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Richter lights up market after lacklustre opening to Frieze week

18 October 2011Written by ATG Reporter

LONDON’S Frieze week opened with more cautious buying this year as concerns about the impact of the current economic turbulence in Europe and the US were much in evidence.

Last week saw the customary hive of activity on the Contemporary art scene as the Frieze Art Fair got underway in Regent's Park but early sales reports were less bullish than previous years - see ATG's report here.

The auctions saw some mixed bidding and, although Christie's evening sale on October 14 gave a significant boost, the sales at Sotheby's, Phillips de Pury and Bonhams were marked by some weaker results than were anticipated.

Christie's sale had the major highlight of the week - Gerhard Richter's Kerze (Candle) from 1982 which drew strong telephone bidding and was knocked down to an anonymous buyer at £9.3m against a £6m-9m estimate. The price was a record for the artist.

The work itself was part of a series of 27 oils on canvas from the early 1980s. Another example of his single-flame candles is currently on display at the much-publicised exhibition dedicated to the artist at the Tate Modern.

While another Richter, Abstraktes Bild from 1992, took £3.2m against a £2.5m-3.5m estimate, decent bidding also emerged at Christie's for Antony Gormley's cast iron Angel of the North maquette. Executed in 1996 as part of an edition of five, this smaller version of the artist's most famous sculpture sold to an anonymous buyer at £3m against a £1.5-2m estimate and also made a record for the artist at auction.

Overall, Christie's evening sale made a £32.9m hammer total against a £27.6m-39.5m presale estimate, with 47 of the 53 lots finding buyers. This added to the £15m generated by their 47-lot Italian art sale on the same day.

Sotheby's two sales on October 13 took place against the backdrop of a small protest outside the Bond Street premises in support of the company's art handlers in New York who are involved in a pay dispute with the firm's management.

In the saleroom itself, the 47-lot evening sale of Contemporary art made a hammer total of £15.1m which was below the £19.1m-26.6m presale estimate.

With 36 lots finding buyers, some of the bigger-ticket lots failed to sell, including Peter Doig's Bellevarde pitched at £1.5m-2m and Frank Auerbach's (b.1931) Head of Helen Gillespie II estimated at £800,000-1.2m. The headline lot - Boy's Head by Lucian Freud - got way below-estimate after a single telephone bid of £2.8m.

Sotheby's saw more competition for a number of works in their better-performing Italian art sale held immediately before. Helped by 36 works from a North Italian collection, the auction raised £18.4m which was well within the range of the presale estimate.

The highlight was Alberto Burri's Combustione Legno from 1957 which set a new record for the artist at auction, selling at £2.8m to an anonymous telephone bidder.

Meanwhile, Bonhams staged their first Contemporary art sale during Frieze week with an initial 20-lot sale in Bond Street on October 13. A further 147 lots will follow in Knightsbridge on October 19.

Of the 20 lots, 14 got away for a £1.69m hammer total, someway shy of the £3.4-4m presale estimate due to the failure of the biggest-ticket lot - Alighiero Boetti's monumental Anno 1984 which was estimated at £1.2m-1.8m.

A symbol in the catalogue denoted that the auctioneers had an ownership interest in the lot, as was the case with Martial Raysse's Untitled from 1963 that made a low-estimate £350,000.

With Glenn Brown's oil on panel Little Death carrying a symbol indicating it was guaranteed either by the auctioneers or a third-party, this would appear to represent a significant change of policy for Bonhams following chairman Robert Brooks' previous criticisms of the guarantee system.

In the event, Little Death sold at £500,000 against a £700,000-900,000 estimate and was the top lot of the sale.

Phillips de Pury's evening sale on October 12 made a hammer total of £6.96m against a presale estimate of £9.94m-14.4m. The top lot was Jeff Koons' polychromed aluminum sculpture Seal Walrus Trashcans which made £1.85m against a £2m-3m estimate.

By Alex Capon

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