After four years of growth which saw sales increase from £32 million in 2011 to £83.6 million in 2015, London’s annual Italian art sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s fell back to £42 million last October.
This year, Sotheby’s attempted to inject some variety into the formula—and some extra millions—by mixing Italian art with a few other related artists and movements: Zero artists Günther Uecker and Walter Leblanc; a Warhol Italian society portrait; Camargo—a Brazilian student of Lucio Fontana, and more, renaming the sale “Italian Art in Context.” The result was a 45-lot sale estimated at a modest £19.5/27.2 million without premium which realized £18.4 million ($24.2 million) with premium added, selling 31—or 69 percent—of the lots (prices include the buyer’s premium, estimates do not).
Top lot, and the only guaranteed lot in the Sotheby’s sale was Alighiero Boetti‘s Addizione, a large tapestry teeming with letters. A smaller version had sold at Christie’s for £1.7 million in 2014 so Sotheby’s were confident offering this with the same estimate. It duly sold for £2.3 million ($3 million), a record for a Boetti tapestry, to a private collector bidding on the phone against London dealer Ben Brown in the room.
Other bidders in the room included the Nahmad family of dealers who pursued the best Fontanas, outbidding Brown on a white-and-brown slashed and punctured Concetto spaziale above estimate at £1.3 million ($1.71 million). Milan dealer Giulio Tega stepped up for a 1967 mirror painting by Michelangelo Pistoletto, Motorciclisti, at a mid-estimate £1.5 million, while Milan and London dealer, Nicolo Cardi bought Vincenzo Agnetti’s 1971 conceptual text work, Nudo, on the low estimate for £125,000 as well as Giulio Paolini’s erotic plaster work, Intervallo, at a bargain £200,000 against a £250,000 estimate.
Heralding his new post with the Lévy Gorvy gallery, Emilio Steinberger bought Enrico Castellani’s all-white shaped canvas Superficie Rigata above estimate for £848,750 for a US client, while Brown, the under-bidder of the evening, finally won out on an Yves Klein sponge at £518,750, with a bid just below the estimate.
Of the below-par performance of the sale overall, Claudia Dwek of Sotheby’s concurred that “it was a difficult sale to assemble.” Read more