Asian and American collectors went art shopping at Sotheby’s on Tuesday, taking advantage of the drop in sterling after Britain voted to exit the European Union last week.
Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian’s Long Museum fought to win a monumental Jenny Saville painting of naked female bodies stacked like sardines, outbidding four competitors including American art dealer Larry Gagosian. The work was the top lot of the boisterous evening sale that tallied 52.2 million pounds ($69.4 million), surpassing the high estimate. Forty of the 46 offered lots sold.
“It’s good to see some British exports are still desirable,” auctioneer Oliver Barker quipped when bidding for the work reached 4.6 million pounds, well over the high presale estimate of 2 million pounds. The final price for Saville’s “Shift,” which is almost 11 feet wide by 11 feet tall, was 6.8 million pounds, an auction record for the provocative U.K. painter. The work, which was part of the 1997 show “Sensation: Young British Artists,” will be in the exhibition “She” at the Shanghai museum next month, Sotheby’s said.
While the atmosphere was upbeat and many works were chased by multiple bidders, the tally for the sale represented a 60 percent decline from the similar event a year ago, when far more lots were offered. The art market has contracted in 2016 as political and economic volatility unnerves sellers.
“It was a hard sale to put together and the referendum didn’t make things easier,” Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art in Europe, said afterward. The results proved that “passion for art collecting overrides broader concerns,” he added.
Earlier on Tuesday, stocks, the pound and commodities all climbed for the first time since Britain’s surprise vote to leave the EU on June 23.
“Brexit might be a good thing for the art market,” said Helly Nahmad, a New York art dealer. “When the stock market is uncertain and volatile and bond yields are negative or extremely low, art is a great alternative investment. It’s like a safe haven.”
The auction started with frenzied bidding for Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Nets” painting, propelling it to 677,000 pounds, more than twice the high estimate. Jean Dubuffet’s orange man in a Napoleon hat went for 1.3 million pounds, almost four times the projection. Sale prices includes buyer’s premiums; presale estimates don’t.
Keith Haring’s densely painted red, yellow and black “The Last Rainforest” fetched 4.2 million pounds, setting a record for the Pop artist. It was bought by a client of Amy Cappellazzo, co-chairman of Sotheby’s fine art division.