This year’s fall auctions in London were rather dull, as only a few important works were offered for sale by the three main houses following the 2019 edition of the Frieze art fair. In this context, the market was even more focused on the new generation of artists who have been performing really well in auction rooms in the last few years. This is both good and bad news, as the risk of speculation has now become quite high – and the current economic situation in the UK, which is affected by the threat of Brexit, is not helping.
There were a few good surprises this year during London Frieze auction sales, as the week began with the sale of Jeremy Lancaster’s collection at Christie’s. Indeed the late businessman owned a remarkable collection of works by blue-chip contemporary artists such as a rare Philip Guston painting from 1973, which sold for more than two times its low estimate at $4.72 million.
A beautiful red Study for Homage to the Square by Josef Albers was also acquired for an impressive $1.99 million, as well as a gracious work from Bridget Riley, which sold for $3.48 million.
Christie’s evening sale was certainly the most satisfying session this years for top collectors, as a dozen of important works sold in the seven-figure range. Among them, a large Basquiat was acquired for $10.58 million, as well as a few Richter from the abstract and photo series and a $3.55 million large-scale Baselitz painting from the 1980’s. As for Soulages, his market kept rising as we had planned this October: the painter sold two beautiful works for $3.4 and $6.7 million respectively during the sale.
Sotheby’s sales were far more disappointing, as the number of major works waned this year. The only remarkable attraction of the evening session was the sale of Banksy painting representing the British parliament filled with chimpanzees. We must admit that Sotheby’s demonstrated an impressive sense of timing with this work given the current political situation in the UK. It was also Banksy’s all-time record, as the painting sold for a whopping $12.14 million.
As for Phillips, although it slightly increased its global revenue compared with 2018, there was only a handful of major works presented during the sales this year. The best result was made with a stunning 1972 portrait by Alex Katz, which sold for more than 2 times its low estimate at $4.15 million. Although it topped the estimate pricelist, a mid-size painting by Mark Bradford was acquired for $2.38 million, only a half of Katz’s price. Phillips’ evening session were also marked by the sale of a few Kaws, which all crossed the $1 million benchmark.
The current political and economic situation in the UK is the main factor than can explain the lower quality of the sales this year, as the troubled environment did not encourage British art owners to sell their best pieces. However, the market was rather dynamic on the buyer’s side, as the attendance at most of the auction sessions was high, with bidders from all around the world – 30% of them from Asia at the Jeremy Lancaster sales for instance, according to Artnet.
In this context, the attention of buyer’s was even more drawn to the new generation of rising artists, who achieved high prices during both day an evening sessions this year. Among them, Gagosian’s newcomer Nathaniel Mary Quinn made a remarkable auction debut with the sale of a $261,365 gouache on paper from 2015 at Phillips evening auction, five times higher than its low estimate. Another work by the artist was acquired at Christie’s for $153,846. American artist Eddie Martinez also made a great performance with a record-breaking $415,384 painting at Sotheby’s, which multiplied its low estimate four-fold.
Furthermore, young female painters were highlighted during most sales, the first of whom being Tschabalala Self. Indeed, the 28-year-old African-American painter sold works at each auction house, and even broke her all-time record with a $486,461 painting during Christie’s evening sale. Her American counterpart Mickalene Thomas achieved a similar result with the sale of a $699,111 painting at Sotheby’s, her most expensive work to date.
Last but not least, Julie Curtiss, Loie Hollowell and Shara Hughes confirmed their auction rise this October in London. Indeed, Curtiss broke her auction record with a painting that was acquired for an impressive $262,086, thus doubling her previous record from May 2019. The same thing happened to Hollowell and Hughes, as they both doubled their record with the sales of a $442,153 and $262,086 painting respectively at Christie’s London.
Although some of these artists will undoubtedly have a great impact on the long-term, this new generation is subject to much speculation, as demonstrated by this year’s results. However, it is still too early to separate the wheat from the chaff, as only time will tell who will remain in the public’s eye. In the mean time, we advise investors and collectors alike to be careful with this new scene.
It is rather clear that this year’s rather dull London Frieze auction week is the direct consequence of the current political turmoil in the UK. Indeed, Honk-Kong art sales last week generated impressive results, which indicate that the market is still in good shape. In addition, it showed that the center of gravity of the art market is moving towards the East. As for New York, it will most certainly remain the world’s art capital, as London is slowly but surely losing steam. This situation is also benefiting to Paris, where major international art dealers such as David Zwirner and White Cube are opening new galleries.