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Auction Action

Coverage on the July 2014 Contemporary & Modern Sales

Sotheby’s Evening auction was up first with just 59 works on the block.  Leading the way was a small scale Francis Bacon triptych, Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer (on Light Ground), which far surpassed it’s £15-20M estimate after a heated 4-party battle, bringing £26.6M ($33.3M).  Two other Bacon’s sold in this sale as well; Study for Portrait of P.L, No 1 (£4.4M) and(Seated Man) (£2.09M), both at the top end of their estimate range.  Taking second was Peter Doig’s Country-Rock (wing-mirror), selling for £8.4M ($14.4M) as it was estimated to be “in the region of £9M” (can someone explain why the estimate is not just £8-10M?… you know, a range, like every other lot!)  Nevertheless, it was still pretty accurate. Rounding out the top three was Warhol’s Nine Multicolored Marilyn’s (Reversal Series) with an estimate of £4-6M, which found a buyer at £4.56M ($7.7M).  It ended up being a great night for Warhol as all five of his works featured in the sale were sold.  In all, 51 of the 59 lots sold (86.4%) which yielded a grand total of £93.1M ($158.4M – est. £67.9-92.7M) for the evening.

The following afternoon was the Day Sale with a hefty amount of work up for grabs – 321 lots. The top lot of the day, Untitled (1996) by Rudolf Stingel brought £902K ($1.5M) on a £400-600K estimate.  In second was a work by German artist, Gunther Uecker, whose work Rupture of the Artistic Genus sold for £674K ($1.03M), nearly doubling its estimate of £250-350K. The third spot went to another Untitled… my favorite of all the titles… by Anish Kapoor, selling for £602K ($1M) on a £350-450K estimate. Over 100 works failed to sell; just less than a third of the works offered (leaving a 68.5% sell-through rate) and totaled just £15.3M ($26.2) which made it into the pre-sale estimate range (£14.2-20.2M), but only after the buyer’s premium was added in.

Later that day, Christie’s kicked off their Post-War and Contemporary Evening sale and oddly enough, the top three lots were works by the same three artists from Sotheby’s sale the night before. Francis Bacon’s Study for Head of Lucian Freud, was the top lot of the night at £11.5M ($19.6M) and comes out of celebrated writer, Roald Dahl’s estate. Estimated at £8-12M, the study is only one of two portraits of Lucian Freud, the same subject of Bacon’s triptych which sold for $142M in New York in 2013. Doig’s Gasthof took second, which set a new record for the artist at auction at £9.9M ($16M – Est. £3-5M), selling to Gagosian Gallery.  In third was Self Portrait (Fright Wig) by Warhol, which was produced in 1986. The work sold to Greek financier and collector Dimitri Mavrommatis for £6.3M ($10.8M) on a £6-9M estimate. According to the Wall Street Journal, Mavrommatis’ apartment in Paris is decorated with 70 Sevres porcelain vases and 18th century gilt furniture… Lucky for him, he just bought another apartment in Paris across the street from the one he currently owns for his growing collection of African art, modern paintings and Art Deco furniture… I think we know where that Warhol is headed.  As a whole, the sale totaled £99.4M ($169.8M) on an estimate of £78.9-114.8M while setting new auction records for 7 different artists.  In the end, all but 12 of the 75 lots sold, good for roughly 84%.

Christie’s day sale was far better than their counterpart as they offered nearly 100 less lots (sold 38 less works) yet still garnered a higher grand total. David Hockney’s With Conversation led the way at £1.65M ($2.8M) on an estimate of £500-700K. Two works tied for second… The Virgins 10by Brice Marden was estimated at £200-300K but the bidding pushed on until it found a buyer at £434K ($744K).  Lichtenstein’s Water lilies with willow also sold for £434K ($744K) and was estimated to bring £280-350K. As I mentioned, there were far fewer works sold (182/222) in Christie’s day sale yet the total was £17.2M ($29.5M – Est. £12.1-17.4M), nearly £2M more than Sotheby’s day sale.

Over the course of the week, a total of 516 works sold for £225M ($383.9M) between the two auction houses.  The figures work out to an average of just £436K per lot sold, not such an astronomical figure for a set of contemporary sales.  Even when we isolate the evening sales, we see a drop off in prices when comparing them to last month’s contemporary sales in New York.  Now, this all could be attributed to the specific pieces up for sale; but the quantity of work coming to the market surly is holding some of the prices back.

About Lance Rehs

Lance Rehs is the most recent addition to his family owned art galleries, Rehs Galleries and Rehs Contemporary Galleries, which specialize in 19th and 20th Century European paintings and contemporary academic paintings. He earned his degree in Business from Hofstra University in 2010 and began his career working under a financial advisor. His education and previous work experience is rooted in finance, giving him the tools to understand complex markets and to decipher market trends. His knowledge of art and finance provides him with a unique perspective, allowing him to value art as an asset while appreciating it for the beauty in itself.


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