LONDON — “Be brave,” Jussi Pylkkanen, Christie’s global president, urged the crowd at Wednesday evening’s postwar and contemporary art sale as he began taking bids for one of two works by Jean-Michel Basquiat.
At least one seller clearly wasn’t feeling intrepid, withdrawing the sale’s top lot, Gerhard Richter’s “Abstraktes Bild (811-2),” a 1994 painting estimated at about $19 million, just before the auction. Or perhaps Christie’s was unable to generate enough interest in that piece, which did not have a guarantee.
Still, the cautious sense of Brexit-proof resilience in the art market that surfaced at Sotheby’s auction on Tuesday and at Phillips’s sale on Monday was also clear at Christie’s 39-lot auction. The sale brought a total of 39.6 million pounds, or $52.8 million, compared with a presale estimate of $35.1 million to $50 million.
Wednesday night’s mood was particularly buoyed by the flurry of bidding for the Basquiats.
Eight works by the urban artist, who died in 1988, had been consigned to Christie’s by the actor Johnny Depp (six will be auctioned at Christie’s day sale on Thursday). The first of the group, a 1981 self-portrait made of paint and paper on three hinged wooden panels, sold Wednesday after heated bidding for 3.5 million pounds, or $4.7 million, to Acquavella Galleries, well exceeding its high estimate of $1.9 million.
And the artist’s “Pork” from the same year, painted on a door, sold for £5.1 million, or $6.8 million, to a telephone bidder competing with an unidentified woman at the back of the room. This price, the highest of the evening, surpassed the high estimate of $4.4 million.
William Acquavella, who said he purchased the Basquiat self-portrait to sell at his gallery, added that caution persists in the market. “There just isn’t that much quality — pickings are slim — but it’s been like this for a while,” he said. “The auction houses aren’t offering as many guarantees and dealers are doing more privately. Sellers don’t want to take the risk. It’s a volatile time, and people need the assurance of getting the price they want.”
The auction started out strong with Adrian Ghenie’s “Dr. Mengele” a 2011 oil on canvas that is part of a series by the painter depicting the notorious Nazi doctor at Auschwitz. It sold for £398,500, or about $530,300.
(Final prices include the buyer’s premium: 25 percent of the first £100,000; 20 percent of the next £100,000 to £2 million; and 12 percent of the rest. The presale estimates do not reflect commissions.)
Other high points included Sean Scully’s “Eve,” an oil on three attached canvases that sold for £902,500, or $1.2 million.
Christie’s said at a postsale news conference that the auction drew bidders from 39 countries across four continents, including many participants from Asia. Ten of the lots sold to buyers in Britain, which has been buffeted by last week’s referendum result calling for the nation to exit from the European Union. “The response was very global,” said Brett Gorvy, Christie’s worldwide chairman for postwar and contemporary art.
“Asian bidding was across the scale on artists like Basquiat, Ghenie and Scully,” he said. “We haven’t seen that up to now.”
There were surprises. Francis Outred, Christie’s European head of postwar and contemporary art, said he had anticipated that Andy Warhol’s “Two Dollar Bills” would sell to an American “because of the cheap dollar.” Instead, it went to a British-based buyer for $5.9 million.Continue reading the main story