Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Red Skull (1982) led the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction at Christie’s in London, selling for £16,546,250 / $21,625,949 (including premium) — with all proceeds being generously donated to the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), which supports a network of free public charter schools in New Jersey. The sale totalled £99,582,750 / $130,154,654, the second highest figure for an evening of Post-War and Contemporary Art in London, and the highest total for a sale during Frieze Week. You can watch our Facebook Live coverage of the auction here.
Red Skull is one of around five major known skull paintings executed during this pivotal year in Basquiat’s meteoric career, which is currently being celebrated in a first UK retrospective at the Barbican in London. Three further works by Basquiat sold on the night, including Untitled, a felt tip, wax crayon, charcoal and graphite work on paper that flew past its high estimate before selling for £1,868,750 / $2,442,456.
Among the artist’s finest paintings of the 1990s, Peter Doig’s Camp Forestia (1996) realised £15,421,550 / $20,155,574. Studies for the work, which demonstrates Doig’s extraordinary command of his medium, are held in the Tate, London, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Francis Bacon’s Head with Raised Arm (1955), which was last exhibited in 1962 and has remained hidden from public view since it was acquired by its previous owners a year later, belongs to a group of nine surviving paintings depicting the then-incumbent pope, Pius XII. It was bought for £11,483,750 / 15,009,261.
There was strong interest in works by leading British artists, with Sir Antony Gormley’s landmark sculpture A Case for an Angel I (1989), a precursor to Angel of the North, selling for £5,269,250 / $6,922,199, a new world auction record for the artist. The previous high came with Angel of the North (maquette) at Christie’s in 2011.
The Gormley was bought by Yusaku Maezawa, who afterwards revealed: ‘Meeting the artist two days ago and speaking with him about his work, I liked the man and was moved by his commitment to his creation. Directly understanding the meaning and importance of A Case for an Angel I, I was inspired to add this masterpiece to my collection. I would like to thank Antony and the previous owners and I promise that we will take good care of the work, exhibiting it in our forthcoming museum.’
This was quickly followed by a world auction record for Howard Hodgkin’s Goodbye to the Bay of Naples, which sold for £1,688,750 / $2,207,196 / €1,884,645, more than double its high estimate of £600,000; Country Club: Chicken Wire by Turner Prize-nominee Hurvin Anderson, which realised £2,648,750 / $3,461,916 (one of two works by Anderson to soar past the high estimate); and a glazed earthenware vase by Grayson Perry from 2003, the year he became the first ceramic artist to win the Turner Prize, which sold for £200,000 / $261,400, easily eclipsing his previous auction record of £118,750.
Further records were achieved for David Salle’s Mingus in Mexico (£608,750 / $795,636), Tony Bevan’s Corridor (£112,500 / $147,038 / €125,550) and Amy Sillman’s The New Land (£440,750 / $576,060).
The top lot in the Thinking Italian sale, which saw energetic bidding for the very best in post-war and contemporary Italian art, was Lucio Fontana’s Concetto spaziale, In piazza San Marco di notte con Teresita, executed in 1961. A defining work from the artist’s much-celebrated cycle of ‘Venezie’ paintings, the thickly painted canvas with coloured glass stones was bought for £10,021,250 / $13,097,774, the highest price paid for a work from this seminal series.
Among the other highlights of the sale was Uomo che guarda un negativo (1967), a remarkable early example of Michelangelo Pistoletto’s iconic ‘Mirror Paintings’, which sold for £3,721,250 / 4,863,674, a new auction record for the artist. The sale total for Thinking Italian was £32,196,250 / $42,080,501.
The Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Auction totalled £23,548,250 / $30,777,564, and was sold 95 per cent by value. The top lot was Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (1986), which realised £2,648,750 / 3,461,916.
Christie’s Frieze Week auctions opened on Tuesday 3 October with two new evening sales, Masterpieces of Photography & Design (sale total: £7,452,500) and Up Close (£14,531,750). Cross-category buying between design, photography and post-war and contemporary art collectors brought above-estimate results and high sell-through rates for both sales. Standout results included the world-record prices for Robert Mapplethorpe at £548,750 and the quadruple estimate result for the Giacometti from the collection of Antoni Tàpies.
‘The strength of the market was proven this week with the record set for the largest total for a single week of sales and a single evening of sales of Post-War and Contemporary Art in Europe,’ said Francis Outred, Christie’s Chairman and Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art in Europe. ‘We were delighted by the volume of visitors to Christie’s, with over 20,000 people coming to appreciate the quality, diversity and innovation that we brought to the sales. We are proud to set artist records for some of the most celebrated names, including Robert Mapplethorpe, Howard Hodgkin, Grayson Perry, Michelangelo Pistoletto and David Salle. The massive international presence we’ve seen in London and the appeal of Frieze Week around the globe demonstrates the success of our strategy to make this week a focal point of the calendar.’