London 20th/21st Century Evening Sale tops £64 million

Basquiat’s Because it Hurts the Lungs sells for £8,227,750; Hurvin Anderson’s Audition sets a new world record for the artist at auction; and young female artists, including Shara Hughes, Hilary Pecis and Emily Mae Smith, achieve strong results

Coinciding with Frieze Week in London, Christie’s 20th/21st Century: Evening Sale Including Thinking Italian realised £64,561,000 / $88,254,887 / €75,923,736, selling 90 per cent by lot and 92 per cent by value. Streamed live from Christie’s King Street on 15 October, incorporating salerooms in Hong Kong and New York, the auction drew more than 200 registered bidders from 30 countries. 

Christie’s welcomed more than 100 clients to the room in London, with viewers worldwide also tuning into the livestreamed event through Christie’s website and social media channels including YouTube, Facebook and WeChat. 

‘October’s Frieze Week in London is defined by the vibrant presentation of artists in dialogue with one another across continents and centuries,’ said Katharine Arnold, Christie’s co-head of Post-War and Contemporary Art in London. ‘This is the ethos that has shaped tonight’s Evening Sale.’ 

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), Because it Hurts the Lungs, 1986. Sold for £8,227,750 on 15 October 2021 at Christie’s in London

Crowning the sale was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s multi-media work Because it Hurts the Lungs, which sold for £8,227,750 (including buyer’s premium). Executed in 1986, and widely exhibited over the past two decades, it depicts a life-size green figure with a russet, cyclopean skull and schematic halo against a white ground. Charged with a sense of ritual magic, it exemplifies the artist’s ability to combine a range of inspirations and ideas to dazzling visual effect.

The second and third highest prices of the night came from works by Hurvin Anderson and David Hockney.

After an international bidding battle, Hurvin Anderson’s Audition  sold for £7,369,000, setting a new world record for the artist at auction. Painted in 1998, and unseen in public since its acquisition the following year, it shows a public swimming pool, its waters alive with human activity.

Hurvin Anderson (b. 1965), Audition, 1998. Sold for £7,369,000 on 15 October 2021 at Christie’s in London

A vast, cinematic panorama viewed from an elevated vantage point, it beautifully captures the virtuosic flourish of his early practice. 

Hockney’s Guest House Garden (2000), which had not been seen publicly for 20 years, sold for £5,800,000. Offered from the collection L’art à fleur de peau, it is one of a small group of paintings and drawings depicting the artist’s garden in Los Angeles.

Rendered with loose, expressive brushstrokes, and drenched in luminous colour, it represents a pivotal moment in Hockney’s oeuvre when his sense of home, whether in California or Yorkshire, began to dominate his artistic vision. Later, his Still Life (Flowers) nearly doubled its high estimate, selling for £1,342,500.

Cecily Brown (b. 1969), There’ll be bluebirds, 2019. Sold for £3,502,500 on 15 October 2021 at Christie’s in London

Also performing well was Cecily Brown’s There’ll be bluebirds (2019), which debuted in the artist’s acclaimed solo show at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire in September 2020. The whirlwind composition of a falling bird was the first of a series of works donated by artists and galleries to help fund Artists for ClientEarth, a joint initiative to combat climate change.

‘The whole art world seems to be in agreement about the fact that we need to change our ways,’ Brown said ahead of the sale. 

With active bidding in the room, as well as on Christie’s Live in Asia, the opening lot cruised past its high estimate of £700,000, selling for £3,502,500 to a bidder on the phone. All proceeds from the sale will go to ClientEarth, a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for, and with, its inhabitants.

Shara Hughes (b. 1981), Me Me Me, 2009. Sold for £437,500 on 15 October 2021 at Christie’s in London

There were strong results for a group of young women artists whose markets are on the rise. Me Me Me (2009) by Shara Hughes realised £437,500, nearly triple the high estimate; while Hairy Hat (2017) by Julie Curtiss comfortably exceeded its high estimate, selling to a Texan bidder for £250,000. 

After a spirited bidding battle between London and Hong Kong, Hilary Pecis’s Kaba on a Chair (2019) soared beyond its high estimate of £60,000, selling for £225,000. Emily Mae Smith’s Paint While Screaming (2007), meanwhile, achieved £118,750, nearly four times the high estimate. 

Lucio Fontana (1899-1968), Concetto Spaziale, Attese, 1964-1965. Sold for £3,712,500 on 15 October 2021 at Christie’s in London

As for the Italian Modernists, Lucio Fontana’s Concetto spaziale, Attese (1964-1965) sold for £3,712,500. Almost a metre wide, it is one of just six known white canvases by Fontana with 10 cuts, each opening onto a void of darkness beyond. 

Alighiero Boetti’s Mappa (1988-89), held in the same collection since 1998 and on long-term loan to MART in Rovereto for more than 20 years, nearly doubled its low estimate at £2,302,500. Also selling above its pre-sale estimate was Alberto Burri’s Ferro (Iron), which fetched £450,000.

Bridget Riley (b. 1931), Halcyon 2, 1972. Sold for £2,602,500 on 15 October 2021 at Christie’s in London

Elsewhere, there was strong interest in Bridget Riley’s Halcyon 2, a vibrant, hallucinogenic painting from 1972. Unseen in public for almost half a century, it exceeded pre-sale expectations, selling for £2,602,500. 

Two Yayoi Kusama works also saw competition online, in the room and on the phone, with Infinity-Nets (GKT)  and Infinity-Nets (OPQR)  both selling for £1,702,500.

Nicolas Party (b. 1980), Back with Gloves, 2017. Sold for £814,500 on 15 October 2021 at Christie’s in London

Other notable highlights included Nicolas Party’s monumental Back with Gloves (2017), which attracted strong bidding in Asia but sold in London for £814,500, nearly triple the low estimate; and Yuga Labs’ most recent project, the MAYC, or Mutant Ape Yacht Club, a collection of surreal yet peculiarly charming avatars riffing on the original Yuga Labs NFT collection, the Bored Ape Yacht Club. 

Consisting of a smoking Bored Ape with the coveted red laser eyes trait, alongside his M1 and M2 Mutant derivatives, it sold for £982,500 to a bidder in the room. MAYC is the first NFT to have been offered by Christie’s in Europe. 

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The Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Sale on 16 October at Christie’s in London totalled £16,168,250.

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