Sotheby's records an exceptional evening of sales

Audrey Hepburn quipped once: “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘possible’!”
While the world economy rolls along like a slightly rotund and lethargic snail after a heavy lunch, the art world delivers on the wise words of Hollywood’s most glamorous ever star.
It would have been easy to say that 2012 was truly representative of bucking the trend, but, two months into 2013; it looks like this is going to be another bumper year.
True to form, Sotheby’s reported that it has realised its second-highest ever tally of sales for a February contemporary art auction when it finished business at $116.4 million (approximately £74.4 million).
“Tonight we witnessed healthy buying activity from across the globe, including from Europe, Asia, the US, the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) and the rest of the world,” commented Cheyenne Westphal, chairman of contemporary art Europe at Sotheby’s.
“This [contemporary art] market is demonstrably buoyant, both at the top end for blue-chip classics – such as Francis Bacon, Gerhard Richter and Jean-Michel Basquiat – as well as the lower end for well selected works desirable young artists, including Hurvin Anderson and Andrian Ghenie.”
Quelle surprise then that Bacon’s Three Studies For A Self-Portrait (1980) achieved the highest price of the evening when it was picked up by a telephone bidder for £13.7 million.
It’s a characteristically macabre effort from the titan of post-war British art. Though he would pass away 12 years later, time still on his side, he was already contemplating death much more deeply.
Five years previous to the triptych’s execution, Bacon said to the art critic and curator David Sylvester: “I loathe my own face … I’ve done a lot of self-portraits, really because people have been dying around me like flies and I’ve nobody else left to paint but myself.”
Accordingly, this self-portrait drowns in a sea of darkness, pure black matter surrounding him like the unknown, his face deformed like he has taken a beating. To know oneself; really, is that what we want?
A Freudian revelation is never pretty, repressed as these thoughts are. So Bacon loses them, in the empty background, which, like space, is so vast, he has no hope of ever retrieving such indictments of his character. Such a fascinating analysis as this makes this an exceptional work of art.
Other highlights of the evening included Richter’s abstract painting Abstraktes Bild (769-1) going under the hammer for £8.2 million, Basquiat’s Untitled (Pecho/Oreja) selling for £6.8 million and Fontana’s waterpaint on canvas Concetto Spaziale, Attesa, reaching £2.6 million.
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