October 19, 2008 / 8:01 PM / 11 years ago

Christie's art sale falls well short of estimates

LONDON (Reuters) - Christie’s post-war and contemporary art auction fell far short of pre-sale expectations on Sunday, as the financial crisis continued to erode confidence in a sector which until recently was hitting record highs.

The sale, held in October to coincide with the huge Frieze Art Fair in London, raised 32 million pounds ($55 million), a sum that includes buyers’ premium of 12 percent for the top lots. Of the 47 lots on offer, 26 were sold.

That compared with pre-auction expectations of between 58 and 76 million pounds, not including premium.

The result comes two days after rival auction house Sotheby’s raised 22 million pounds ($38 million) at its equivalent sale, below pre-sale estimates ranging from 31-43 million pounds.

Like Sotheby’s before it, Christie’s said its results were positive despite failing to get close to the low estimate.

“We are pleased with the results of this evening’s auction, where eight out of the top 10 works were acquired by private collectors,” said Pilar Ordovas, head of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s in London.

“Given the economic backdrop of the last several weeks where other markets have frozen, the art market continues with liquidity and active buyer participation albeit at different levels,” she added.

The results of the auctions are likely to cause jitters among auctioneers, collectors and sellers, with both Christie’s and Sotheby’s staging key November sales in New York.

The art market boom has been fueled partly by growing interest from super-rich buyers in Russia, the Middle East and the Far East.

Top-end works have also been seen as a relatively safe bet compared with turbulence gripping other investments.

But the severity of falls in values of equities, oil, property and other assets has left art vulnerable to a significant downward correction, experts have warned.

The top lot at Christie’s was a 1963 work by painter and sculptor Lucio Fontana, which went under the hammer for 9.0 million pounds versus an estimate of 12 million pounds.

One of only two oil portraits of Francis Bacon painted by Lucian Freud fetched 5.4 million pounds, toward the lower end of the pre-sale estimate range.

The 85-year-old Freud’s only other cameo of his fellow artist Bacon, painted in 1952, was stolen from a show in Berlin in 1988.

(Editing by Jon Boyle)

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