Sotheby's auction house latest victim of financial crisis

Sotheby's, the auction house, has become the latest victim of the financial crisis after failing to make the high estimates it predicted for its contemporary art sales.

By Urmee Khan Last

Andy Warhol's series of 10 skull paintings sold for £646,750 Photo: EPA The sales made a total of £43.9 million, down £11.4 million on its lowest estimate of £55.3 million. Even the highest selling lot in the auction, Andy Warhol's series of 10 skull paintings, sold for £646,750 less than its lowest estimate at £4,353,250.

The composite work, which joined 10 previously-separate works together, was the highlight of a contemporary art sale at Sotheby's and was bought by an unnamed US dealer.It had been expected to fetch up to £7 million, but bidding fell short.

The second highest hammer price achieved across the three contemporary art sales was £2,841,250 for Gerhard Richter's Abstrakes Bild (Rot), just short of its lowest estimate of £3 million.

The sales included the Modern and Contemporary Design Sale, which made £1.2 million, against its lowest estimate of £1.8 million, two contemporary art sales, which made a combined total of £291,320,50 - £124 34750 less than their lowest combined estimates - and the Twentieth Century Italian Art Sale, which bucked the trend by taking £13.6 million, against a pre-sale estimate of £11.9 million.

One of the bright spots for the auction series was the sale of a specially created work by Angel of the North sculptor Antony Gormley, which sold for £193,250 against its lowest estimate of £100,000.

The sale topped a difficult week for the contemporary art market in which the financial crisis sent share prices and the value of investment funds plunging.Sotheby's blamed global financial difficulties for the lower hammer prices, saying the estimates had been predicted in better financial circumstances. Cheyenne Westphal, chairwoman of contemporary art at Sotheby's Europe, said the sale was "assembled in a very different economic environment from that which prevailed today". "Bidding in tonight's sale was rational and considered," she said. "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.

"It is important to keep perspective; this market has witnessed rapid growth - five years ago our October Contemporary Art sale yielded £3.5 million and our first various owners sale two years ago brought £9.9 million, and last year our October sale realised £34,865,300.
"What we have seen tonight is that buyers are continuing to respond to unprecedented saleroom opportunities; works of high quality that are fresh to the market and properly estimated continue to perform well, as illustrated by the prices achieved for Warhol, Richter and Basquiat."

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