October 15, 2007
Western Art Prices Fall, Chinese Artists Rise
Western art values dived at a Christie's International London auction last night after two months of financial-market turbulence, while some Chinese paintings quadrupled their top estimates.
Four out of five works by Damien Hirst, the auction world's most expensive living artist, sold for near or below their low estimates. A picture from Zeng Fanzhi's ``Mask Series'' went to a telephone bidder for 700,000 pounds ($1.42 million) before commission, compared with a top estimate of 180,000 pounds.
Contemporary collectors of the U.K.'s Hirst, Germany's Martin Kippenberger and America's John Currin were among the losers, as an 11-year price boom slowed. Two Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings with top estimates of 2.5 million pounds each went unsold. The top lot of the week, a Francis Bacon nude, just scraped above its low estimate of 7 million pounds, before commission.
People ``used to fight for every piece, no matter how important or unimportant, good or bad it was. Now they are more selective,'' said Vladimir Ovcharenko, owner of the Moscow-based Regina gallery. ``It all comes from the financial markets.''
The sale missed its top estimate, as 15 percent of the lots failed to sell. London dealer Jay Jopling bought Hirst's ``Wretched War'' (2004), a life-sized bronze statue of a partly skinned pregnant woman, for 180,000 pounds, pre-commission, compared with a 300,000-400,000 pound estimate. As the lights in the King Street saleroom dimmed and flickered, works by Kai Althoff, Eberhard Havekost, Juan Munoz, Basquiat and Kippenberger found no buyers. After the lighting stabilized, two Andy Warhols failed to sell.
Auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen asked for patience as the first of nine Chinese pictures came on the block. ``Some lots have 15 telephone lines waiting,'' Pylkkanen said.
Twice during the bidding, which usually rises in small steps, New York collector Larry Warsh shouted a number double or triple the previous bid, then dropped out as the price rose. The two pictures were Zeng's masked man on a beach, and Liu Ye's ``The Happy Family,'' with a trio of winged figures against a red sky, which took more than five times its top estimate of 90,000 pounds.
Warsh, who has been accumulating Chinese art, paid 893,600 pounds on Saturday for Wang Guangyi's ``Great Criticism: Coca- Cola'' at Phillips de Pury & Co. He'll sell Basquiat and Keith Haring works to pay the bill, Warsh said. The seller of Wang's image was Warsh's father-in-law, Howard Farber, who made 63 times his cost in the auction, showing how far prices have risen.