Young Artists All the Rage at Phillips Sale

Banksy and Tauba Auerbach ring up the high numbers.

Banksy, <em>Submerged Phone Booth </em>(2006) Photo: Courtesy Phillips Ltd. 2014.

Banksy, Submerged Phone Booth (2006)
Photo: Courtesy Phillips Ltd. 2014.

It was a christening of sorts tonight at Phillips London.

The Russian luxury brand Mercury Group–owned auctioneer held its first sale last night in its sparkling new London headquarters in Berkeley Square, in the heart of Mayfair. This is London art market and hedge-fund land. Attendance was certainly better than any I have seen at any Phillips London auction when it was based in Victoria, a mile away. Some 400 people packed the spacious lower ground floor area; many of them were young, in London for Frieze week, and willing to bid.

The evening got off to an electric start with Sideways (2012), a geometric cut-out construction of raw canvases by young American artist Wyatt Kahn. It was consigned by the Saatchi collection. Estimated to sell at £60,000–80,000 ($96,000–128,000), the work was the artist’s first at auction and sold for £122,500 ($195,935) to a young collector from Paris who said it was the first example of Kahn’s work he had managed to buy. (An exhibition of Kahn’s work currently at Presenhuber in Zurich sold out at prices between $40,000 and $70,000.)

For the next lot, sought-after young Vietnamese artist Danh Vō was represented by a large, undulating copper sculpture, We The People (detail) (2011), a piece of the artist’s 250-segmentation of the Statue of Liberty. Gallerists at Frieze who work with Vō rated it as an important example of his work. Estimated at £100,000–150,000 ($160,000–240,000), which is near the top of the artist’s price range on the primary market, it sold to another young French collector for a record £206,500 ($330,291). The artist’s previous record was $149,000 last November.

A record £1,142,500 million ($1,816,575) was then paid by Mayfair dealer Inigo Philbrick for Untitled (Fold) (2010), an exceptionally large painting by Tauba Auerbach from her Fold series of paintings of crumpled paper (the estimate was £800,000–1.2 million, or $1.3–1.9 million). Philbrick currently has a show of Auerbach’s Fold paintings at his Mount Street gallery in Mayfair.

Wyatt Kahn, Sideways (2012)

Wyatt Kahn, Sideways (2012)
Photo: Courtesy Phillips Ltd. 2014.

For Mark Flood, whose career has taken off suddenly just as he hits age 50, the auction was perhaps well-timed for collectors who are enticed by scarcity. Flood’s most-traded “Lace” work was unavailable to buy at Frieze, and a large example “Lace” painting at Peres Projects was not for sale. Which helps to explain why Flood’s slightly smaller 2013 painting from the series, titled The Commons (2013), sold for a double-estimate £74,500 ($118,000) to a phone bidder.

On the wackier side, street artist Banksy’s Submerged Phone Booth (2006), almost exactly as described, sold for a whopping £722,500 ($1,148,775) against a £300,000–500,000 ($480,000–800,000) estimate. The sculpture had been purchased in 2008 for $121,000 or £75,600, by Minneapolis collector Gordon Locksley, who died earlier this year. So, nothing wrong with the Banksy market. Also, a comical 10-foot resin figure, Accomplice (2010), by toy designer KAWS, sold for a record £266,500 ($423,735) on an estimate of £150,000–250,000 ($240,000–400,000).

The sale was thin on valuable, blue chip, postwar works, and realized quite a modest £14.9 million, including premium, against a presale estimate of £15.5–22.3 million. One lot, by Rosemarie Trockel, was withdrawn at the owner’s request. However, 37 of the 45 lots, or a healthy 80 percent offered, were sold, accounting for 77 percent of the total value of the sale.

Turning to more senior artists, the top lot was a Christopher Wool wallpaper pattern style painting of eagles, Untitled (P131) (1990). Estimated at £1.8–2.2 million ($2.9–3.5 million), it sold for £2,098,500 ($3,336,615) to a telephone bid fielded by Phillips’ new chief executive, Ed Dolman, fresh from his time working with the Qataris for whom he left his job as chief executive of Christie’s (see “Edward Dolman Takes the Helm at Phillips“).

Mark Flood, The Commons (2013)

Mark Flood, The Commons (2013)
Photo: Courtesy Phillips Ltd. 2014.

Exceeding its estimate of £400,000–600,000 ($640,000–960,000) was a large 2004 painting, Für Paul Celan, by Anselm Kiefer, who is currently enjoying a well-received retrospective at the Royal Academy in London. The UK private dealer Julian Barran bought it for a client for £818,500 ($1,301,415). “It’s a painting I have wanted to buy for a long time,” said Barran, “and was, in our view, the best Kiefer at auction this week.”

A private collector in the room paid £266,500 ($423,735) for Franz West’s eight-foot lacquered aluminum head, Larvae (2004). It carried an estimate of £100,000–150,000. Compare the purchase price with the £97,250 ($167,700) the work sold for six years ago this month in the shadow of the Lehman Brothers banking collapse.

An eight-foot painting of a young woman’s head, titled Eyes Closed (2004), by Alex Katz, sold for £206,500 ($328,335) to London dealer Peter Osborne.

However, some valuable lots that had been on the market relatively recently saw no return and went unsold. A small Gerhard Richter abstract U.L. (1985) (estimate: £1.5–2 million) attracted no bids. Phillips’ head of sale, Peter Sumner, said the lackluster performance of a large Richter abstract at Christie’s Essl collection sale on Monday could not have helped (see “Polke Drubs Richter at Christie’s $75 Million Essl Collection Sale“). The painting had also been on the market in 2012 when it sold at Christie’s London for £612,450 ($978,695).

Another flop was Andy Warhol’s very dark Four Marilyns (Reversal) (1986), (estimate: £1.2–1.8 million, or $1.9–2.9 million). In May 2009 it sold at Christie’s New York for $1,142,500 (£750,238); so again, no markup.

Overall, however, this was a christening with few tears and enough joy to keep the market feeling upbeat for the rest of the week, especially for those younger artists.

Dan Vho, We The People (detail) (2011)

Danh Vō, We The People (detail) (2011)
Photo: Courtesy Phillips.


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