A breath-taking evening of record-breaking art that spanned exciting newcomers, mid-career favourites and blue chip names, Sotheby’s Now and Contemporary Evening Auctions, presented in partnership with CELINE, thundered to a closing total of £96.1 million ($107.4 million) on 14 October, in what was the highest-grossing Frieze Week Evening Sale at Sotheby’s since 2015.
With 90 percent of lots making their auction debuts, this memorable night saw a strong showing of Sotheby’s clients joining us in New Bond Street and online, from around the world. Bidding was swift and focused, the atmosphere crackling with excitement and new records were set for artists including Frank Auerbach, Caroline Walker, Julien Nguyen and Kiki Kogelnik, demonstrating Sotheby’s global contemporary sales position up 20 percent (USD) on October 2021’s Frieze Week auctions.
The evening kicked off with the Now Evening Auction bursting into life with a frantic flurry of 14 bidders chasing Julien Nguyen’s Kye, Semper Solus (2018). This extraordinary work recalls the vivid precision of Raphael, whose portraiture provided precedent for the exact mode of depiction Nguyen deploys here. As the artist explains, ‘I’m drawn to certain artists and certain ways of making, certain techniques of depiction, that tend to come from the early Renaissance. But it’s a question of method, not style.’
Julien Nguyen | Kye, Semper Solus
The highly-covetable Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner, by Flora Yukhnovich found a new owner for £1,608,000, after vigorous bidding confirmed yet again at Sotheby’s that this exceptional painter is one of Britain’s most sought-after young artists. In Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner, the characteristic composition of thick impasto oil paint covering a vast canvas creates an immersive portal into the artist’s world, with luminous shades coalescing into an abstract arcadian scene. Yukhnovich magically creates the illusion of sunlight in her work, conjuring the sensation of emerging out of a deep, sun-dappled forest.
A new artist record was set for Charline von Heyl’s Untitled (2006), which a buyer secured for £478,800, dwarfing its pre-sale estimate of £250,000. A star attraction at the Central Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale, Untitled is a captivating example of contemporary abstraction, the sale confirming von Heyl as being one of the most important painters working today.
And as the Now Auction reached a crescendo, another artist record was shattered, this time for Scottish-born painter Caroline Walker’s Indoor Outdoor. This beguiling, mysterious slice of intrigue, rendered in gorgeous, alluring shades, reached £529,200 following a heated battle between 13 bidders, eclipsing her previous personal record - set in London, just hours before the Now Auction.
Caroline Walker | Indoor Outdoor
Following a brief pause, auctioneer Oliver Barker took to the podium to present the much-anticipated Contemporary Evening Auction, a fitting climax to London’s Frieze Week. In the heart of the West End, energy coursed around the room sparking dramatic bidding for Cecily Brown’s Beautiful Not Realistic, driving it past a high estimate of £800,000 to achieve an impressive £1.5m, while Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity-Nets (QOTP), one of the evening’s ten lots from the collection of Joel and Sherry Mallin, went for £3.4m.
The palpable momentum in the room saw a spirited, four-way chase for Kiki Kogelnik’s Sempre Por Tio, which set a new record of £207,900, for this artist. An Austrian émigré in New York in the early 1960s, Kogelnik’s career evolved with the rise of the city’s Pop Art scene, but she was overshadowed at the time by her more prominent male peers such as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.
The legendary Gerhard Richter’s first abstract work, 192 Farben (1966), hammered down at £18,287,800, confirming the historical status of this pivotal moment in his early oeuvre. In a career amply stocked with thrilling explorations into form, colour, composition and subject, the stark minimalism of 192 Farben occasioned uproar amongst Richter’s circle at the time and remains a thrilling example of an artist perpetually bold, unafraid to plunge into the unknown.
Greeted with a rousing reception from the London salesroom, one the of the nation’s greatest living artists Frank Auerbach attained a magnificent new personal record this evening with the sale of Head of J.Y.M. Executed in the mid-1980s Head of J.Y.M. represents the absolute apex of Auerbach’s celebrated oeuvre - by his standards, imposing in scale and possessing an unrivalled confluence of brushwork and observation. Painted in 1984–85, the expressive peaks of thick impasto and sweeps of luscious oil coalesce into boundless distortions, immediately identifiable with Auerbach’s 1980s output.
Frank Auerbach | Head of J.Y.M.
Auerbach’s late friend and equally-lauded master of British art, Francis Bacon also provided a show-stopping highlight of the evening, with Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, his powerful, multifaceted meditation on infamous muse and mercurial inspiration, Henrietta Moraes. The first named portrait of Moraes in Bacon’s oeuvre - and the second ever triptych he executed in the iconic 14 x 12 inch canvas format - this historical work epitomises Bacon’s virtuosity and uncompromising power. In his catalogue raisonné entry for this painting, Bacon scholar Martin Harrison praises this very work, identifying it as the artist’s “consummation” of the small portrait triptych, in which “Bacon’s execution has a power, skill and confidence that he scarcely ever surpassed in this format.”
Francis Bacon, Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes
Marking the finale of London’s Frieze week, the Now and Contemporary Evening Auctions more than met a confident market’s demand for a fluent and assured selection of creativity spanning new talent, established artists and timeless masters in an evening of record-breaking results, achieving total of £96.1 million.
The action continues tomorrow with Sotheby’s Contemporary Day Sale, which will include 22 works donated by artists sold to benefit the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. Proceeds will help support the future of the ICA as a space for the next generation of artists. The sale will begin at 1PM.