LONDON’S latest series of Contemporary art sales put in a robust performance. Auctioneers posted high selling rates and saw the greatest depth of bidding since the art market downturn two years ago.
The series of evening and day sales at Sotheby's and Christie's made a combined hammer total of £114.4m against an overall estimate of £85.5m-123m. This compared to £99.6m taken for the equivalent sales last year.
Even without the additional Contemporary works at Sotheby's sale of the Kostalitz collection the week before, this was the highest overall total for the category in London since June 2008.
Phillips de Pury added a further £5.4m for their evening sale on February 17, with 83 per cent sold by lot, and their day sale was still taking place at the time of going to press.
The series kicked off at Sotheby's Contemporary art evening sale on February 15, which saw some fervent action - not just from a group who staged a protest against Government cuts in the saleroom before being ejected.
The first lot of the sale, a Sunflower Seed installation from 2010 by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (b.1957) went three times over its £80,000-120,000 estimate, selling to one of three telephone bidders at £290,000. Consisting of 100,000 handmade porcelain seeds, it was from an edition of ten and was related to the artist's installation currently in the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall.
The private European vendor had bought it from the Gallery Faurschou in Copenhagen only a year ago.
The top lot was Gerhard Richter's (b.1932) Abstraktes Bild of 1990 which made £6.4m against a £5m-7m estimate and was bought by an anonymous telephone bidder represented by Patti Wong, chairman of Sotheby's Asia.
Guaranteed to the US vendor via an irrevocable bid, the price was not deemed excessive, as was the case with Andy Warhol's (1928-1987) Nine Multicolored Marilyns (Reversal Series), which finally took £2.8m from an unidentified buyer in the room after the bidding had been disrupted by the protesters. It was estimated at £2m-3m.
With an impressive 54 of 59 lots finding buyers (92 per cent), Sotheby's evening sale made a hammer total of £38m, which was exceeded the night after by Christie's who made £53.2m from 63 lots.
Here, 58 lots found buyers (92 per cent) with the top lot making the highest price of the week - a rediscovered Andy Warhol self portrait that sold at £9.6m against a £3m-5m estimate. It was bought by dealer Larry Gagosian, who was in the room and taking instructions from a client on his mobile phone.
There was also a record for Martial Raysse (b.1936) whose large-scale oil and collage on board L'année Dernière à Capri (titre exotique) made £3.6m to London and New York dealers Eykyn Maclean against a £1m-3m estimate.
The price was the highest at auction for a living French artist.
By Alex Capon