Art And Culture

Christie’s Calm Despite Retreat of $18m Richter Work

Christie’s Calm Despite Retreat of $18m Richter Work
Christie’s Calm Despite Retreat of $18m Richter Work

An anonymous US collector’s decision to withdraw the top lot an hour before Christie’s sale on Wednesday night made for a jittery start in an already uncertain market in London.

The 1994 Abstraktes Bild (811-2) had been estimated to sell in the region of $18.6 million; its recall meant Christie’s had its lowest-value June auction since 2009, AP reported.

But a run of good prices for artists including Sean Scully, Adrian Ghenie and Jean-Michel Basquiat helped banish Brexit blues and contributed to a decent result of $44.8 million, well within the $35 to $50 million estimate. The sell-through rate was a very strong 92%.

Edmund Francey, Christie’s head of post-war and contemporary art in London, said the work by German visual artist Gerhard Richter, 84, was withdrawn “on the client’s instruction”. The Belgian collector Alain Servais said, “There is no direct relation to Brexit except—as for the whole art market—we are living in more uncertain times.”

Of the 39 lots offered, ten went to collectors based in the UK, including Andy Warhol’s 1962 black-and-white dollar bill painting, which sold for $5.2 million (estimated $5.3-$8 million). Christie’s decision to reveal the breakdown of UK buyers is most likely strategic ahead of its 250th anniversary sale of British art, but it is nonetheless striking given the dominance of US and Asian bidders this week, in part due to a devalued pound.

An Asian collector bidding by phone through Elaine Holt, a Hong Kong-based director of impressionist and modern art, bought one of two Basquiat paintings, a 1981 work painted on a door fetched £4.5 million, the highest price of the night. The other Basquiat, a self-portrait from the same year, sold to the New York dealer William Acquavella for $4.1 million.

“It felt as if there was a lot of US and Asian bidders last night. A lot of the expensive works were going to Asia,” said the London-based art advisor Aphrodite Gonou.

Fears over Brexit’s effect on the art market have largely been allayed this week, but, as Gonou points out, the real litmus test comes next season. “We will probably have a more realistic picture of what is happening with the market in the autumn. With this week’s sales, the pound sank so low it attracted more people.”