London / Paris


An astonishing start to the new auction season in London has brought the vibrant Contemporary Art market back into the limelight. During the first fifteen days of October, London was the centre of the art world, with top-level events including Frieze London, Frieze Masters and the high-quality and eclectic Design fair, PAD. The city also hosted 1-54 the success of which confirms the development of the African art market and a number of superb exhibitions including that of Yayoi Kusama at the Victoria Miro Gallery and Pierre Huyghe at the Serpentine. The density and quality of London’s events is a real challenge for Paris, which takes over as capital of the global Art Market during the FIAC week. At the halfway point in this month of dense art market activity – including lots of prestigious and not-so-prestigious auctions – Artprice picks out the key news from past and upcoming sales, with lots of major results at stake.

Highs… and lows

Interpreted as an ‘electrifying moment in the history of the art market, the self-destruction of Banksys Girl With Balloon at Sotheby’s on 5 October, after fetching nearly $1.4 million, attracted so much attention that significant auction records at Christie’s and Sotheby’s Contemporary Art sales went almost unnoticed. In fact, a number of major results were hammered, some representing veritable turning points in the price ratings of certain artists… Foremost among these is the new record for Jenny SAVILLE all the more remarkable for taking the artist past the $10 million threshold for the first time – after Sothebys managed to generate $12.5 million for her monumental nude Propped, a remarkable masterpiece of the genre and certainly the artist’s best work ever submitted for auction. Meanwhile, Christie’s hammered two new records for the German artist Albert OEHLEN on the same day, both at over $3 million, with one close to $4 million (Stier mit loch (Bull with hole), $3.9 million). A former pupil of Sigmar Polke, Albert Oehlen is at the top of his career and his price inflation has made him a favourite with market-makers: his price index shows a phenomenal increase of +2,510% since the year 2000.

Another notable result was the $1.1 million (incl.fees) hammered for Vom Aufsteigenden Blau (From the Rising Blue) a 1.5 metre tall canvas by Ernst Wilhelm NAY (1902-1968) generating the best result of Christie’s day sale on 5 October. This 7-digit result confirms the currently intense demand for works by this artist who recently set a new auction record when his Sheiben und Halbscheiben (1955) fetched $2.7 million at Ketterer Kunst GmbH on 9 December 2017. Germany accounts for about 80% of his auction turnover. Regarded as one of the most important German Post-War painters, Ernst Wilhelm Nay produced abstract works that explored the mysteries of colour with a genuinely ‘musical energy. In fact Nay was deeply inspired by the Cologne music scene of the 1950s with composers like Pierre Boulez, Luigi Nono and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Like a composer working with sounds, Ernst Wilhelm Nay worked with the rhythm, values and dynamics of colour. At the market level, his recent success reflects the generally high level of demand for abstract painters, whose price indexes are still rising. The best result of the Sothebys day sale was also for an abstract work…

Entitled Passenger Red White, Sean SCULLY’s abstract work fetched $767,000 on 6 October at Sothebys day sale. The prices of this Irishborn American-based artist have been firming since Sotheby’s generated a new record of $1.7 million for his Landline Sea on 19 May 2017. His price index has shown a +210% increase since 2000.

Apart from these highlights there were lots of new records and spectacular results in a newsflow dominated by BANKSY’s strategic master stroke. On 4 October an important work by Francis Bacon (Figure in Movement, a post-mortem portrait of his muse George Dyer) reached $26 million at Christie’s, the highest result so far this season. The London marketplace – which attracts all the major international collectors – has a phenomenal capacity to ‘move’ high-end artworks. However, some works did not sell… including some of the most highly estimated. In fact not all prices are moving up, and this latest batch of prestige sales saw a couple of major disappointments. Jeff KOONS’ iconic Cracked Egg (Blue) failed to sell at Christie’s against an estimate of $13 – 19 million. Likewise for an important painting by Gerhard RICHTER carrying a $15 – 23 million estimate. The high-end market is undoubtedly very dynamic at the moment, but one or two adjustments are underway during this transitional period with Brexit looming and additional taxes being imposed on Chinese imports to the United States.

And Paris during the Fiac?

For the second half of October, the focus of the global art market moves to Paris with the groundwork already started by a number of high quality exhibitions. These include a magnificent Zao Wou-Ki show at the Museum of Modern Art, an ambitious Miro retrospective at the Grand Palais, a superb tribute to Alberto Giacometti at the Maillol Museum and an exhibition at the Louis Vuitton Foundation presenting a hundred works by Egon Schiele and as many by Jean-Michel Basquiat, including the famous painting acquired by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa for $110.5 million (Untitled (1982) on 18 May 2017 in New York.

While Paris museums focus on the extraordinary talent of recognised masters, the Fiac will present nearly 3,000 artists on the booths of the Grand Palais, and the event is big this year with more galleries than the Frieze (193 versus 148). It will be even bigger in 2023 after a three-year project to expand the exhibition area.

For the time being, the innovation is mainly focused on the Off fairs whose commercial activity has somewhat diminished in recent years. There is a clear ambition to boost the commercial dynamic with various new proposals. The YIA fair has redefined its identity and changed its name to the “Paris Contemporary Art Show”; the Outsider fair will be held in the more intimate atmosphere of the Atelier Richelieu, which should allow a less chaotic presentation than at previous editions. A new fair will also open its doors under the welcoming name Bienvenue with a long-stay formula of 15 days instead of the usual 3-4 days at art fairs. This new format will be tested with twenty French and foreign galleries in a layout midway between a Contemporary art fair and a collective exhibition. The goal is to bring artists, gallery owners and the public closer together… thereby adding a little more conviviality to the ‘art fair’ concept. Meanwhile, two other fairs will be celebrating their 4th editions: Asia now with works by more than 150 artists and Paris International which favours a small format (42 galleries) and international proposals from 21 countries.

As in London during the Frieze, the FIAC period is accompanied by the city’s first major auction sales of the new season.

On 17 and 18 October, Christie’s is hosting three sales with a number of treasures including important abstract paintings by Nicolas DE STAËL, Serge POLIAKOFF, Maria Elena VIEIRA DA SILVA and Pierre SOULAGES. There will also be major works by Picabia, Chagall, Picasso and Dubuffet as well as some Modern gems from the Bénédicte Pesle collection. From 18 to 20 October Sotheby’s is offering a marathon of five sales over three days: Modernités; The Renand-Chapet Collection; Works from the Oscar Mairlot Collection from Magritte to Zao Wou-Ki; Impressionist & Modern Art… and French Cancan by Natalie Seroussi. Meanwhile, the French auctioneers like Artcurial will be offering a range of works in relatively sober catalogues compared with the London sales earlier this month… and at generally much more affordable prices.