Magazine article Art Monthly

Public Galleries and the Market

Magazine article Art Monthly

Public Galleries and the Market

Article excerpt

Having lagged far behind the impressionist and modern art market during 2010, contemporary art is catching up again. London's contemporary art sales this summer brought 236.6m [pounds sterling], closing in on the impressionist and modern art series of 273.6m [pounds sterling], where Picasso was the big money spinner. The total was up 102% from last summer, and in spectacular fashion; Sotheby's achieved a record for a single contemporary art auction outside New York of 109m [pounds sterling]. If there was a trend among the big spenders, it was for figurative painting, though not necessarily in the conventional sense, and for European rather than US art, for which there was a better selection. High prices were paid at Christie's for a darkly ominous portrait by Francis Bacon, a colourful Trinidadian boat scene by Peter Doig and a crusty bullring painting by Miquel Barcelo, and at Sotheby's, records tumbled for the German new wave paintings of the 1960s by Sigmar Polke and Georg Baselitz.

But first, the series opened at Phillips de Pury & Co with an evening sale at Claridge's rather than its usual Victoria saleroom, which was rewarded with a slightly higher turnout than usual, though the sale results were mixed. On the up side, the sale doubled last June's total, bringing in 11.2m [pounds sterling]. Records were set for Ugo Rondinone, whose painted white aluminium tree, Get up girl a sun is running the world, 2006, from an edition shown at Frieze in 2007, sold for 541,250 [pounds sterling] (200 [pounds sterling]/300,000), and for Beatriz Milhazes, whose large patterned O Moderno, 2002, sold for 713,250 [pounds sterling] (650 [pounds sterling]/750,000). (Estimates in brackets throughout.) Closely watched was rising US star Jacob Kassay's monochrome silver painting Untitled, 2009, which sold to a phone buyer for 145,250 [pounds sterling] (50 [pounds sterling]/70,000). The 26-year-old's auction prices have taken off since last November when it was rumoured that Kassay (who will be showing at London's ICA next month) was to be signed up by Pace (Salerooms AM348).

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Phillips had also taken on some lots at unreasonably high estimates, which is what it has to do at the higher levels to wrestle works for sale from Sotheby's and Christie's. Some were guaranteed and sold on bids below the estimates, making any profit for the company seem unlikely. Jean-Michel Basquiat's Self Portrait, 1985, was estimated at 2 [pounds sterling]/3m and sold on a bid of 1.8m [pounds sterling]. Mark Tansey's Library of Babylon, 1994, estimated at 1.2 [pounds sterling]/1.8m [pounds sterling], sold on a bid of 1m [pounds sterling]. The record Milhazes sold on a bid of 610,000 [pounds sterling] (below estimate) and Urs Fischer's Thank you F*** You, 2007, sold on a bid of 550,000 [pounds sterling] (600 [pounds sterling]/800,000). These are all owned now, presumably, by Phillips's Russian backers or some third party who was willing to support the price. The standout unsold lot was Tony Cragg's stainless steel spiral, The Fanatics, 2006, which had a greedy 300 [pounds sterling]/500,000 estimate based on only one previous sale at that level. 'Well, at least it was a record estimate,' said one observer.

There were some uncomfortable moments at Christie's when two works by Chris Ofili, including Trump, 1997-98 (500 [pounds sterling]/700,000), which had been shown and sold by Zwirner as recently as last year at Frieze, went unsold, along with two works by Glenn Brown with estimates ranging from 250,000 [pounds sterling] to 400,000 [pounds sterling] that even Gagosian was not prepared to bid on. Still, its 78.8m [pounds sterling] sale was its second highest total for a contemporary art sale in London. Top price was 18m [pounds sterling] (11m [pounds sterling]) for Bacon's Study for a Portrait, 1953, from the collection of Donald Hess. These very dark pictures by Bacon are important historically but have never been commercially successful, so it was interesting to see at least three phone bidders compete for it until it sold through a Russian-speaking telephone bidder. …

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