Given the cautious state of the current art market, predicting the prospects for London’s June auctions is difficult, to say the least. In the days leading up to the sales, we’ll be previewing the works in each that seem to hold particular promise. Here are some to look for on June 27 in the Phillips 20th-Century & Contemporary Art sale. (Data in graphs are based on hammer prices as reported by the BLOUIN ART SALES INDEX.)
Early lots of note include the richly impastoed abstraction “Ba Be Bi Bo Bu,” 1958, by Art Informel giant Jean Fautrier, in oil and pigment on paper laid on canvas. The work, the title of which was seemingly inspired by a nursery rhyme, is pegged at £200,000 to £300,000 ($292-437,000). “Fautrier is a real master of postwar European art,” says Hugues Joffre, the house’s worldwide head of contemporary art. “But he has not been accepted as yet on the international market.” In February, Phillips sold the artist’s “Construction rectiligne,” from the same year, for a rousing £266,500 ($385,500) against an estimate of £120,000 to £180,000 ($174-260,000). Joffre characterized the current offering, which was last exhibited in 1964 in the artist’s retrospective held at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, as “joyous and full of spirit.”
Phillips is also offering the rare-to-market “Portrait of Chaim II,” 1987, Leon Kossoff’s intensely rendered, angst-filled likeness of his bespectacled brother, which carries the same estimate as the Fautrier. Another version of the subject, dated 1985–86, sold at Sotheby’s London last July for £365,000 ($573,000).
A selection of contemporary works by recent market favorites are going on the block as well. Among them are Mark Bradford’s 2007 “The Father’s ‘NO’ ” and Adrian Ghenie’s “Untitled,” from 2009, each of which is estimated at £350,000 to £450,000. Works by both painters have achieved artist records recently: Bradford’s “Constitution IV,” 2013, sold for £3,778,500 last October at Phillips London, and Ghenie’s2014 “The Sunflowers in 1937” sold at Sotheby’s London in February for £3,117,000, more than five times the high estimate. Discussing the current market, Joffre observes that “discretionary sellers are definitely not in the mood, so the über-collectors will have less to sink their teeth into.”