An intriguing calendar strategies contest got underway this summer when on June 26th Sotheby’s opened London’s summer season of contemporary art sales. While Christie’s  dropped its summer sale in favor of building out its Frieze Week sales in October, Sotheby’s has been rewarded for sticking with selling Contemporary art in London in June, also having no competitor else than Phillips.

There was a great deal of talk after Art Basel and being now in the city Masterpieces fair,  but little evidence of it in the sales results : the house put together a 44-lot sale (pretty much the same as last year) with an £80 million to £108 million estimate that was nearly double that of last June’s. Whereas last June they had no £10 million-plus sales, this year they had two, helping the house to bring in a £110 million ($146.4 million) total, the third-highest for a June sale at Sotheby’s London. (Sold prices include buyers’ premium; estimates do not.)

A key factor was the increased number of guarantees,  used to beef up the offerings, more than half of the lots were guaranteed: The total value of the low estimates of all the guaranteed lots was £67.2 million ($92 million), or an unusually high +84.3 % of the low estimate for the whole sale combined. Guarantees aside, the sale showed a successful  big 77% step up from last summer, and a signal that Sotheby’s clearly has no intention of following Christie’s in its calendar reorganization plans.

It was, said Sotheby’s Europe deputy chairman Oliver Barker, “a full vote of confidence in June.”

By the way, we also have to notice how the top of the market is actually much lower than it has been in the past for these sales:

Sotheby’s this time its biggest lot ( with a guaranteed) Lucian Freud reclining nude was sold for nearly $30m, after a thought competition from both his dealers at Acquavella Galleries and bidders from Asia. The artist  record of $56 million was paid by Roman Abramovich at Christie’s New York in 2015 for the substantial nude Benefits Supervisor Resting (1994), however this Sotheby’s portrait should be better compared, in terms of the relaxed sleeping pose and overall treatment, with a much smaller Naked Girl (c.1974) that sold at Christie’s London in 2012 for £4.3 million. Inch for inch, the £17 million to £20 million ($23 million to $26 million) estimate seemed reasonable, and by the way, also the final result.

Lucian Freud’s Portrait on a White Cover (2002-03), est. £17 million to £20 million, sold for £22,464,300. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Just below that was the surprise lot of the week, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s untitled work (from1 982), sold from an American collection  which constituted a significant portion of Sotheby’s sale:  After a dodged bidding between 2 aggressive telephone bidders, also this work made just below $20m, (nearly $14.5m ), but also had carried a low estimate nearly half of the final selling price. However, in the current climate where high-value works are sold with an armature of financial support surrounding them ( as in this action mostly protected by guarantee) which have a tendency to often but not always dampen bidding, it was a rare show of determination by two collectors.

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (1982), est. £7.5 million to £10 million, sold for £14,674,200. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Another top lot, the David Hockney’s diptych Double East Yorkshire (1998) £10 million to £15 million ($13 million to $20 million) estimate, perfectly reflected the upward spiral in prices, especially for the post-1960s Pop work, that has been characterizing the artist’s market recently. However, in contrast with last Hockey’s Santa Monica Landscape last May in NY sold for £3.4 million,  this time it failed to ignite competition and sold ( probably to the guarantor himself) for £11.3 million ($15 million), handing by the way the seller a very good return on their investment.

David Hockney’s Double East Yorkshire (1998), est. £10 million to £15 million, sold for £11,287,200. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Much more disappointing for its last-minute guarantor was Francis Bacon’s small, dark, and threatening 1954 painting Study of a Figure, which sold below-estimate, probably to the guarantor, for £3.1 million ($4.2 million).

Francis Bacon’s Study of a Figure, est. £3 million to £4 million, sold for £3,150,000. Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Much greater results were fetched by some Contemporary art names as British artist Cecily Brown, whose two paintings were both competed for by Asian bidders, and one eventually sold  for a triple-estimate £3 million ($4 million). On the same wave also Sam Gilliam (while there Basel museum is hosting his show opening just in the excitement of Art Basel days)  abstraction,  which attracted bidding from art advisor Wentworth Beaumont before selling above-estimate for a record £910,000 ($1.2 million) to an Asian phone bidder.

Other results are listed here

Art market monitor list – Contemporary Art results



Definitely, also Phillips has seen not a bad June  performance at all : On the 27th June  the auction house carried its highest estimate for a June contemporary art sale in London yet, notching more than £27 million ($35.4 million) from a mid-estimate of £10.75 million for its customarily short 31-lot sale.

The auction house was on a high following its record March sale of £97.8 million ($128 million), but t he policy, actually was to focus on March in London and New York in November for classic modern art. So this was a pure postwar and contemporary sale, but because of Christie’s weak June sales, it was essentially scheduled to occupy the number two slot in London for the series giving a big Hit occasion for the normally number-three-auction house. As Sotheby’s,Phillips also managed not to be the company with the most guarantees for once, as must happened in the case of the erotic collage by currently hot George Condo received only one bid to take it to the low estimate of £1.4 million ($1.8 million), and a 1974 shaped canvas by italian artist  Agostino Bonalumi sold below estimate for £81,250 or about $107,000.

Martin Kippenberger’s Ohne Titel (aus der Serie Das Floß der Medusa) (1996). Image courtesy of Phillips.

Leading the charge was a self-portrait by Martin Kippenberger from late period of 1996,hen the artist knew he was dying of cancer: It was combatted by New York and London dealer Per Skarstedt before selling on the phone to an Italian-speaking staffer at Phillips for £8.4 million ($11.1 million),  which, not a record, it was the highest price at auction for a late work by Kippenberger and the highest price for his work in Europe.

The sale also confirmed trends in the art market for certain artists, as  Joan Mitchell’s recent rise, almost omnipresent in Art Basel major booths, with Champs (1990) selling very likely with a third party guarantor within estimate for £3.2 million ($4.2 million).

Also postwar section had its moments, as a rare bronze Naturasculpture from 1959–60 by Lucio Fontana made the highest price yet for a work from this series selling above estimate for £1.6 million or $2.1 million.

Lucio Fontana’s Concetto spaziale, Natura (1959–1960). Image courtesy of Phillips.



As we said, Christie’s didn’t believe so much in London this June, dispensing of its evening sale of contemporary art in favor of a lower-value day sale today, “Post-War to Present,”  combined with a selection works of even lower value from the Saatchi collection, “Handpicked: 50 Works Selected by the Saatchi Gallery.” This sale, conducted by their head of post-war and contemporary art, Francis Outred, who has nurtured a special relationship with the Saatchi collection over the years, was a repeat of last year’s event, held at the now abandoned South Kensington saleroom, ostensibly to raise money to maintain the Saatchi Gallery’s free entrance policy.

Eventually the auction powerhouse fetched in London $17.5 Million, but with works by Elizabeth Neel, Dana Schutz, and Marc Camille Chaimowicz all exceeded expectations. There was also another big drop to a group of works by Lucio Fontana, Martin Kippenberger, Georg Baselitz, and others selling in the £300,000-£500,000 range ( what is known as the middle market) The real buzz came for currently hot artists like Stanley Whitney, George Condo, and Shara Hughes, which Christie’s did well to open with, as they sold for three or four times over estimate.

Francis Outred, after the sale has commented the pros and cons of staging contemporary art evening sales in June. “Our June sale totals had been diminishing and our October sales increasing. So it seemed a logical progression to build up October when there are more contemporary art collectors in London. Ideally, we want to stage the best quality evening sales possible,” he said, “to raise our level by compiling masterpiece sales, and I don’t think that it is feasible to maintain that aspiration three times a year in London.”

The sales today, he said, were more to do with encouraging young buyers.But our calendar change is not fixed in stone,” he added. “We will see how we have done at the end of the year. We have already taken great things in for October.”

Marc Camille Chaimowicz, Untitled (1991). Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.

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