Sotheby’s Spring 2017 Contemporary Art Sale Reinforces Art Market Strength

Sotheby’s Spring London Contemporary Art Evening Auction in London out-shined predicted estimates to total £118,015,150 – an increase of 70% (GBP) / 43% (USD) on the equivalent sale last year. 93.4% sold by lot, this was the third consecutive Contemporary Art Evening Sale at Sotheby’s with a sellthrough rate of over 90%. Tonight’s sale exceeded the pre-sale estimate of £80.9-112.6m / $98.5-137.2m / €93.5-129.8m A marked increase in participation from the United States, and from countries across Asia. Artist records were achieved for five artists, including Georg Baselitz, Carol Rama, Wolfgang Tillmans, Franz Gertsch and Pat Steir. Tonight’s total brings combined sales at Sotheby’s London in the last week to £331.9m / $408.1m / €389m. 

“The past week, across London and beyond, was the first real test of the contemporary market in 2017″

“The past week, across London and beyond, was the first real test of the contemporary market in 2017 and by every measure, it has proven itself to be in rude health. All the evidence is there; approaching double the total we achieved this time last year, strong prices across a broad spectrum of artists, and increased activity from every corner of the globe.” – Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s Head of European Contemporary Art.

Gerhard Richter’s desolately beautiful Eisberg, 1982, sold for £17.7m / $21.6m / €20.4m
Gerhard Richter’s Eisberg, 1982, sold for £17.7m / $21.6m / €20.4m

After ten minutes of bidding, Gerhard Richter’s desolately beautiful Eisberg, 1982, sold for £17.7m / $21.6m / €20.4m (est. £8-12 million) 5 bidders, including interest from Asia. One of only three Iceberg paintings by the artist, this work had remained in the same collection since 1983, the year after it was painted. Georg Baselitz’s ‘Hero’ painting, Mit Roter Fahne (With Red Flag), 1965 set a new record for the artist when it sold for £7.5m / $9.1m / €8.6m (est. £6.5-8.5 million). From the artist’s ground-breaking ‘Heroes’ series, this work cemented Baselitz’s reputation as one of the most provocative and compelling voices of the post-war era Exceptional exhibition history, having been displayed in many retrospectives, including the landmark exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 2007. The outstanding results for the Baselitz and Richter led a stellar night for Post-War German Art:

Wolfgang Tillmans’s Freischwimmer 119 (2005) (Courtesy Sotheby’s)
Wolfgang Tillmans’s Freischwimmer 119 (2005) (Courtesy Sotheby’s)

In his first appearance in a Sotheby’s evening sale, Wolfgang Tillmans’ Freischwimmer 119 sold for £464,750 / $566,066 / €535,717, setting a new record for the artist who is currently the subject of a major exhibition at Tate Modern. This is the third time his record has been broken in the past 12 months. – Each of the four works by Richter in tonight’s sale sold well, realising a combined £27.2m / $33.2m / €31.4m (est. £12.5-18.2m). Lot 3, a small Abstract work from 1988, saw competition from six bidders to sell for £4m / $4.9m / €4.6m, double the pre-sale estimate (£1.5-2 million). Five bidders drove lot 20, Richter’s alpine view, to sell over estimate for £4.1m (est. £2.5-3.5m). The work last sold in 2004 for £845,600. On the artist’s 72nd birthday, there was a strong result for Anselm Kiefer when his monumental view of the burning Reichstag sold for a near-record £2.2m / $2.7m / €2.6m, more than double the price achieved in 2011 (£959,650). The 15 works by German artists sold in tonight’s sale totalled £48.1m / $58.6m / €55.5m, against a low estimate of £26.7 million – accounting for 35% of the overall sale total. The majority of these works came to sale from collections outside Germany.

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s seminal ‘Untitled (One Eyed Man or Xerox Face)’, 1983, sold for £12m / $14.6 m / €13.8m. When the painting previously appeared at auction in 1987, it sold for $23,100. The sale follows strong results for the artist in London over the last year. Hannibal, 1982 sold for £10.6m / $13.1m at Sotheby’s Frieze Week sale; Air Power, 1984, sold for £7.1m / $8.8m as part of the Collection of David Bowie. The Barbican is to stage the first large-scale Basquiat UK exhibition, opening September 2017. Christopher Wool’s untitled 2007 work from his sought-after Grey Paintings series of enamel works, sold at double the estimate for £7.1m / $8.7m / €8.2m (est. £2.8-3.5m) after being pursued by five bidders. Only one other work of this scale has ever been offered at auction before.

Pat Steir’s Four Yellow / Red Negative Waterfall (1993)
Pat Steir Four Yellow / Red Negative Waterfall (1993)

Pat Steir made a dazzling debut in London this evening. No work by the artist has ever appeared at auction in London before. Her ‘Four Yellow / Red Negative Waterfall’, given to the seller by the artist 20 years ago, made £680,750 / $829,154 / €784,700, after competition from six bidders. This doubled the existing artist record set at Sotheby’s in New York just last week. he sale opened with a £236,750 ($288,362) record for Carol Rama. She died in 2015 at the age of 97, but only now is momentum growing for her work. This is the fifth time her record has been broken since the beginning of last year, and the first time we have offered a work by the artist at Sotheby’s London in 14 years. (est. £70,000-100,000.) On the artist’s 87th birthday, a new record was set for Swiss artist Franz Gertsch when ‘Luciano II’ made £2.7m / $3.3m / €3.2m, superseding the record Sotheby’s set in 2011 for a portrait of the same sitter. (est. £1.5-2 million). The work was bought tonight by Mr. Ben Frija, of Galleri K in Oslo. Mr Frija will be representing Franz Gertsch at the upcoming TEFAF Fair in Maastricht.

The success of these artists last night echoes that of Adrian Ghenie, whose work was first offered in the context of an evening sale at Sotheby’s in 2013. That work, Dr. Mengele 2, made £121,250 (est. £30,000-40,000), a record at the time. Tonight, his ‘Self-Portrait as Charles Darwin’ sold over estimate for £3.3m / $3.96 / €3.75m (£2-3 million).  Sotheby’s London was the first to introduce Ghenie to a Contemporary Art Evening Sale. Dr. Mengele 2, 2011, sold in the February 2013 Evening Sale for £121,250 (est. £30,000-40,000)



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