Phillips $97 Million Sale Interrupted by Woman Fainting as Bids on a Bacon Hit $23 Million
The most dramatic moment had nothing to do with art.
The most dramatic moment at the Phillips contemporary evening sale on May 14 was not a new artist record, but a medical emergency in the sale room that took place at a critical moment in bidding. A loud thud was heard in the room just as the top lot—Francis Bacon’s Seated Women (1961)—had hit $23 million. A pregnant Phillips staffer standing behind the crowded podium collapsed and fainted.
Chaos and confusion ensued as auctioneer Alexander Gilkes continued the bidding—unable to see what was happening behind the podium, and seemingly unaware of the severity of the situation, as he asked if there was some kind of glitch. Those in the crowded room assumed that a computer or some other equipment had fallen, as the collapsed woman remained behind the podium. The panicked specialist—still on the line with the $25 million winning bidder—looked up and laconically explained to Gilkes, “She passed out.” The crowd in the saleroom erupted into confused, loud chatter, and eventually left their seats trying to figure out what was going on.
The dazed staffer was helped to her feet and led out of the saleroom for immediate medical attention. Phillips executives assured reporters after the sale that the woman was absolutely fine, and had not been hurt. Gilkes brought the sale back to order and the Bacon was officially sold to the specialist on behalf of his client with a premium-inclusive price of $28.2 million.
Aside from that unfortunate drama, it was a somewhat lackluster night that saw many top lots struggle to meet their low estimates or fail to sell. One such casualty was a vibrant Jean-Michel Basquiat painting Krong Thip (Torso) (1983), that at $4 million to $6 million was expected to be a highlight of the sale. Instead it was passed over, or bought in after it was opened at $2.9 million—and rose no higher than $3.3 million.
Still the overall total of the night looked respectable and solid as compared with presale estimates. The total for the sale was $97.2 million, or a bit above the presale low of $96.1 million, which had been revised slightly after two lots were withdrawn before the sale. Of 72 lots on offer, 56, or 80 percent, were sold. By value the sale realized 85 percent.
CEO Edward Dolman seemed satisfied with the results, telling reporters after the sale, “We were concerned that auction fatigue might set in in this very long and busy week but we were extremely pleased with the sale total…[which] is one of the best ever that we’ve had in New York.” (see Sotheby’s Stellar $380 Million Evening Contemporary Sale Not Without A Few Bumps and $81.9 Million Rothko Leads Christie’s Frenzied $658.5 Million Contemporary Art Sale.)
Among other top lots of the sale was Brice Marden’s Elements (Hydra), (1999-2000/2001) which sold to a gentleman in the room for $9.2 million, although the hammer price of $8.1 million was hovering near the low estimate.
Mark Tansey’s brilliant blue, large oil on canvas, titled, Hedge (2011), saw more spirited bidding, eventually selling to a buyer in the room for $4.9 million hammer, exceeding the presale estimate of $3.5 million to $4.5 million. With premium, the final price was $5.6 million.
The sale featured several lots by Rudolf Stingel as well. The best performing of these was the first one offered, a large untitled four-part gold plated work executed in 2012, that sold for $4.8 million on a $4 million to $6 million estimate. The next one, a four-panel untitled styrofoam work (2000), barely got off the ground. It sold for a hammer price of $950,000, falling short of the presale estimate of $1—1.5 million. With premium, the final price was $1.1 million.
Bidding seemed to be more robust for works from a private American collection— in all they accounted for $20.4 million of the sale total—and featured numerous pieces by Ed Ruscha and James Lee Byers. The consignors were not identified by Phillips, but the New York Times reported this past March that they are Laurence Lebowitz and his wife Naomi Aberly, a fundraiser for Democrats. The works on offer included Ruscha’s Porch Crop (2001) that sold for $2.1 million (estimate: $1.8—2.5 million), and three other solid Ruscha sales.
Byers’ basalt column sculpture, titled, The Figure of Death (1986), incited a mini bidding war between a gentleman seated in back of the room and a Phillips specialist on the phone bidding on behalf of a client. Estimated at $300,000 to $500,000, bidding opened at $200,000 and ended at $630,000, with the room bidder winning out. With premium, the price was $761,000.
Among notable art world figures in Phillips’ saleroom tonight was dealer Tony Shafrazi sitting next to collector Peter Brant. Dealer Stellan Holm, seated in the middle of the auction room, bid successfully for a Richard Prince, Untitled (Protest Painting) (1994), that he bought for $701,000 on an estimate of $500–700,000.
Collector Robbie Antonio (see Meet 20 of the Art World’s Most Innovativet Collectors and Spring Masters Puts A Fresh Spin On The Art Fair) jumped into the bidding on Anselm Kiefer’s San Loretto (2009), which was estimated at $600–800,000 and opened just under $500,000. Antonio stayed in for a short time, opting out at $550,000. The work sold for a hammer price of $850,000 for a Phillips specialist bidding for a client on the phone. Including premium, the final price for the Kiefer was slightly above $1 million ($1,025,000).
Also in the top lots: an all-white Agnes Martin canvas, titled, Untitled #7 (1984), sold for $4.2 million on an estimate of $2.5–3.5 million; a Picasso work, Buste de Mousquetaire (1968), sold for $2.6 million on an estimate of $2.5–3 million; and Frank Stella’s Double Scramble (1978) which sold for $2.1 million, on an estimate of $1.8– $2.5 million.
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