Hirst Buys Bacon, Sothebys Makes Bread

Above: Tobias Meyer with Bacon's Self-portrait

There's been a lot of talk about art prices falling and auction houses suffering. However, just the other night, on November 14th, Sotheby's Evening of Contemporary Art Auction in New York set several records and hopes soaring.

Below is a reprint of an article written by Colin Gleadell for the UK's Daily Telegraph. I added the images for your entertainment and information.

Art sales: Damien Hirst's £16m for a slice of Bacon
Colin Gleadell on Damien Hirst's expensive purchase

Damien Hirst may have lost his title as the most expensive living artist at auction to Jeff Koons in New York last week, but he can still claim to be not only the richest artist in the world but also the one who spends the most on art.

Above: Francis Bacon, Self Portrait 1969, sold for $33,081,000 Sotheby’s New York, Nov. 14, 2007

Artist to artist: A 1969 self-portrait by Francis Bacon, which was bought by Damien Hirst bidding anonymously by telephone last Wednesday, he splashed out $33 million (£15.9 million) at Sotheby's on a 14" by 12" in self-portrait by Francis Bacon – easily a record for a small painting by Bacon, and surely one for an artist buying at auction.

Above: Damien Hirst's Platinum and diamond skull which received lots of press

In his excitement, the auctioneer Tobias Meyer, who knew Hirst was bidding, forgot the normal routine of noting down the buyer's registration number on the winning paddle. "I was too happy," he said. And why not?

Above: Tobias Meyer at Sotheby's

With that purchase, Hirst, who now owns four Bacons, joins an elite group of big spenders who last week allayed fears of a slump in contemporary art prices. The group includes the diamond dealer Laurence Graff and the hedge-fund manager Steve Cohen.

Above: Francis Bacon's Second Version of Study For A Bullfight #1, sold for $45.9 million

It is thought that Cohen bought the top lot of the week, Bacon's Study for Bullfight, for $46 million. And Graff spent nearly $30 million on two paintings by Warhol and one by Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Above: Basquiat, Untitled (Electric chair) 1981 - 1982, acrylic, gold spray paint and oilstick on canvas, Sold For 11,801,000 US$

He may have been in partnership with Larry Gagosian when the dealer bought a big Koons sculpture at the sales - the 8ft stainless-steel Blue Diamond, for $11.8 million.

Above: Koon's 8ft stainless steel Blue Diamond, sold for $11.8 million

On the surface it was a glittering display by the art world. More than 100 records were broken and $950 million was spent on contemporary art during the week.

This was itself a new record, close to the highest estimates for the sale set in the balmy early summer when credit crises were barely a glimmer in the eye of far-sighted Wall Street analysts.

Adding style to the occasion were the fashion designers Marc Jacobs, resplendent with blue hair and green scarf, and Valentino. Outbid as a buyer, Valentino successfully sold two paintings by Mark Rothko and a Hirst.

One of the Rothkos, which was sold for $21 million, cost $1.7 million at auction nine years ago. The Hirst made a record for a spot painting in 2003, selling for $438,000; Valentino sold it for $1.6 million last week.

Above: Jeff Koons' Hanging Heart, presently the world-record for art auction sales by a living artist; $23.6 million

The biggest mark-ups, though, came for Koons's $23.6 million Hanging Heart, for which the seller, the US property developer Adam Lindemann, had paid $4 million last year, and for Richard Prince's 2002 painting, Piney Woods Nurse, which was sold by the West coast collectors Nora and Norman Stone for $5.4 million.

Above: Richard Prince's Piney Woods Nurse, 2002, sold for $5.4 million

Bought by the London dealer Jay Jopling, the painting would have cost less than $100,000 when first shown four years ago.

Above: LUCIAN FREUD, Ib and her Husband (1992) ©The Artist, Oil on canvas, 16.8 x 14.7 cm Private Collection, sold for $19.36 million

Older generation artists in demand included Lucian Freud, whose portrait of his daughter, Ib and Her Husband, sold for $19.36 million, making him the most expensive living European artist at auction (in dollars), just ahead of Hirst; the American "Pop" artist Ed Ruscha, whose classic Burning Gas Station was sold by the collector Kent Logan for a record $6.98 million; and the junk-sculpture artist John Chamberlain, whose twisted wreck of car parts sold for a record $4.6 million.

Above: Ed Ruscha's Burning Gas Station, sold for $6.98 million

Among the rising stars attracting accelerating prices were the young Americans Mark Grotjahn and Jules de Balincourt, and the German Anselm Reyle, in all of whom Charles Saatchi has wisely invested.

However, there were some warning signs. At the main Christie's sale, 39 per cent of lots were sold at or below low estimates or not at all.

Nearly half the lots, carrying a combined low estimate of $173.5 million, had been guaranteed, and they realised just $176 million excluding auctioneer's commission. So profit levels must have been minimal.

US buying was also relatively low at around 50 per cent. In recent seasons this has been as high as 82 per cent for New York contemporary art sales, which are aimed mainly at the American market.

Sotheby's had made an even higher level of financial guarantees to sellers, regardless of the outcome of the sales, but, in contrast to last week's Impressionist sales, met it comfortably. The $316 million sale was Sotheby's largest of any kind, ever.

But there was sufficient evidence to predict that, come the next series of important Impressionist and contemporary art sales, in London in February, estimated prices and guarantee levels will be more conservative.

The bubble has not burst. But clouds are still gathering ominously.
__Colin Gleadell for the UK's Daily Telegraph

Click here to see Artnet's illustrated catalog of the Sotheby's Art Auction On November 14, 2007

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