A human-sized, gouged and black egg-shaped canvas from Lucio Fontana’s La Fine di Dio series is set to steal the limelight at October’s Frieze Week auctions in London. Should the work, made in 1963, sell within its £15m to £20m estimate at Sotheby’s, it will likely also be the highest public price made during a week that is traditionally focused on more cutting-edge, contemporary works.
In truth, London’s October season has increasingly been a magnet for buyers of post-war works with the popularity of the PAD art fair and Frieze Masters’ adding to the contemporary flavour. The prices paid for Italy’s modern masters—including Fontana, Alighieri Boetti and Paolo Scheggi alongside lesser-known artists from the same period—have accelerated accordingly. Of the 22 artists that Sotheby’s is offering in its sale on 15 October, ten have had their auction records broken since January 2014.
Christie’s Italian evening sale the following night will include a prime work from Alberto Burri’s plastic combustion series. Rosso Plastic M1 (1961) has a pre-sale estimate of £2m-£3m, which looks conservative as New York’s Guggenheim prepares to open the artist’s retrospective (The Trauma of Painting, 9 October-6 January 2016). Sotheby’s is also offering three significant works by Burri.
“There is a huge new appetite for European post-war artists, particularly from the United States,” says Oliver Barker, the deputy chairman of Sotheby’s Europe. “People are beginning to appreciate that these abstract artists were as innovative and influential as the post-war Americans.”
Egg-citing the market Fontana made a series of 38 huge, ovoid works between 1963 and 1964, which he punctured with his bare hands (seven are in museum collections). The series was made soon after the Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, became the first man in space in 1961, which inspired the scientific philosophy and lunar-like surfaces of the works in this series (La Fine di Dio means “the end of God” in Italian).
The work on offer at Sotheby’s is one of only two created in slick, black paint. The other work—with fewer gouges (seemingly the more destruction the pricier)—sold at Christie’s for £9m in 2008. Three of the four top prices paid for Fontana at auction have been for works from this egg-shaped series, which Barker describes as the “apex of his creativity”.
The work is a considerable boost to Sotheby’s £35.2m-£48.6m estimate for its 15 October Italian art evening auction (Christie’s estimate for the equivalent sale on 16 October is £24m-£34m). The contemporary art auctions, held on the same evenings, carry estimates of £32.9m-£46.2m for Sotheby’s and of £32m-£44m for Christie’s.