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Warhol self-portrait sells for $17.4 million in impressive contemporary art sale

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A colossal self-portrait by "pope of pop" Andy Warhol sold for £10.8 million pounds ($17.4 million) at Christie's in London on Wednesday, doubling pre-auction expectations.

The recently discovered 1967 piece (pictured below), which measures six foot (1.8 metre) square, depicts Warhol with a hand to his mouth in what the auction house called "one of the most representative and iconic images of the artist."

The auction house's evening sale of Post-War and Contemporary art fetched an impressive £61.4 million ($99 million) - the highest London result in the category since June 2008 and well above the £51.8 million pre-sale high estimate.

Dealer Larry Gagosian, bidding in the room, was underbid by Andreas Rumbler of Christie’s on the phone and New York collector and dealer Jose Mugrabi, also in the room, Bloomberg reported.

"It has been an incredibly exciting journey to work with a previously unknown work by Andy Warhol, particularly one with such historic importance," Francis Outred of Christie's Europe said.

"We are thrilled to have been able to publish this work for the first time in our catalogue and to exhibit it to the public for the first time. It drew great admiration both at the exhibition and in the saleroom," Outred added.

The painting is one of 11 large-scale self-portraits executed in 1967, a time when Warhol had established himself as the most important figure in the Pop Art movement. Eight of these works were included in the painter's retrospective at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1989, two years after his death.

A strong result was also achieved by Martial Raysse whose 1962 L'année dernière à Capri quadrupled the pre-sale low estimate, realizing £4 million ($6.5 million) and shattering the artist’s record from 2008, when Snack fetched £1.16 million.

Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild was sold for £3.2 million ($5 million), doubling the high estimate. Its buyer, according to Bloomberg, was Sandra Nedvetskaia, a Zurich-based Christie’s employee who looks after Russian clients. The seller made a hefty profit after he bought the painting for £657,600 in June 2005.

Another star lot was Jeff Koons Winter Bears (pictured below on left) which sold within estimate at £2.9 million ($4.7 million). The 1988 wood sculpture is part of the artist’s highly acclaimed Banality series, which launched him as an international art star in the late 1980s. Another version of Winter Bears resides in the collection of the Tate Modern in London.

Another record at auction was achieved by Jenny Saville, whose Branded (pictured above on right) was sold above estimate for £1.5 million ($2.4 million). Painted in 1992, this notable early work is both seductive and disturbing in its depiction of the female form, as described by Christie’s. It belongs to a group of paintings that convinced Charles Saatchi to launch Saville's career in the international art world. Branded last sold at auction at Christie's London back in June 2001, when Saatchi disposed of it for $337,750.

Eduardo Chillida had a strong performance as two of his works easily exceeded estimates, perhaps due to the recent recovery of his work that was stolen in one of Spain’s biggest art heists. Lo profundo es el aire XX fetched 1.4 million ($2.3 million) while Elogio del Vacío V realized £881,000 ($1.4 million).

Two works by Lucio Fontana and Jean Michel Basquiat made it into the top 10 best selling lots of the evening. Fontana’s Concetto spaziale realized £2.7 million ($4.4 million), selling within estimate, while Concetto spaziale, Attesa fetched £2.3 million ($3.6 million) against a pre-sale high estimate of £1.5 million. Basquiat’s Lead Plate with Hole sold near its low estimate at £2 million ($3.3 million) while £1.8 million ($2.9 million) was put down for his Untitled, eclipsing the £1.5 million high estimate.

On Tuesday, Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale in London realized £44,359,90 ($71,051,252) above the £43 million ($68.9 million) pre-sale high estimate. With Looking Closely, this sum brings the total for Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Auction Series so far this Season to £88,022,550 /$138,728,359 (est. £56-78 million) – well above combined pre-sale expectations – representing the second-highest total for a February Contemporary Art Sales Series in London and the highest total for a Contemporary Art Sales Series in London since July 2008, the auction house said in a statement.

More than 200 clients from all corners of the globe registered to bid from the telephones and in the standing-room-only saleroom. Enthusiastic bidding for the first lot of the sale, Ai Weiwei’s hotly contested Sunflower Seeds (pictured below), set the pace of the auction which went on to establish sell-through rates of 91.5% by lot and 95.5% by value.

[Editor’s Note: According to the Wall Street Journal, midway through the sale, demonstrators interrupted bidding by spreading out a red banner that read, "Orgy of the Rich,” throwing counterfeit £50 notes into the air before being escorted out of the building on London's Bond Street. The demonstrators said they belonged to Arts Against Cuts, a group of artists and students protesting a recent plan by the UK government to explore budget cuts for some arts programs in the wake of the recession].

Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby’s Chairman of Contemporary Art Europe, said: “In Tuesday’s sale, as with ‘Looking Closely’, we saw collectors responding strongly to works of the highest quality that have not been available on the market for very many years. Buyers were out in force for such offerings, with multiple bidders on so many of the lots and participation from no fewer than 12 countries, demonstrating the depth of demand for the very best that the market has to offer.”

The top lot of the evening was Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild of 1990 (pictured below on left). Monumental in scale (225cm by 200cm), this intensely-worked, museum-quality piece attracted bids from some five prospective buyers who drove the price to £7.2 million ($11.5 million) - just beyond the pre-sale high estimate. The buyer – an anonymous telephone bidder – took home a masterpiece of abstract art by one of the key pioneers of the movement.

Works by Andy Warhol were in strong demand. His acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas Nine Multicoloured Marilyns (pictured below on right) - a rare masterpiece from the artist’s hugely important Reversals series – was hotly contested, selling for £3.17 million ($5.1 million) against an estimate of £2-3 million. Four further works by Warhol also performed well, realizing a total of £5.3 million ($8.5 million) against a combined pre-sale total of £3.8-5.5 million.

The first lot of the sale, 100 kilograms of Weiwei’s handmade porcelain Sunflower Seeds (Kui Hua Zi) - the first of the artist’s ‘Sunflower Seed’ installations ever to appear at auction - sold for £350,000 / $560,000 (£3.50 per seed) – more than four times the pre-sale estimate. Four bidders, both in the saleroom and on the telephones, battled to acquire 100,000 of the artist’s seeds. Sunflower Seeds (Kui Hua Zi), which was executed in 2010 and is from an edition of ten unique variants, draws together many of the themes and formal concerns of Weiwei’s work to date, in a sculptural piece which is at once singular and complex in form and meaning.

“This work of art has captured the imagination of the collecting community,” commented Alexander Branczik, Director and Specialist in Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Department. He continued: “We are very pleased with the price realised tonight, which has established an auction benchmark for a work in this medium by Ai Weiwei.”

Headlining the British Art component of Tuesday’s auction was David Hockney's Hotel L'Arbois, Sainte-Maxime of 1968 (pictured below). The painting was executed shortly after the success of Hockney's celebrated run of five solo exhibitions in 1966 and tonight commanded £1.3 million ($2.1 million) against a presale estimate of £1-1.5 million, far in excess of the sum it sold for when it was offered by Sotheby’s New York in 2005.

Further works in the British Art section which sold well include the remarkable and iconic canvas from a crucial period of Bridget Riley's historic oeuvre, Persephone 1, which was estimated at £600,000-800,000 ($930,000-1,240,000). The painting sold above expectations for the sum of £881,250 ($1,411,498). Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North from the Collection of The Brussels Airport Company brought £623,650 ($998,900) exceeding the high estimate of £600,000.

An auction record was established for a work by the Swiss artist Franz Gertsch with the sale of Luciano I (pictured below) for the outstanding sum of £1.5 million ($2.4 million), well above the pre-sale expectations (est. £500,000-700,000 / $775,000-1,090,000).

This exceptional artwork was contested by 5 bidders, before it finally sold an anonymous buyer on the telephone. Commenting on the sale of this work, Carsten Ahrens, Director of the Weserburg | Museum für moderne Kunst, said: "This is a terrific result for one of the most excellent paintings by Franz Gertsch. It was a difficult decision to sell this much appreciated and loved artwork, but the sale of this painting has secured the future of the museum - the Weserburg.”

Three works by the celebrated Spanish artist Juan Muñoz garnered particular attention from bidders in Tuesday’s auction. Two of the works from a private European collection, both entitled Conversation Piece (pictured below) are from the artist’s popular series. The first, cast in bronze in two parts, is one of the most important works by Muñoz ever to come up at auction and fetched £3million / $4.9 million (est. £800,000-1,200,000). The second, from the most formative years of this series and created in polyester resin in three parts, sold for £937,250 / $1.5 million (est. £600,000-800,000). His monumental iron work Two Sentries sold for £301,250/ $482,512 (est. £300,000-400,000), bringing a combined total for sales of Muñoz tonight to £4.3 million / $6.9 million.

The strongest price established on Tuesday evening among the younger artists represented in the sale was for Glenn Brown’s Declining Nude which brought £1.22 million / $2.4 million (est. £600-800,000).

On Thursday, Phillips de Pury will hold its own sale of contemporary art, offering 30 lots for an estimated £8.75 million.

AFP and MutualArt.com staff

 
 
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