Rothko and Warhol-Basquiat Works Are Prized Lots of Phillips Evening Sale

Phillips auction house capped off a marathon week of postwar and contemporary sales at its Midtown Manhattan headquarters on Park Avenue with a 46-lot offering that realized $130.9 million compared with expectations of $124.6–178.8 million. Thirty-seven of the lots offered, or 80 percent, were sold. By value, the sale achieved 90 percent.

Alexander Gilkes, a founder of Paddle8, proved a masterful auctioneer and conducted a short but action-packed sale.

The overall results were impressive, especially given that Phillips shifted its sale from Monday to tonight, Thursday, after Christie’s scheduled a special contemporary sale. Putting a bright face on the schedule change following the auction, chief executive Michael McGinnis, said “the timing of the sale brought some confidence to the equation.” The extra days before the sale, he said, allowed time for other market tests, whether it was for individual works or broader artist markets. It also gave Phillips specialists a little extra time to  reach out to potential buyers who may not have won what they wanted at the Christie’s and Sotheby’s sales.

Over the past decade, Phillips has carved out a niche selling cutting-edge works by younger artists, and this sale was no different. The sale featured works by Wade Guyton, Alex Israel, Oscar Murillo, Dana Schutz, and Sterling Ruby. These performed very well on the whole, inciting lively competitive bidding and producing several new auction records, notably for Tauba Auerbach and Dana Schutz.

Jeff Koons's Popples (1988) sold for $4.6 million on an estimate of $4–6 million. Photo courtesy Phillips.

Jeff Koons’s Popples (1988) sold for $4.6 million on an estimate of $4–6 million.
Photo: Courtesy Phillips.

The house also featured a healthy sampling of major works by contemporary market heavyweights. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons, Mark Rothko, Gerhard Richter, and Andy Warhol. Not surpisingly, these accounted for the top lots.

The top lot by far was Rothko’s Untitled (Red, Blue, Orange) (1955) that had an estimate on request of about $40 million. Bidding opened at $38 million and closed at $50 million hammer to a client bidding with specialist August Uribe. The final price with premium was $56 million.

The second-highest price of $11.4 million (the estimate was $10–15 million) was for a blockbuster painting made collaboratively by Warhol and Basquiat in 1985. Despite the high price and the fact that Zenith has serious “wallpower” as it’s known in collecting circles, bidding was sparse and the hammer came down fairly quickly.

Koons’s kitschy Popples (1988), from a fantasy character created by American Greetings, squeaked in just over its low estimate. The brightly colored porcelain figure with outstretched arms—it looks like a horrible hybrid of a dog crossed with a rainbow-colored teddy bear— sold for $4.6 million on an estimate of $4–6 million.

Andy Warhol’s silkscreen Flowers (1964) came within a hair’s breadth of its low estimate. Bought by Los Angeles collector Stavros Merjos, sitting in the room, it sold for $10.2 million on an estimate of $10–15 million.

Lot 14- Jean-Michel Basquiat Untitled (1981) acrylic, oilstick on canvas 50 1/2 x 88 in. (128.5 x 223.5 cm.) Estimate $8,000,000 - 12,000,000

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (1981) sold for $9.1 million on an estimate of $8–12 million.
Photo courtesy Phillips.

Basquiat’s raw, blue-toned Untitled (1981), had a healthier sale. It took $9 million on an estimate of $8–12 million.

McGinnis conceded that there were “great surprises and a few disappointments.”

A low point came, for instance, with the appearance of Warhol’s green silkscreen Four Self-Portraits Blue-Green (Reversal Series) (1979), which failed to elicit any bids on an estimate of $4–$6 million and was bought in. Also a surprise was the failure of the large Coastline Measure (1987), a work by Mark Tansey. One of the artist’s painstakingly rendered jewel-tone monochrome canvases, it appeared to draw no bids on an estimate of $3.5–4.5 million and was also bought in.

Bidding was lively for many of the younger artists on offer. Fresh off a new record set at Sotheby’s last night, undeniably “hot” artist Wade Guyton‘s Untitled (2006) Epson UltraChrome inkjet on linen was snapped up by dealer Daniella Luxembourg, for $2.16 million (the estimate: $1.5–2 million).

Also fresh off a record at the Christie’s special Monday night sale was Joe Bradley, whose Blonde (2011), a mixed-media on canvas, sold for a record $965,000 on an estimate of $500–700,000. Tonight his Standing Nude (2007) vinyl on canvas in four parts, stood quite tall when it sold for $581,000 on an estimate of $200,000–300,000. (Check out Alexandra Peers’s take on this artist’s market here.)

Lot 18- Mark Rothko, Untitled (Red, Blue, Orange), (1955) oil on canvas 66 5/8 x 49 3/8 in. (169.2 x 125.4 cm.) Estimate On Request

Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Red, Blue, Orange), (1955)
sold for $56 million on an estimate of $40–60 million.
Photo: Courtesy Phillips.

Tauba Auerbach‘s acrylic on canvas Untitled (Fold) (2011) was bought by Richard Gray Gallery director Andrew Fabricant for $1.8 million, handily clearing its estimate of $800,000–1.2 million.

And Dana Schutz‘s large, arresting painting Reformers (2004) gave observers a new record to talk about when it sold for $605,000 on an estimate of $200,000–300,000.

McGinnis said that fevered global bidding—from Asia, Central and South America, the US, and Europe— was proof of the depth of the market as well as buyer confidence, especially considering the sale came so late in the week.

Asked if Phillips would keep the Thursday time slot or revert to Monday for next season, he said it’s a never-ending question when it comes to timing of the sales, and he was happy with what he termed “great results.”

“It was kind of nice to switch things up,” McGinnis said.  Then he paused and joked, “Well, let’s see if Sotheby’s adds a new sale.”