LONDON — At least four times a year, Christie’s, Phillips and Sotheby’s hold evening auctions of high-end contemporary art in New York and London. This week, it was London’s turn. The auctions feature works by a predictable cast of prestigious names, marketed across the world to the select group of wealthy individuals who covet and can afford blue-chip 20th- and 21st-century art.
Most of the more expensive works at these auctions are certain to sell, courtesy of minimum prices pledged by the auction houses or by third-party guarantors. A majority of the bidding is conducted on the telephone, or through agents in the room. Unsold lots have become a rarity. The outstanding prices are dutifully reported by international news outlets and on social media, creating a general perception that contemporary art sales are on an unstoppable roll.
That perception was maintained in London, helped by two early 20th-century masterworks. This latest series of evening contemporary auctions at Christie’s, Phillips and Sotheby’s raised an aggregate total of 344.6 million pounds, or about $478 million, about 50 percent more than the £229 million achieved at the equivalent events last March.
“It’s confirmation of the solidity of the market. There are no surprises,” Thaddaeus Ropac, a contemporary-art dealer with galleries in Paris, London and Salzburg, said in an interview. He was speaking on Tuesday night after a Christie’s sale that raised £137.5 million, a total that was within the overall estimate but that nonetheless represented the highest total yet achieved for an auction of contemporary art in London.
“Everything sells within the expected range, and it comes around again and again. This is what we want,” added Mr. Ropac, who appeared gratified by the market’s stability and predictability. But, he added, “It’s a bit boring.”
What else is there to say about this procession of anonymous seven- and eight-figure bids for bankable brands such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lucio Fontana, Gerhard Richter and Andy Warhol?