Christie’s post-war and contemporary art auction
Christie’s post-war and contemporary art evening sale took place in London last night. The 39-lot auction was led by ‘Pork’ by Jean-Michel Basquiat, a painting being sold by actor Johnny Depp that took £4.5m.

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The star of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Pirates of the Caribbean has collected Basquiat since the early 1990s and the two works here both dated from 1981 – the year that witnessed Basquiat’s own transformation from New York street artist to international stardom.

While Depp's wife Amber Heard filed for divorce last month, the auctioneers said they had been in contact with Depp since the start of the year. They secured eight works from his collection to sell across their Contemporary evening and days sales in London.

Last night, strong competition came for Pork, an acrylic, oil and oilstick on glass and wood that measured 6ft 11in x 2ft 10in (2.11m x 86cm). Depp had bought it from Los Angeles gallery Blum & Poe in 1998 and it appeared here with a £2.5m-3.5m estimate.

Three bidders pursued it over top estimate before it was knocked down on the phone at £4.5m. It was the top lot of the night.

The other Depp-owned Basquiat, Self-Portrait, an unusually shaped acrylic, oil, oilstick and paper collage was estimated at £1m-1.5m. It sold at £3.1m to New York dealer William Acquavella who was sitting six rows from the front of the saleroom.

Richter Withdrawal

The major surprise of the evening was the last-minute withdrawal of Gerhard Richter’s (b. 1932) Abstraktes Bild (811-2), a large 8ft x 6ft 7in (2.5 x 2m) oil on canvas from 1994. It had an unpublished estimate but ATG understands it was pitched in the region of £14m.

It came to auction from a US vendor who had bought it from the Alan Koppel Gallery in Chicago. The auctioneers described the withdrawal as ‘a client instruction’ but it seems likely that the devaluation of sterling following last week’s Brexit referendum would have played a part in the decision.

Overall, 36 of the 39 lots sold (92%) for a premium-inclusive total of £39.6m. The revised presale estimate was £26.3m-37.7m following the loss of the Richter.

As with Sotheby’s sale the previous evening, few post-Brexit jitters were in evidence in the saleroom (on the demand-side at least) with generally keen bidding throughout.

Christie's chairman and international head of post-war and Contemporary art Brett Gorvy said that “buyers were excited by the works on offer here", adding that there was plenty of bidding beyond expected levels even accounting for the exchange rate changes.

British Bidding

Christie’s reported notable strength in particular from British clients with 10 of the 39 works knocked down to buyers living in the UK. Jussi Pylkkanen, Christie’s global president who conducted the sale from the rostrum, said: “I’ve not seen a statistic like that in all the time I’ve been taking Contemporary sales.”

Record prices at the sale came for Sean Scully (b.1945) at £750,000 and Manolo Millares (1926-72) at £700,000. The latter work, an untitled mixed media composition, attracted US and Spanish bidding. Gorvy described the painter as “an artist’s artist who, frankly, is undervalued”.  

“It was a good example coming at the right time,” he added.

More key lots in this sector will be offered at Christie’s later today at their ‘Defining British Art’ auction. Among the valuable pieces of post-war art that could have featured in this sale but instead were allocated to tonight’s auction are Lucian Freud’s Ib and her husband, estimated ‘in the region of £18 million’, and Francis Bacon’s Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe, estimated ‘in the region of £20m’.

Overall, the sale is predicted to make at least £100m with works in the post-war category having a combined low estimate of £42m.