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June 22, 2007 

"My work sells," said the young Russian artist Dasha Fursey, who lives in St. Petersburg and shows with Orel Art in Paris. "But I do not yet have 'crazy money'." We were at the Venice Biennale, but the theme of "crazy money" belongs, of course, to the booming art market. And nowhere was crazy money in more evident force -- this week at least -- than at the four days of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art auctions in London, June 18-21, 2007.

Sotheby's London contemporary
Sotheby's London crowned the week on June 21 with an evening sale of 72 lots of contemporary art. Sixty-six lots sold, or almost 92 percent, for a total of £72,427,600 ($144,319,236), a new record for a contemporary art sale in Europe. Prices given here include the buyer's premium of 20 percent on the first £250,000 and 12 percent of the remainder.

Damien Hirst's Lullaby Spring (2002), a 72 x 108 in. mirror-backed cabinet containing row upon row of candy-colored pharmaceuticals -- 6,136 hand-painted bronze pills, actually -- sold for £9,652,000 ($19,232,575) to a telephone bidder. No wonder people think the art market is off its meds!

The work is actually the closest that Hirst comes to the famed British pastoral tradition. Part of a "Four Seasons" series, the pills were selected by color to evoke spring. Hirst now holds the record as the most expensive living artist at auction, surpassing Jasper Johns, whose Figure 4 (1959) sold for $17.4 million in May. The Sunday Times recently estimated Hirst's net worth at £130 million.

Top lot of the sale was a work by Hirst's hero, Francis Bacon, whose Self Portrait from 1978 sold for £21,580,000 ($43,000,308), well above the presale high estimate of £12 million. The buyer, who bid by phone, was identified only as a U.S. private collector. The price is the second highest paid for a work by the artist at auction; his Study for Innocent X sold for $52.7 million at Sotheby's New York in May.

Of 72 lots offered, 26 sold for over $1 million. The average lot value was £1,097,387, the first time that the average topped £1 million in a European sale. The auction set records for Lucio Fontana (£2,484,000 / $4,949,618), Yue Minjun (£2,148,000 / $4,280,105), Liu Ye (£580,000 / $ 1,146,245), Glenn Brown (£490,400 / $969,169), Thomas Struth (£456,800 / $902,766), Manolo Millares (£378,400 / $747,826) and Keith Tyson (£216,000 / $430,402).

Even the art trickster Bansky got in on the act, when his Pie Face (2006), an Old Masterish portrait of a 17th-century gent who had been hit on the side of the head with a pie, sold for £192,000 ($379,446). The question remains, is it an unconscious self-portrait of the winning bidder?

It's worth noting that proceeds from the first five lots in the sale, works by Hirst, Tyson, Tracey Emin, Antony Gormley and Grayson Perry, went to a children's charity in Britain, the NSPCC Treatment and Therapeutic Services. The total for the five was £1,520,400 ($3,029,549), with Emin's emblematic neon, Keep Me Safe (2006) going for £60,000 ($119,556), a record for a work by the artist in the medium.

Christie's London post-war and contemporary
Christie's London sale on June 20, which included post-war as well as contemporary art, totaled £74,072,800 ($147,256,726), a record in Europe for this category of sale as well. Of the 101 lots offered, 90 were sold, or 89 percent. Such large evening sales are now par for the course in London, according to auction-watcher Josh Baer.

The top lot was Lucian Freud's 1992 portrait of the late Bruce Bernard, who was a friend of the artist -- he authored a monograph on Freud's work, as well as other books -- and picture editor of the Sunday Times Magazine. The painting sold for £7,860,000 ($15,625,680), considerably above its presale high estimate of £5,500,000 and a new record for the artist. The buyer was anonymous.

The top ten included three works by Andy Warhol, two by Bacon, two by Yves Klein and works by Roy Lichtenstein and Piero Manzoni, whose Achrome (1958-59) sold for £2,148,000 ($4,270,224), a new auction record for the artist.

Record prices were established for 13 more artists at the sale, including Thomas Schütte (£1,140,000 / $2,252,964), Christopher Wool (£916,000 / $1,810,276), Antoni Tàpies (£748,000 / $1,478, 260), Michael Andrews (£692,000 / $1,367,588), Pei-Ming (£524,000 / $1,035,573), Paulo Rego (£378,400 / $747,825), R. B. Kitaj (£288,000 / $569,169), Rosemarie Trockel (£252,000 / $498,023), Kara Walker (£180,000 / $355,731), Craigie Aitchison (£108,000 / $213,438), Christopher Bramham (£74,400 / $147,035) and John Wonnacott (£54,000 / $106,719).

As with Sotheby's sale, Christie's auction included works earmarked for charity -- a total of 18 lots in all, from the CAP Collection, assembled since 1996 by Anthony Pilaro, the attorney and investment banker who was a founder of the duty-free retailer Duty Free Shoppers (sold to LVMH in 1996), a founder of the firm that developed the LASIK procedure for vision correction, and a founder of Brite Smile Inc., the tooth whitening company. The 18 CAP Collection works sold for a total of £6,602,000 ($13,124,776), with most of the proceeds earmarked for the Ron Brown Scholar Program, which awards scholarships to African American high school seniors. The top lot in the CAP Collection was the record-setting Schütte sculpture, Grosse Geister, which is actually a pair of eight-foot-tall aluminum figures, one made in 1997 and the other in '98.

Sotheby's London Impressionist and modern
Though contemporary art sales may have more flash, the Impressionist and moderns still command the grander sums. Sotheby's London evening sale of Impressionist and modern art on June 19 totaled £80,395,200 ($159,592,512), with 37 of 45 lots selling, or somewhat more than 82 percent. According to the house, the sale set a benchmark in terms of the average lot price -- £2.17 million.

Top lot was Claude Monet's Nymphéas from 1904, which sold for £18,500,000 ($36,724,350) to an Asian collector bidding over the phone. The previous Monet auction record, set in 1998 at Sotheby's London, is £19,801,500 ($33,013,504) -- meaning the new price is lower in pounds sterling but higher in dollars.

The sale also set a new auction record for Henri Matisse, whose Danseuse dans le fauteuil (1942) sold for £10,996,000 ($21,828,160) to a European collector bidding on the phone. The picture, which shows a party girl in a blue dress slouched on a yellow armchair on a black-and-white tiled floor, had sold in 2000 for £4.9 million. Not a bad investment.

Records were also set for Auguste Rodin, whose sexy bronze cast of Iris, Messagère des Dieux (made 1890-91, cast 1902-05) went for £4,612,000 ($9,155,281) -- ten times the presale estimate -- and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, whose Suprematist-style abstraction from 1923, Z IV, sold for £804,000 ($1,596,020).

Christie's London Impressionist and modern
The sale of Impressionist and modern art at Christie's London on the evening of June 19 totaled £121,127,200 ($239,952,983), which the firm says is a record total for any auction held in Europe. In all, 72 lots were offered and 63 sold, or 88 percent.

Top lot was Claude Monet's Waterloo Bridge, temps couvert (1904), a picture the artist painted from his room in the newly completed Savoy Hotel, which sold for £17,940,000 ($35,539,140), double its presale high estimate of £8 million. The buyer was a U.S. collector bidding over the phone.

Two more new records were set in the top ten. Joan Miró's colorful and emblematically Spanish Le coq (1940) sold for £6,628,000 ($13,130,068), and Natalia Goncharova's Picking Apples (ca. 1909), one of a series of modernist-style works depicting Russian peasants, sold for £4,948,000 ($9,801,988).

New auction records were set for five other artists: Emile Othon Friesz (£1,308,000 / $2,584,980), Jean Metzinger (£636,000 / $1,256,917), Giorgio Morandi (£1,364,000 / $2,695,652), Alberto Magnelli (£916,000 / $1,810,276) and Lasar Segall (£412,000 / $814,229).

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

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