Italian artist trumps Hirst at Christie’s

A bronze sculpture by Italian modernist Marino Marini surpassed all expectations to be the top seller at Christie’s Thursday night sales.

Not only was it the highlight of the modern Italian sale but it also outperformed all works in the postwar and contemporary art auction that took place afterwards. One of an edition of five, “Cavaliere”, 1951-55, is a bronze sculpture of a horse and rider, hand-finished by Marini. It smashed its estimate of £1.2m-£1.8m to sell for £4,465,250, a world record for the artist.

It beat what was supposed to be the week’s highlight, “I am become death, shatterer of worlds”, the largest butterfly painting by Damien Hirst, estimated at £2.5m-£3.5m, yet sold for £2,169,250. It still fetched the highest price in the postwar and contemporary bidding.

The Italian art sale, which grossed £18,627,650, was the most successful of its kind in any auction house. Just 22 per cent of lots were bought by Italian buyers, suggesting that this market is now truly international. Other strongly performing Italian artists included Lucio Fontana. Four of his signature slashed “Concetto Spaziale” canvases made it into the top 10 Italian sellers with prices ranging from £601,250 to £993,250.

The outstanding lot at the postwar and contemporary sale was “Kaikai Kiki” (2005), a pair of sculptures by Takashi Murakami. Estimated at £400,000 to £600,000, it went for £1,945,250 to a private European collector. “Murakami’s performance was certainly helped by his recent exhibition at Versailles,” said Francis Outred, head of postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s Europe, adding that it is one of only three of the five pairs of Kaikai Kiki sculptures to have remained together.

The night also saw a world record for Zero painter Roman Opalka, whose all-white triptych with a concealed sequence of numbers,“Opalka” (1965), sold for £802,850, exceeding its top estimate by £200,000. “Opalka is an artist who is being re-evaluated very positively in the light of the renaissance of interest in the Zero art movement,” Outred said.

Overall, both sales realised a total of £38,213,050 against £17m for the corresponding auctions at Christie’s in October 2009. The Italian sale total was just under £1m less than the postwar and contemporary auction, which grossed £19,585,400.

The auctioneers had hoped for better. The top pre-sale estimate for postwar and contemporary was £22,710,000 and £20,188,000 for the Italian works. Nevertheless, Mr Outred said: “We are extremely happy with the outcome. The Italian sale was the best ever of its kind anywhere while postwar and contemporary was solid. Thanks to Frieze, we saw new collectors in the rooms and the buzz was palpable.”

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