Works by Women Artists Spark Excitement at Phillips’s Star-Studded $45.5 Million Contemporary Sale in London
The sale, which came in toward the low side of its overall estimate, included two Basquiats from the collection of ex-Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez.
Phillips wound up a successful if battle-weary series of contemporary art evening auctions in London with a £35.9 million ($45.5 million) sale of 20th century and contemporary art. Works by female artists were in demand among the 32 of the 36 lots that sold. The sturdy sell-through rate matched those at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in London this week.
Coming in with a pre-sale estimate of £31 million to £45 million, Phillips’s auction on June 27 commenced with nearly half of its value covered by guarantees. Five of the house’s 10 highest-valued lots were guaranteed either by Phillips or by third parties.
The total, nonetheless, just exceeded last June’s £34.4 million figure, and was the highest yet for a June Phillips sale in London. Carrying eight £1 million-plus lots, the third-place auction house fared impressively in the summer stakes—even managing to nip at the heels of Christie’s, where the sale on Tuesday generated £45.2 million ($57.3 million). That said, it should be remembered Phillips’s sale is helped by the inclusion of early 20th-century works—Picasso and Giacometti, in this evening’s case—whereas Christie’s and Sotheby’s leave those artists to their Impressionist and Modern auctions.
Picking up on the momentum Christie’s found by having up-and-coming female artists kick off its sale, Phillips launched it proceedings with another work by Tschabalala Self, this one Leda (as in Leda and the swan), a 7-foot-wide oil-and-linen collage with an inviting £40,000 to £60,000 estimate. Bought from Thierry Goldberg Galery in 2015 when prices were reportedly around $10,000, it attracted bids from the artist’s London gallery, Pilar Corrias, before selling to a phone bidder for £237,500 ($300,900). (Prices include a buyer’s premium; estimates do not.) Jose Mugrabi, who paid the record price for a Self at Christie’s this week, could be seen pacing the building outside the salesroom, talking on his cell phone.
British artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is slated for a show at Tate Britain next year and, with curatorial interest running high, her elegant life-size male portrait Leave a Brick Under the Maple (2015) sold for a double-estimate £795,000 ($1 million)—the second-highest price for the artist.
The other female artist in considerable demand was Marlene Dumas, who was represented in the sale by a small, disturbing 1988 painting, Losing (Her Meaning), that showed what seems to be a naked figure either swimming or drowning. Once owned by a friend of the artist, the painter Erik Andriesse, and passed down to his family when he died, the work spurred a battle between telephone bidders from Asia and a David Zwirner Gallery representative in the room. They competed for it until another telephone bidder finally swooped in to buy it for a double-estimate £1.2 million ($1.5 million).
Several lots carried record estimates—an indication that sellers were in a sanguine mood. There were disappointments, however. Dana Schutz’s six-foot canvas Moonwalker (2009) had an sky-high estimate of £550,000 to £750,000 and a guarantee, but it suffered a failure to launch—selling, probably to the guarantor, for £675,000 ($855,200), quite a bit short of the US artist’s $2.4 million record.
Also carrying a record-high estimate was Harold Ancart’s triptych Untitled (Deep Fried) from 2014 (estimate £300,000 to £400,000), but this one did heat up quickly, with bids flying back and forth from Asia and Florida before selling for £519,00 ($658,000), another second-highest auction price in the sale.
Another spot of positive bidding bubbled up when a seller, evidently hoping to pick up on momentum from the Fondation Beyeler’s current Rudolf Stingel show, offered a small photorealist painting, Untitled (After Sam) (2007), that attracted more competition than Stingel’s carpet-pattern painting did at Sotheby’s. The painting sold within estimate for £1.7 million ($2.15 million) to Andrew Fabricant of Gagosian Gallery.
The auction was helped by overflow from the Miles and Shirley Fiterman collection, much of which Phillips sold in New York in May, and which provided two of the top lots of the sale. One, a jazzy late Lichtenstein titled The Conductor (1975), sold within estimate for £5 million ($6.3 million) to a US phone bidder; the other, a late Picasso, sold to the Nahmad family of art dealers, also within estimate, for £3.1 million ($3.9 million).
Close behind was a 2014 studio interior by David Hockney. Also carrying a guarantee, it resembled a showroom’s furniture arrangement more than an artist’s lived-in workspace, and it sold below-estimate on a single bid to White Cube gallery—which may have been the guarantor—for £2.9 million ($3.7 million).
Phillips did, however, show it could get private buyers through the door. Award-winning filmmaker Katharina Otto-Bernstein (fittingly the executive producer of The Price of Everything) made a dramatic cameo appearance when she bought one of Anish Kapoor’s shiny circular stainless-steel sculptures for £567,000 ($718,400, on the low side of its estimate). She also bought the evening’s number-two lot, a Jean-Michel Basquiat oil-and-Xerox work from 1981, for £3.8 million ($4.9 million, just above its low estimate). The work had previously been sold in 2013 for $4.1 million, and was recently exhibited at Nahmad Contemporary’s Basquiat/Xerox show. The gallery told artnet News that nothing in the show was for sale—so this Basquiat must have somehow slipped through the net.
The celebrity seller was ex-baseball-player Alex Rodriguez, who has said he hopes to build a new collection with his fiancée, Jennifer Lopez. A car fan, A-Rod had a painting of a Ford Mustang by Richard Prince for sale—but maybe because J. Lo didn’t want it, no one at the sale wanted it either, even for below its £600,000 estimate. Rodriguez’s 1984 Basquiat painting of a pink elephant was only marginally less disappointing, selling below the £3 million estimate to a US phone bidder for £2.65 million ($3.4 million).
A sad inclusion in the list of sellers was Ryan Brant, son of the collector and publisher Peter Brant. The younger Brant, who died of a heart attack earlier this year at just 49 years old, was a leader in the market for interactive video games and had a fondness for KAWS (aka Brian Donnelly), who has become world-famous for his artworks based on toys and appropriated images from popular TV programs like “The Simpsons.” It’s easy to see the two getting along, and Phillips gave a fitting, respectful title to the mini-sale of Brant lots: “Game Changer.” It included one shaped painting by KAWS; there will also be three small paintings in the day sale tomorrow, two dated from 2005. Following the explosion in demand for KAWS, particularly in Taiwan, this fairly atypical work sold to a phone bidder from Asia who jumped in above the £300,000 low estimate to win it with a single bid for £495,000 ($627,000).
Phillips could have used a bit more of that kind of bidding this evening, but the house can be happy it emerged from a testing auction week relatively unscathed.
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