Sotheby’s says London Frieze Contemporary’s $107m sales best in seven years

Sotheby’s held two back-to-back contemporary art auctions at its London auction house tonight to capitalize on the crowds of collectors who have gathered there for the annual Frieze fair.

Bidding on the approximately 50 lots on offer was strong if not always spectacular, and it’s safe to say that US buyers continued to benefit from the record strength of the dollar against the pound. “Are you talking about exchange rates? the auctioneer joked when a bidder appeared to take a long pause.

The evening kicked off with a smaller offering of 17 works under the ‘The Now’ label, which includes ultra-contemporary art that auctioneer and senior international specialist Michael Macauley has described as “the most exciting art and the most coveted of our time”, adding that it is by artists who are “great talents”.

It made £11.4m ($13m) near the high end of pre-sale expectations, even without taking into account a lot that was withdrawn, a work by Avery Singer shortly before the sale. And two lots, a painting by Jonas Wood and a Banksy, were backed by irrevocable offers, or third-party backers, in this section.

Oliver Barker, chairman of Europe, then took the reins of the 31-lot Contemporary Evening Sale, which fetched £85.7 million ($98.7 million). The fact that eight lots out of 39, or 20%, were withdrawn before the sale seems to speak of some last-minute jitters.

Seven lots from the main sale were secured, two of which were directly next to the house, while the other five were backed by irrevocable or third-party offers, meaning the house was again able to offset some risk.

Sotheby’s touted the combined total of £96.1 million ($107.4 million) as its highest Frieze week evening sale since 2015. Estimates revised to account for withdrawn works were 80.8 million to £104.5 million ($89 million to $114.5 million).

Almost all of the female artists in both sales sold above their high estimates, including eight out of ten in The Now sale, such as sought-after artist Flora Yukhnovich, whose painting Nobody put baby in the cornerinspired by the famous phrase from the film dirty dance, sold for £1.6 million ($1.8 million), against a high estimate of £700,000 ($784,000). And all the female artists in the main sale had prices that exceeded high estimates, such as that of Yayoi Kusama Infinity Nets (QOTP) from the collection of Joel and Sherry Mallin, which fetched £3.4 million ($3.8 million) from a high estimate of £2.5 million ($2.8 million). The Kusama was one of 10 works sold tonight from the Mallin collection, which together fetched a total above the estimate of £12.4 million.

James Sevier, Sotheby’s Head of Contemporary Art for Europe, was optimistic, telling Artnet News via a telephone interview after the sale: “There was a great energy in the room and overall the energy was excellent throughout the week. We are really happy with the results. Sevier pointed out that the hybrid auction marks the first time in years that the auction house has not had to broadcast activity from other auction houses in places like New York or Hong Kong since the international travel has returned to normal.

And despite the recent volatility in exchange rates, he noted that while it has been a topic of conversation in the art world, “what really stood out this week at Frieze and at auction is that the collectors look at the object rather than the currency. I think the rarity, the freshness, the quality of the works offered was much more a topic of conversation than anything. He added that the distribution of registered bidders from the United Kingdom, from the United States and the EU was almost identical to that of last year.

Julien Nguyen, Kye Semper Solus (2007). Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

“The Now” set many new auction records and saw intense competition for artists such as Louise Giovanelli, Kiki Kogelnik, Julien Nguyen, Charlene von Heyl and Caroline Walker, while a new record was achieved for Frank Auerbach at the main sale.

It was a painting by Nguyen that opened the evening, and the price shattered expectations. Kye, Semper Solus (2017) was estimated at £40,000 ($45,000) and was chased by at least four bidders to ultimately sell for £453,600 ($503,700), more than ten times that level. Nguyen’s work, which clearly shows the influence of Italian Renaissance painters, has been acquired by the Whitney Museum in the past.

Bidding was also intense towards the end of the Now sale for Caroline Walker, when the Palm Springs-inspired interior Interior Exterior (2015), fetched £529,200 ($587,677) from a low estimate of £60,000 ($69,000).

Caroline Walker, Interior Exterior (2015).  Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

Caroline Walker, Interior Exterior (2015). Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

The auction also set a new record for Charline von Heyl (the previous record was $300,000 in May 2019), when Untitled (2006), sold for £478,800 ($531,707), well above the high estimate of £250,000 ($288,000).

For other popular artists, such as Jade Fadojutimi, the interest was obvious but the prices were more in line with expectations. Fadojutimi’s The misplaced thrill of ruffles (2017) sold for £554,400, a healthy peak above the high estimate of £400,000.

Meanwhile the painting of Jonas Wood Wood Grain Pot with Night Bloom (2015) presumably sold to third-party backer given it struggled to get into asking price territory and was hammered at £510,000 ($571,000) from the low estimate of 800,000 £ ($896,000).

Although Banksy was the best-selling artist in the sale, the auction patterns on the two works on offer appeared to hold up to the asking prices. Both sold despite missing their low, hammer-based estimates.

For instance, Love is in the air (2006), one of the artist’s most famous images showing a masked man about to throw a bouquet of flowers in a position more typical of holding an explosive, hammered for £2.8 million ($3m) to a Sotheby’s specialist on the phone with a client, down from a low estimate of £3.4m ($3.8m). The final price with a bounty of £3.5 million ($3.9 million) helped usher him into that territory. Final prices include premiums, not estimates.

Love is in the air presumably sold to the third-party funder who made an irrevocable offer on the work at some point before the sale.

The previous batch was another world famous Banksy image, Girl with a balloon Diptych (2006). There was no guarantee on this job, but it cost £700,000 ($784,000), well below the low asking price of £1.2 million. The final price with bounty came in at £882,000 ($987,770).

Francis Bacon, Three studies for the portrait of Henrietta Moraes, (1963).  Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

Francis Bacon, Three studies for the portrait of Henrietta Moraes, (1963). Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

A major painting by Francis Bacon, Three studies for the portrait of Henrietta Moraes (1963) was the top seller of the main evening sale and came with illustrious provenance. It was recovered by media mogul William Paley just months after it was painted and had been on long-term loan to the Museum of Modern Art since his death in 1990. It was sold to benefit MoMA and other charities . Barker opened the bidding action at around $19 million and he hammered contemporary art president Grégoire Billault, on the phone with a client, for $23 million. Presumably the winning bidder was also the third-party funder as there did not appear to be any competing bids.

Gerhard Richter, 192 - Farben, (1966).  Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

Gerard Richter, 192 – Farben, (1966). Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

In similar trophy territory was that of Gerhard Richter 192 Color (1966) which would be his first abstract painting, and which had been on long-term loan in Hamburg, to the Hamburger Kunsthalle from 1997 to 2022. It carried an estimate of 13 to 18 million pounds ($14.5 to 20 million ) and was backed by an offer from a third party. At least three bidders continued with the work before it was handed over to a Sotheby’s telephone bank specialist bidding on behalf of a client, for a lump sum price of £18.3m (£20.5m). dollars).

There was strong interest in Frank Auerbach JYM manager (1984-85), a portrait of Juliet Yardley Mills, and one that famously reflects the artist’s habit of depicting only subjects with which he was extremely familiar. Sotheby’s called it the “absolute pinnacle” of his critically acclaimed body of work. With an all-inclusive price of £5.64 million ($6.3 million), it topped the previous artist record of £4 million ($5 million), set a few months ago. in June, also at Sotheby’s London.

Sevier said he was particularly pleased with the Auerbach’s price, calling it “one of the artist’s finest paintings ever made”, as well as the outcome for the Richter. “We’re selling works tonight that really define the history of 20th century art,” he said.

Competitive and sometimes endless bidding unexpectedly arose throughout the sale, such as the multi-part sculpture by Juan Muñoz conversation piece (1997) which had an estimate of £800,000 ($896,000). Bidding started at £550,000 ($616,000) and four specialists chased her over the phone for their clients before she was eventually handed over to Sotheby’s London senior manager Alina Davey for 2.7million of £ (3 million dollars).

An unannounced change to typical auction protocol that has created some confusion at various times throughout the evening has been the recent switch to alerting the room to lot withdrawals only when the actual numbers appear, instead of making an announcement. presale.

At one point, midway through the auction on a major sculpture by Anish Kapoor, an auction-goer seated in the room pointed out an anomaly in the numerical listing order in the catalog, at the auctioneer Barker, who clarified that the withdrawn lot was a different work by Damien Hirst, before returning to the bidding action on the Kapoor, and asking aloud: “Now where was I? “

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