It took a breathtaking span of 26 hours in London for more records to fall in the thriving global art market.
Works by Gerhard Richter, Lucio Fontana, and Cy Twombly were among those that set the pace at the post-war and contemporary art sales hosted by Christie’s and Sotheby’s.
The highest priced lot took place on Tuesday when Richter’sAbstraktes Bild surprised the packed auction room on Bond Street with aggressive phone bids coming in at 2 million British pound increments ($3.1m).
The final sale price of 30.4 million pounds ($46.8m) established a new auction record by a living European artist.
The anonymous bidder, reported to be an American, was represented by Sotheby’s
worldwide co-head of contemporary art,
“I think I can genuinely say it went to someone who truly wanted this painting, and he was set on buying it tonight,” Westphal said, noting Richter also happened to be her favourite artist.
A sister painting of the large abstract work was sold by
Eric Clapton in 2012 for a then-record of 21 million pounds ($32m).
The artwork, which measures 3 x 2.5 metres draped with jagged lines of reds and greens, was last sold on auction at Sotheby’s in 1999 for $607,500, generating a return of 32.4 percent annually.
“Richter is not hot all of a sudden, he has always been sought after,” said Arianne Levene Piper,
founder of the New Art World consultancy
“There are plenty of ultra-high net worth collectors who are willing to pay for top works.
This explains why a great painting by a great artist will sell for high prices at auction.”
Works by another European artist, Francis Bacon, failed to make headlines this auction season, despite drumming up a buzz prior to the sales.
LONDON— Sotheby’s shook off doubts stemming from the ouster of its chief executive late last year, earning this past week its highest total for artwork auctioned in London from its contemporary art department.
The company’s annual February auction Tuesday totaled $188 million, representing a 31% increase from 2014’s February sale.
In November, William Ruprecht stepped down as Sotheby’s CEO, following a monthslong campaign by hedge-fund activist Dan Loeb to shake up the company’s management. Mr. Ruprecht’s handling of the contemporary art division was a focus of criticism.
On Friday, Sotheby’s said it wouldn’t be paying a special dividend initiated last year, saying it wanted to preserve “flexibility” in its “capital allocation” while searching for a new chief executive.
Tuesday’s auction result, within Sotheby’s $136 million to $193 million pre-sale estimate, helped the publicly traded auction house beat privately owned nemesis Christie’s, which sold $178 million worth of art on Wednesday, down 16% from a year earlier.
Asian and Middle Eastern participation in Sotheby’s evening session on Tuesday was low, with only 9% of buyers from that region. But South American participation doubled from last year, with 37% of buyers coming from South and North America combined. At Christie’s, about a fifth of buyers were from Asia and the Middle East, with Europe and North America accounting for about half.
The week’s biggest art sale was Gerhard Richter’s 1986 painting “Abstract Picture, 599.” It sold over the phone to Ken Griffin, founder of investment fund Citadel, at Sotheby’s for $46 million, according to people familiar with the matter. The purchase was highly unusual for the billionaire, better known for collecting more mainstream artwork, including Impressionists. Mr. Griffin broke the previous Richter record of $37 million set by Sotheby’s in May 2013. The 118-inch by 99-inch work, featuring a metallic-looking paint that glistens, drew its second-highest bid from a private collector working through Gallus Pesendorfer, a Cologne-based specialist who typically works with German buyers.