London post-Brexit contemporary art auctions amass over £108 million in 48 hours

30 June 2016

Fears Brexit hysteria would negatively impact the art market have been quelled by bullish results at the first London auctions since the June 23 vote. Sotheby's and Christie's sales on 27 and 28 June amassed more than £108 million with both auction houses exceeding high-end estimates.

Sotheby's Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Mayfair on Tuesday 27 June soared to a £52.2 million finish, selling 89% by lot and 92% by value and comfortably exceeding high estimates £49.9 million. A day later, they achieved a further £16,623,250.

Solid telephone bidding from non-British collectors looking to benefit from the debilitated state of the pound contributed to the result. An auction highlight was a new auction record for Jenny Saville, whose work Shift (1996–97), smashed its high estimate of £2 million to sell for £6.8 million inc. buyer’s premium, shattering the previous record for the artist of $2.8 million. It was acquired by the Long Museum in Shanghai, China, founded by billionaire collector Liu Yiqian, who last year acquired Modigliani’s Nu couché and paid for the $170.4 million work with his American Express card. 

An auction record were set for Keith Haring  with The Last Rainforest (1989) which sold for £4.2 million ($5.5 million), well above the work’s high estimate of £3 million ($4 million).

Christie’s Postwar and Contemporary Art sale on June 29 continued Sothebys success raising  £39,566,000 million.  Highlights included two Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings—previously owned by actor Johnny Depp—which soared past their estimates. 

Multiple bidding on lots at both auction houses pushed prices beyond high end estimates with phones producing most of the action. American and Asian buyers took full advantage of the newly cut-rate prices created by the relative strength of their foreign currency.

With Christie Future-Past-Present Post-war and Contemporary Art sale still to come this week is looking bright for Britain – at least on the art scene. Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art Europe, conceded that the uncertainty of the EU referendum had made it harder to consign works, but the results show that the “passion for art collecting continues to over-ride broader concerns about the economy”. 

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