The pandemic has undoubtedly catalysed the digitalisation of the art industry. In the past few months, many large-scale auctions were held online to test the waters and it proves to be a success. And to many people’s surprise, a piece of art was sold on a mobile app just recently for over 10 million U.S dollars.
The work, Untitled, was painted in 1982 by the most expensive American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. It was auctioned off on Christie’s former Co-Chairman Loic Gouzer’s newly launched mobile auction app named ‘Fair Warning’. The work realised US$10.8m and set the record for the most expensive work sold on an app.
(Editor’s note: Based on our records, online auctions across auction houses have yet to see a more expensive painting sold.)
Basquiat Untitled｜Price realised: US$10.8m
Loic Gouzer is perhaps a familiar face to many of our Asian readers as he came to Hong Kong for Christie’s sale preview in 2017 to introduce the most expensive painting ever sold at auction- Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi.
In 2018, Gouzer stayed away from the art industry after leaving Christie’s. And in June this year, he announced the launch of his own mobile auction app ‘Fair Warning’ (a warning given by the auctioneer just before a work is sold) which fuelled speculation that he wants to enter the art market again to take advantage of the digitalisation of auctions.
Loic Gouzer introducing Salvator Mundi at Christie’s Hong Kong preview in person
Fair Warning releases one piece of work every week for collectors who have been verified to bid on. Since the end of June, the app has auctioned off four works, including the Basquiat. Three of the works sold had fetched prices above their estimates.
The first sale on the app marked an auction high for Canadian artist Steven Shearer, selling his portrait Synthist for US$437,000 with premium, much higher than its low estimate of US$180,000. It is said that the painting was acquired by a private collector in Europe.
Steven Shearer’s portrait Synthist realised US$437,000
And the most recent work sold on the app, the untitled Basquiat which was estimated to sell for US$8m-12m, achieved a decent US$10.8m. The work, created in 1982 and measuring at 121 x 181cm, displays the artist’s signature scribbling and words like ‘tar’ and ‘asbestos’.
Basquiat’s Untitled (Head), also created in 1982, was just sold in June at Sotheby’s New York’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction for US$15.2m to an online bidder.
Untitled (1982) displays the artist’s signature scribbling and words like ‘tar’ and ‘asbestos’
Untitled (Head) realised US$15.2m and became the most expensive oil stick on paper of the artist
Comparing Fair Warning with major auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s, the app’s artworks may very well be lots offered in large-scale evening sales, the four pieces sold on the app total US$13.5m. In terms of buyer’s premium, Fair Warning charges 15% of the hammer price for all artwork. The two major auction houses charge based on tiers of the hammer price, which in general is around 20% to 15% of the hammer amount.
And what do the auction houses think of Fair Warning? Alex Rotter, who worked with Gouzer and is the Chairman of Christie’s New York Post-War & Contemporary Art department, said that the app’s design is clever and creative. He also stated that selling one piece of work at a time is not hard to manage.
Rotter, however, believes that the large network of clients that one builds throughout the years by working at auction houses, exhibitions and connecting with collectors is the key to success and he thought that Gouzer would also agree.
Condo visited Loic Gouzer’s remodelled garage where he inspects the artwork
Yet, Loix Gouzer’s way of monitoring users on the app suggests a different take on the business. Users must be accessed on their seriousness of collecting before having the right to bid. This is to avoid resellers buying an artwork on the app and selling it immediately in another market for profit.
The next artwork to be released on Fair Warning is George Condo’s 2010 painting Dreamscape which carries an estimate of US$2.8m. Condo recently visited Loic Gouzer’s remodelled garage where he inspects the artwork.