Applause erupted in Sotheby’s London salesroom as Banksy’s famed work Love Is in the Bin hammered down for a record £16 million ($21.9 million) at Thursday’s action-packed contemporary art evening auction. The sale, which exceeded auction-house expectations, may have marked the grand return of Europe’s art capital following a prolonged lockdown.
The most eye-catching element of the auction, which coincided with the Frieze fairs, was the influence of Asia’s buying power. The Banksy sold to an Asian buyer and collectors from the region played a major role in driving the frenzy for work by young artists.
The night’s biggest spectacle saw 10 bidders locked in a 10-minute battle for Love Is in the Bin, which Sotheby’s said was “created” in 2018 when the original Girl With Balloon self-destructed moments after it sold for £1 million ($1.4 million) three years ago. Many of the evening’s 200 attendees held their camera phones high, trying to capture the scene (and livestream it on Instagram).
The work eventually sold for £18.6 million ($25.4 million) with fees, nearly three times the high estimate, to an Asian private collector on the phone with Nick Buckley Wood, director of private sales at Sotheby’s Asia. As he prepared to pound his gavel, auctioneer Oliver Barker joked that he was “terrified” another prank would ensue.
All told, the sale, which featured 44 lots (one was withdrawn and six went unsold), totaled £65.9 million ($90.1 million), well over the £52.8 million ($72.1 million) high estimate. (Final prices include auction-house fees; estimates do not.)
The total is up 38 percent from last October’s contemporary art evening sale and just under the 2019 edition, which delivered £54.7 million. The auction featured works consigned from across the globe, with buyers from 33 countries participating in the action.
The evening saw a string of auction records set for young artists, who are generating the most excitement of all segments of the market right now. I’ll Have What She’s Having (2020), an abstract painting by the 31-year-old London-based British artist Flora Yukhnovich, sold for £2.3 million ($3 million) to a phone bidder after a 10-minute competition among 10 contenders. The price was nearly three times the high estimate and almost triple the artist’s previous record, set only in June at Phillips New York. It is one of five works by the artist on offer in London this week.
The Barefooted Scurry Home by the 28-year-old British artist Jadé Fadojutimi—the youngest artist in Tate’s collection—went over three times its estimate, selling for £825,700 ($1.1 million).
South African painter Cinga Samson, 35, made his Sotheby’s evening sale debut with Lift Off, which fetched a nearly quintuple-estimate £321,300 ($438,912). Love Song, a playful painting of a figure wearing ear pods by the London-based Oli Epp (born 1994), who has gained considerable traction in Asia, sold for £176,400 ($241,941), smashing its £35,000 high estimate. And Polish artist Ewa Juszkiewicz, 37, who has received the Larry Gagosian stamp of approval, achieved a new auction record for her twist on classical portraiture, which sold for £352,800 ($481,942), around 10 times expectations.
Almost a quarter of the evening’s registered buyers were under 40 years old, according to Sotheby’s. “Young artists in their 20s and 30s are matched by young collectors,” Alex Branczik, who recently took on the role of chairman, modern and contemporary art, Asia, said during a post-sale press conference (his last before moving to Hong Kong). “There is indeed a lot of Asian bidding on young artists.”
Asian buyers have been playing an increasingly important role in the international auction scene, bidding well beyond Hong Kong, Asia’s traditional trade hub. Sotheby’s said Asian spending in London sales has doubled so far year over year.
The fact that Sotheby’s rival Christie’s scheduled its Frieze week “evening” sale at 2 p.m. on Friday—which will be evening in Asia—suggests that company, too, understands how important it is to have Asian buyers awake and engaged.
The return to the live auction format was accompanied by flowing champagne and cocktails, but in-room bidders somewhat rarely raised their paddles; most lots went to clients on the phone or online. The number of buyers registered to bid online on Thursday night tripled that in 2019, Sotheby’s said.
Compared to the buzz surrounding young stars, lots by established blue-chip figures failed to shatter expectations. Two of three works consigned by artist Anish Kapoor—a Kazuo Shiraga and a Joseph Beuys—failed to find buyers.
Meanwhile, a trio of paintings by Gerhard Richter, acquired 35 years ago by German collectors Helga and Walther Lauffs, fetched a combined £23.5 million ($32.1 million), within expectations. Some members of the audience began to trickle out after the Richter paintings were sold almost halfway through the sale.
A group of nine Italian works by postwar artists that had never before hit the block all found buyers. Alighiero Boetti’s Mappa fetched £3 million ($4.2 million), the second highest auction price for the artist. Two of Enrico Castellani’s Superficie Bianca sold well above expectations while Achrome by Piero Manzoni sold for £668,400 ($913,068), more than double its estimate.
The sale exceeded expectations thanks in large part to Asia’s buying power.
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