Phillips’s $67 Million Evening Sale Draws Crowds but Lacks Excitement
At Phillips's first-ever Sunday sale, many works failed to meet low estimates.
With its first outing on a Sunday evening for the fall contemporary season, Phillips initiated the week with a lackluster auction that realized $66.9 million, compared with an estimate of $64.5 million–93.9 million. Of 52 lots on offer, 82 percent were sold. By value, the sale took in 90 percent.
After Christie’s launched a new hybrid sale that shook up the New York schedule, Phillips opted to position itself at the start of the sales week rather than hold its sales until those at Sotheby’s and Christie’s had ended. Though the auction was well-attended, particularly for a Sunday evening, the action and bidding, both in the room and on the phone, often felt slugglish.
Hugues Joffre, who recently joined Phillips as worldwide head of 20th Century art, served as auctioneer and presided confidently over the action. Yet it frequently felt as though he was coaxing bids from the audience, and numerous works were hammered down below the low end of their presale estimates.
Also notable was Phillips’s focus on well-established blue chip names like Willem de Kooning, Joan Mitchell, Joan Miro, Pablo Picasso, and Jean Dubuffet, a reflection of adding “20th Century art” to the sale title this time around.
More up and coming names that have been front and center at previous sales and that, at times have invited auction speculation and flipping—such as Sterling Ruby and Alex Israel—occupied a lower profile towards the end of the sale.
Among the expected highlights of the sale, was De Kooning’s Untitled XXVIII (1977), which sold for $11.4 million on solid but short-lived bidding against the estimate of $10 million to $15 million. Joffre opened bidding at $8.5 million and it was hammered down to a phone bidder for $10 million.
Le Corbusier’s reputation as an iconic and influential architect may far outweigh his fine art career but Femme rouge et pelote verte (1932) was an object of interest Sunday night and set a new record for the artist. Bidding opened at $2.8 million and ended at $4 million ($4.6 million with premium) on an estimate of $4 million–6 million.
John Chamberlain’s wall-hung twisted metal sculpture Bullwinkle (1961) was bought in at $1.9 million (estimate: $2.5 million–3.5 million) without eliciting a single bid.
An untitled standing mobile sculpture by Alexander Calder fared better, selling for just under $4 million ($3.97 million) on an estimate of $3.5 million–4.5 million.
An uncharacteristic and decidedly un-surreal painting by Giorgio de Chirico of gladiators missed the low end of the $4 million–6 million estimate ($3.4 million hammer) to sell for $3.97 million.
As always, artworks with auction track records—particularly recent auction results—act as a barometer for individual names. One work that has clearly had some ups and down in recent turns at auction was Maurizio Cattelan’s upside down installation of police officers, Frank and Jamie (2002), one of an edition of three.
Five years ago, in June 2010, the work scored $1.5 million at Christie’s London, clearing the $1 million high estimate. But it appears to have been trending down ever since. Just two years ago, it was sold at Christie’s New York, where it brought an under-estimate $965,000 on expectations of $1.5 million–2.5 million. Sunday night at Phillips it carried an estimate of $1 million–1.5 million and sold for $1.2 million with premium, after being hammered down on thin bidding at $1 million.
There was more demand for a Christopher Wool abstract work Untitled (P271) (1997) that had been offered at Phillips London contemporary sale in February 2013 for $2 million to $2.8 million and sold for $2.6 million (£1.7 million). Sunday night it was offered with an estimate of $3 million to $4 million, and sold for$3.2 million.
A recently executed work by Danh Vo, Alphabet (B) (2011), composed of gold leaf on an unfolded cardboard box, sold for $329,000 on an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000.
Other younger artists fared well but not spectacularly: Ruby’s abstract spray-paint-on-canvas work SP36 (2008) sold for $629,000 on an estimate of $500,000–700,000. Israel’s Untitled (Flat) (2011) struggled and failed to reach even the low end of the estimate selling for $269,000 with premium, on an estimate of $300,000–400,000.
A signature Wade Guyton flame work, consisting of an Epson UltraChrome inkjet on linen Untitled (2005), took $2.4 million on an estimate of $2 million–$3 million. It sold to a young man seated in the room, who sources identified as London dealer Inigo Philbrick. Soon after, he was seen happily chatting with dealer and artnet News contributor Kenny Schachter immediately to his right, and presumably about his winning bid.
The sale also included a sub-section titled “Provenance: Japan” featuring several beautiuful works by Gutai masters including Kazuo Shiraga, Jiro Yoshihra, and Yoshishige Saito.
However, demand was mixed, and two of the five works offered failed to sell. The exception for which bidding came alive was Lee Ufan’s From Line (1979) which drew several bids from the room and the phones before being hammered down for $620,000, clearing the high estimate. With premium, the final price was $749,000.
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