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Sotheby's February 2011 Contemporary Art Evening Auction Realises $71,051,252
Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild - Tonight’s Top Lot - Sells For £7,209,250 / $11,547,056 / €8,607,827. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Tonight, Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening sale realised £44,359,900/$71,051,252/€52,965,613 - above the high estimate (£30.4-£43 million/$48.7-$68.9 million**). 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 /€104,465,529 (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. 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, set the pace of the auction which went on to establish sell-through rates of 91.5% by lot and 95.5% by value.

Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby’s Chairman of Contemporary Art Europe, said: “This evening’s results, combined with the remarkable results established for Looking Closely last week, bring the overall total for Contemporary Art sold in this series to an outstanding £88 million. This is our highest total for a Contemporary Art sales series in London since July 2008, and our day sale is still to come. In tonight’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.”

Oliver Barker, Senior Director and Senior International Specialist in Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Department, said: “The enduring and global appeal of Warhol was in full evidence tonight, with strong competition for his rare ‘Nine Multicoloured Marilyns’, as well as for the other four works by the artist we offered this evening. But Warhol shared the limelight with a number of others – including Juan Muñoz and Franz Gertsch. Both artists were represented by rare works that had been out of circulation for a very long time, and both excited enormous competition: Gertsch’s ‘Lucian 1’ exceeded the previous record by a factor of ten, and competition for Muñoz’s record-breaking ‘Conversation Piece’ drove the price to five times its estimate. Following the exceptional prices achieved for Bacon and Freud at Sotheby’s last week, British Art was again much sought after tonight: works by Auerbach, Hockney and Riley commanded strong prices, and Glenn Brown’s ‘Declining Nude’ was particularly coveted.”

The top lot of the evening was Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild of 1990. Monumental in scale (225cm by 200cm), this intensely-worked, museum-quality piece attracted bids from some five prospective buyers who drove the price to £7,209,250 / $11,547,056 / €8,607,827 - beyond the pre-sale high estimate (est. £5–7 million / €5,830,000–8,160,000 / $7,740,000–10,840,000). 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 (1928-1987) were in strong demand. His acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas Nine Multicoloured Marilyns - a rare masterpiece from the artist’s hugely important Reversals series – was hotly contested, selling for £3,177,250 / $5,089,001 / €3,793,629, against an estimate of £2-3 million (€2,330,000-3,500,000 / $3,100,000-4,650,000). Four further works by Warhol also performed well, realising total of £5,286,250 / $8,466,987 / €6,311,769 against a combined pre-sale total of £3,800,000-5,500,000.

The first lot of the sale, 100 kilograms of Ai 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 £349,250 / $559,394 / €417,004 (£3.50 per seed) – more than four times the pre-sale estimate of £80,000-120,000 (€93,500-140,000 / $124,000-186,000). 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 this evening’s auction was David Hockney's Hotel L'Arbois, Sainte-Maxime of 1968. The painting was executed shortly after the success of Hockney's celebrated run of five solo exhibitions in 1966 and tonight commanded £1,329,250 / $2,129,060 / €1,587,121 against a presale estimate of £1-1.5 million (€1,170,000-1,750,000 / $1,550,000-2,330,000), 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 (€700,000-935,000 / $930,000-1,240,000). The painting sold above expectations for the sum of £881,250 / $1,411,498 /€ 1,052,210. Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North from the Collection of The Brussels Airport Company brought £623,650/$998,900/€744,637 exceeding the high estimate of £600,000 (€700,000 / $930,000).

An auction record was established for a work by the Swiss artist Franz Gertsch with the sale of Luciano I for the outstanding sum of £1,497,250 / $2,398,145 / €1,787,713, well above the pre-sale expectations (est. £500,000-700,000 / €585,000-820,000/ $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, 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 tonight’s auction. Two of the works from a private European collection, both entitled Conversation Piece, 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 £3,065,250 / $4,909,611 / €3,659,901 (est. £800,000-1,200,000 / €935,000-1,400,000 /$1,240,000-1,860,000). The second, from the most formative years of this series and created in polyester resin in three parts, sold for £937,250 / $1,501,193 / €1,119,074 (est. £600,000-800,000 / €700,000-935,000 /$930,000-1,240,000). His monumental iron work Two Sentries sold for £301,250/ $482,512 / €359,692 (est. £300,000-400,000 / €350,000-466,000 /$465,000-625,000), bringing a combined total for sales of Muñoz tonight of £4,303,750 / $6,893,316/ €5,138,672.

The strongest price established this evening among the younger artists represented in the sale was for Glenn Brown’s Declining Nude which brought £1,273,250 / $2,39,365 / €1,520,257 (est. £600-800,000 / €700,00-935,000 / $930,000-1,240,000).

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