The year’s first Contemporary Art Market indications

[19 Mar 2019]

In London, the year’s first major results in Post-War & Contemporary Art were encouraging. Christies and Sothebys both posted excellent totals, doubling their combined 2018 sales turnover.

Sotheby’s posted $145 million from its sales on 5 and 6 March while Christie’s generated 140 million (including the total from the much anticipated Georges Michael collection), and that’s without counting their respective online sales. The combined total of $285 million is almost exactly double the total posted for their London Post-War & Contemporary Art sales of March 2018 when the world’s two dominant auctioneers generated $143 million (6 and 7 March 2018).

Notable results

The strongest results were hammered for David Hockney, Nicolas De Stael, Cecily Brown, Gerhard Richter, Jenny Saville and Lucian Freud, with David HOCKNEY fetching the highest bid at Christies when his Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott (1969) – with similar dimensions to Portrait of an artist (Pool with two figures) (1972) – generated his second best-ever auction result at $49.3 million. In 1992, the painting was worth $1.1 million when it was sold at Sotheby’s in New York.

Some of the results at Christie’s sale of the George Michael Collection were disappointing. The singer’s fame failed to ‘ignite the bidding and two important works by Damien HIRST sold beneath their estimates. The most anticipated, The Incomplete Truth (a dove in flight… in a formol bath of course) fetched just $1.2 million versus the $2 million expected. Tracey EMIN got a better reception when her canvas Hurricane largely doubled its high estimate, fetching $572,000. In total, the George Michael sale brought in $14.6 million, a sum donated to charity organisations in honour of the singer’s philanthropic commitments during his lifetime.

We also saw that painters Kerry James Marshall, Adrian Ghenie and Cecily Brown are still appealing to major collectors. Marshall generated another superb result with the sale of Untitled (Painter) (2008). Estimated between $1.8 million and $2.5 million by Sotheby’s, it reached $7.3 million on 1 March. The same day, two small drawings by the American artist also exceeded their estimates. The young Romanian painter Adrian GHENIE also exceeded all expectations: two large paintings dated 2009 brought in more than $9 million, while at Phillips, Cecily BROWN‘s Armed and Fearless (2014) doubled its estimate reaching $2.3 million.

More unexpectedly for a Post-War & Contemporary Art sale, Nicolas de Staël returned to centre-stage with three oils-on-canvas sold at Christie’s on 6 March bringing in a total of $13 million.

In contrast… the Jeff KOONScontraction appears to be continuing. His Box Car (1986) (Ed 1/3) was auctioned for the third time, with a worrying fall in value:

  • $1,945,000 on 13 May 2008 (Sotheby’s London)

  • $845,000 on 11 November 2015 (Christie’s New York)

  • $485,000 on 6 March 2019 (Christie’s New York)

African diaspora

Led by Nigerian Njideka Akunyili Crosby (1983), a whole new generation of artists from the African diaspora is emerging onto the Art Market. The first prestige sales of Contemporary Art in 2019 ended last week in London, and already African and Afro-American artists are dominating the trends in 2019.

  • x 2 – Born in 1985, Toyin Ojih ODUTOLA’s work on paper, Selective histories (2016), has already doubled in value. Exhibited at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco in 2017, it fetched $291,000, doubling Sotheby’s estimates on 5 March 2019.
  • $394,000 – The highest bid for an artist under 40 so far this year was hammered for a work by the very young Jordan Castel (born 1989). The double portrait of Patrick and Omari (2015)triggered passionate bidding at Christie’s sale on 6 March 2019
  • TWO –  Two works by Eddy Eddy Ilunga KAMUANGA (1991) will be auctioned in London over the next few weeks. Revealed by the Saatchi Gallery in 2015, he is the figurehead of new Congolese painting.