Ai Weiwei Record at $5.4 Million Keeps Phillips $28.6 Million Contemporary Sale on Track

Phillips kicked off the potentially record-breaking London contemporary sales.

Sigmar Polke Carnival (1979)
Photo: courtesy Phillips

As Europe faced another financial storm last night triggered by the Greek debt crisis, Phillips kicked off a potentially record-breaking series of London contemporary art auctions with a £18.2 million sale ($28.6 million), near the low end of the pre-sale £17/26 million estimate (sale prices include buyer’s premium, estimates do not). But the sell through rate of 84 percent by lot was more encouraging for the number three auctioneer.

A healthy attendance of familiar auction buyers boded well for Phillips which saw veteran market maker Jose Mugrabi bid for, but not buy, a painting by up- and-coming Jonas Wood, Fish Tank (2007), which sold for a double top estimate £158,000, followed by a large oil-stick-on-paper by the sought after Harold Ancart, which he bought above estimate for £47,500. Former Christie’s expert Fernando Mignoni then bid up on a drain sink sculpture by Robert Gober, but dropped out as it went above estimate for £254,500.

A drought of competitive bidding followed, relieved only by one phone bidder who claimed Sherrie Levine’s Caribou Skull, for £494,500, and Carroll Dunham’s painting, MOUND F, for £194,500 – both well within estimate. “Phillips now has the top three prices for Dunham,” said Phillips’s CEO, Michael McGinnis proudly after the sale.

Ai Weiwei<i>Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads, </i> (2010) <br> Photo: courtesy Phillips

Ai Weiwei Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads, (2010)
Photo: courtesy Phillips

They also have the top two for Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei. After they sold a set of gold-plated zodiac figures by him for a record £2.9 million last February to Facebook founding president, Sean Parker, they led last night’s sale with a bronze set estimated at £3 million which they knocked down for precisely that: £3.4 million or $5.4 million including premium, and a new record.

Other top sellers for Phillips were a Bruce Nauman sculpture, Hanging Heads #1 (Blue Andrew, Mouth Open/ Red Julie with Cap), (1989), which had a third party guarantee and sold on the low estimate for £1,762,500—double the price it made at auction ten years ago; Sigmar Polke’s graphic Carnival, (1979), produced one of the best gains of the night selling for £1,142,500, which was double the price it fetched in 2010; and Ed Ruscha’s horizontal Ship Talk (1998), last sold in 2012 for £770,000, which now brought £884,500 selling to Gagosian Gallery director, Stefan Ratibor.

Chris Ofili Homage (1993-1995) Photo: courtesy Phillips

Chris Ofili Homage (1993-1995)
Photo: courtesy Phillips

Probably the biggest gain of the sale was made by Greek collector Dimitri Daskalopoulos. He bought Chris Ofili’s painting, Homage, (1993-95), at auction in 1998 for £19,550. His gain can be measured against the £300,000 low estimate on the work, but it is questionable whether there was any gain for Phillips as it sold for £302,500 including the buyer’s premium to a third party guarantor.

Ed Ruscha Ship Talk (1988) Photo: courtesy Phillips

Ed Ruscha Ship Talk (1988)
Photo: courtesy Phillips

Ed Ruscha She Slept With Two Windup Alarm Clocks (1978) Photo: courtesy Phillips

Ed Ruscha She Slept With Two Windup Alarm Clocks (1978)
Photo: courtesy Phillips

Further examples by Ruscha were among six works from the collection of Dallas financier Laurence Lebowitz and his wife, Naomi Aberly, which followed their sale in New York in May of 17 works at Phillips for $20.4 million. As in New York, all were guaranteed by a third party, and sold around the low estimate for a combined £1.2 million. Top price from the collection was Ruscha’s Anchor Stuck in Sand (1990), which sold to Mugrabi within estimate for £374,500, showing no gain in the price it sold for in New York in 2013.

In demand was Thomas Demand’s photograph, Vault (2012), which exceeded estimates to sell for £146,500, but another photographic work from the Lebowitz collection, an early black-and-white work by Gilbert & George, Spitalifields (1980), which they had bought in 2009 for £241,250, was sold to dealer Thaddaeus Ropac, who has just been showing their new work in Paris, for a more modest £146,500.

Gilbert & George Spitalfields (1980) Photo: courtesy Phillips

Gilbert & George Spitalfields (1980)
Photo: courtesy Phillips

On a day of stock market plunges it was perhaps to be expected that Andreas Gursky’s Chicago, Mercantile Exchange found no takers (£650/850,000). Similarly no one could be found to buy a spray painting of a helicopter on a found 19th century landscape by graffiti artist Banksy, near the £300,000 low estimate, or more than double its previous cost at an auction in Vienna in 2007.

Still, as a warm up to the week, Phillips generally kept its head above water providing a reasonable platform of confidence for the sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s tonight and tomorrow night.

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