Contemporary Art sales in February: a bold selection with records expected



The big Contemporary Art sales begin just a few days after the Impressionist & Modern Art sales in London. Sotheby’s kicks off on 15 February and will be offering the work with the highest estimate of the 3-day sales marathon: an abstract painting by Gerhard RICHTER, Abstraktes Bild, carrying a price tag of £5m – £7m. The following day the star piece at Christie’s will be a self-portrait by Andy WARHOL (estimated £3m – £5m) and on the third day, Phillips will be hoping to fetch over £1m for Jean-Michel BASQUIAT’s Overrun. In all, the catalogues for these sales do not contain a large number of works at 7-figure prices. However, the selections have a certain audaciousness with some strong pieces, some very optimistic estimates and a number of new records targeted.

Three days of sales: the lots to watch…
15 February 2011: Sotheby’s
Sotheby’s is opening its session with a surprising work by the artist AI Weiwei made with 100 kilos of sunflower seeds. This piece, estimated at £80,000 – £120,000, is in fact made of thousands of tiny hand-painted ceramic sculptures. This work is closely related to the installation exposed at Turbine Hall in the Tate Modern (The Unilever Series: Ai Weiwei, 12 October 2010 – 2 May 2011) made of roughly 100 million grains, whose total weight is estimated at 150 tons!
Among the other works to watch, there is Declining nude by Glenn BROWN, expensively estimated at £600,000 – £800,000. The artist undoubtedly has the wind in his sails at the moment after the sale of his Dali-Christ for £1.25m (approx. $1.8m) in June 2010 at Christie’s. Also, a superb alabaster sculpture by Anish KAPOOR (est. £500,000 – £700,000), an immaculate work by Günther UECKER (Lichtfeld, £300,000 – £400,000) whose price index exploded in 2010 with four new auction records, and a very dynamic painting by Julie MEHRETU (Ruffian Logistics) carrying an optimistic upper estimate of one million pounds. Mehretu’s current record of $2m (£1.24m, on 9 September 2010) is for an ink work that is certainly less colourful than Ruffian Logistics but it was twice the size (284.5 x 630.6 cm). In addition, three works by Frank AUERBACH estimated at between £500,000 and £1.2m.
Sotheby’s is hoping for new records for Franz GERTSCH and Cindy SHERMAN’s Untitled #87. The Gertsch work entitled Luciano I is a hyper-realist 3-metre acrylic from the Stiftung Neues museum Weserburg Bremen. It is estimated £500,000 – £700,000 versus an artist’s personal record £153,000 that has stood for 21 years ($261,000 on 22 June 1990 at Kornfeld Galerie & Cie). As for Sherman’s Untitled #87, (1/10, measuring 60.3 x 121.3 cm), this subject changed hands for the equivalent of £180,000 ($350,000) on 15 May 2008 at Sotheby’s, and is now being offered at £400,000 – £600,000 (The grand return of Cindy Sherman). In the same price range, Sotheby’s is offering edition 5/12 of Antony GORMLEY’s Angel of the north. Its twin sister (2/12) went under the hammer for £480,000 at Sotheby’s on 17 October 2008.

16 February: Christie’s
One of the most interesting result of the Christie’s sale could be generated by the French pop artist Martial RAYSSE whose price index is far, very far, behind his American “peers”. His strongly-coloured painting L’année dernière à Capri (titre exotique) dated 1962 is estimated at £1m – £1.5m. It is a portrait of a heavily made-up woman staring at the spectator with what appears to a black eye. The work is being sold for charity and the seller’s generosity will undoubtedly inspire the bidding.
For the sanguine Self-Portrait by the master of Pop art Andy Warhol – the estimate is three times higher at £3m – £5m. Still within the Pop art field, the childish polychrome wooden sculpture Winter Bears by Jeff KOONS is priced at £2.5m – £3.5m.

Christie’s is also depending heavily on four works by Lucio FONTANA (total estimate of £3.85m – £5.7m) and four works by Gerhard Richter (total estimate of £3.2m – £4.3m). The catalogue also contains one painting by Willem DE KOONING (Untitled XXVIII) estimated at £2.4m – £2.8m, one by Jean-Michel Basquiat (Lead Plate with Hole) estimated at £2m – £3m, and one painting by Anselm KIEFER (Athanor) that is at being sold for its third time in a decade. On 14 November 2001, Athanor generated the equivalent of £730,000 (approximately $1.05m) at Sotheby’s New York, setting the artist’s record at the time. Then on 10 May 2005 Athanor fetched the equivalent of £371,700 ($700,000) at Sotheby’s, New York. This time, it is carrying a price range of £800,000 – £1.2m.
Another astonishing work: The Last supper, by Hiroshi SUGIMOTO, seven metres wide, showing a scene of wax characters. This work changed hands for between £250,000 and £260,000 at auctions between 2007 and 2008 and this time it is priced at £400,000 – £600,000.

To be watched at this sale: the two Indian artists Bharti KHER and Raqib SHAW for whom demand is currently strong and who have both been getting significant media exposure. Also Ahmed ALSOUDANI, whose ‘infant’ price index is growing at an astonishing speed (untitled painting £200,000 – £300,000).

17 February: 29 carefully selected works at Phillips, de Pury & Company
The leading quarto at Phillips consists of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Overrun (1985), estimated £1m – £1.5m, a highly colourful tondo by Raqib Shaw entitled Absence of God III… and His Tears of Blood Will Drown the Cities of Men II, estimated £600,000 – £800,000, The Painting on an Easel by Ilya & Emilia KABAKOV, estimated £400,000 – £600,000, and Concetto spaziale, Attesa by Lucio Fontana, estimated £400,000 – £600,000.
Works by Günther Uecker, Robert MORRIS, Subodh Gupta, Rudolf STINGEL, Martin KIPPENBERGER, Marlene DUMAS and Bill VIOLA will also be appearing on the Phillips podium.
The following day, Phillips is proposing another Contemporary sale: the Valencia Contemporary Art Collection, with no less than 194 works. Aiming at a lower budget bracket, this sale provides plenty of opportunity for art lovers to indulge their passion for less than $10,000 with a number of strong works such as The Gathering by Rita ACKERMANN (estimated £5,000 – £7,000) or Bogey by Henning KLES (estimated £4,000 – £6,000).