Christie’s kicked off London’s evening auction season at a sale stuffed with more than a hundred pieces of contemporary, Modern and Surrealist art on February 28. Combined, these sold for £138mn (£168mn with fees), at the low end of their £129mn-£190mn estimate. Recently made works invited speculation, as has become the auction norm. This season’s opening artist, Michaela Yearwood-Dan, beat expectations by miles — her “Love me nots” (2021), estimated between £40,000 and £60,000, sold over the phone for £580,000 (£730,800 with fees). Earlier in February, Yearwood-Dan’s work sold out at Tiwani Contemporary gallery’s booth at Frieze LA.
Appetite for 20th-century works was patchy and the offering lacked some of the big-hitters at Sotheby’s the next evening. The top-selling work was Picasso’s “Femme dans un rocking-chair (Jacqueline)” (1956), which went for £14.5mn (£16.9mn with fees, est £15mn-£20mn). High-performing works in this category included Van Gogh’s 1885 portrait of Gordina de Groot, which went for £4mn (£4.8mn with fees, est £1mn-£2mn) to the dealer Danny Katz in the saleroom.
The auction house proved its expertise in Surrealism, making £16.5mn (£20.2mn with fees) from 15 works sold by a San Francisco couple that were offered with realistic reserves (est £12mn-£18mn). The market keeps growing for female Surrealists, such as Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo, who both lived in Mexico. Wendi Norris, the gallerist who had helped build the collection, says: “It isn’t a trend or a boom, the world is just catching up.”
Sotheby’s brought in a higher haul at its March 1 evening auction. Its “Now” selection of 21 of the most contemporary works came in above estimates at £11mn (£13.7mn with fees) while its relatively tight offering of 36 Modern and less-contemporary art made £137mn (£160mn with fees, est £133mn-£168mn). Six works went unsold.
The pattern was much the same as at Christie’s the previous evening: newer works often soared against their spurious estimates while the more seasoned artists attracted patchier bidding, generally selling at the lower end of expectations to third-party guarantors. Both equivalent evenings turned over less than in March 2022.
Asian bidding and buying seemed pronounced this year, with Sotheby’s reporting that more than half of the Now lots were bid on by clients from the continent and that three punchy works in its Modern and contemporary section sold to collectors from Asia. These included Gerhard Richter’s “Abstraktes Bild” (1986), which met expectations at £20.8mn (£24.2mn with fees) and Andy Warhol’s “Debbie Harry” (1980), also within estimate at £5.5mn (£6.6mn with fees). The top lot was “Murnau mit Kirche II” (1910) by Wassily Kandinsky, recently restituted to the heirs of its Jewish owners, which sold to one bid below its £37mn estimate for £33mn (£37.2mn with fees), nevertheless a record for the Russia-born artist. Edvard Munch’s dance frieze from 1906-07, sold as part of a settlement agreement after its forced sale in 1933, went within estimate for £14.5mn (£16.9mn with fees).
While London’s sales kept the art business ticking over this week, all eyes are on the New York season in May. Single-owner collections look set to take the limelight again and Sotheby’s has snagged 17 works from the California-based philanthropists Maria Manetti Shrem, an Italian fashion designer and distributor who brought Gucci to the US, and her husband Jan Shrem, a retired publisher. The works will be offered through four auctions on May 16-19 and are dominated by Picasso’s “Femme nue couchée jouant avec un chat” (1964), estimated between $18mn and $25mn. The collection is expected to make between $21.8mn and $30.4mn, and all proceeds will go to a range of artistic and medical charities.
The couple met through the arts and a shared love of winemaking, Manetti Shrem says. Sculptures that she showed in the grounds of her recently sold Napa Valley home, including by Richard Long and Not Vital, are also among the works on offer in May.
Their wide-ranging donations to more than 40 charitable programmes around the world include the UK’s Royal Drawing School, and Manetti Shrem says she counts King Charles III among her friends. Her mission, she says, is to influence others in her circle and beyond to sell their art for charity. “The practice is to leave art to institutions, but the truth is much goes into storage,” she says.
On March 17, Shanghai’s privately owned Long Museum will open a show of new work by the British artist Rachel Jones (b1991), her first in China. Jones, who uses the mouth and teeth as motifs to explore interior and exterior identity, has made a series that zones in on the outline of just one tooth, to create more abstract images, all made in her trademark oil sticks and pastels.
Thaddaeus Ropac began representing Jones, a relative newcomer to the art market, in 2020. At last year’s auction season in London, Jones’s large-scale “A Slow Teething” (2020) opened Sotheby’s evening sale with an estimate of £50,000-£70,000 and sold for £490,000 (£617,400 with fees).
The 30 works made for show at the Long Museum, owned by the collecting couple Wang Wei and Liu Yiqian, will not be for sale (at least not during the exhibition). Ropac will however bring another work from the series to Art Basel Hong Kong (March 23-25), priced at £150,000.
Some ideas motivated by the Covid lockdowns are happily still going strong. One is the Art for Charity Collective (ACC), an Instagram-based auction series founded by the landscape painter Lucy Kent in 2020. Its next sale features 42 works by female artists, on view between March 6 and 10, spanning International Women’s Day. Would-be buyers simply enter their bids in Instagram’s comments section.
Nearly all the featured works have a reserve price below £1,000, including Kent’s “Blood Moon” (2022), set at a minimum £480. A live auction of 14 selected works will run on March 9 via Instagram Live. “We thought about moving on to a more formal sales platform, but it seems to work really well this way,” Kent says.
Artists get a 50 per cent cut of any sales, while 25 per cent of all proceeds this month will benefit Barefoot College International, a charity that supports women in rural communities. The ACC takes 25 per cent to cover its costs. The initiative has raised £270,000 for charity since it began, Kent says. @artforcharitycollective
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