Phillips Spring Auction Sees Record-Breaking Sale of Ken Price Sculpture

Ken Price, Pink Egg (1964). Courtesy Phillips.

Spring fever must have been in the air last night at the Phillips Spring Contemporary Art & Design evening sale when ceramicist Ken Price‘s 1964 Pink Egg—a seasonally appropriate glazed and painted ceramic sculpture in hot pink and yellow—sold for US$509,000, breaking the artist’s world auction record and outpacing its estimate of US$300,000–400,000. The high sale falls in line with the recent attention the late artist’s work has been getting, not in the least as exemplified by last year’s traveling retrospective “Ken Price Sculpture,” which opened in June at the Metropolitan Museum and marked Price’s first major museum retrospective in New York. And its provenance is stellar. As per the online auction catalogue, Pink Egg was first shown 50 years ago this month in “An Exhibition of Sculpture by Kenneth Price” at LA’s legendary Ferus Gallery. Price’s previous auction record was held by a painted bronze and composite sculpture, which sold at Christie’s in May 2013 for US$315,750.

On the whole, the Phillips sale, which offered 31 lots, realized a total of US$8.5 million, selling a vibrant 98 percent by value and 94 percent by lot, suggesting the sale was tightly curated. The sale was led by Andy Warhol’s 1967 work Marilyn Monroe, which sold for US$1.8 million. Two works by Rudolf Stingel, the Italian-born New York-based artist who had a knock-out exhibition at Palazzo Grassi during last year’s Venice Biennale, also made the top ten. His Untitled (1996-9) realized roughly US$1 million while Untitled (Traminer Alter) (2009) brought in US$461,000. Among the top lots were also works by Cady Noland (Untitled (1989), US$269,000), Allen Jones (Refrigerator (2002), $425,000), and Oscar Murillo, whose 2011 work Untitled (Chicken and Chips)—a large messy abstract work of oilstick, spraypaint, dirt, and enamel on canvas—sold for US$317,000, keeping the young gun’s sales in the range of his most heady recent auction results.

“The international attention received is a testament to the strength of the ever-evolving art market and the synergy between art and design,” said Phillips CEO Michael McGinnis in a statement. “We were especially pleased with the active bidding on works by Rudolf Stingel, Ken Price, Sterling Ruby and Oscar Murillo.”

At Christie’s First Open sale, also held Thursday night, sculpture by Ken Price also pulled in a high price when the fired and painted clay work Big Load (1988) sold for US$317,000. The auction, a sale of works by emerging artists and lesser-known works of established artists, brought in a total of US$11.7 million. It was led by Wade Guyton’s Untitled (2005)—one of the American artist’s Inkjet-on-linen works featuring his signature flame-with-graphics composition set against a black backdrop—which saw competitive bidding among hopeful owners and finally brought in US$1 million, soaring past its high estimate of US$350,000. Otherwise, the sale was lackluster, with an unremarkable 83 percent sell-through rate by value, and 68 percent by lot. The sale kicked off with 30 lots offered in support of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, which brought in US$662,125 and saw intense bidding for the first lot, a work by Mark Flood, which sold for US$75,000, outperforming  its high presale estimate threefold.

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