Led by a Joan Mitchell and the Karshan Collection, Phillips’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale Takes $26.4 Million in London

Christopher Wool and Günther Förg were other stars of the evening.

Gerhard Richter, Hände (1963), sold for $2,678,043/€2,323,566. Courtesy of Phillips.

Phillips was not pulling out any stops for Frieze week. The auction house’s £16.4–24.2 million estimate for this evening’s main sale was pretty much average for a part one sale over the last six years, and it hit exactly mid-target at £20.2 million ($26.4 million).

The evening’s top price came for an unusually formalistic abstract painting by Joan Mitchell, whose market has been on a roll lately. Perch and Twirl (1973) sold above estimate for £3.12 million ($4 million) to Phillips’s Korean representative, which may suggest the global appeal this artist has achieved. (Prices include buyer’s premium; estimates do not.)

Joan Mitchell, <em>Perch and Twirl</em> (1973). Image courtesy Phillips.

Joan Mitchell, Perch and Twirl (1973). Image courtesy Phillips.

Coming in next was a Christopher Wool painting. It had also sold at Phillips New York for $3.2 million back in 2015. But presumably it had gone unpaid for, because here it was, back on the block with a sign that indicated that Phillips now owned it.

Christopher Wool, <em>Untitled</em> (P271). Image courtesy Phillips.

Christopher Wool, Untitled (P271). Image courtesy Phillips.

The price of £2.5 million ($3.2 million) paid by dealer Inigo Philbrick was above estimate, but basically only got the auction house out of jail.

A tall, two-toned monochrome by Günther Förg provided one of the best returns of the evening. Having been bought in 2011 in Vienna for €43,000, it sold tonight for a double-estimate £393,000 (or $515,754).

Yayoi Kusama, <i>Infinity Nets (APQ)</i> (1999). Courtesy of Phillips.

Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Nets (APQ) (1999). Courtesy of Phillips.

An even better gain was realized by Yayoi Kusama’s small 1999 painting, from her “Infinity Nets” series. It had cost the seller $19,200 in New York back in 2005. Now estimated at £400,000–600,000, it sold for £405,000 ($607,000). That marks a tremendous run-up in value for the Japanese art star.

The biggest chunk of the 36-lot sale was the collection of the late Howard Karshan, an American film rights negotiator who was married to the artist Linda Karshan and spent a lot of time in London. He had been a Patron of the New Art at Tate.

The Karshan collection was guaranteed and included two Gerhard Richter paintings, but these sold at below estimates. (Hände—pictured above—took £2,049,000, or $2,689,000, on an estimate of £2–3 million.) A Twombly drawing from 1959 fared better, selling for a double-estimate £1.15 million ($1.5 million) to a phone bidder who outbid US dealer Neal Meltzer.

Also guaranteed, but not part of the Karshan trove, was a 1984 photograph by Barbara Kruger. It was underbid by art adviser Nicolai Frahm before selling for a mid-estimate £225,000 ($295,000).

Confirming Phillips growing stature at the lower end of the contemporary market, its part two day sale, combined with an innovative auction for contemporary ceramics, realized another $14 million—the highest total for a day sale in London.

All in all, a solid if unspectacular series for this third-place auctioneer.

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