Young Painters Steal the Limelight From the Likes of Polke and Prince in Phillips’s $35 Million London Evening Sale
New records were set for seven up-and-coming artists.
Phillips’s October 15 evening sale of 20th-century and contemporary art in London got off to with a bang when a barely-dry painting by Ghanian-born artist Serge Attukwei Clottey, Fashion icons (2020–21), which was estimated at £30,000 to £40,000, soared to £340,200 ($465,500).
The lot marked the beginning of a series that drew a barrage of as enthusiastic bidding from around the world (with participants in 46 countries, per the auction house, including Portugal, Samoa, and Turkey). And, for the first time in a long time, some clients were also seated in the saleroom of Phillips’s London headquarters.
The frenetic energy helped achieve seven records in the first half-hour of the sale, though it also made for drawn-out bidding contests. The pace picked up a bit in the latter half of the sale as more historic, blue-chip works—by Milton Avery, Sigmar Polke, Andy Warhol, and Damien Hirst—were offered. In a dynamic symbolic of the broader market, these drew more measured bidding.
In all, the auction realized £25.3 million ($34.7 million), compared with a presale estimate of £16.2 million to £23.3 million ($22 million to $32 million). Forty of the 43 lots sold; with one withdrawn beforehand. (Final prices include auction-house fees; presale estimates do not.)
Clottey’s runaway success was directly followed by that of another newly anointed market darling, Flora Yukhnovich, whose Rococo-inspired Tondo (2018) sold for £529,200 ($724,000).
The same buyer, bidding through Phillips chairman Cheyenne Westphal, won both works, prompting presiding auctioneer Henry Highley to quip that it was the “best paddle of the sale so far” just two lots in.
A short time later, Westphal’s same client snapped up a painting by rising South African star Cinga Samson, the subject of a solo show opening October 16 at the FLAG Art Foundation in New York City. Hliso Street IV (2016) sold for £239,400 ($327,600) with premium, shattering the £30,000 high estimate.
New auction records were set for Clottey, Jadé Fadojutimi (£1.2 million, or $1.6 million), Tunji Adeniyi-Jones (£302,400, or $415,400), Issy Wood (£327,600, or $450,000), Sanya Kantarovsky (£390,600, or $536,600), Shara Hughes (£869,500, or $1.19 million), and André Butzer (£403,200, or $533,900). Most of these artists’ previous highs were notched just this year.
“The buoyant energy in London during Frieze week is testament to our global collectors’ unwavering appetite for art and the strength of the market,” said Olivia Thornton, Phillips’s head of 20th-century and contemporary art in Europe.
As is often the case with sales that mix the brand-new with the blue-chip, the priciest lots were not necessarily subject to the most intense bidding wars. In fact, demand for work by more established artists with higher price points was sometimes notably thin.
There was little fanfare when Sigmar Polke’s Negerplastik (1968) fell to a woman seated in the front row of the saleroom for a premium-inclusive price of £3.1 million ($4.2 million), merely in line with the £2 million-to-£3 million expectation.
A painting by Marlene Dumas, who is sometimes the subject of heated auction competition, struggled to clear its £1.6 million low estimate this time around. Phillips’s international specialist Kevie Yang, on the phone with a client, won The Believer (2005) for a hammer price of £1.4 million ($1.6 million).
Similarly, an Andy Warhol silkscreen of Lenin on a bright red background (circa 1986) hammered at £340,00, under the low estimate of £400,000, and a Richard Prince text painting, My Life As a Weapon (2007), hammered for £360,000, below the low estimate of £450,000.
The fact that these works managed to find buyers for prices below expectations suggests that auction-house specialists—aware that demand was not exactly off the charts—may have convinced consignors to lower their reserves, the undisclosed minimum price at which they will part with the work, ahead of the sale.
All of the lots that were guaranteed (five in total) were on the more-historic side, including two paintings by Milton Avery formerly owned by actor Peter O’Toole, a work by Albert Oehlen, a spot painting by Damien Hirst, and a painting by Jean Fautrier. In terms of results, the two Averys and the Hirst exceeded their high estimates; the Oehlen sold within estimate; and Fautrier’s I’m falling in love (1956) sold for £760,000 ($1 million)with premium, compared with the £800,000 low estimate, presumably to the third-party backer.
The sale also marked the auction debut of Reggie Burrows Hodges—who has won a following for figurative works that draw inspiration from his childhood in Compton, California—with the 2019 painting For The Greater Good coming on the block from “a distinguished Scandinavian collection.”
It soared past its £50,000 high estimate to sell for £441,000. Hodges, who resides in Maine, will be the subject of a solo exhibition at Rockland’s Center for Maine Contemporary Art in 2022.
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