Autumn Auction Round Up


This autumn has seen a glut of major evening sales across all houses globally as the pandemic continues to significantly reconfigure the traditional auction calendar.

Sales that coincided with the Frieze online viewing rooms were ironically not in London this year, as Sotheby’s decided to hold a Hong Kong evening sale on 6th October. The auction was led by Ron Perelman’s monumental Gerhard Richter which successfully sold for 214.5 million HKD, or 27.7 million USD (incl. buyer’s premium), the most expensive Western work of art ever sold at an auction in Asia, it sold to the Pola Museum of Art, a private museum in Hakone, Japan.

Gerhard Richter (b. 1932), Abstraktes Bild (649-2), 1987. Oil on canvas. 78¾ by 78¾in (200 x 200cm). Sold for HKD 214,631,000 in Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 6 October 2020 at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong.

Christie’s newly formed 20th Century department also opted to hold their sale that day which included the headline grabbing T-Rex skeleton which sold for 31.8 million USD (incl. buyer’s premium), no doubt to avoid clashing with the upcoming presidential election. While facilitating some high-level cross collecting – the buyer of Hirst’s Mickey sculpture also acquired Picasso’s La Poule – it remains to be seen if the new hybrid auction style supports the Impressionist market as effectively, with some mid-tier works struggling as the sale progressed. Contrastingly at the end of this month, Sotheby’s standalone New York Impressionist & Modern evening sale, produced remarkable results with 100% lots sold, cleverly achieved through a combination of strategic withdrawals, lowered estimates and guarantees for over half the lots.

Tyrannosaurus rex, 1987. Approx. 188 bones mounted on custom frame with additional cast elements; a separate display for the original skull and teeth. 37 x 13 x 6ft (1128 x 396 x 183cm). Sold for USD 31,847,500 in 20th Century Evening Sale on 6 October 2020 at Christie’s in New York.

With Frieze Art Fair cancelled, the London houses opted to hold their sales later in October, likely to give themselves a wider consignment window in efforts to gather more material. This delay seems to have worked in their favour as the pre-sale low estimate for the evening and day contemporary art sales across Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Phillips and Bonhams was 172.4 million GBP (not including withdrawn lots). This compares well to last year’s pre-sale low estimate of 173.2 million GBP (not including the Jeremy Lancaster single owner sale).

Phillips was the only one of the London houses to achieve a higher evening sale total than last year’s October Frieze sales, helped fractionally by their newly increased buyer’s premium rates, which rose by 1% as of 15th October 2020, following Sotheby’s suit, who likewise added a 1% ‘overhead premium’ in August of this year.

Emily Mae Smith (b. 1979), Alien Shores, 2018. Oil on linen. 54 x 46 in (137.2 x 116.8 cm). Sold for GBP 277,200 in 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 20 October 2020 at Christie’s in London.

Traditionally Phillips’ area of market dominance, strongest bidding across all three sales in London was seen in the emerging artists genre. Works by Emily Mae Smith, Salman Toor, Portia Zvavahera, Titus Kaphar and Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, among others, at least tripled their low estimates, if not more. Seemingly a strange time for speculative buying, this perhaps demonstrates a more comfortable price level at which collectors currently wish to operate. The results of the London day sales seem to support this view, with the Phillips and Sotheby’s sale totals comfortably clearing the low end of their presale estimates, compared to the less successful evening sale totals, with Christie’s major Doig selling after just two bids.

Peter Doig (b. 1959), Boiler House, 1993. Oil on canvas. 78 ¾ x 108 ¼in (200 x 275cm). Sold for GBP 13,895,500 in Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 22 October 2020 at Christie’s in London.

A notable theme running throughout the sales this month has been museum deaccessioning. Although London’s Royal Opera House sold their Hockney portrait, this has predominantly occurred in New York, largely due to a relaxing of the rules in April by the American Association of Museum Directors (AAMD). The Brooklyn Museum, Springfield Museums and The Everson Museum, among others, all consigned major works by artists such as Pollock, Picasso and Monet. However, the Baltimore Museum withdrew their Sotheby’s New York lots as the political debate surrounding the ethics of this strategy continue.

David Hockney (b. 1937), Portrait of Sir David Webster, 1971. Acrylic on canvas.60 1/8 x 72 5/8in (152.8 x 184.5cm). Sold for GBP 12,865,000 in Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 22 October 2020 at Christie’s in London.

The Banksy market showed sustained strength with major lots across several houses globally, achieving new second and third spot auction records. At Sotheby’s Hong Kong, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, depicting a small hooded figure kneeling in front of a graffiti-covered cathedral window, sold for 64 million HKD (incl. buyer’s premium) – or 8.27 million USD – against an estimate of 16 – 32 million HKD. This was quickly succeeded and surpassed by their London sale featuring the much-lauded Show me the Monet which sold for 7.6 million GBP (incl. buyer’s premium) against a 3 – 5 million GBP estimate, selling to an Asian client. Robust bidding from Asia was seen throughout all of the auctions and paralleled the exceedingly strong results in the Sotheby’s Hong Kong sale, the only auction to surpass its presale estimate this month.

Banksy (b. 1974), Forgive Us Our Trespassing, 2011. Acrylic, spray paint and marker pens on wooden panel, in four parts. overall: 257⅞ by 165¾in (655 by 421cm). Sold for HKD 64,112,000 in Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 6 October 2020 at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong.

The Hirst market has also been showing signs of revival. The Christie’s New York result for the second work from Hirst’s Wreck of the Unbelievable Venice show was a promising start, selling for 2.3 million USD (incl. buyer’s premium) against an estimate of 700,000 – 1 million USD. And despite Phillips’ cabinet being withdrawn before the sale, Sotheby’s sold both of their major Hirst lots. The spots triptych sold to the third-party guarantor and their well-priced 2008 ‘Baconesque’ triptych saw four bidders compete before it sold for 741,000 GBP (incl. buyer’s premium) against an estimate of 380,000 – 450,000 GBP.

Damien Hirst (b. 1965), Cast a Long Shadow, 2011. Oil and collage on canvas, in three parts . each: 280 by 51in (203.2 by 129.5cm). Sold for GBP 741,000 in Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 21 October 2020 at Sotheby’s in London.

Phillips’ Kaws painting was quietly withdrawn mid-sale, and the painting in Sotheby’s London sale sold on one bid. Stingel’s market also remained precarious; Phillips did well to hammer their painting on the low estimate but both paintings in Sotheby’s and Christie’s London evening sales went unsold.

The online sale format for all of the auctions remained largely the same from the July cycle, however, Christie’s New York had notably ramped up their presentation. Before the sale there was an augmented reality (AR) show featuring Marc Porter, Jeffrey Deitch and Melanie Gerlis digitally beamed into a virtual gallery. During the sale there were commentators alongside auctioneer Adrian Meyer and tense music pulsated as lots drew to a close, adding a heavy sense of production and theatre to the event.

Pre-Sale Conversation with Jeffery Deitch, Melanie Gerlis and Marc Porter.

The New York and Hong Kong sales attracted more depth in bidding compared to the London sales, with a typically more international market unable to travel, the US and Asia had an advantage with traditionally a stronger local client base. However, overall bidding throughout these auctions remained cautious and guarantees played an important role in assisting sell through rates and consignment volume. More often than not, the top price bracketed works sold on just one or two bids and bidding only really heated up for works by the new generation of rising stars whose primary markets remain inaccessible to most.

Nevertheless, the auction houses worked extremely hard to achieve strong sell through rates in a difficult climate. Lack of direct access to A-grade works at a blue-chip level is a major driving force behind recent results. Moreover, with seven ‘major’ evening sales in just one month there is a sense of saturation amongst collectors who had pent up demand from lockdown to satisfy the successful July sales results, but are now perhaps flagging. Additional evening sales in December will only add to this sentiment.


By Art Associate Charlie Wood


Image 1: Image courtesy Sotheby’s

Image 2: Image courtesy Christie’s

Image 3: Image courtesy Phillips

Image 4: Image courtesy Christie’s

Banner Image and Image 5: Image courtesy Christie’s

Image 6: Image courtesy Sotheby’s

Image 7: Image courtesy Sotheby’s

Image 8: Image courtesy Christie’s

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