The $1.36 billion auction week of postwar and contemporary evening sales in New York had its low-key finale at Phillips on Thursday, turning in a solid though hardly exceptional $51,964,750. The decent tally fell close to midway between pre-sale expectations of $45,760,000-67,790,000 million, though estimates do not include the buyer’s premium pegged at 25 percent up to an including $100,000, 20 percent up to and including $2 million, and 12 percent for anything above that.
Eight of the 47 lots offered failed to sell for a workmanlike 17 percent buy-in rate by lot. Fifteen of the 39 works that sold made over a million dollars and of those, one made over five million dollars. Better still, three artist records were established. Tonight’s results, however, trailed last November’s $68,15,750 tally for the 35 lots sold.
Like its much larger rivals Christie’s and Sotheby’s, Phillips financially guaranteed 14 lots, in direct third party deals, according to the auction house.
“Our sale,” said Edward Dolman, the newly installed CEO of Phillips, “had less of a percentage of guarantees than the other houses. We took a more cautious strategy this sale.”
The evening got off to a fast start with (lot 1) Norwegian artist Fredrik Vaerslev’s “Untitled (Canopy)” painting from 2012, big enough to keep you in the shade at 91 ½ by 72 ¼ inches, going for a record $317,000 (est. $150-250,000).
R.H. Quaytman’s (lot 2) atmospheric and eerily lit “Chapter 12: Lamb (An American Place)” from 2012, executed in oil, silkscreen, and gesso on wood, brought $245,000 (est. $100-150,000).
Danh Voh’s guaranteed sculpture, (lot 3) “We the People (detail)” from 2011, part of the artist’s massively ambitious Statue of Liberty project consisting of 400 fabricated copper pieces as a reprise of the fabled American landmark, and comprised in this case of six copper parts, made a record $629,000, selling to New York private dealer Phillip Segalot (est. $300-500,000).
Utilizing another famous brand name, (lot 4) Ai Weiwei’s “Coca Cola Vase” from 2011, comprised of a Neolithic era ceramic vessel with the trademarked Coca-Cola name spanning the breadth of the pot in perfect script, sold to a telephone bidder for $665,000 (est. $400-600,000).
On a larger scale, (lot 5) art market darling Alex Israel’s arch shaped architectural abstraction, “Untitled (Flat)” from 2012, fabricated in acrylic on stucco, wood and aluminum frame, complete with the stamp “MADE AT WARNER BROS. STUDIOS BURBANK CA,” sold to another telephone for $341,000 (est. $300-500,000).
Opposite of a readymade, (lot 7) Tauba Auerbach’s “Untitled (Fold)” from 2010, an intricately creased canvas painted in trompe-l’oeil style, sold to a telephone bidder for a record $2,285,000 (est. $1.5-2 million). New York dealer Andrew Fabricant of Richard Gray Gallery was the underbidder. It also carried a third-party guarantee. It vanquished the record set at Phillips London in October when “Untitled (Fold),” another work from the series, but larger at 80 by 60 inches, made £1,142,500/$1,823,041.
Another Auerbach abstraction, (lot 16) “Ray I” from 2012, in woven canvas on a wooden stretcher, creating rhythmic patterns across the surface, sold for $545,000 (est. $400-600,000). It was exhibited at the artist’s solo exhibition at the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York in 2012, when her primary market prices were in the $40-60,000 range.
Nate Lowman’s (lot 15) explosive, bullet holed shaped canvas, “Pink Escalade” from 2005, in silkscreen ink on canvas laid on panel, sold to New York dealer David Mugrabi for $545,000 (est. $500-700,000). It last sold at Sotheby’s London in February 2010 for £51,650/$80,614 and more recently was exhibited in “Nate Lowman: I WANTED TO BE AN ARTIST BUT ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY CAREER,” at the Brant Foundation in Greenwich, Connecticut. One might hazard a wild guess as to the identity of the seller.
Wade Guyton’s (lot 8) printed flame on canvas, “Untitled” from 2006 and standing at 90 by 53 inches, sold to a telephone bidder for $4,645,000 (est. $4-6 million). It was also backed by a third party guarantee. Looking back, Phillips debuted Guyton in its November 2008 evening sale when a similarly scaled untitled work generated from an Epson Ultra Chrome Inkjet on linen from 2007 sold for $134,500. Some might say (about that market) that auction moment dated from the good old days.
Other highlights from top-tier, mid-career artists included Julia Mehretu’s densely mapped ”Stadia Excerpt (a small resurgence)” from 2004, in ink and acrylic on canvas, sold for $1,205,000 (est. $1-1.5 million).
Late, as in deceased, superstars were also present, as evidenced by Martin Kipppenberger’s (lot 10) wildly colored “”Untitled” landscape with modern architecture composition from 1984, that sold to Zurich dealer Doris Ammann for $2,345,000 (est. $1.5-2.5 million). According to auction catalogue notes, the chunky structure was modeled after the Betty Ford Clinic, a posh rehab hideaway for drug addicts in Rancho Mirage, California.
“Now I have it back,” said Ammann as she exited the 57th Street salesroom, explaining she formerly owned it, and referring to the clinic, “not that I have to go there.”
It as well carried a third party guarantee.
Though a solid price for an always unusual Kippenberger, it came nowhere near the stratospheric and record $22,565,000 garnered for “Untitled,” the artist’s rather comical self-portrait in underpants from 1988 that sold at Christie’s Wednesday evening.
Back to the living, Richard Prince’s (lot 11) cigarette smoking, lariat twirling cowboy, “Untitled (Cowboy)” from 1998-99 and scaled at 59 ½ by 83 ½ inches and hailing from an Ektacolor photograph edition of two plus one artist proof, realized $1,805,000 (est. $1-1.5 million). It last sold at Phillips de Pury & Company in November 2010, at a time before Russian-owned Mercury Group took 100 percent ownership and changed the name back to Phillips, for $902,500.
It’s always nice to double your money.
Another photograph, Andreas Gursky’s (lot 14) “James Bond Island I” from 2010, a grandly-scaled chromogenic print in artist’s frame at 111 by 88 inches, sold to another telephone bidder for $725,000 (est. $600-800,000.)
Phillips seems to be driving towards more blue chip, postwar works, distancing itself a bit from its stellar reputation of showcasing up-and-coming art stars in the secondary market arena.
In that richer vein, Frank Stella’s (lot 18) sharp and multi-colored “Concentric Square” from 1966 triggered a mayhem of bidding, rising to make $3,973,000 (est. $1.2-1.8 million) and Donald Judd’s (lot 19) divided single box, “Untitled (Bernstein) 81-4” from 1981, fabricated in copper and blue Plexiglas, sold for $1,445,000 (est. $1.2-1.8 million).
Continuing its Minimalist cavalcade of museum proven stars, Robert Ryman’s (lot 20) 40 by 40 inch “Hour,” from 2001, sold on a single telephone bid for the top lot price of $5,205,000 (est. $5-7 million).
It was Phillips’ priciest offering and came armed with a financial guarantee.
On a larger scale, Willem de Kooning’s (lot 21) late and almost Minimal oil, “Untitled XVIII” from 1984, went for $4,869,000 (est. $4-6 million). It last sold at Phillips de Pury & Company in November 2011 for $3,442,500.
In a more Ab-Ex era vein, Mark Rothko’s (lot 22) petite-scaled yet luminous oil on paper, mounted on Masonite, “Untitled” from 1959, sold to a telephone bidder for $4,085,00 (est. $3-5 million). Mnuchin Gallery was one of the underbidders in the salesroom. It too was guaranteed.
Though not the real McCoy, (lot 38) but a masterfully executed copy, Elaine Sturtevant’s brilliantly mimed enamel on canvas, “Stella Tomlinson Court Park (First Version) (Study)” from 1990 drew a torrent of bidding before selling to an anonymous telephone for $557,000 (est. $100-150,000).
On the scantly represented Pop Art front, (lot 31) Robert Indiana’s “Marilyn Marilyn II” from 1999, a diamond shaped canvas bearing the naked visage of the screen goddess, sold to Mathias Rastorfer of Zurich’s Galerie Gmurzynska for $485,000 (est. $400-600,000).
Though usually frontloaded with younger artists craved by the market, Phillips placed some towards the end of the sale as evidenced by (lot 46) Christian Rosa’s “Run Run Hide Hide” from 2014, (yes, this year), in oil stick, oil paint, pencil, resin, and charcoal on canvas. It sold for $161,000 (est. $80-120,000).
More familiar Young Turk habitués of the salesroom included (lot 45) David Ostrowski’s big and mostly vacant abstraction, “F (it’s not easy being a Supermodel)” from 2012, which realized $118,750 (est. $80-120,000) and Lucien Smith’s fire extinguisher applied “rain painting” in acrylic on unprimed canvas, titled “When a Man Loves a Woman” from 2012, which failed to sell at a chandelier bid $75,000 (est. $100-150,000). Smith was last season’s market darling.
“Late Nite,” from 2012, (lot 41) a shaped raw canvas from lesser- known upstart Wyatt Kahn, sold to Montreal dealer Francois Odermatt for $185,000 (est. $100-150,0000).
“I love his work,” said Odermatt as he headed for the exit. “It’s the eighth in my collection and only two have been bought at auction.”
Asked about his impression of the week, Odermatt answered, “I think it was one of the best weeks for contemporary art at auction ever.”