bonhams takes on christies and sotheby’s with contemporary one
30 January 2012 § 1 Comment
The contemporary art auction market in London has in recent years been a bitter slug-fest between the two ‘big boys’ – Sotheby’s and Christies. Last year Christies won on points with their total for the three sales – in February, June and October – reaching £167m, only about £3m ahead of Sotheby’s. A distant third is Phillips de Pury whose three sales grossed only (!) £36m.
The new kid on the block is Bonhams but this sounds a strange thing to say since they have been around since 1793. However it is only since 2001, when they came under new ownership that they have started expanding significantly and have steadily eaten in to the larger houses share of the auction market. Contemporary art has never been their strong suit and, following some dabbling in the contemporary market in their hit and miss Vision 21 auctions they have now launched a full-scale assault on the hegemony of the bigger houses. Following the inaugural sale by the new Contemporary Art Department last October – only grossing about £2m but largely successful and 70% sold – thay are offering another closely curated sale of 20 lots with a modest mid-estimate total of around £2.5m.
At first glance this sale could be dismissed as a sale of little importance in the London Contemporary market, but a look at the catalogue shows something more interesting. The catalogue is a beautifully and expensively produced whopper. One hundred and sixty-four pages. For twenty lots. Every lot gets loads of attention and space lavished upon it. Take a nice Alan Davie Little Tut’s Wagon (lot 5) modestly estimated at £25-35k – the artist gets a double page spread for his photo and a couple more devoted to his work, the painting has a double page plus a fold-out – the equivalent to about 8 pages! At Sotheby’s or Christies it might have got a half a page – in the day sale. There are other modestly-priced works – expect them to go well above estimate – and some very interesting higher rated works too – notably Urs Fischer’s Untitled 2006 (lot 10), Frank Auerbach‘s Head of Lucien Freud (lot 6) and Richard Prince’s Untitled (Girlfriend) (lot 15).
The modest number of lots and total value of the sale is, at least in part, deliberate. I was told that Bonhams wish to establish themselves with very successful sales of low to mid value lots, before going full tilt at the market. I wish them every luck, and with such commitment as they show here who would bet against them becoming a major player in the contemporary market in the coming years. Meanwhile, if you have a contemporary work to sell there looks like only one sensible place to put it at the moment. With such attention and quality of presentation and, dare I venture, some negotiation of commission for good works, Bonhams will be hard to beat.
London Contemporary auction scehdule February 2012
13/14 Feb Bonhams One/Two eve/day
14/15 Feb Christies eve/day
15/16 Sothebys eve/day
17/18 Phillips de Pury eve/day
- Lucian Freud drawings to go under the hammer (telegraph.co.uk)