Basquiat, Doig, Chillida Lead Christie's to a $108-Million Night

Detail of Jean-Michel Basquiat's "Untitled" (1982), which sold for $28,974,511
(Christie's Images LTD. 2013)

LONDON — Unabated, global art fever fueled Christie’s postwar and contemporary evening sale on Tuesday night, which realized £70,137,350 ($108,292,068) for the 50 lots that sold. The evening scored close to the top end of the £56.1-72.6 million ($86.6-112.1 million) pre-sale estimate as two works fetched over $10 million, three over $5 million, and 25 over $1 million. Fifty of the 64 lots offered sold for a middling 22 percent buy-in rate by lot, and 11 percent by value.

Two artist records were set including one for Tehran-born Ali Banisadr’s Saatchi Gallery-exhibited “In the Name Of,” a chaotic oil on linen figurative painting from 2008, which sold for a whopping £217,875 ($336,399) (est. £40-60,000). Paris dealer Thaddaeus Ropac was the underbidder.

Though demand appeared strong for the material at hand, Christie’s lagged far behind its June 2012 result of £132.8 million ($207.3 million). Three works at that sale sold for over $20 million. By contrast, Tuesday's total just barely topped Christie’s Impressionist and modern evening sale from last week, making £64.1 million ($100.4 million).

Tonight, the big winner was yet another Jean-Michel Basquiat, “Untitled” (1982), which drew at least three bidders, selling to the telephone for £18,765,875 ($28,974,511) (unpublished estimate in the region of £16 million).

The Basquiat was backed by an eleventh hour third-party guarantee, meaning a party outside Christie’s backed the painting and profited from the transaction. New York dealer Jose Mugrabi was an underbidder. It last sold at auction at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg (now plain old Phillips) in November 2002 for $1,659,000, thereby realizing a handsome return for the seller.

“The one in New York made $48 million,” said seasoned Israeli dealer Micky Tiroche, referring to the record-making “Dust Heads” that sold at Christie’s in May, “and this one was better. Was the one in New York a very bad buy or was this one a great buy?” These are the kinds of questions that make the auction world go round.

More classic works seemed to appeal to this crowd, as Nicolas de Stael’s color-saturated abstract seascape, “Marseille” (1954) sold to an otherwise unidentified buyer at the front of the salesroom for £3,085,875 ($4,764,591) (est. £1-1.5 million). Similarly, Yves Klein’s intensely blue sponge sculpture, “SE 181” (1961) sold to dealer Ezra Nahmad for £2,693,875 ($4,159,343) (est. £1.4-1.8 million). A post-card sized, conte crayon on paper drawing by Lucian Freud, “A Walk to the Office” (1948), depicting a man in a baggy suit doing just that, sold to London Old Master dealer Jean-Luc Baroni for a hefty £505,875 ($781,071) (est. £120-180,000).

On the American side of postwar masters, Roy Lichtenstein’s early “Cup of Coffee” (1961), measuring just a little under 20 inches by 16 inches, sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for £2,805,875 ($4,332,271) (est. £1.5-2 million). Willem de Kooning’s late and loopy “Untitled XXVIII” (1983) went to another telephone for £2,861,875 ($4,418,735) (est. £1.8-2.5 million).

New York dealer Christophe van de Weghe underbid the de Kooning up to £1.9 million. “Anything with a little bit of quality,” he said, “goes through the roof.”

Postwar Italian entries also made waves as the relatively undervalued Enrico Castellani’s large shaped canvas, “Superficie Bianca n. 34” — which dates from 1966 and that was shown at the Venice Biennale that same year — fetched a record £1,853,875 ($2,862,383) (Est. £400-600,000).

Former Phillips de Pury chairman Simon de Pury was one of the underbidders for the Castellani but was outgunned by two competing telephones. The previous mark for this artist was another work from the same series and year, “Superficie bianca n. 32,” which  fetched 960,750 ($1,184,502) at Sotheby’s Milan in May 2010.

Lucio Fontana’s pierced, fire engine red “Concetto spaziale, Attese” sold to dealer Ezra Nahmad for £1,204,275 ($1,859,401). Jose Mugrabi was the underbidder.

Though failing to set a record, Peter Doig’s stunning “Jetty,” a large and densely painted faux-Impressionist work from 1994, unleashed a barrage of bidding, selling to a telephone bidder for £7,341,875 ($11,335,855) (est. £4-6 million).

“I stopped at £4.8 million,” said Paris dealer John Sayegh-Belchatowski. “It’s a masterpiece — very dark and very poetic.”

The painting appeared in Doig’s first New York solo at the Gavin Brown’s Enterprise gallery in 1994 and the artist drove the picture from his studio in Canada to Chelsea, according to Christie’s postwar and contemporary head Francis Outred who estimated the picture sold to tonight’s seller at the time for around £4,000.

Other figurative painters were also in demand. John Currin’s old-fashioned and quirky “Daughter and Mother” sold to Larry Gagosian, his New York dealer, for £1,517,875 ($2,343,599) (est. £1.4-1.8 million). Gagosian Gallery also nabbed Neo Rauch’s large and somewhat unfathomable figurative painting “Falle (Trap)” (2001) for £361,865 ($558,735) (underbid by David Zwirner Gallery), as well as Cady Noland’s sculpture, “The Mirror Device” (1987), which included a pair of steel handcuffs and a flair gun. It last sold at auction at Christie's New York in November 1993 for $10,350.

Among the casualties was a large butterfly painting by Damien Hirst, “Soulful” (2008), which expired at an imaginary £600,000 (est. £650-850,000). A tired-looking Andy Warhol, “Colored Campbell’s Soup Can” (1965), in spray paint and silkscreen — once part of the fabled Sonnabend Collection — died at £2 million (est. £2.25-3.2 million). The Warhol was consigned to Christie's by Connecticut hedge fund mogul Steve Cohen and the picture had previously been on offer at last year's Art Basel at Gagosian Gallery, where it bore an unrequited $6-million asking price.

On the brighter side, a massive and important corten steel sculpture, Eduardo Chillida’s “Buscando La Luz IV (Looking for the Light IV)” (2001), sold for a record £4,093,875 ($6,320,943) (est. £3.5-4 million). It had been sited for years outdoors in Bilbao by the Bilbao Guggenheim, and was part of a group of works from a single corporate collection titled “Homage to Chillida” that overall made £7.3 million ($11.3 million). Of those eight works, the late Zao Wou-Ki's “Hommage a Chillida” (2004), a representational oil on canvas, sold for £625,875 ($966,351) (est. £250-350,000). 

The contemporary evening action resumes Wednesday at Sotheby’s.