Just coming at the end a burning week of Sales in London for Postwar & Contemporary Art: This latest series of evening contemporary auctions at Christie’s, Phillips and Sotheby’s raised an aggregate total of £ 344.6 million,  or about $478 million, about +50% than the £229 million achieved at the equivalent events last March

“It’s confirmation of the solidity of the market. There are no surprises,” Thaddaeus Ropac, a contemporary-art dealer with galleries in Paris, London and Salzburg, said in an interview on Tuesday night after a Christie’s sale that raised £137.5 million, a total that was within the overall estimate but that nonetheless represented the highest total yet achieved for an auction of contemporary art in London as we were saying in the last article.

Well, we should anyway consider that  the high-profile contemporary auctions in London are actually only the glittery tip of the iceberg that is today’s art market, as we notice if we look at  New York sales, where, last year, $110.5 million was given for a Basquiat and $450.3 million for a Leonardo da Vinci that had been offered in a contemporary sale. London, by contrast, has become the place to auction good quality “midmarket” contemporary works priced at $20 million to $30 million. There was almost something routine about the moment when the 1986 Warhol work “Six Self Portraits” sold to a telephone bidder for an upper estimate £22.6 million, the top result at Christie’s. The dollar price, $31.3 million, was pretty much the same as it was when the seller bought the work at auction in New York in 2014, according to Artnet.

But other works demonstrated why, in the longer term, contemporary art has become such a compelling investment for wealthy collectors and in general the sales performance also in these weeks confirmed a prosperous and almost table moment for the art market, both in Modern and in Contemporary art

In fact, also other following evening sales by Sotheby’s and Phillips in London registered very positive performances. So, let’s look together at their results..


Sotheby’s notches a robust £109.3 million ($151.7 million) Contemporary Sale in London on March 7, with a 58-lot sale estimated from £84.5 million ($117.5 million, recording the fourth-highest for Sotheby’s in London in this category.

However we should consider the large use of guarantees, which surely contributed to assure an unsold percentage lower than 5%: 21 of the lots were guaranteed either by Sotheby’s or a third party, with a combined low estimate of £48.5 million ($67.4 million)—more than half the value of the sale.

One great example on how tese guarantees have worked for the sale success  was Christopher Wool’s, Untitled, a very large 2007  abstract painting  from his “Gray Painting” series, which  was  one  of the pieces in which Sotheby’s had a financial interest (the auction house had an ownership stake in the work) and thus implied many third-party guarantees, but also saw real competition over it. Indeed, estimated at £4.2 million, it was the subject of a fierce bidding battle between art advisor Philippe Segalot and Andre Fabricant of the Richard Gray Gallery, selling to the latter for £10.4 million ($15.1 million).

Christopher Wool, Untitled (2007). Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

There was a similar guarantee play also on the rare Gerhard Richter , 1025 Farbencolor chart painting  from 1974. There are very few works from this series which have been at auction, possibly because some are known for their condition problems.  The last one at auction was in 2014 a larger work, though with fewer colors, sold below estimate for £3.9 million. This Sotheby’s evening’s piece had a £5.7 million estimate,  and attracted competition from Brett Gorvy of the Levy Gorvy gallery, and Nicholas MacLean of Eykyn Maclean, the former winning out at £7.4 million ($10.3 million).

Gerhard Richter, Gelbgrün (Yellow-Green) (1982). Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

It didn’t meet the high expectations the  Peter Doig’s The Architect’s Home in the Ravine (1991), announced as the biggest Top lots of the sales and which also had a late third-party guarantee. However it eventually was sold below estimate for £14.4 million ($20 million), presumably to the guarantor himself.

Peter Doig, The Architect’s Home in the Ravine (1991). Image courtesy of Sotheby’s

On the other hand, it seems are slowly coming back to find success in the market,after quiet few years in the auction room,  Richard Prince works, presented in the Sotheby’s sale with 4 works, all sold over or meeting the estimate.  In particular during the evening sale a early work, a fibreglass car bonnet sculpture from 1989–90 sold above estimate for £2 million ($2.8 million), which was record for a Prince sculpture. It was won by  Amalia Dayan of the Luxembourg Dayan gallery and wife of collector Adam Lindemann, who had to beat off competition from the Nahmad family and a collector from Paris.

LUCIO FONTANA, Concetto Spaziale (Attese), 1963

Also Italian Postwar Artist showed great performances, realizing £19.6 millions total sales with leading names as Lucio Fontana and Rudolf Stingel. The Fontana’s red “Concetto Spaziale- Attese”  from 1963, estimate £2-3 millions, was sold for £ 5 millions, while the Michelangelo Pistoletto’s mirror painting Lovers (1962–66), which received a late third-party guarantee or irrevocable bid, was eventually sold below estimate, presumably to the guarantor himself , for £2.6 million or $3.6 million. Below the expectations also the Rudolf Stingel photo-realisting mountains landscape, sold for £4,667,000, just little over the esteem.

Other results from lots we were talking about in previous articles have been: Gormley’s landmark Angel of the North sculpture for  £2,860,600 , 10  Marilyn by Warhol  for £2,349,000  and the David Hockey, Different Kinds of Water Pouring into a Swimming Pool (1965), which came from an Asian collector and  estimated at £6–£8 million, it flopped without a bid at £4.5 million ($6.26 million).



It was Record Sale in London for Phillips, as they already announced and were expecting:  the upstart auction house hit £97.8 million ($135 million), the highest total for a Phillips sale anywhere, including New York.

Phillips, an auction house that was synonymous five years ago with the speculative market in emerging art, seems like having  embraced a complete new strategy, aiming to buttress its reputation as a cutting-edge contemporary salesroom, also by  building a more blue-chip brand, This is why they are now implying a new kind of conservatism, and  they in turn are bidding only on very famous, tried and trust artist names.That’s why, they are also extending hefty guarantees to compete for property with  other salerooms, in other to prove they could obtain and sell high-value works.

However, before making any comparison with other salesrooms evening results, it’s important to note that Phillips combines Modern art (which is usually sold  alongside with Impressionist art by the other salerooms) with Contemporary. So when assessing the relative performance in London of those two sectors, we should might divide the Phillips sale in two.

Pablo Picasso’s La Dormeuse (1932) sold for £41.8 million ($57.8 million). Image courtesy of Phillips/phillips.com.

In fact, one of the evening Top Lot was from Modern art, namely the Pablo Picasso‘s masterpiece La Dormeuse, precisely dated March 13, 1932. With the exhibition “Picasso 1932 — Love, Fame and Tragedy” now having just opened at Tate Modern and after strong Picasso results in both Christie’s and Sotheby’s sales,  there could not have been a better time to offer this piece, particularly one that had never before been seen on the auction market. Large, flowing, and part painting, part drawing—which may have accounted for the attractive estimate £12 million to £18 million ($16.5 million to $25 million) estimate—La Dormeusehad last traded through Pace Wildenstein in New York in 1995, and had last last surfaced in the fabled “Matisse Picasso” that traveled from Tate Modern to MoMA in 2003. So, there was plenty of bidding as the price rose above the high estimate. Indeed, a contest then developed between the dealer Brett Gorvy, bidding for a client and a phone manned by former Christie’s contemporary art director Marianne Hoet, who eventually won the painting  for £41.8 million ($57.8 million).

Very positive performance saw also another Modern art masterpiece, the very rare rediscovered Matisse bronze, Nu Allonge 1 (Aurore) from 1907, one of the first cast from an edition of 10, untouched by cleaning chemicals and unseen since it was last exhibited in 1917. Just 20 inches long, the bronze was estimated at £5 million to £7 million ($7 million to $9.7 million) before selling to a phone bidder for £14.9 million ($20.5 million).

Henri Matisse’s Nu allongé I (Aurore) (circa 1908) sold for £14.9 million ($20.5 million). Image courtesy of Phillips/phillips.com.

On the other hand, a good performance, even if quiet below the very high expectations on it, was made by the other announced Top Lot by the American contemporary artist Mark Bradford,Helter Skelter 1 from 2007, a massive, 30-foot-wide collage of Los Angeles street detritus estimate: £6 million to £8 million ($8.2 million to $11 million).Capitalizing on the enhancement to Mr. Bradford’s reputation of his having represented the United States at last year’s Venice Biennale, the piece was eventually bought by an anonymous phone bidder after some competition for £8.7 million ($12 million), an auction highest record price for the artist,  even if just quiet over the lower esteem.

Other 10 top lot from Phillips evening sales are sum up in this grid:


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