Applause erupted in Sotheby’s London hall as Banksy’s famous work Love is in the trash hammered down a record £ 16 million ($ 21.9 million) at Thursday’s action-packed contemporary art auction. The sale, which exceeded the auction house’s expectations, may have marked the great return of Europe’s art capital after a prolonged lockdown.
The most striking element of the auction, which coincided with the Frize fairs, was the influence of Asia’s purchasing power. Banksy sold to an Asian buyer and collectors from the region played a major role in driving the craze for work by young artists.
The night’s biggest spectacle saw 10 bidders locked in a 10-minute battle Love is in the trash, which Sotheby’s said was “created” in 2018 when the original Girl with balloon self-destructive moments after it was sold for £ 1 million ($ 1.4 million) three years ago. Many of tonight’s 200 attendees held their camera phones high and tried to capture the scene (and livestream it on Instagram).
The work eventually sold for £ 18.6 million ($ 25.4 million) in fees, almost three times the high estimate, to an Asian private collector on the phone with Nick Buckley Wood, director of private sales at Sotheby’s Asia. As he prepared to hit the hammer, auctioneer Oliver Barker joked that he was “horrified” that another joke would come.
In total, sales, which included 44 lots (one was withdrawn and six were not sold), amounted to 65.9 million pounds ($ 90.1 million), well above the high estimate of 52.8 million pounds (72.1 million dollars). (Final prices include auction house fees; do not estimate.)
The total amount has risen 38 percent from last October’s contemporary art sale and just below the 2019 edition, which delivered £ 54.7 million. The auction featured works from around the world, with buyers from 33 countries participating in the action.
In the evening, a number of auction records were set for young artists, generating the most excitement of all segments of the market right now. I get what she has (2020), an abstract painting by 31-year-old London-based British artist Flora Yukhnovich, sold for £ 2.3 million ($ 3 million) to a telephone bidder after a 10-minute competition between 10 candidates. The award was nearly three times the high estimate and nearly triples the artist’s previous record set only in June at Phillips New York. It is one of five works by the artist offered in London this week.
The Barefooted Scurry Home by 28-year-old British artist Jadé Fadojutimi — the youngest artist in Tate’s collection — exceeded his estimate three times and sold for 825,700 pounds ($ 1.1 million).
South African painter Cinga Samson, 35, debuted in Sotheby’s evening sale with Lift off, which fetched an almost fivefold estimate of £ 321,300 ($ 438,912). Love song, a playful painting of a figure wearing ear pads by London-based Oli Epp (born 1994), who has gained significant traction in Asia, sold for £ 176,400 ($ 241,941), smashing his high estimate of £ 35,000. And Polish artist Ewa Juszkiewicz, 37, who has received the Larry Gagosian stamp of approval, set a new auction record for her classic portrait twist, which sold for £ 352,800 ($ 481,942), about 10 times expectations.
Nearly a quarter of the evening’s registered buyers were under 40, according to Sotheby’s. “Young artists in their 20s and 30s are matched by young collectors,” said Alex Branczik, who recently took over the role of President, Modern and Contemporary Art, Asia, during a post-sale press conference (his last before moving to Hong Kong) . “There’s really a lot of Asian bidding on young artists.”
Asian buyers have played an increasingly important role in the international auction scene, bidding far beyond Hong Kong, Asia’s traditional trade hub. Sotheby’s said Asian consumption in London sales has doubled so far year over year.
The fact that Sotheby’s rival Christie planned his “evening” sale in the Frize week on Friday at 14 – which will be tonight in Asia – suggests that the company also understands how important it is to have Asian buyers awake and engaged.
The return to the live auction format was accompanied by liquid champagne and cocktails, but bidders in the room rarely raised their paddles; Most numbers went to clients on the phone or online. The number of buyers who signed up to bid online Thursday night tripled that in 2019, Sotheby’s said.
Compared to the buzz surrounding young stars, parties at established blue-chip figures could not burst expectations. Two out of three works submitted by artist Anish Kapoor – one Kazuo Shiraga and one Joseph Beuys – could not find buyers.
Meanwhile, a trio of paintings by Gerhard Richter, acquired 35 years ago by German collectors Helga and Walther Lauffs, fetched a total of 23.5 million pounds ($ 32.1 million), within expectation. Some members of the audience began to leak out after the Richter paintings were sold almost halfway through the sale.
A group of nine Italian works by post-war artists who had never hit the block before found all buyers. Alighiero Boetti Map fetched £ 3 million ($ 4.2 million), the second-highest auction price for the artist. Two by Enrico Castellani White surface sold far above expectation while Achrome by Piero Manzoni sold for £ 668,400 ($ 913,068), more than double his estimate.
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