Christie’s auction sets benchmark for Arte Povera and Post-War Italian art

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Tuesday’s auction of Italian art at Christie’s London realised a total of £38.4 million and established 14 artist records. The top price of the evening was paid for Alberto Burri’s Combustine Plastica, which sold for £4.6 million, a world record price for the artist at auction.

“This evening’s auction was a benchmark moment for ‘Arte Povera’, a movement which has long held a deep academic and artistic importance and which has welcomed increasing international demand over the last five years,” said Francis Outred, international director and head of Post-War & Contemporary Art, Christie’s Europe.

Arte Povera artists filled galleries with animals and decaying matter decades before Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. With its idea that humble ‘poor’ everyday materials – both natural and man-made – can be transformed into powerful, evocative works of art, Arte Povera transformed the landscape and language of contemporary art in the late 1960s and 70s and has become one of the most influential art movements of the past half century, exerting a profound impact on art around the world, including conceptual art, minimalism and the YBAs.

The rarest and most important works by both well established and less renowned artists drew fierce international bidding on Tuesday, seeing eight of the top ten lots sell in excess their high estimate and establishing record prices for 14 artists, including Alberto Burri, Luciano Fabro, Mario Merz and Michelangelo Pistoletto.

“Having presented this collection on a global platform, it is particularly pleasing to see so many artists rise up to their true market potential, especially those whose work is not so regularly seen at international evening auctions, including Giulio Paolini, Fausto Melotti and Francesco Lo Savio, whose work quadrupled its estimate,” added Outred.

Mariolina Bassetti, international director and head of Post-War & Contemporary Art, Christie’s Europe, agreed that the evening highlighted the importance and influence of Arte Povera within the wider context of 20th century art.

“It builds on the success of last October’s record sale of 20th Century Italian Art in London, which also saw an unprecedented level of international bidding,” she said. “It is a great testimony to the taste and vision of the collectors who assembled this collection that it drew such huge interest leading up to the auction, and that the public exhibition at Christie’s Mayfair, which continues until Friday, has so far welcomed over 1,000 visitors”.

Highlights of the sale included Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Lei e Lui – Maria e Michelangelo, which sold for £1.9 million (estimate £600,000-800,000); Lucio Fontana’s Concetto Spaziale, Natura, which fetched £1.2 million (estimate: £900,000-1,500,000) and a pair of works by Alighiero Boetti: Addition and Substraction from 1974, which both witnessed outstanding results, making four times their pre-sale estimate with Addition fetching £1,706,500 / $2,798,660 / €2,046,094 (estimate: £300,000 – 400,000) and Substraction, realising £1,538,500/ $2,523,140/ €1,844,662 4 (estimate:£450,000-650,000).