Christie’s auction of postwar and contemporary art in London began with a bombshell: The event’s star lot, an abstract painting by Gerhard Richter, was withdrawn. That was just minutes after the world’s largest rough diamond failed to sell at Sotheby’s.
Richter’s 1994 ‘Abstraktes Bild (811-2)’ was consigned by an anonymous American collector, according to the auction house.
Printed on the cover of the evening sale’s catalogue, the work, made with a squeegee and rich in green and red hues, was estimated at £14m (€16.9m).
In the week leading up to the auction, its expected dollar value fell 8% as sterling plummeted after Britain voted on June 23 to exit from the EU.
“We followed the client’s instruction to withdraw”, said Edmond Francey, head of the auction house’s London postwar and contemporary art department.
The decision was made shortly before the sale, he said.
A short walk away, the biggest diamond found in more than 100 years failed to sell at Sotheby’s.
The 1,109-carat diamond that’s called Lesedi la Rona, or ‘our light’ in the Tswana language spoken in Botswana, was expected to fetch about $86m (€77.5m). The highest bid of $61m didn’t clear its reserve price.
Christie’s had estimated its auction at £40.2m, but without the Richter, the low target declined by 35% to £26.3m.
While the event’s tally of £39.6m surpassed the high estimate, it was Christie’s smallest June auction in the category since 2009.
“Normally things are withdrawn if there’s a condition issue or they are not fresh” and there are no bidders lined up, said Michaela de Pury, a private art dealer and former executive at Phillips auction house.
Richter’s auction sales declined from the high of $262.8m in 2012 to $178.7m last year, according to Artprice.com.
In 2016, $17.6m of his works have sold at auction. In February, another abstract painting by Richter, estimated at £14m to £20m, was withdrawn from Sotheby’s in London.
“There was a froth to that market,” said Wendy Goldsmith, a London-based art adviser. “There’s been so many that have come up.
"Most likely everyone who wanted one has one,” she said. The Richter may have been the biggest disappointment at Christie’s, which proceeded to sell all but three of the 39 offered lots.
The evening’s top lot was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s ‘Pork,’ painted on a wooden door in 1981 and sold by US actor Johnny Depp. It was pursued by at least four bidders and went for £5.1m. n Bloomberg
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