Magazine Home  |  News  |  Features  |  Reviews  |  Books  |  People  |  Horoscope  

Andy Warhol
Mao, 1972

Jean Dubuffet
Hommes et Arbres
Somnaliques, 1946

Lucio Fontana
Concetto Spaziale, 

Lucian Freud
Girl in a White Dress

Serge Poliakoff
Composition - Rouge, 
Jaune, Blanc, Bleu 
aux Traits, 1952

Francis Bacon
Head of a Woman

Nicolas De Stael
La Route d'Uzes, 

Lucio Fontana
Concetto Spaziale, 

Yves Klein
IKB 271
to market,
to market:

london calling

by Judd Tully

Both Sotheby's and Christie's turned in snappy performances in the London contemporary art sales in late June, with Christie's besting its arch competitor in sales volume £7.61 million to £ 7.35 million ($11.72 million vs. $11.31 million). As you might recall, Christie's also posted higher results in the New York sales in May, making it a clean though modest sweep for the Christie's team, headed by Brett Gorvy in London and Neal Meltzer in New York. But the real fireworks and genuine drama occurred at Sotheby's evening sale on June 26 under the deft handling of expert/auctioneer Tobias Meyer when Andy Warhol's big and brassy Mao (1972) soared to £672,500 ($1,034,770). New York private dealer (and former Sotheby's contemporary chief) Lucy Mitchell-Innes bought the picture for an unidentified private client. Her seatmate, Paris private dealer Marc Blondeau, was on the phone with the eager buyer and Blondeau telegraphed the bids to Innes who smiled throughout the contest. The trio had to duel with a half- dozen competitors, including Larry Gagosian, the eventual underbidder. The extremely rare Mao had been in the same private collection since 1973. Even though the estimate, at £100,000-£150,000, was absurdly low--a fact obvious to every reasonably informed bidder--the contest still made for great theater. The Warhol icon, the second highest lot of the evening, helped make the sale Sotheby's strongest in London since June 1990. Jean Dubuffet's 1946 oil, sand and putty on canvas, Hommes Et Arbres Somnambuliques, took top-lot honors at £826,500 ($1,271,730), selling to German collector and billionairess Heide Charmat, the mysterious figure who virtually made Sotheby's earlier, June 24 Impressionist and modern sale, snaring five of the top seven lots. Charmat was also the buyer of Lucio Fontana Concetto Spaziale from 1954, complete with glued-on Murano glass pebbles, skipped to £ 386,500 ($594,710). The Fontana would make a strange housemate for a circa 1883 Renoir, another of Charma's acquisitions in the Imp-Mod, but no one at Sotheby's was criticizing the hungry collector's taste. Charmat was reportedly at it again (bidding through Sotheby's Vienna office chief Agnes Husslein) nabbing the wide-eyed and vulnerable Lucien Freud portrait from 1947, Girl in a White Dress, for £364,500 ($560,860). With only 55 lots offered, Sotheby's exceeded its high estimate and achieved a taut 15% buy-in rate. Christie's weighed in with 79 lots at its June 27 evening sale, including five by the Russian-born abstractionist Serge Poliakoff (1906-1969), rarely seen in New York salesrooms. Poliakoff's Composition-- Rouge, Jaune, Blanc, Bleu au Traits (1952) sold to a European institution for £199,500 ($307,230). Both houses cheered that American buyers went after European material usually shunned by that portion of the market, including works by Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana and Jean Fautrier. Christie's delivered a slim 12% buy-in rate but landed mid-way between its £l6.3 million to £8.5 million presale estimate. Christie's cover lot, Francis Bacon's fearsome Head of a Woman from 1960, believed to be the portrait of Muriel Belcher, Bacon's close friend and proprietress of his favorite drinking club, The Colony Room, fetched £540,500 ($832,370). It was a bargain, estimate wise, since it hammered in at £60,000 below the £550,000 ($800,000) low estimate. The moderately sized work measured about 35 by 27 in. A stunning Nicolas de Stael highway scene, La Route d'Uzes from 1954 sold for £315,000 ($485,100) to New York dealer Larry Gagosian. Another Lucio Fontana punctured canvas, this one with a luminous gold ground, Concetto Spaziale (1959-60), zoomed to £452,500 ($696,850). Demand for Yves Klein continued with considerable brio as IKB 272 (1957), one of Klein's eleven "Blue Monochrome" canvases of the same size and format, smashed its high estimate and realized £254,500 ($391,930). Larry Gagosian was the buyer, vanquishing his competition. "What has changed completely and utterly is the participation of Americans," raved Christie's Brett Gorvy. Newsflash: In what can be seen as a vote of confidence for the future of SoHo as the world's most important contemporary art scene, dealer and art advisor Jeffrey Deitch has acquired the Canal Lumber building on Wooster Street (just south of Colin DeLand's American Fine Arts) and will convert the huge warehouse into gallery spaces under the expanding Deitch banner. Deitch says he will continue the cutting-edge programs at Deitch Projects on Grand Street, formerly the home of Fawbush Gallery. Before the massive re-do on Wooster, Deitch will present several shows in the rough-hewn space. "It's a lumber yard," marveled the dealer, who declined to identify the artists who will debut there in the fall. Judd Tully covers the international art market for a variety of publications, ranging from Art & Auction to The Washington Post.