Sotheby's London auction falls short of pre-sale hopes

Fri Oct 17, 2008 11:54pm EDT
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LONDON (Reuters) - A London auction of contemporary art fell well short of pre-sale expectations on Friday, the clearest signal yet that the financial crisis is affecting a market which hitherto defied growing economic gloom.

Sotheby's auction house raised 22 million pounds ($38 million) at its evening sale of contemporary art, held to coincide with the annual Frieze Art Fair in London.

That was far below the pre-sale estimate of 31 to 43 million pounds, and suggests that prices paid for high-quality art are no longer immune to plunging stock markets, oil prices and the broader credit crunch.

Sotheby's said it was pleased with the results.

"We are very pleased with the results of tonight's sale, which is the second highest total for an October sale of contemporary art at Sotheby's," said Cheyenne Westphal, chairman of contemporary art at Sotheby's in Europe.

"While our total fell short of its low estimate, the sale was assembled in a very different economic environment from that which prevailed today."

The highlight of the evening was Andy Warhol's series of 10 skull paintings. "Skulls" sold for 4.4 million pounds ($7.5 million), against an estimate of 5-7 million pounds.

The second highest price was set by Gerhard Richter's abstract painting "Abstraktes Bild (Rot)," which sold for 2.8 million pounds, below its estimate of 3-4 million pounds.

The results of the sale will raise concern among auctioneers, collectors and sellers, with Christie's due to hold an equivalent auction in London on Sunday before both companies stage key November sales in New York.   Continued...

<p>A general exterior view of Sotheby's auction house on New Bond Street in London February 15, 2007. REUTERS/Kieran Doherty</p>