David Hockney, Yosemite Series

Queen loses her crown whilst Hockney reigns supreme at Menzies’ first online only print auction

Menzies first timed online only auction was dedicated to prints and multiples, including a smattering of photographs, sculptures and ceramics. Featuring works by international greats like David Hockney, Banksy, Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Roy Lichtenstein, Francis Bacon, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall and Francisco De Goya, the 54 lots would not have been out of place in London or New York.

Offerings by Australian masters such as Fred Williams, Bill Henson, Brett Whiteley, John Brack, Robert Klippel and Max Dupain added the domestic flavour to the sale that closed on Thursday night.

There will no doubt be disappointment at the non-sale of Menzies’ star lot, Andy Warhol’s spectacular complete set of four screenprints of Queen Elizabeth II from the Reigning Queen Series from 1985 (Lot 15), carrying high hopes of $800,000 to $1 million.

Whilst the Warhol was a highly commercial work, Banksy’s Christ with Shopping Bags (Lot 14) despite its title is perhaps one of his least commercial prints. Its appeal lies more in its much smaller edition of just 82 than his usual edition numbers of 300 and 500. Estimated at $200,000-250,000, rarity value however failed to snare a bidder in Menzies’ inaugural online sale.

34 of the 54 lots on offer sold, a clearance rate of 62%. However, there were some excellent results for a number of artists. Two of the four prints by Britain’s most important living artist David Hockney attracted huge interest. This artist’s work has never been in higher demand, and auction records are constantly being broken.

Lot 1 was a point in case. Pool Made with Paper and Blue Ink for Brook, 1980 (Lot 1) is an iconic Hockney lithograph of just 26 x 22 cm, but as number 60 from an edition of 1,000, it does stretch the limited edition print concept to its limits. However once an artist reaches the status of say Banksy or Hockney and the demand is there, then why not produce a thousand prints of a very successful image?

Estimated at $30,000-50,000, there were eventually 14 bids taking this tiny print to $60,000 or $75,000 incl. buyer’s premium – which would result in a combined value of the edition of a 1,000 to a staggering $75 million. With a whole world of new online collectors, Banksy has proved that edition numbers in the several hundreds are no barrier to high prices being paid.

Like all great artists, Hockney is a great innovator enjoying experimenting with and embracing new technologies. His art produced on an iPad when he was in his seventies has been widely lauded and much appreciated also in Australia. The National Gallery of Victoria exhibited a staggering 600 works created in this way among the 1,200 artworks from the artist’s past decade.

Untitled No. 20 from the Yosemite Suite, 2010 (Lot 16) and from a considerably smaller edition of just 25 was offered at $50,000-70,000. 12 bids eventually pushed the hammer price to double the high estimate to $140,000.

Three of the four Brett Whiteley prints found buyers: the most significant sale was The Cat, 1980 (Lot 2), a large offset lithograph edition 25/100. Selling for $38,000 on estimates $15,000-20,000, this print has now set the highest price at auction for a stand-alone print by the artist. The previous record was set in May 2020, when Lipstick, 1981, sold for $30,000 at Deutscher + Hackett.

Keith Haring’s screenprint Bad Boys, 1986 (Lot 5), 25/30, sold at $12,000 on estimates of $9,000-12,000.

Both Damian Hirst offerings found new homes: For the Love of God, Believe, 2007 (Lot 7), a diamond skull, edition 84/1,700 sold for $4,800 mid-range its estimates on six bids. Beautiful, Galactic, Exploding Screenprint (Spin), 2001 (Lot 18), sold on the low estimate at $8,000 with one bid recorded.

Roy Lichtenstein’s Fish and Sky, from Ten from Leo Castelli, 1967 (Lot 8), edition 2/200, received two bids and sold again at the low estimates of $8,000 on the same $8,000-12,000 hopes.

The market in Australia for the most prolific international 20th century printmakers Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro and Marc Chagall has been traditionally very strong, as was shown by the sale of Chagall’s Le Nuage aux Amoureux, 1968 (Lot 28). Estimated at $4,000-6,000, it sold for double its high estimates at $12,000.

We would dearly like to see more high value print sales in Australia, as we think there is genuine interest at much higher levels of value from sophisticated Australian buyers today who do not necessarily have direct access to international print sales in London or New York.

Some buyers here might fail to appreciate the value in a David Hockney print with a price tag of close to $200,000. However, seeing sales here at this level is encouraging, and hopefully Menzies will continue.

An Observation on Primary and Secondary Market Prices

Many observers might have been surprised by the 40th birthday present that the National Gallery of Australia announced yesterday: a $14 million commission from Australian artist Lindy Lee for a walk-in sculpture destined for its forecourt.

For those who take a keen interest in the secondary market, Lindy Lee’s highest price in the auction room to date is the sale of Black + Black + Black at the Close of this Fierce Vision from 1990, a canvas 170 x 220 cm sold by Christies almost 20 years ago in June 2002 for a $9,500 hammer price.

The highest priced artwork ever sold at auction in Australia was Brett Whiteley’s Henri’s Armchair, 1974-75, 193 x 302 cm, which Menzies sold last year in November 2020 for $6.2 million.

This makes Lindy Lee’s commission at $14 million the most significant sale of any Australian artwork by a very long way.

Article originally published in Australian Art Sales Digest. 

David Hockney, Yosemite Series
Lot 16, David Hockney's Untitled No. 20 from the Yosemite suite sold for $140,000, doubling its high estimate.