Thursday, 30 June 2011

Sotheby's wins plaudits (and pounds) with its German art collection sale.

By Melanie Gerlis | The Art Newspaper Web only
Published online 29 Jun 11 (Market)
Sotheby's made £108.8m in tonight's sale, the highest ever total 
for a contemporary art auction in London

Sotheby's made £108.8m in last night's sale, the highest ever total for a contemporary art auction in London and more than twice the £45.6m made at the equivalent sale last year, thanks to a much-anticipated, focused collection of German post-war works. 

The 34 works from the collection of the German industrialist Count Christian Duerckheim were deep in artists who had moved from East Germany to West Germany just before the 1961 construction of the Berlin Wall—in particular Gerhard Richter, Georg Baselitz and Sigmar Polke. Many of the works up for sale had not been seen since for at least 40 years.

The collection opened the auction and bidding was fervent right from the start. In the saleroom, dealers from Europe and the US—including Christophe Van de Weghe, Thaddaeus Ropac, Alexander Acquavella, Larry Gagosian and Paolo Vedovi—all bid on the works, while the telephones (most usually connected to private buyers) were also busy. Works flew past their estimates, particularly those at the beginning of the sale. Polke's Kopf (Head), 1966, went for £3.7m (est £800,000-£1.2m) over the phone; Baselitz's Der Baum (The Tree), 1966, for £1.8m (est £600,000-£800,000) and Richter's 1024 Farben (1024 Colours), 1974, estimated to make between £1m and £1.5m, sold to van de Weghe on behalf of “a friend” for £4.3m. “It's an incredible collection and the work is amazingly fresh,” he said, explaining why he kept bidding up to such a high level. 

How far people were prepared to go for a piece of the collection was demonstrated in the bidding for Richter's Schwestern (Sisters), 1967 (est £1.2m-£1.8m). Immediately after auctioneer Tobias Meyer began at £750,000, there was a call from the packed saleroom to place the next bid at “£1.9m”. The work finally sold for £2.5m to the German collector Jürgen Hall, who announced after the auction that he was gifting it to the Kunstmuseum in Bonn.

Ropac bid on nearly ten of the Duerckheim works, mostly by Baselitz, getting outbid each time apart on Muh Kühe, 1966, which he bought for £937,250 (est £600,000-£800,000). “The sale was extraordinary,” he said, “I bid on every Baselitz, so to get just one was a bit frustrating!”
In this section alone—which made a total £60.4m against a pre-sale estimate of £31.8m-£46m—five artists records were set: for Polke, Baselitz, Eugen Schönebeck, Markus Lüpertz and Blinky Palermo. 

Duerckheim’s collection came to the auction house through its European head of contemporary art, Cheyenne Westphal, who confirmed that the unassuming collector had not come to London to follow the minutiae of the auction. “We will telephone him tomorrow,” she said.

The remaining, various owner, 54 lots could never keep the same pace (in total £48.4m, est £42.2m-£59.4m), but some of the atmosphere spilled over. “The energy and excitement [from the Duerckheim lots] rolled into the rest of the auction,” said van de Weghe. 

Sotheby's also benefited from following last night's auction at Christie's and was able to tweak its consignors' reserve levels on some of the artists whose works had disappointed. Chris Ofili's Untitled, 1994-1995 sold for £421,250 (est £400,000-£600,000) and Glenn Brown's Secondary Modern, 1998, went for £601,250 (est £500,000-£700,000): both artists had two works unsold each last night. 

“Obviously there were conversations [with consignors] today,” said Sotheby's deputy chairman, Oliver Barker, adding that Sotheby's had also been more “judicious” with its estimates. While the auction house couldn't match Christie's work by Francis Bacon, either in quality or price achieved, its Bacon offering, Crouching Nude, 1961, went for a respectable £8.3m (est £7m-£9m).

Overall, the European works maintained their momentum, while some American pieces flopped—Jeff Koons basketball piece (executed between 1983 and 1998, est £600,000-£1m), Roy Lichtenstein's Eccentric Scientist, 1964 (est £600,000-£800,000) and Andy Warhol's distinctive Campbell's Soup Can (Tomato), 1962, were included in the unsold tally (nine out of 88 works in total were bought in). Warhol's late work, Debbie Harry, 1980, had been much touted by the auction house, but attracted only one bid over the telephone before selling for £3.7m (est £3.5m-£5.5m).

Sotheby's sale brought the week's total amount raised at the three contemporary art evening sales to £200m, more than twice the amount that was made at the equivalent sessions last year (£90.7m).

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