Koons, Marden, and Bradford Drive Phillips $46.5 Million Evening Sale

Expectations were high.

Jeff Koons Naked (1988). Photo: courtesy Phillips
Mark Bradford Mixed Signals (2009) sold for $2.9 million, twice the high estimate. Photo: courtesy Phillips

Mark Bradford, Mixed Signals (2009) sold for $2.9 million, twice the high estimate.
Photo: courtesy Phillips

Having assembled new management, auction, and specialist teams, expectations were high at Phillips’ 20th century and contemporary art evening sale in New York on Sunday night, which totaled a modest $46.5 million.

Taking place shortly after “Christie’s Bound to Fail” auction, which totaled a strong $78.1 million, all eyes were on Phillips to ascertain whether the predictions of a waning market would hold true. “We are confident about the deals that were done for May, and we expect to be pleased with the results,” Phillips spokesman Michael Sherman told artnet News in an email ahead of the sale.

The auction house took a risk to secure top-level works on Sunday, with 21 of the 38 total lots on offer being backed by minimum price guarantees.

Brice Marden's Star (for Patti Smith) was the top performing lot, selling for $5.9 million. Photo: courtesy Phillips

Brice Marden’s Star (for Patti Smith) was the top performing lot, selling for $5.9 million. Courtesy of Phillips.

The sale was led by standout lots including Jeff Koons’ porcelain sculpture Naked (2008), on an estimate of $5,000,000—$7,000,000; and Brice Marden’s triptych Star (for Patti Smith) (1972-74), on an estimate of $5,000,000—$7,000,000.

With the exception of the inclusion of Klara Lidén’s Untitled (Poster Painting) (2007-10), the sale was light on young artists, as Phillips banked on the power of established market-proven consignments to lure deep-pocketed collectors.

Jeff Koons Naked (1988). Photo: courtesy Phillips

Jeff Koons, Naked (1988). Courtesy of Phillips.

Before the sale started it was announced that Ad Reinhardt’s Abstract Painting (1954-1957) was withdrawn. It had been expected to fetch between $1 million—$1.5 million.

Signs of a slightly contracting market were evident, as lots by John Currin, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jean-Michel Basquiat failed to sell. Early in the auction, Christopher Wool’s Untitled (2006) performed below expectations, selling at $305,000. The same work had sold at Christie’s London in February 2006 for $325,000.

Meanwhile, a Cindy Sherman print Untitled Film Still #5A (1977) sold well below the pre-sale estimate of $500,000—$700,000 when it changed hands for only $461,000. The same work was sold at Sotheby’s New York in May 2011 for $662,000. And Christopher Wool’s Untitled (1989)—which sold for $795,000 in 2009, sold for $725,000 on Sunday.

Maurizio Cattelan Mini me (1999). Photo: Phillips

Maurizio Cattelan, Mini me (1999). Courtesy of Phillips.

The star lot of the sale, Jeff Koons’ Naked (1988) sold for $5.7 million. At a press conference after the sale, Phillips CEO Edward Dolman admitted that the porcelain sculpture went to the artwork’s third party guarantor.

The second star lot, Brice Marden’s Star (for Patti Smith) (1972-74) performed within expectations, selling for $5.9 million to a telephone bidder, inside the pre-sale estimate of $5 million—$7 million.

Things picked up as Mark Bradford’s Mixed Signals (2009)one of three works by the artist in the sale—sold for $2.9 million, almost double the pre-sale estimate of $1 million—$1.5 million. After a protracted bidding war between two telephone bidders, the hammer was brought down against the backdrop of short-lived applause.

KlaraLidén Untitled (Poster Painting) (2007-2010). Photo: courtesy Phillips

Klara Lidén, Untitled (Poster Painting) (2007-2010). Courtesy of Phillips.

After Christie’s sold a Maurizio Cattelan sculpture depicting Adolph Hitler for a staggering $17.2 million—a record price for the artist—only hours earlier, all eyes were on the artist’s Mini-me (2009). Although it sold for a robust $749,000, it couldn’t match the enormous record set the same night at Rockefeller Center.

“There’s still a great deal of money in people’s hands wanting to invest in great works of art in the art market,” Dolman told journalists after the sale. “So while the figures show some contracting sale totals, if you actually drill down and look at the individual works of art and how much they’re selling for, I think you’ll see a slightly different story. There’s still an extraordinary robustness in the market and great material available,” he insisted.

However, any conclusive market analyses will have to wait until Sotheby’s and Christie’s sales this week take place.

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