Frieze & Frieze Masters
The Frieze art fairs opened to a generally good reception with a consensus that the standard had been hugely raised since the previous year. Several booths stood out amongst the contemporary onslaught including an eerily immersive virtual reality experience at Seventeen Gallery that saw huge queues forming in order to feel the unnerving but utterly fascinating work of artist Jon Rafman. Another compelling work was the Pink Project by Portia Munson, represented by New York Gallery P.P.O.W; this seminal work from 1993 that has been shown in various different formations, is a damning condemnation of the commercialisation of femininity; the Pink Project consisted of a large table display of pink products ranging from children’s toys to sex toys.
Despite what might be viewed as a difficult economic climate both in the art market in general and for sterling in particular, Frieze saw many an active buyer during the week; though it would appear that the primary market, just as in the secondary, is being propped up by established collectors and only a few new buyers are hitting the scene.
Frieze Masters told a similar if not even more distinct story. Buyers came prepared and with a precise view of what they were seeking. Perhaps one can see this pattern as reflecting an insecurity in collector’s minds concerning the political uncertainty of the current times wishing to invest in more established and certain works of art rather than gambling on the contemporary.
The quality of the works on display was extremely high, particularly amongst post-war masterpieces such as the Frank Stella works at Sprüth Magers, Dominique Levy, and Marianne Boesky Gallery joint booth, and Dickinson’s Surrealist master works including pieces by Magritte, Dali and Picabia.
Evening Sale Results
Leslie Waddington Sale
Christie’s kick-started the week’s auctions with London dealer Leslie Waddington’s private art collection. The art collector’s powerful legacy was strongly upheld as practically each lot exceeded its high estimate in this exciting white glove sale. The strength of the Waddington sale was in part due to knowing that the collection was very personal; a collection based on taste and passion rather than accumulated purely for its monetary value.
The sale, that achieved four new artists’ records, was led by a work by Jean Dubuffet Visiteur au Chapeau Bleu that reached £4.8m ($6.1m), followed swiftly by Calder’s Red Snake Mobile which was chased by several bidders and finally selling above estimate for £4.4m ($5.6m).
The real talk of the auction, however, was L.A. based collector Stefan Simchowitz’s acquisition of 7 lots including three works by Josef Albers all of which were estimated between £100,000 – 150,000, two of them were chased as high as £665,000 ($848,540). He also snapped up works by Robert Motherwell, Francis Picabia and Joan Miró.
Though estimates were set prudently, as is usual with estate sales, the room was trembling with bidders, often up to 15 phone bidders contending also against a number of sale room and online bidders. Christie’s observed that there was an abundance of bidding from Asian and American buyers, perhaps due to the sterling being at its lowest on the exchange rate market for 31 years. This exchange only seems to have spurred buyers on and the Leslie Waddington Collection steadfastly launched the art world into the eventful and demanding attentions of Frieze Week.
Phillips 20th Century & Contemporary Sale
Phillips presented a conservative sale last week, coinciding with the opening day of Frieze. The works on offer were small in number but strong in quality. The 28 Lot Sale (after two withdrawals) was led by Warhol’s 20 Pink Maos from 1979 that was estimated between £4-6m and sold for £4.7m ($6m) including Buyer’s Premium, £4.1 hammer, meaning the painting narrowly avoided selling to its third party guarantor.
Phillip’s had a financial interest in several of the lots including works by Mark Grotjahn, which sold at mid-estimate for £1.3 million, Sean Scully, who sold below estimate for £665,000, and Bridget Riley, also selling for within estimate at £293,000. The only house guarantee however was on Lot 1 Thomas Schütte’s sculpture Little Spirit; guaranteed at low estimate price of £120,000 it sold just above for £125,000.
Christie’s Post War and Contemporary
Lucy McKenzie, Adrian Ghenie, Gerald Laing, Imi Knoebel, Henry Taylor and Albert Oehlen are all artists whose works reached record auction prices at the Christie’s Post War and Contemporary Sale. The successful evening, which saw a 97% sell-through rate achieved a total result that was well above its £21.8m ($27.1m) high estimate reaching £34.3m ($42.5m).
Stefan Simchowitz made another splash chasing Jean Dubuffet’s The Rural Life against several other bidders including the Nahmad family, up to double its high estimate, reaching £2.6m ($3.3m). Other notable sales included the record breaking Ghenie, Nickelodeon, that held the highest ever estimate for the artist at £1-1.5m. The painting’s third party guarantor would have been celebrating that evening as the painting almost quintupled its high estimate reaching £7.1m ($9m) after being chased by a multitude of bidders and finally selling to an anonymous telephone bidder.
Another impressive sale of the night was Gerald Laing’s Beach Wear which had been bought in 1965 for $750 and remained in the same private collection ever since. The painting sold for £1.6m to a US phone bidder perhaps reflecting the renewed interest in Laing’s work since his death in 2011 and his current retrospective at The Fine Art Society.
The success of the evening is testimony to the fact that demand is still strong for high end works of art particularly within the realms of established contemporary artists. Though estimates and end results are down on last year’s October sale (total $55m) Christie’s delivered a solid performance against low expectations.
Sotheby’s Post War and Contemporary
Bringing up the rear of the evening sales, Sotheby’s carried the week’s momentum onwards and took it even further as it became the most successful October sale since Christie’s in 2014. The evening sale was fruitful for the auction house as despite their 34 lot sale being their smallest sale since 2009 the estimates were amongst the highest at £24.1-32.7m; showing that numbers being down does not necessarily correlate with the quality of the art on offer.
The impressive sale of Basquiat’s Hannibal for £10.6m ($13.1m) and Peter Doig’s Grasshopper which sold for £5.9m ($7.3m) shows the importance of marketing and timing in the sale of a painting; Hannibal had BI’d the year before and Grasshopper, once owned by Charles Saatchi, has come to the block four times since 2003.
The award for the night went to the remarkable performance of German artists; between the ferociously chased 1983 Richter that more than doubled its high estimate of £4m ($5m) reaching £10.2m ($12.7m), Baselitz, Polke and the more recently discovered Michael Krebber all sold extremely well, showing great confidence in the German market. Spirale by Sigmar Pole was acquired by the week’s most persevering buyer, Stefan Simchowitz, above estimate at £2.6m ($3.2m).
The Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Sale served as a strong closing statement for what has been, despite fears for the low pound and the uncertainty of the political climate, a strongly optimistic week.
The Italian Sales
The post war Italian sales were the only blight upon the auction market during Frieze week that in all other respects had been showing fervently optimistic results. The sales slumped by almost 50% in comparison to the Italian sales on 2015 and 2014; Christie’s made less in total with £18.68m ($22.9m) than it did on a single piece by Fontana last year that sold for $29.2m. The total amount between both auction houses was £42m ($51.2m) which pales in comparison to 2015’s combined total of £83.6 ($102.8).
This dip was in part due to the variety of Italian art on offer in London during the week, giving buyers options beyond the auction houses. Twenty London galleries had set up shows of Italian artists including Jannis Kounellis at White Cube, Fontana and Melotti at Mazzoleni and Boetti at Tornabuoni and Rodolfo Arico at Luxembourg and Dayan to name but a few. This abundance of choice for Italian art meant fewer buyers were clamouring at the sales.
The evening was a low key moment in an overall optimist Frieze Week, but even the quieter moments were not without their bid from Stefan Simchowitz who successfully bought a slashed blue canvas by Fontana at double estimate for £1.4m ($1.72m) at the Christie’s sale.
*All prices include Buyer’s Premium
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