Christie's London's Stunning $128-Million Post-War Sale Hurtles Past Estimates

A detail of Jean-Michel Basquiat's "Museum Security (Broadway Meltdown)," which sold for $14,603,459
(Courtesy Christie's)

LONDON — Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary evening sale performed brilliantly, with Gerhard Richter and Jean-Michel Basquiat taking highest sales, cruising beyond its high estimate here and delivering a toppy £81,668,850 ($127,730,081).

Sixty-five of the 72 lots offered sold for a slim buy-in rate by lot of ten percent and just four percent by value. It eclipsed pre-sale expectations of £55,520,000-77,210,000 ($86.8-$120.8 million), though the estimates are based on hammer prices and do not reflect the buyer’s premium, and were steeply calculated as 25 percent of the hammer price up to £25,000, 20 percent up to £500,000 and 12 percent above that mark of £500,000. Three lots sold for over $10 million, seven exceeded $5 million, 19 lots made over £1 million ($1.6 million) and 27 hurdled the $1 million mark. 



Five artist records were set, including Peter Doig’s masterful “The Architect’s Home in the Ravine” (1991), painted from a memory of a Le Corbusier building he had seen in Toronto, and executed years later in the basement of a dingy London flat. The third-party guaranteed painting sold to a telephone bidder for £7,657,250 ($11,975,939) (est. £4-6 million) chased by at least three other bidders.


Doig’s wooded scene last sold at Sotheby’s New York in May 2007, put up by “Sensation” creator Charles Saatchi for $3.6 million. Saatchi had bought the Doig at a London auction back in June 2002 for £340,000 ($528 million), making the painting an icon of art market appreciation.


The jaw-dropping numbers reflect Christie’s highest mid-season February sale in London, nicking last February’s £89,576,100 ($126,504,477) outing for 58 lots sold.


Though the sale had many of same stars as Sotheby’s London $116-million evening on Tuesday, including major works by Gerhard Richter, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Francis Bacon, the property in the packed King Street salesroom proved more appealing, and triggered spasms of bidding across the globe, both on the telephones and in the room. One might even say Christie’s auctioneer Jussi Pylkanen, whose day job is president of Christie’s Europe, controlled the salesroom with remarkable panache.


Things got off to a bang with eight works consigned by world-class German collector Ingvild Goetz, with all of the proceeds earmarked for the collector’s long-term philanthropic projects. Among the fought-after pieces was Christopher Wool’s 78-by-60 inch, boldly colored and patterned abstraction “Mad Cow” (1997), which finally sold to a telephone bidder for £2,281,250 ($3,567,875) (est. £700,00-900,000).


Other Goetz winners including Sherrie Levine’s metallic paint on plywood composition, “Untitled (copper Knots #5)” (1989), which sold to London’s Simon Lee Gallery for £193,250 ($302,243) (est. £60-80,000), Wade Guyton’s “Untitled,” an Epson Ultrachrome inkjet on linen abstraction from 2009, sold to London dealer Daniella Luxembourg for £337,250 ($527,459) (est. £120-180,000); Luxembourg's Saville Row gallery is currently exhibiting a major Michelangelo Pistoletto show). Additionally, Richard Prince’s “Untitled (SB Hood #1)” (1989) in acrylic, cast fiberglass, and wood, sold to New York/London dealer Per Skarstedt for £313,250 ($489,923) (est. £200-300,000). The Prince car hood was bought by Goetz in May 1995 at Sotheby’s New York for $8,625.


Another 63 lots from Goetz will be offered in Thursday's day sale, and another 57 lots will be auctioned at Christie's South Kensington location on April 17. All benefits are bound to benefit her charity work.


Striding out of salesroom in a sleek black pants suit outfit to a round of applause after her £4.2 million ($6.5 million) contribution, Goetz said of the works she personally chose to sell, “I’m very pleased it went so well.”


Asked if the art would be missed, the storied collector of some 5,000 art works replied, “It didn’t rip a hole in my collection.”


Not surprisingly, British art proved strong (especially if you count Doig, who is Scottish), as an early and important David Hockney figurative painting, the six-foot-square “Great Pyramid at Giza with Broken Head from Thebes,” (1963), sold to the telephone for £3,513,250 ($5,494,723) (est. £2.5-3.5 million).


Benefitting from the strong results at Sotheby’s the night before, Francis Bacon’s “Man in Blue VI” from 1954, an early painting pre-figuring his fantastic Pope series — and quite minimal, with just the head and shoulders of a man plunked in the middle of a vast canvas — sold to the telephone for £4,969,250 ($7,771,907) (est. £4-6 million). London private dealer Ivor Braka was the underbidder.


It last came to auction in the dark days of February 2009 at the same house in London when it bought-in against the same pre-sale estimate. My, how times have changed!


Another British offering, Allen Jones’s R-rated ensemble of furniture in painted fiberglass, resin, mixed media, and tailor-made accessories, “Hatstand, Table and Chair” (1969), featuring scantily clad females in pre-Women’s Liberation poses, sold to London dealer Richard Nagy for what Christie’s characterized as a record: £2,169,250 ($3,392,707) (est. £1.5-2 million). This group is from an edition of six.


“For British Pop Art,” said Nagy as he left the salesroom, “what could you find more iconic than Allan Jones’s furniture?”


Italian art also scored big numbers as a Ferrari-red Lucio Fontana, single cut “Concetto spaziale, Attesa” (1964), sold to an otherwise unidentified London private art advisor for £3,961,250 ($6,195,395) (est. £1.8-2.5 million).


An early and superb Michelangelo Pistoletto, “Autoritratto del 62 (Self-Portrait of 62)” in painted tissue paper on mirror-like stainless steel, sold to a telephone bidder for £1,273,250 ($1,991,363) (est. £200-300,000).


“It’s a fantastic piece,” said Daniella Luxembourg, one of the posse of underbidders, “and was underestimated.”


That may also have been the story for the record-breaking Pierre Soulages’s mostly black abstraction, “Peinture 202 x 156 cm, 27 mars 1961” (1961), which triggered bidding mayhem and wound up selling for £3,289,250 ($5,144,387) (est. £500-700,000). London dealer Timothy Taylor was the underbidder on the work. 


The buoyant evening’s two biggest lots confirmed the uber market status of Gerhard Richter and Jean-Michel Basquiat, as Richter’s ravishing, large-scale “Abstraktes Bild (889-14)” (2004) sold to the telephone for £8,441,250 ($13,202,115) (est. in excess of £7 million). It carried a so-called third-party guarantee, and that anonymous backer took a cut of the upside, whether or not he actually bought the painting.


The stunning Basquiat “Museum Security (Broadway Meltdown)” (1983) had a different back story. It was the evening’s top lot, selling to Paris dealer John Sayegh-Belchatowski for £9,337,250 ($14,603,459) (est. £7-9 million).


But the 84-by-84 inch, text-rich, expressionist masterwork in acrylic, oilstick and paper collage on canvas had been earlier yanked from a Christie’s New York May 2012 auction after an ugly legal dispute between warring parties; including the London dealer Gerard Faggionato, who sold the painting on behalf of the British aristocrat Lord Edward Spencer-Churchill (a son of the Duke of Marlborough), to New York dealer Alberto Mugrabi. Churchill sued Faggionato and Mugrabi in Federal District Court, claiming the two men had conspired to sell it at an artificially low price.


In any event, the case was settled out of court, and the trio put out a pre-sale press release from Blenheim Palace, noting that Churchill had “unencumbered title to the painting” and that the parties “have stated that they are very happy to have agreed a settlement in relation to this outstanding work.”


It is truly amazing what a valuable painting can do to warring parties, and the way that it was resolved also proved it was largely a much ado about nothing episode in the art world.


The action resumes and winds up the season Thursday evening at Phillips.


For images, click on the slideshow.