The London March sales have provided a fascinating insight into 2017’s projected art market outcomes. The art world stood firm against predicted downturns, firmly asserting itself as a stable market with every promise of exceeding expectations in New York’s May sales. Please read below for auction details and insights into the March sales.
The New York auction week created quite a stir even before the first sale, with promises of intriguing results. Along with highly anticipated lots such as Monet’s Meule (Grainstack) at Christie’s, as well as up to 75% of lots guaranteed in the Sotheby’s Post-War and Contemporary sale, on top of the disorder caused by the shock US election results, the week promised to be memorable.
CHRISTIE’S SURREALIST SALE
The excitement surrounding the Surrealist auction stemmed mainly from two major works by Magritte that were being highly promoted by Christie’s and a mysterious work by Paul Delvaux, Le Village des Sirenes. This last and the first of the Magritte’s, La Corde Sensible, (billed as the star lot of the sale), both carried third-party guarantees, ensuring their sale at a minimum price. Whoever backed the work by Delvaux would have been overjoyed with the result as the painting reached high above its estimate.
of £1.7-2.5m ($2.1-3m) reaching £2.6m ($3.2m) hammer in a frenzy of bidding both in the room and on the telephone. La Corde Sensible, on the other hand, left the block with just one bid, selling to its guarantor at £13.5m hammer, below its lofty estimates of £14-18m ($17-22m). The second Magritte, Le Domaine d’Arnheim, was returning to public auction for the first time since 1988. This was the fourth work to come to the block that evening belonging to Dmitry Rybolovlev, who reportedly purchased the painting for $43.5m in 2011. The work sold well in regards to surpassing its estimates of £6.5-8.5m ($8-10.5m) achieving £9m ($11m) hammer, but again represented a significant loss for its Russian seller.
SOTHEBY’S SURREALIST SALE
The 20 lot sale did not mirror the same success as its Impressionist and Modern counterpart, failing to surpass its low estimate even including Buyer’s Premium. This was due, in part, to the withdrawal of the top lot, Salvador Dali’s Moment de Transition, which was estimated to sell between £6-8m ($7.1-9.5m). Reasons for withdrawing the lot maybe, in part, due to its having been sold all too recently at Christie’s, New York in May 2014, when it carried a much higher estimate of $10-15m and sold below the low estimate for $9.1m. Works returning too soon to auction, especially if they’ve been known to sell badly at their last time on the block rarely find success. Three works failed to find buyers during the course of the night, however the 16 lots that did find buyers reached high prices and did not completely let the tempo of the night down. Another top lot of the evening, Magritte’s Le Repas des Noces reached £1.7m ($2.1m) hammer £500,000 above its high estimate, and Picabia’s Ino, also sold well, reaching £1m ($1.2m) hammer.
CHRISTIE’S POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY SALE
The Post-War and Contemporary sale brought a welcome upswing of energy; with several record breaking prices being paid for some of the night’s top lots including: Albert Oehlen’s Self-Portrait, reaching £2.5m ($3.03m) hammer despite selling on a single bid and Cecily Brown’s Sick Leaves rocketed past its estimates making £1.5m ($1.8m) hammer, and was snapped up by the same buyer who bought the 1961 Fontana Concetto Spaziale, Attese for £2.9m ($3.5m). Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s The Beautyful Ones, that, despite carrying an estimate of £400,000 – 600,000 ($480,000 – 730,000) had reportedly been guaranteed by a third-party for £800,000 ($970,000), the work almost tripled its guarantee reaching £2.1m ($2.5m) hammer, making it the highest price ever paid at auction for a work by Crosby, which is not surprising as the artist has only had three works at auction. The previous record was achieved in November 2016 when a large piece by Crosby sold for $1,092,500 including Buyer’s Premium.
Other notable lots included the two 1955 Calder mobiles that were bought by the Nahmad family for a combined total of £6.9m ($8.4m) hammer. The Nahmads were the biggest bidders of the night, also buying the large Dubuffet Hourloupe piece Etre et Paraitre at mid-estimate for £8.8m ($10.7m) hammer. The Nahmad gallery was responsible for snapping up Peter Doig’s early canvas Cobourg 3+1, the top lot of the evening, which sold just below the high estimate at £11.2m ($13.6m) hammer, beating underbidders Brett Gorvy and possibly Alex Brottman.
Though bidding was consistent and the sale had a 95% sell-through rate, the evening was lacking in excitement, probably because the sale was lacking a masterpiece.
SOTHEBY’S POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY SALE
The Sotheby’s Post-War and Contemporary auction proved the hard-wearing stability of the art market in the face of constant dooming predictions in the wake of Brexit and Trump’s election. The sale soared past its high estimate, an enormous step up on their equivalent sale last February which totalled a mere £69m ($100m) including Buyer’s Premium. The night was led by a number of masterworks that kept the bids coming in thick and fast both in the room and on the telephones. The top lot of the night was Gerhard Richter’s photo-realist icy landscape Eisberg which attracted a flurry of buyers, including three Asian telephone bidders, proffered through Patty Wong, Jasmine Chen and ultimately selling through Shu Zheng, pushing the work far above its £8-12m ($10-15m) estimate reaching £15.6m ($19m) hammer.
Only 4 lots (or 7% of the works) went unsold due in part to high quality works eliciting high results but also partly to do with up to 16 lots, or 28% of the sale carrying either house or third-party guarantees. Although many of these proved successful, particularly the Untitled work by Christopher Wool that fetched £6.2m ($7.6m) hammer, almost £4m above its guarantee of £2.9m. However, 5 of the 11 third party guarantees sold to their guarantors, meaning there may have been one or two bidders who were perhaps not so happy with the evening’s results.
In general, the evening was a great testament to the current strength of the art market, with consistently high results and plentiful bidding on a large number of the lots. The regular bids coming from Chinese and Japanese clients outstripped European and American buyers, prompting excitement as all eyes turn towards Art Basel Hong Kong next week.
*All prices in the report include Buyer’s Premium, unless otherwise specified.
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