$22 Million Phillips Evening Sale Passes Muster, Led by Warhol, Bradford

The 20th-century and contemporary art auction was not a firecracker.

Andy Warhol, 20 Pink Maos (1979). Photo courtesy of Phillips.

As in the past, Phillips kept the lot numbers down for its part 1 auction tonight in deference to the quantity of material on offer at the Frieze fairs which opened in London today. The trim 28 lot sale (after two withdrawals) was one of the smallest Phillips had mounted, with a pre-sale estimate of £14.2 to £20.5 million—much in line with October 2014, but only half of last year’s sale, which had been bolstered by the inclusion of the Frederic Brandt collection which had been guaranteed. Although hardly a firecracker sale, Phillips passed muster on it selling all but four lots for £17.9 million ($22.7 million).

Guarantees were being closely watched at Phillips as there were more (five) in this short sale than at Sotheby’s and Christie’s combined.

Four had been guaranteed by third parties, offsetting the risk to Phillips if they didn’t sell. Top of the list, and boasting equal highest estimate of the week with an Alberto Burri at £4/6 million, was Warhol’s small Twenty Pink Maos from his 1979 reversal series which attracted one bid above the low estimate to sell for £4.7 million ($6 million) to a phone bidder.

With a good track record of record prices for Mark Bradford, the follow up tonight was a 10 foot square mixed media collage, Rat Catcher of Hamelin III (2011), shown that year at the Istanbul Biennial, and guaranteed by a third party with a £1.5/2 million estimate. Whoever the third party was would have been pleased as several bidders chased the painting to £3.7 million (just a shade off the record in pounds sterling, though not close in dollars—$4.7 million), selling to London dealer, Inigo Philbrick.


Mark Bradford, Rat Catcher of Hamelin III (2011). Photo courtesy of Phillips.

The only guarantee completely backed by Phillips was the opening lot, Thomas Schütte’s yellow PVC sculpture, Little Spirit, which had been acquired at Christie’s two years ago on the top estimate for £128,500. Now guaranteed to just about equal that amount with a £120,000 low estimate, it sold for £125,000 ($158,750).

Another guarantee which involved a third party and in which Phillips had a financial interest (as opposed to placing a guarantee) was a small Gerhard Richter Abstraktes Bild, 1992, bought by Richard Green in 2010 for a double estimate $752,000 and subsequently sold on. Phillips had reassured the new owner with a £800,000 low estimate and it sold comfortably within estimate for £1.1 million ($1.4 million).

Phillips also had a financial interest in a cluster of works that were not guaranteed by Mark Grotjahn (sold within estimate for £1.3 million), Sean Scully (sold below estimate for £665,000), and Bridget Riley (sold for within estimate for £293,000, but not leaving much of a margin over the £218,500 it cost the seller two years ago).  Then there was an early Damien Hirst spot painting of 1992 which s had previously been at Phillips in 2013 when it brought £361,250 from the Mugrabi family. Now with a financial interest in the painting, Phillips sold it for £509,000 ($646,430) bringing a glow to Chairman and CEO Ed Dolman’s cheeks in the post-sale press conference, as he reminded us that some contemporary artists are actually going up in price. Though, apart from the Richter, there weren’t any other examples to go on in this sale.

The Mugrabi family also featured in the provenance of a small Warhol dollar sign painting that had previously been sold as part of a group of four dollar signs in 2011 at Sotheby’s which made £713,250 or approx. £178,000 each. The single work with a green background was now estimated at £350/450,000 but did not sell. The most conspicuous unsold lot was Sterling Ruby’s large SP33 which had been bought at Phillips in 2014 for £542,500, but this time had no bids at £340,000.

Tim Noble and Sue Webster, $ (2001). Photo courtesy of Phillips.

Tim Noble and Sue Webster, $ (2001). Photo courtesy of Phillips.

Three lots were from the estate of Finnish economist Pentti Kouri, who died in 2009. Kouri had been a partner of George Soros in Finland, but their operation went bankrupt. When he died, his estate reportedly owed tens of millions of dollars. A trustee of the DIA Foundation, he had amassed a significant art collection. On behalf of the estate, Phillips was offering two late ’80s works by Antony Gormley, and a painting by Gary Hume, Rose, 1999. Both Gormleys sold, one above estimate at £401,000, though the Hume, which Kouri bought shortly after it had sold at Phillips in New York in 2005 for $144,000, sold for just £62,500 ($79,375).

Another bright British star of yesteryear, the Tim Noble and Sue Webster duo, also witnessed more restrained enthusiasm as a light bulb dollar sign, such as one that sold for £240,500 in 2007, came back after having been unsold in New York in February to sell for £87,500.

Post-war European art was almost absent from tonight’s sale—holding back for next February’s sale, said Hugues Joffre—though there was a very positive price for a classic abstraction from the ’50s by Emilio Vedova which sold to an Italian private collector for a top estimate £185,000 ($234,950) bidding against dealer Thaddaeus Ropac, who is thought to be negotiating to represent the artist’s estate.

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