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Art Market Watch
Oct. 31, 2005 

Last week's contemporary auctions in London, newly scheduled to coincide with "Frieze Week," named after the Frieze Art Fair and accompanying events, hit astonishing price levels for works by today's trendiest artists. It would seem that the favorable rate of exchange -- £1 = $1.77 -- convinced consignors to take their property to London, and certainly helped boost the totals in dollars.

Christie's London sale of contemporary art on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2005, totaled £5,987,200 ($10,633,267), with 48 of 56 lots finding buyers, or 86 percent. "Christie's continues to lead the market in the sale of contemporary art," said Christie's London contemporary art specialist Anthony McNerney, "and we look forward to further successes in our forthcoming November sales in New York and our December sale in London."

Top lot was Chris Ofili's Nooca (1999), a signature 6 x 4 foot image of an African queen propped on two clods of elephant dung, which went for £344,000 ($610,944), right in the middle of its presale estimate. Ofili's auction record is just over $1 million, set for Afrodizzia (1996) at Phillips, de Pury & Co. in New York last May.

A print of Andreas Gursky's large color photo N.Y. Mercantile Exchange (2000), from an edition of six, sold for £276,800 ($491,596), more than twice its presale high estimate. Gursky's auction record, set last May in New York, is $632,000.

Lots in the top ten doubled and tripled their high estimates. The sale set new auction records for 12 artists, including Albert Oehlen (£243,200 / $431,923), Yoshitomo Nara (£232,000 / $412,923), Matthias Weischer (£209,600 / $372,249), Jeff Wall (£198,400 / $352,358), Antony Gormley (£176,000 / $312,576), Tim Eitel (£120,000 / $213, 120), William Kentridge (£102,000 / $181,152) and Katharina Fritsch (£159,2000 / $282,739).

Christie's London has run a special sale of Italian art for a few years now, and the Italian sale held on the following day, Oct. 24, 2005, did very well, totaling £12,844,800 ($22,683,917) with 61 of 71 lots finding buyers, or 86 percent. Top lot was Pino Pascali's legendary Cannone "Bella ciao" (1965), a metal mock-up of a World War II mobile artillery cannon, which sold for £1,352,000 ($2,387,632). The work was acquired directly by the seller from the 1966 exhibition at Galeria Sperone in Rome.

The sale set new auction records for seven artists: Jannis Kounellis (£572,000 / $1,010,152), Alighiero Boetti (£433,600 / $765,737), Emilio Vedova (£288,000 / $509,734), Enzo Cucchi (£176,000 / $311,504), Renato Birolli (£131,200 / 232,212), Sandro Chia (£125,600 / $222,300) and Fausto Melotti (£120,000 / $212,389).

Sotheby's London held its mid-season contemporary art sale on Oct. 25, 2005, and tallied a grand total of £9,317,280 ($16,443,136), with 180 of 206 lots finding buyers, or 96 percent. The result was "the highest total ever for any Sotheby's mid-season or day sale of contemporary art in London," said Francis Outred and Helen Perkins, specialists in charge of the auction.

Top lot was Jean-Michel Basquiat's Untitled (Leonardo and his Five Grotesque Heads) (1983), an 84-inch-square painting from the collection of the late Cologne collector Wolfgang Hahn, which soared above its presale high estimate of £600,000 to sell for £736,000 ($1,298,893). Other artists in the top ten were Alexander Calder, Donald Judd and Bridget Riley.

Keith Haring's Sneeze (Via Picasso) (1984), a rather awkward, five-foot-square Cubist portrait, went for £176,000 ($310,605), more than 50 percent above the presale high estimate, and Martin Kippenberger's Untitled (1990), a large yellow canvas with "sauber tra la la" written across it, sold for £164,800 ($290,839), more than three times its presale high estimate. A new auction record was set for Victor Vasarely, when his Vega (1956), an optically undulating black-and-white checkerboard, went to an unnamed European collector for £164,800 ($290,839).

The sale of 20th-century Italian art at Sotheby's London on Oct. 24, 2005, totaled £9.7 million ($17,280,000), with 52 of 55 works selling, or 95 percent. Top lot of the evening was Marino Marini's 45-inch-tall bronze Cavaliere, (1952, ed. 7), which sold for £1,016,000 ($1,798,230). Another high price was brought by Piero Manzoni's colorless kaolin-coated Achrome (1958-59), which went for £702,400 ($1,243,185).

The sale also saw auction records set for the Arte Povera relief-maker Enrico Castellani (£164,800 / $291,681), neo-expressionist Mimmo Paladino (£164,800 / $291,681), the late minimalist Francesco Lo Savio (£102,000 / $180,530), minimalist sculptor Guiseppe Uncini (£69,600 / $123,185), Op artist Getulio Alviani (£50,400 / $89,203), biomorphic abstractionist Gio Pomodoro (£36,000 / $63,716), 1970s painter Fausto Melotti (£28,800 / $50,973), kinetic sculptor Gianni Colombo (£25,200 / $44,601), Ettore Spalletti (£24,000 / $42,477) and Mario della Vedova (£19,200 / $33,982).

For complete, illustrated results, see Artnet's signature Fine Art Auctions Report.

"Orientalism" may be an epithet in the groves of academe, but in the auction salesrooms it's a synonym for "gold." Christie's New York held a sale of Orientalist art and 19th-century European art -- giving the former its own catalogue, titled The Orientalists -- on Oct. 26, 2005, selling 161 of 225 lots, or 67 percent, for a total of $11,739,000. The Orientalist section of the sale totaled $5.1 million and 88 percent sold.

New auction records were set for Germaine-Fabius Brest, whose Le Beiram; cérémonie de baise-main à Constantinople, sous le Sultan Mahmoud II (ca. 1864-5), a six-foot-wide, multifigure composition showing a solemn ceremony in front of a palace, sold for $598,400, above its presale high estimate of $500,000; Gustave-Clarence-Rodolphe Boulanger, whose La Cour du Palais de Dar Khdaouedj El Amia, Alger (1877), an exotic scene of a family relaxing in an Algerian courtyard, went for $576,000; and Fabio Fabbi, whose The Tambourine Dance sold for $363,200, more than double its presale high estimate. Five lesser auction records were also set at the sale.

Sotheby's New York held its auction of 19th-century European painting on Oct. 25, 2005, totaling $17,271,000, with 157 of the 269 lots finding buyers, or more than 58 percent. As Sotheby's 19th-century art expert Polly Sartori pointed out, the sale had an exciting start when the first lot, Emile Friant's Cast Shadows (1891), a pared-down, psychologically charged painting of unrequited love last seen in public in 1893, sold for $508,800, well above the presale estimate of $60,000-$80,000.

Top lot was the Polish painter Hendryk Siemiradzki's The Presentation of the Slave (1887, otherwise known as The Girl or the Vase), an erotic fantasy set in ancient Rome, which sold for $1,426,000 (est. $500,000-$700,000). Other good prices were brought by paintings by J.L. Gerome ($1,136,000), Eugen von Blaas ($1,080,000) and Giovanni Boldini ($1,024,000).

Last week, Christie's announced that it had become the first Western auction firm to partner with a Chinese auction house to hold an art auction in mainland China. The sale, titled "Fine Modern and Contemporary Chinese Paintings," is being organized in conjunction with the newly established Forever auction house in Beijing, which is headed by Ms. An Li Ping, and takes place at the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel on Nov. 3, 2005.

Over 450 works of art worth an estimated $10 million are going on the block. Top lots include Wu Guanzhong's White Poplar Woods (est. $770,000-$900,000) and The Hometown of Shakespeare (est. $380,000-$510,000); Huang Zhou's Horse Riding (est. $385,000-$510,000); and Lin Fengmian's Four Beauties (est. $361,300-$451,600). Other artists whose work will be presented include Zhang Daqian (1899-1983), Wu Changshuo (1844-1927), Fu Baoshi (1904-1965) and Qi Baishi (1863-1957). 

The Andrew Edlin Gallery in New York has been named as the exclusive, worldwide representative of the estate of Outsider artist Henry Darger. The selection was made by Kiyoko Lerner, who with her late husband, Nathan Lerner, became custodians of Darger's trove of artworks after his death in 1973. Darger's large color drawings, which can sell for more than $50,000 each, are much in demand -- no Darger work has appeared at auction since 2004. The Darger estate was formerly shared by Galerie St. Etienne in New York and Chicago dealer Carl Hammer. For further info, see

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