Phillips’ Respectable $35.1M 20th Century & Contemporary Art Sale
Howard Hodgkin, Rhode Island, 2000-2002, Oil on panel, 203 x 267 cm, £600,000-800,000

Howard Hodgkin, Rhode Island, 2000-2002, Oil on panel, 203 x 267 cm, £600,000-800,000

LONDON — Bucking strong financial headwinds from the global economy, Phillips managed to pull off a decent though hardly robust sale of 20th-Century & Contemporary Art that realized £24,590,000/$35,164,415.

Nine of the 43 lots offered failed to sale for a decent buy-in rate by lot of 21 percent. The tally just missed the low end of pre-sale expectations of £25.8-37.4/$36.9-53.5 million.

Still, it easily exceeded last February’s £17.7/$26.8 million total, but that sale was strictly contemporary art without the higher-valued “20th Century” component, which Phillips inaugurated in November in New York.

Tonight, eight works sold for over a million pounds and 10 sold for over a million dollars.

One artist record was convincingly set.

(All prices reported include the hammer price plus the buyer’s premium, which is calculated at 25 percent up to and including £50,000, 20 percent of the portion above that amount and up to and including £1 million, and 12 percent for anything above that. Estimates do not include the premium.)

The evening began with a familiar cast of younger artists, led off by Latifa Echakhch’s shaped canvas abstraction “Tambour 88” from 2013, which sold to a telephone bidder for £122,500/$175,175 (est. £50-70,000) and Dan Colen’s messy but convincing quartet of paintings, “Four Works: Untitled (Bird Shit)” from 2006-07, which made £86,500/$123,695 (est. £100-150,000).

Another conceptual work, Yayoi Kusama’s obsessively patterned “Infinity Nets OPQR” in acrylic on canvas from 2007, sold to another anonymous telephone bidder for £746,500/$1,067,495 (est. £500-700,000). It last sold at Phillips de Pury & Company New York in May 2012 for $662,500, a return for the seller.

Jim Hodges’s brass chain “Angels Voice” from 1993, closely resembling an elaborate spider web and offered with an installation template and certificate of authenticity from the artist, sold to Ed Tang of Sotheby’s recently acquired Art Agency Partners on behalf of a private client for £410,500/$587,015 (est. £300-500,000). It last sold at Phillips de Pury New York in November 2007 for a then buoyant $505,500.

Glenn Ligon’s literary homage, “Stranger #45” from 2011, comprised of oil stick, acrylic, and coal dust on canvas and which reprises part of a famed James Baldwin essay, “Stranger in a Village,” sold to a telephone bidder on a single bid for £1,426,500/$2,039,895 (est. £1.2-1.8 million).

Rounding out the better known roster of younger artists, Tauba Auerbach’s meticulously folded and crumpled diptych, “Enfold/Fold (inner)/Enfold/Fold (outer)” from 2010, executed in acrylic on canvas, sold to yet another telephone bidder for £902,500/$1,290,575 (est. £800,000-1.2 million), and Sterling Ruby’s spray painted abstraction, “SP119” from 2010, replete with street graffiti energy and of the type seen at countless art fairs, brought £482,500/$689,975 (est. £400-600,000). The Ruby was backed by a third party financial guarantee, one of 10 such arrangements in the sale.

The auction also embraced older works by minted 20th-century masters, including Jean Dubuffet’s humor flecked reclining bather, “Ban de Soleil” from 1956 in oil and collage on canvas, which sold to the telephone for a robust and estimate kicking £1,202,500/$1,719,575 (est. £500-700,000), and Paul Delvaux’s Surrealist street lamp lit evening scene, “Soir d’ Hiver” from 1961 in oil on panel, which went for £506,500/$724,295 (est. £400-600,000). Both works were protected by third party guarantees, assuring they would sell.

On the Italian front, Lucio Fontana’s three vertical-cut “Concetto Spaziale Attese” from 1965, in pristine white waterpaint on canvas and drawing room-sized at 25 5/8 by 21 1/4 inches, made £1,426,500/$2,039,895 (est. £1-1.5 million) (Milan dealer Nicolo Cardi was the underbidder), and Alberto Burri’s petite wood fragmented abstraction “Legno” from 1959, dominated by a deep crimson hue, sold for £1,986,500/$2,840,695 (est. £1.8-2.5 million). It came backed by a third party guarantee and apparently went to that lone backer, missing out, it seemed, on all the buzz from the recent and dazzling Burri retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

The Burgundy wine hued and shaped Agostino Bonalumi canvas, “Rosso” from 1966, representing one of the artist’s “Extrofexsion” creations, squeaked by at £206,500/$295,295 (est. £200-300,000), while Piero Manzoni’s chalky white and Minimalist styled cover lot, a sublimely creased and folded abstraction, “Achrome” from 1958, backed by a third party, fetched the top lot at £5,570,500/$7,965,815 (est. £5-7 million).

Backed by a third party, the Manzoni last sold at Sotheby’s London in October 2000 for £465,500, some years before his market took off.

Curiously, the hottest item of the evening was Mimmo Rotello’s large-scale, movie poster distressed work “Untitled” from 1964, in decollage on burlap of a now forgotten Hollywood Western, which soared to a record £1,082,500/$1,547,975 (est. £400-600,000).

A lone Arte Povera entry, Pier Paolo Calzolari’s “Untitled” from 1972, consisting of lead, salt, iron, glass, and oil lamp that can be lit by the new owner, sold to dealer Nicolo Cardi for £182,500/$260,975 (est. £150-200,000). The artist accurately referred to these works as sculpted paintings.

“I think I got a very good deal,” said Cardi as he exited the salesroom. “This is an early piece from the ’70s and has never been on the market. We were lucky to get it very cheap.”

Asked about his overall impression of the auction, Cardi said, “People are still interested in the safe material.”

Safe or not, the lone German entry, Anselm Kiefer’s huge, 135 by 130 inch unique woodcut, “Wege Der Weitweisheit-Die Herrmannsslacht” from 1978, consisting of 15 portraits of German historical figures, unknown to most, sold to Paris/Salzburg dealer Thaddaeus Ropac for £362,500/$518,375 (est. £350-500,000).

The sale also offered an array of British made art, ranging from a serene seascape by L.S. Lowry, “Reservoir” from 1952 in oil on board, which also squeaked by at £452,500/$647,075 (est. £400-600,000) to Graham Sutherland’s “Hydrant with Black Ground” from 1954, backed by a third party guarantee, which sold to London art advisors Beaumont/Nathan for £218,500/$312,455 (est. £180-250,000).

Works by better known British painters Howard Hodgkin, Leon Kossoff, and Frank Auerbach bought in without a lick of interest.

In a sense, Phillips was gunning for collectors of all Modern and contemporary stripes, shedding its past reliance and specialty in promoting emerging artists.

Indicative of that new look back, Kazuo Shiraga’s Ab-Ex styled “Zuisouhen” from 1986, a relatively late work created with the artist’s paint soaked bare feet, made £1,022,500/$1,462,175 (est. £1-1.5 million). The Shiraga, fortunately for the seller, was backed by a Phillips’ guarantee.

Earlier still, Alexej Jawlensky’s uncharacteristically sweet “Junges Madchen Mit Zopf” from 1911, executed in oil on card laid down on board, sold to another telephone bidder for £2,210,500/$3,161,015 (est. £2-3 million). The Jawlensky was also backed by a third party guarantee.

Unlike its much larger competitors Christie’s and Sotheby’s, Phillips is still involved in brokering third party deals that often strip the auction house of any extra profit. Christie’s and Sotheby’s are seemingly weaning themselves from this pricey gambit, at least for this softer time in the market.

Of the artists who achieved fame and fortune in the 1990s, Damien Hirst’s big, color dotted “Hydrastinine” from 2007, in household gloss on canvas, sold for £602,500/$861,575 (est. £500-700,000), and Richard Prince’s mural scaled text painting “What It Mean’s” from 2008, executed in collage and acrylic on canvas, brought £482,500/$689,975 (est. £500-700,000). Neither work carried financial guarantees, giving each a realistic acid test of the current market.

“This is a different market,” said Edward Dolman, Phillips chairman and CEO, shortly after the auction, “but it is not a market in crisis. By all measures for us, it was a pretty respectable sale.”

Pressed to elaborate, Dolman added, “This is not a down market, I can tell you, having lived through a few of them. This one is just a bit more selective.”

The evening action continues on Wednesday at Sotheby’s.

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