$70 million Bacon Leads Christie’s Feb. 2014 Contemporary Art Sale in London
Christies’ February 13, 2014 Evening Sale of Contemporary Art, which pulled in £124,192,000 ($206,158,720), started on a ridiculous note with a Damien Hirst spot painting of Mickey Mouse, which should disappear for the sake of us all. It made a hammer price of £750,000 or £902,500 with the buyer’s premium ($1,498,150), perhaps because auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen and staff wore mouse ears during the sale of that lot. Fortunately, it was sold to benefit a charity. Of the 49 lots offered, one was withdrawn and nine went sold.
Compared with Sotheby’s the night before, this was a lively almost fevered event with active, engaged and sustained bidding for many lots. A painting by white hot Oscar Murillo had 14 phone bidders interested, and a Lucio Fontana had 10 telephone bidders. Stand out works included a 1966 Francis Bacon portrait of his lover/muse George Dyer (above), that hammered for £37.6 million or £42,194,500 with the buyer’s premium ($70,042,870). During the Old Master sales preview in New York last month, it was tucked into a ground floor alcove (along with the Twombly and Richter, below), completely at home with those older works. It’s sinuous, fraught and vibrant – and spell binding. Ignore the enormous prices for the artist’s work – it’s can be an impediment to appreciating his genius, and this painting is worthy of much contemplation.
Following tentative bidding at Sotheby’s the night before for Richter’s much touted Wall, there was greater enthusiasm for the artist’s 1989 Abstraktes Bild (below), the subject of a dedicated video and separate catalogue, which opened £12 million at ultimately hammered for £17.4 million or £19,570,500 with the buyer’s premium ($32,487,030). There was a selection of paintings by a few YBA’s formerly in the Saatchi collection including Jenny Saville’s Plan, which was exhibited in 1997’s Sensation in London and New York (est. £800,000-1,200,000), hammered for a record price £1.8 million or £2,098,500 with the buyer’s premium ($3,483,510); Gary Hume’s Vicious (est. £300,000-400,000) for a record hammer price of £340,000 or £410,500 with the buyer’s premium ($681,430); and Chris Ofili’s Popcorn Tits (est. £400,000-600,000) hammer price £320,000 or £386,500 with the buyer’s premium ($641,590) – a price reflective of the fair number of Ofili’s currently on the market.
Two Cy Twombly works came up, Untitled (Rome) from 1960 (est. £1.2-1.6 million), opened at £900,000 and climbed at a healthy clip to hammer at £2.3 million or £2,658,500 with the buyer’s premium ($4,413,110), to Turkish collector Kemal Has Cingillioglu, while Untitled (below) from 1972 and part of the legendary Bolsena series (est. £1.2– £1.8 million), made £2.0 million or £2,322,500 with the buyer’s premium ($3,855,350). The Koons market remains strong and his über bauble Cracked Egg (Magenta) (below), also the subject of a dedicated video and separate catalogue, made a hammer price of £12.5 million, smack in the middle of it’s £10-15 million estimate (£14,082,500 with the buyer’s premium or $23,376,950). The work is part of Koon’s “Celebration” series and the first cracked egg to come to auction. Domenico Gnoli’s Black Hair soared way past its £1.8 million high estimate to hammer at £6.2 million or £7,026,500 with the buyer’s premium ($11,544,540). According to Artinfo.com’s Judd Tully, it “sold to London dealer Guya Bertoni, who apparently beat out a determined Chinese telephone bidder. Bertoni acknowledged that she had bought the painting on behalf of a client as she raced out of the salesroom.” Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Slide Germ hammered below its £2.2 million estimate at £2.0 million or £2,322,500 with the buyer’s premium ($3,815,868).
Here’s more on some individual works in the sale.
The story behind the Bacon of George Dyer is complicated and ultimately tragic – from the catalogue:
Among the cast of colourful characters that touched Bacon’s life, George Dyer was perhaps one of the most captivating. The two men had met in Soho in the autumn of 1963.
Painted in 1966, Portrait of George Dyer Talking (1966) is a glowing tribute to George Dyer, Bacon’s great lover and muse. The subject of some of Bacon’s most arresting portraits including Two Studies of George Dyer (1968) (Art Museum Ateneum, Helsinki), Portrait of George Dyer in a Mirror (1968) (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid), andPortrait of George Dyer Riding a Bicycle (1966) (Fondation Beyeler, Basel), it was this man who was to dominate the artist’s greatest decade in paint: the 1960s. Even on the eve of the artist’s major retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris in 1971, an occasion which marked his career’s achievements, it was Dyer who was to mark the occasion, tragically taking his life just hours before the opening.
From the catalogue:
Executed in 1989, Abstraktes Bild hails from the finest period in Richter’s abstraction and is a key example of this abstract style that would become synonymous with the artist and that he would return to time and again throughout his career. These works dating from 1988 through 1992 are the product of a long investigation into the possibilities of painting spanning more than five decades and are the purest articulation of the artist’s improvised technique.
According to a 2103 Koons statement: “Cracked Egg is a symbol of birth. It’s already happened so it’s about moving on and transcendence, like Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. It was technically very difficult to create due to both the concave and convex surfaces.”
From the catalogue:
Executed in 1978, Francis Bacon’s Study for a Portrait is a marked departure from the artist’s painting of the previous decade which had been dominated by canvases that explored his inner turmoil following the death of his former lover George Dyer. It is one of the first beacons marking Bacon’s emergence from this dark period thanks to his burgeoning friendship with John Edwards, an affable young East Ender four decades his junior whom he met in the Colony Club in 1974 and who became Bacon’s closest friend and companion from 1976. Study for a Portrait possesses many of the young man’s distinguishing features while seemingly merging them with that of Dyer and Bacon’s own self-portraits. The work also relates to a prolonged series of very dark self-portrait heads Bacon began in the mid-1970s.
I love this work – it’s big, authoritative, mysterious and magisterial. From the catalogue:
Vast and engulfing, Untitled of 1972 is an outstanding large-scale drawing related to both the poetics of Stephane Mallarmé and Twombly’s celebrated Bolsena series of paintings made in 1969, exemplified by its combination of fragmented language, disjointed measurements, corrections, grids and overdrawings schismatically outlining a sense of poetic calculation in space. It was during the summer of 1969 at the very same moment that Neil Armstrong was taking his first bold steps onto the surface of the moon, that Twombly found himself standing in the Palazzo del Dago on the shores of Lake Bolsena engaged in the painting of a series of white and grey-ground paintings that attempted to reflect a sense of the strange synchronicity of this division in space and time. The fourteen paintings that resulted from this summer came to be known as the Bolsena series and reflected in many ways the culmination of the artist’s increasing interest in the concepts of time, space and measurement as an essential part of his ongoing concern in the late 1960s with the development of line.