Three works significantly out-performed their estimates at Sotheby’s on Friday of last week to produce strong results from a small sale that only represented a less than 10% from the previous year’s very strong sales.
Given that 2015’s results were skewed toward a very strong Italian art market,  Sotheby’s ability to post its highest Contemporary Evening sale during Frieze week was a triumph. What’s more, Sotheby’s was fighting a narrowing market with works by some of the very artists who were feeling the pinch.
The Master, Judd Tully, takes us through the three Gerhard Richter abstract paintings Sotheby’s sold so well last week:
It didn’t take long for the auction to show off the willingness of bidders to stretch beyond estimates. Gerhard Richter’s hotly chromatic “Abstraktes Bild (593-8)” from 1986, apartment-scaled at 47 ¼ by 31 ½ inches, sold to a telephone bidder for £2,837,000 ($3,524,972) (est. £1-1.5 million). At least three other telephone bidders chased the painting.

It was a super evening for the artist (or for those who own his work) as a second offering, “Saulen” from 1968, comprised of seven optically unnerving parts, and spanning 80 ¾ by 275 ½ inches — the largest Richter ever to appear at auction — sold to a bidder in the salesroom for £2,949,000 ($3.664,132) (est. £1.8-2.5 million).

Those were the appetizers before the stunning and brilliantly hued “Garten,” a two part abstraction from 1982, triggered a telephone bidding slug fest that climbed higher and higher at £100,000 increments to £10,229,000 ($12,709,532) (est. £3-4 million).

Tully reminds readers that even though the Garten’s price was strong, it remains far from the market peaks for Richter’s other big abstracts of different sizes and from different years.

“Richter prices from earlier in that decade,” said Alexander Branczik, head of contemporary art for Sotheby’s Europe, “are undervalued.” This Richter last sold at auction at Christie’s London in July 1987 for £49,500 ($61,500).

The night’s top work by Jean-Michel Basquiat is discussed in another post. But the only difference between last year and this year for the Basquiat market has been the record making sale of Adam Lindemann’s Untitled work for $57m in May. That was clearly enough to cause bidders to view the Hannibal work with fresh eyes.
Colin Gleadell takes us through the final big lot:
Only two works were guaranteed, and with irrevocable bids. Peter Doig’s much traded Grasshopper, 1990, previously in the collections of Hans Astrup and then Charles Saatchi, who bought it in 2003 for what was considered an excessive £229,000, was back on the block for the fourth time in 13 years with a £2.8—3.5 million ($3.6—4.4 million) estimate. This did not seem to deter bidders, among them Jasmine Chen, a Sotheby’s representative in Asia, as the painting sold for £5.9 million ($7.3 million).
The other guaranteed work offered some mixed messages about the market for David Hockney’s work. Although Christie’s sold an unusual 1961 painting by the artist for nearly $1m, Sotheby’s is concentrating on the artist’s late landscapes with an example from 2000. Here’s Gleadell again:
David Hockney’s Guest House Wall, 2000, a taster perhaps for his big, late painting coming up in New York in November with a $9/12 million estimate, was estimated at £1.8—2.5 million ($2.3—3.2 million), but it attracted little competition selling on the low estimate, possibly to the guarantor, for £2.2 million ($2.7 million).
What does the sale mean for the Hockney market? The weak bidding might suggest the absence of a pool of bidders for the late work. But the price achieved puts the record-making $9m for November’s work within the bounds of consideration.
Gleadell also offered us a glimpse of what it is like to play in a market that hasn’t quite cooled the way it was expected to. After noting that Christophe Van de Weghe could barely get a bid in on a Calder work being offered for half its 2012 auction price—it eventually sold for a 50% increase in pounds but a wash in dollars—Gleadell gave us this near miss for the prominent secondary market dealer:
Van de Weghe was also in the running for a Christopher Wool black and white painting Minor Mishap, which last sold in New York for $450,000 (£230,000), but was outgunned by a phone bidder at £1.3 million ($1.7 million).