If uncertainty hung over the summer season in London after Christie’s decision to pull its contemporary June sales, Sotheby’s managed to find its footing with a solid auction last night (28 June). The house took £52.6m (£62.4m with fees) against an estimate of £44.3m-£60.6m. All but two of the 41 lots sold.
The result was up 20% on last June’s sale, which took place just days after the Brexit vote. But a lack of big-ticket works meant this year’s total was a far cry from the £130m achieved in 2015.
London dealer Omer Tiroche said after the sale that he felt apprehensive about consigning because he was uncertain how the contemporary week would shape up without Christie’s. “If it had been business as usual, [Sotheby’s] may have been able to extract the larger ticket items from consignors,” he said.
The sale was not without its market darlings, however. The two most expensive artists at auction, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, were among the US artists to lead the charge. The top lot was a 1983 triptych by Basquiat that sold for £5.6m (£6.5m with fees; est £4m-£6m). It went to Sotheby’s chief operating officer Adam Chinn on the phone after lengthy bidding from the dealer Christophe van de Weghe and the Paris collector John Sayegh Belchatowski.
Despite its art historical significance and crisp palette, Warhol’s first selfie, created from a photobooth image of the Pop artist, failed to spark a great deal of interest. Guaranteed with an irrevocable bid, it elicited just one bid before selling on the phone for £5.2m (£6m with fees). It had been touted to fetch £7m
The surprise of the night came courtesy of a collaboration between Warhol and Basquiat, Sweet Pungent (1984-5), from the collection of fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger and fresh to the market. The Brussels-based dealer Paolo Vedovi was among five bidders to slug it out, but in the end the canvas sold over the phone to an anonymous bidder for £3.8m (£4.4m with premium), vaulting over its high estimate of £1.8m.
Records were sparse: most notably Cecily Brown achieved her auction best with The Girl Who Had Everything (1998), which sold for £1.6m (£1.9m with fees), superseding the record set in London earlier this year.
Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art in Europe, reiterated the auction house would not follow Christie’s in cancelling its June sale, despite supply issues. “This building was full of art in March, it is full now and will be full of art again in October,” he said.
Tiroche described the sale as “tight and solid”, but revealed Sotheby’s and Christie’s had struggled with consignments with around two weeks to go before their deadlines. “Lots of material had to be scrambled from dealers,” he said.