Sotheby’s hosted their Contemporary Art sale in London the first week of October… typically, this is broken into two parts with Italian Art being offered in a specialized sale – they stopped that last year.
Speculation is that the Italian Art market has cooled from lofty and unsustainable levels from just a few short years ago, along with the contemporary art market overall. Back in 2014, the Italian focused sale generated more than £40M… but by 2017, they brought in less than half of that. This year, there were 12 works offered by Italian artists and collectively they generated £13.1 ($16.7M), continuing the recent trend.
Keeping that in mind, the sale as a whole still performed relatively well… let’s get into the highlights!
Two major lots tied for the top spot… As expected, Basquiat’s Pyro was one of them, as well as Banksy’s Devolved Parliament. Basquiat’s work, featured on the sale catalog cover, came into the evening with an unpublished estimate but word is they were expecting in the region of £9M ($11.5M). It was last on the market in 1996, when it was also sold through Sotheby’s London, where it found a buyer at just £221K… this time around, the work went to an anonymous telephone bidder for £9.88M ($12.6M). Another larger Basquiat was also offered in this sale, though it only made £3.26M ($4.1M), which placed it in third on the evening… this one sold back in 1995 at Sotheby’s New York for just $43K – that could have been one hell of an 8th birthday present, dad!
The other top lot, Banksy’s not-so-typical actual painting titled Devolved Parliament (not a stencil work), featured dozens of chimpanzees inhabiting the House of Commons. While the work was executed in 2009, I can’t help but point out the timing of this all given the state of Britain’s politics as they approach a no-deal Brexit… as the saying goes “life imitates art,” and they’re doing one hell of a job. The work ended up sparking a bit of a bidding war that dragged on for 13 minutes… in the end, a telephone bidder dropped the winning bid of £9.88M ($12.6M). That figure set the new Banksy auction record, as the previous high for the artist was just $1.87M for a work that sold pre-market crash in February of 2008. As I mentioned earlier, this was not a stencil work like Banksy’s street art which he has become well known for… while the price achieved was shocking, I think the most surprising thing about all of this is finding out that Banksy can actually paint!
There were 15 works that surpassed the £1M mark, along with three artist records set… among these other well-performing lots was Fontana’s Concetta spaziale, Natura, which found a buyer at £2.5M ($3.2M)… this was backed by an irrevocable bid (one of ten lots that were guaranteed in the sale); the same work sold back in 2004 for just £655K! Other nice prices were made by Manzoni (£1.1M & £1.2M); Dubuffet (£2.6M); Burri (£2.05M); Scarpitta (£2.5M); and Bacon (£2.7M). Conversely, there were a few failures, which included Burri at £1.6-2.2M; Guston at £800K-1.2M; Bourgeois at £1.2-1.8M; Manzoni at £2-3M and Hockney at £900K-1.2M.
At the end of the evening, the sale totaled £54.7M ($69.9M) after selling off 34 of the 39 lots (87%)… they were expecting between £40.4–56M ($49.6-68.9M), so they nearly surpassed the presale estimate. That said, the result was down from last year’s edition which saw 56 lots sell for a total of £68.7M ($89.5M).