Sunday, July 5, 2009

Risk-Defying Sale of Contemporary Art at Christie's

The second highest price, £1,721, 250, went to a perfectly figural picture. Richard Prince’s “Country Nurse” in inkjet print and red paint is the enlarged interpretation of the cover design of a novel by Maud McCurdy Welch.
Photo: Christie's

Well...ART news from across the pond (London) seem to indicate that there is still hungry appetite for works of art. Let's keep it going folks for art's sake!
Newcomer, Artist Jules De Balincourt is moving up to to the high big auction leagues after this auction result. 

Please read NY Times article by Souren Melikian.

Published: July 1, 2009
LONDON — The art market jauntily jumped the last of the most dreaded hurdles laid in its path on Tuesday evening. To the considerable delight of many professionals, Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Sale, seen by market pundits as the most risk-fraught of all fields, brought £19.06 million, or $31.77 million.

Of the 40 paintings, color prints and three-dimensional works in sundry media and techniques, only five remained unwanted. The minimal failure rate, 12.4 percent, compares with the finest performances on record when the market was at its height. True, the money spent that evening is a fraction of what contemporary art auctions achieved in the glorious recent past when the proceeds at Christie’s and at Sotheby’s easily exceeded $300 million in New York and the equivalent of at least half that amount in London — the all-time high at Christie’s New York was $384 million in May 2007, and at Christie’s London it was £86.24 million in June 2008.

But if the Tuesday evening session came nowhere near achieving such numbers, the fault does not lie with bidders. It was the consignors who displayed timidity and balked at the thought of entrusting auction houses with any of those works that somehow drive contemporary art buyers into a frenzy of desire.

As it is, they gladly took what was on offer. Peter Doig, one of the most interesting artists on the contemporary scene, was represented by a large scene, “Night Playground,” done between 1997 and 1998 in a semi-Naif style, very different from his accomplished manner of more recent years. Yet that became his second most expensive work ever at auction as it fetched £3.01 million, the highest price paid that evening.

From the moment go, bidders were so keen that they chased artists rarely or even never seen at auction.

Jules de Balincourt is hardly a worldwide celebrity even if Christie’s experts graciously hailed him in the catalog as “one of New York’s fastest rising art stars.” “Internal Renovations,” painted in oil, acrylic and spray paint on paper in two parts looks like the picture of an architect’s presentation maquette for an urban rehabilitation campaign in some Godforsaken dump. If it is not, it is a pretty good spoof of one. Done in 2006, it went to a Berlin gallery, Arndt & Partner, where it was acquired by the consignor, whose love of the art may be rather fickle. Financially, he or she did very well. “Internal Renovation” made £67,250, exceeding the highest expectations. This was the third time that the artist’s work had appeared at Christie’s.

Joana Vasconcelos, a Lisbon artist born in 1971, was trying her luck at auction for the first time with “Golden Independent Heart.” The title refers to a big affair in translucent yellow plastic cutlery involving the use of painted iron, a motor, a metallic chain and a CD. Keen to make sure that her Independent Heart would be spinning at the right speed, to the sound of music chosen by her, the artist made the trip to assist Christie’s team as they mounted the whole thing in the viewing room. This is an old Vasconcelos. It was “executed in 2004,” the catalog notes. The consignor bought it from Ms. Vasconcelos but the entry does not say whether he tired of the spinning heart or just wanted to make a few bucks. Thus the artist got lucky. At £163,250, her musical contraption went well over the high estimate.

As ever in contemporary art sales, there was no remote suggestion of a common denominator between the works that did best.

The second highest price, £1,721, 250, went to a perfectly figural picture. Richard Prince’s “Country Nurse” in inkjet print and red paint is the enlarged interpretation of the cover design of a novel by Maud McCurdy Welch. The writer is unkindly characterized in Christie’s catalog as “the author of many ... steamy, dime-store love stories.” Perhaps this is why it only just matched the lower estimate, still costing its new owner a hefty price.

Contrast that with the third highest price in the sale, £1.39 million, paid for a 1974 picture by Gerhard Richter, “1025 Farben” (1025 Colors). Here the painter, who would later display a stunning mastery in the brushwork of some of the most beautiful abstract compositions of the 20th century, was content with painting tiny color rectangles. The picture deceptively resembles some color chart with endlessly repeated variants, destined for a supplier of deluxe house paint. It did not match the lower end of the estimate, but as color charts go, it was not cheap.

Jeff Koons came fourth in line after Mr. Doig, Mr. Prince and Mr. Richter in the race to high scores. Market commentators will have difficulty in building up a rationale to explain how he managed to join the club of the First Five runners with “Moustache,” which sold for £1.1 million. The painted aluminum and wrought iron apparition hanging from an orange steel chain irresistibly calls to mind some outsize prop for a Walt Disney movie or animation.

The last of the Big Five in declining order was Frank Auerbach’s “Tree in Mornington Crescent.” Done in 1991-1992, it betrays the legacy of German Expressionism in the uncontrolled fury of the brushwork. Figuration only faintly survives in a work that points to the influence of Expressionist Abstractionism. Enthusiasm greeted this picture, which went above its high estimate at £886,000. By contrast, Francis Bacon’s very fine “Study for Portrait” dating from 1986-1988 barely made it, selling for £870,050, below the lower end of the estimate.

The sale followed no discernible aesthetic direction, perhaps because aesthetics had no place in such an event. Ironically, this is a sign of financial health if nothing else. It has always been so in past sales of contemporary art. And in the current recessionary climate, no news is splendid news.

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