Bonhams Bombs With Half-Sold Contemporary Art Sale in London

Detail of Frank Auerbach's "Head of Lucian Freud," 1960
(Courtesy Bonhams)

Bonhams's pursuit of the contemporary art cash cow is not going well. At the fledgling department's second Contemporary One sale on a gloomy Monday evening in London, bidders shunned the wet-paint works offered by the auction house, even at relatively moderate (for an evening auction) price points. Only 11 of the 20 offered lots sold — even fewer than last October's inaugural auction — with many of the most-touted pieces being bought-in. The sale total was a dismal £1.1 million ($1.7 million), and the chopping block included the top-estimated work, "Untitled" (2006) by Urs Fischer, which was expected to fetch £400,000-600,000 ($620,000-920,000). The sculpture was guaranteed before the auction, meaning the seller went home happy and the auction house was out a significant chunk of change.

The evening's top honors eventually went to Frank Auerbach's charcoal and chalk drawing, "Head of Lucien Freud" (1960), which hammered down at £480,000, near the high end of its £300,000-500,000 estimate. Other works that found buyers include the kaleidoscopic "Plaster Statue of John Glenn, John Glenn H.S, Westlands, MI; Chainsaw Sculpture of Bigfoot, Redwood Area of Northern CA" (2001) by the recently deceased Mike Kelley, which sold for £43,250, and Richard Prince's 1987 photograph "Untitled (Girlfriend)," which brought in £157,250.

The contemporary art action in London continues Tuesday evening — with better fortune, one hopes — at Christie's.