London Frieze Week Auctions

The Wall Street Journal takes a look at the contemporary art market results from the London auctions during Frieze Art Week. The auctions, as usually is the case, had some strong lots and others which did not fair as well.

The Wall Street Journal reports on the sales
LONDON—Christie’s bested rival Sotheby’s and boutique house Phillips during a round of evening auctions last week that tested the contemporary art market before New York’s major November sales.

Sigmar Polke’s portrait of a Native American sold for $8.2 million, roughly four times the low estimate.

All three houses logged solid results overall, but critical tests of deceased or older artists for whom the auction houses are trying to develop markets were mixed.

The auction market during Frieze Art Week, the European art world’s most frantic week of buying held each October, was further boosted by a sale of 43 museum-quality works from the collection of Karlheinz Essl, an Austrian owner of DIY stores whose failed expansion into Turkey and Eastern Europe triggered the sale.

Mr. Essl’s auctioned works last Monday totaled $75 million, between the $64 million and $96 million pre-sale estimate. It burnished Christie’sgrowing reputation as the leader in liquidating large single-owner collections, a reputation that first drove Mr. Essl’s interest in having them handle the “painful process,” he says.

German painter Gerhard Richter fetched the top price but also suffered the most awkward moment in that sale: his four-paneled painting “Clouds (Window)” sold for $10 million but “Net,” a major abstract painting expected to sell easily, failed to reach its $12 million low estimate, prompting a funereal moment of silence from the audience.

Mr. Richter, 82 years old, was the world’s most expensive living artist at auction before Jeff Koons’s “Balloon Dog” sold last year for $58 million. Specialists expected demand for Richters to be boosted by his show at Marian Goodman’s new London gallery that opened last week with sold-out works priced between $76,000 and $4.4 million.

But buyers are establishing a pecking order for Mr. Richter’s older works, auction specialists and private dealers acknowledged after the auctions.

Though “Net” is an excellent example of Mr. Richter’s transition between blurring paint and using a squeegee, buyers shunned it because it wasn’t a “typical” Richter, says Christie’s specialist Francis Outred.

“The aesthetic wasn’t fashionable,” he said.

Mr. Richter’s drab camouflage-colored 1971 “Jungle Painting” stalled at Sotheby’s on Friday night under its $3 million low estimate.

The overall contemporary sale at Sotheby’s totaled $45 million, just above the pre-sale low estimate and below Christie’s’ $64 million total for its competing sale held on Thursday. Sotheby’s enjoyed a surprise hit in its side Italian sale on Friday when a private European collector paid $20 million for Piero Manzoni’s “Achrome,” a blindingly white 1958-1959 canvas.

Attempts to drum up market demand for two artists academically revered but ignored by buyers were lackluster, particularly for Cy Twombly and Anselm Kiefer.

Mr. Kiefer, 69, has always been a tricky sell given his heavily Nazi-themed works that frequently depict him giving the “Heil, Hitler” salute in a Nazi uniform. One of two Kiefers at Christie’s stalled at $563,000, far below its $660,000 low estimate. A Mandarin speaker paid $1.9 million for his 1999 work “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom!,” a $981,000 loss on the work’s previous value but reflective of a trend amid Chinese millionaires to buy works confronting Maoist thought. A buyer at Phillips paid $1.3 million for “For Paul Celan,” Mr. Kiefer’s homage to the Nazi-persecuted Jewish poet.

Mr. Kiefer’s London dealer Jay Jopling also has taken an unorthodox step to bolster his artist’s soft market by involving an academic institution in a business deal, according to people familiar with the situation. In a move many art insiders would consider anathema, Mr. Jopling himself joined as a main sponsor, along with BNP Paribas, of London’s ongoing Royal Academy exhibition on Mr. Kiefer. Having works in a prestigious exhibition increases an artist’s public profile—and the value of the works.

Mr. Jopling has been quietly selling around seven of the works currently on loan in the show for approximately $750,000 each, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Jopling’s former employee Tim Marlow joined the Royal Academy as director of artistic programs, a newly created position, five months before the show opened. The Royal Academy denied that Mr. Marlow’s transition influenced the show or the sales, of which it says it is unaware.

When asked to comment on the Royal Academy deal and his continued purchases at auction of expensive works by other artists he controls who suffer from soft high-end markets including Tracey Emin, 51, Mr. Jopling said he was “not in the mood” to discuss the matter.

Christie’s next month wants between $35 million and $55 million for a major Twombly abstract but a $24 million Twombly painting offered by Van De Weghe Fine Art at Frieze art fair failed to sell.

The Manhattan auctions begin Nov. 11 at Sotheby’s.
Source: The Wall Street Journal

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