(UPDATED) 2014 Art Market Vitals To Date: Post-War & Contemporary Sales – More Records to be Broken?

Impressionist and Modern art sales’ record-breaking performances last week in London, provide significant evidence that the art market is still booming – what will Post-War & Contemporary auctions deliver this week?  Last February, Christie’s posted sales of £96.3 million ($150.4 million), however these results were eclipsed by their stunningly successful New York sale in November, of $782.4 million (evening sales totaling $691.6 million and day sales totaling $90.8 million, unsurprisingly, a record for an auction). February sales for 2014, brought in £137.5 million ($229 million)While the Sotheby’s camp, realized £93.2 million ($140 million) worth of sales in February 2013, a far cry from the company’s high of $474.3 million results from November. This year, Sotheby’s posted sales of £104.6 million ($174 million) in February 2014. 

In addition to measuring the stamina and robustness of the contemporary art market at large, Christie’s will in particular, explore at a micro-level, the health of a contemporary artist’s life cycle by selling pieces by Damien Hirst. Less than six years ago, this British artist was so in demand, that Sotheby’s commissioned a special auction in 2008, entitled Beautiful Inside My Head Forever dedicated to selling only artwork by Hirst directly from his studio to the auction block. A rare occurrence, as high-profile auction houses, such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s hardly ever sell works as primary facilitators.  $270 million worth of artwork by Hirst was sold at auction in 2008. Only a year later, sales shrunk by 93%, totaling a diminutive, $19 million. Although, a rather volatile time in the economy (please reference Great Recession/Lehman Brothers Collapse), Hirst’s inflated highs and crashing lows, serve as a friendly reminder of how the contemporary art market can change over night. A once secure investment, can vanish into thin air, with lackluster returns. The Hirst example, a microcosm of the contemporary – can the same be said about art’s recent prodigies, Oscar Murillo and Jacob Kassay as we peer into their art futures? Will Hirst’s stock rise? Another chapter will be written after Christie’s sales this week – stay tuned.
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Chart Credit: The Financial Times

A lot of media hype has been focused on artists who have become household names in the art biz—for the artistic quality of their work no doubt, but perhaps more so for fetching astronomically high prices at auction. Sotheby’s catalogue highlights include: Gerhard Richter’s color field style Wand (estimated to sell for $15 million – sold for £17.4 million) and Andy Warhol’s Mao portrait in his iconic silkscreen style, estimated at £5.5 million to £7.5 million ($9.1 million – $12.3 million – sold for £7.6 million). While Christie’s follows-up on their record breaking Francis Bacon success, by selling…you guessed it, a Bacon. Portrait of George Dyer Talking depicts the artist’s muse and greatest inspiration, is expected to fetch over $30 million (it was last sold at auction in 2000, for $6.6 million – sold for £42.2 million). The Christie’s sale will also feature, Jeff Koons’ shiny magenta-colored Cracked Egg (sold for £14.1 million). All of these pieces, will no doubt stir up excitement at auction.

Interestingly, both Sotheby’s and Christie’s catalogues reflect current trends, the expansion of the contemporary Chinese art market, selling works by notable artists, such as Ai Weiwei and Zao Wou-Ki (15.11.88 sold for £746,500)

For this auction, I wanted to focus on four pieces that I find interesting, and perhaps might not be “mainstream”, but are beautifully rendered works that deserve praise in their own right. Let’s talk art.

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Tour de Charvet (1995)
Oil on Canvas
Estimate: £900,000-1,200,000 ($1,500,000-2,000,000) | SOLD: £2.4 MILLION

A contemporary and slightly abstract take on the traditional landscape, Tour de Charvet, reminds me of a Swiss Alps travel poster from the 1930s with a modern twist. Doig’s use of soft, pastel tones and broad brushstrokes, render his creation of this idealized winter paradise. The painter did spend a portion of his childhood in Canada, and perhaps this scene (in addition to many others) pays homage to the nostalgia of his youth. The gigantic mountain, (whose imposing scale is made clear by the inclusion of a few small skiers in the left hand corner of the painting) appears serene by the painter’s use of light mauves, purples and pale blues, capturing the beauty (rather than the danger) of mother nature’s earthy gifts. Even the exposed rock (painted with deep green hues) of the mountains, peppered across the landscape, blend in, adding realistic touches. The painting’s dominant white and ivory colors, crisply and cleanly rendered by Doig reflect the coolness and frigid weather of this artic scene. Doig’s Pond Painting is also on the auction block for £60,000 – £80,00 ($98,400 – $131,200).

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La gare inondée (The Flooded Station) (1956)
Oil on canvas
Estimate: £350,000-450,000 ($580,000-740,000) | DID NOT SELL

I was drawn to this piece as it plays wonderfully with perspective and depth, in such a unique fashion. Da Silva’s La gare inondée creation of a three dimensional feel, through a two dimensional art form, is another variance and imaginative permeation of the abstract expressionist style. The elongated perspective achieved is truly remarkable, where the viewer either senses a long look down or a long look up, (to be honest, creating a sense of vertigo – this painting is not for the vertically challenged). A web of tangled abstract black and grey lines with white frame-like shapes, set against a deep blue background give this painting a multi-layered feel within deep spatial depth – the abstract structure appears to be floating in a sea of blue (and as the title rightfully suggests, the act of flooding).

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Untitled (1978)
Acrylic on paper
Estimate: £15,000 — 20,000 | SOLD: £35,000

The color palette and layering effect, make Francis’ painting very unique. The background, comprised of a loosely formed grid pattern, overlaid with deep purples, navies, turquoises, and bright yellow hues are reminiscent of work by Jackson Pollock. The contrast between the colors and solid white patches created by the grid-like motif is a modern take on Pollock’s famous drip-style. The soft blend between variations in color creates a watercolor-like effect (a difficult result to achieve using acrylic paint). While the organic shapes resemble gas formations, lightly coloring the canvas. This beautiful and restrained style piece would complement any room in need of a small, subtle hint of color.

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Eva Mudocci (After Munch)
Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
Estimate: £1,000,000 — 1,500,000 | SOLD: £2.3 MILLION

The original, The Brooch (Eva Mudocci) , a lithograph in black on oriental paper, a version belongs to the National Gallery of Art (in Washington, D.C.)’s collection and was recently on show during Edvard Munch: 150th Anniversary exhibition. Another copy was sold for £37,500 ($59,663) at Christie’s. This piece is a further fine example of artists continually seeking inspiration from those who came before – Warhol was certainly no stranger to this method, by creating his own versions of Munch’s work.

Warhol’s The Brooch is a like for like comparison to Munch’s masterpiece. The artist’s famous silkscreens of 20th century stars (mostly from the 1960s and 1970s) have become iconic, including the like of Elvis Presley, Jackie Kennedy, and Elizabeth Taylor. Eva Mudocci sits amongst them (a notable musician in her own right from the turn of the century), justly taking her place in the Pop art story. Eva’s outward looking gaze and endless locks, create a halo-type effect framing her figure. While the contrasting and dramatic, white and black shades, give her a slightly mysterious, gothic air (although she appears to be smiling ever so slightly in Warhol’s version).  A simple math equation: Warhol piece (+) based on a Munch work = high auction price!

Holly knows art.

Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Auction

February 13th @ 7pm (London)
Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Auction
February 14th @ 1pm (London)

Contemporary Art Evening Auction
February 12th @ 7pm (London)
Contemporary Art Day Auction
February 13th @10:30am & 2pm (London)

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