned before! No less than three works by Yves KLEIN, including one IKB (£500,000 – £700,000), one Monogold (£800,000 – £1.2m) and one scorched anthropométrie painting (£2.8m – £3.5m). There will also be four Concetto Spatiale works by Lucio FONTANA of which two on copper (£1.5m – £2m), one on canvas and one rare “portrait” from 1956 (£1m – £1.5m). Among the works on offer in the second session there will be five paintings by Lucian FREUD including the star lot Self-Portrait with a Black Eye advertised at £3m to £4m. The last high-quality self-portrait by the artist to be auctioned came from his “surrealist” period (dated 1943). The work fetched £3.3m at Sotheby’s on 22 June 2005. Remember that on 13 May 2008 Lucian Freud earned the title of “most expensive living artist” after his Benefits Supervisor Sleeping fetched the astonishing sum of $30m at Christie’s in New York.
There will also be two works by Peter DOIG including the large Saint Anton (Flat Light) estimated at £2m – £3m, one Abstraktes Bild by Gerhard RICHTER (est. £2m – £3m), one refined and lyrical abstract piece by Willem DE KOONING (Untitled XIV, est. £2m – £3m), one monumental photo of a Madonna concert by Andreas GURSKY (£900,000 – £1.3m) and a sad portrait of Jackie the day of JFK’s burial signed Andy WARHOL (est. £800,000 – £1.2m). At more or less £350,000 – £450,000 the large “Butterfly painting” by Damien HIRST entitled Por and Tor of distances is carrying an attractive estimate considering the £270,000 fetched by a much smaller and less dense work (91.4 x 182.9 cm) on 12 November 2009 at Sotheby’s

For its part, Christie’s is hoping to generate £37m (excl. fees) on the evening of 11 February. Like its rival’s, its catalogue contains a number of works by Yves Klein and notably the magnificent Relief éponge or (RE 47 II) with its excellent date (1961). The gold sponge work (gold had a highly immaterial value for Yves Klein) is carrying a steep estimate of £5m -£7m. However, the rarity of his reliefs in gold (compared with those in blue) and the excellent quality of the work justify this expectation. Again, like its rival, Christie’s will also be offering a work by Peter Doig: Concrete Cabin West Side is carrying the same price tag as the artist’s Saint Anton at Sotheby’s (£2m – £3m). In effect, having sailed unscathed through 2009 (five 7-figure sales during the year, and in sterling…), demand for Peter Doig’s work is still strong. On 10 November 2009 Christie’s fetched the explosive sum of $9m (approx. £5.38m) for his piece Reflection (What does your soul look like) against a price estimate of $4m – $6m.
Among the other star lots at the Christie’s sale: another Anthropométrie (ANT 5) by Yves Klein (est. £1.5 – £2m), a Dollar Sign painting by Andy Warhol (est. £1.2 – £1.8m) and a Very Private Nurse #1 by Richard Prince (est. £1.2 – £1.8m). The only “Nurse” sold in 2009 fetched £1.5m (30 June 2009 at Christie’s).

The colossal price paid for Andy Warhol’s 200 One Dollar Bills ($39m… four times the estimate) at Sotheby’s on 11 November 2009 has clearly given a strong boost to the top-end of the contemporary art market. The outlook for the first round of Christie’s and Sotheby’s 2010 prestige sales is therefore looking very promising indeed.

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