It was back to business as usual at Christie’s last night, where the contemporary evening sale flew above estimate and achieved records for seven artists. The auction fetched £28.8m or £34.3m with fees (est £14.9m-£21.8m), with a robust sell-through rate of 90%.
Ending speculation that the bottom has dropped out of the younger end of the market, two of the seven records were for artists under 40. Adrian Ghenie’s Nickelodeon (2008) sparked a bidding contest in the saleroom, rising more than four times over its high estimate of £1.5m to sell to a European buyer for £6.2m (£7.1m with fees). The Austrian dealer Thaddaeus Ropac was an underbidder.
“Ghenie is positioned as the next Bacon,” says the Los Angeles-based dealer and artist agent Stefan Simchowitz, who bought a bronze by Thomas Schütte and two canvases by Damien Hirst on behalf of clients. Auction records were also achieved for Lucy McKenzie, Henry Taylor, Imi Knoebel, Albert Oehlen, Gerald Laing and Neo Rauch.
Strong bidding from Asian, US and European collectors buoyed by the pound’s slump to a 31-year low after Brexit contributed to an energised saleroom. “If the Ghenie had sold last year for £7m, it would have converted to $12m; this year it was $9m,” says Francis Outred, Christie's head of post-war and contemporary art, Europe.
Conservative estimates also lured bidders; last October's sale carried double the estimate of this year's auction, but achieved a similar result. “Estimates are always a priority. We gave relatively conservative estimates for very very good material,” Outred said, noting that the buzz in the salesroom almost felt like “the good old days”. Simchowitz agreed: “It’s back to business as usual under more normal conditions; normal being relative, of course.”