Powered in part by a large-scale Jean Dubuffet painting, the 90 minute long live-streamed evening sale from Phillips London stage set of 20th Century and Contemporary Art realized £24.8/$34.2 million.
Only three of the 35 offered works offered failed to sell for a svelte nine percent buy-in rate and a rare to market Tamara de Lempicka painting bearing an estimate in the region of £1.5 million was withdrawn just prior to the sale.
The result, including fees, exceeded pre-sale expectations of £16.7-23.4 million.
(the latter figure excludes the buyer’s premium formulated at 26 percent of the hammer price up to and including £450,000, 21 percent of that portion over that sum and up to and including £4.5 million and 14.5 percent for anything above that price. Phillips’ total hammer was £20.1/$27.7 million)
Five works, including two by Banksy, carried third party financial guarantees, assuring their sale prior to auction and benefitting those risk-takers with otherwise undisclosed fees.
The result was a convincing 17 percent increase over Phillips’ equivalent sale last February (held during the early fallout from Brexit but before Covid struck) that made £21.1/$27.6 million and led by Ed Ruscha’s “God Knows Where” from 2014 that brought the top lot price of £3,375,000/$4,407,750.
There was plenty of bidding action early on with younger artists newer to the secondary market stage exceeding expectations, including Lina Iris Viktor’s densely packed abstraction “Constellations III” from 2016 executed in 24 karat gold, acrylic and gouache on canvas and after a five minute long bidding battle brought an auction debut £195,300/$269,377 (est. £30-50,000) and Tunji Adeniyi-Jones’ figurative composition with reclining nudes, “Love Ritual” from 2019 that attracted at least four bidders, including one online bidder from Belgium, and shot to a record £151,200/$208,550 (est. £30-40,000).
In this ever-expanding vein, artists of color continued their ascendant market rise (since Black Art Matters) with Toyin Ojih Odutola’s stunning figure, “LTS IV” from 2014 fetching £378,000/$521,375 (est. £100-150,000) and Jordan Casteel’s fresh out of art school dated “Quinn” in dreadlocks and floppy hat from 2015 realized £233,100/$321,515 (est. £150-200,000).In his ever buoyant posthumous market, Matthew Wong’s pointillist styled and Fauve colored composition, “Two Women” from 2017 and scaled mid-range at 59 7/8 by 39 7/8 inches drew five bidders and brought £954,200/$1,316,128 (est. £350-450,000).
It ranks as his 11th most expensive painting at auction with 35 works all told crossing the block in 2020-2021. Wong died 2019 at age 35.
A handful of stellar Post-War works also entered the Phillips’ mix with Alberto Giacometti’s life-time cast, ultra—slim and 19 ¼ inch high “Nu debout II” bronze from 1953, attracting at least three bidders and selling for £1,813,300/$2,501,085 (est. £800,000-1.2 million).
Jean Dubuffet’s frenetic acrylic and paper collage on canvas cover lot, populated with a bevy of figures inhabiting crazy-quilt patterns, “La feconde journee” from 1976 and massive at 80 ½ by 82 7/8 inches, snared top lot honors at £4,378,500/$6,0369,265 (est. £1.5-2 million).
It made its auction debut about twenty years after its appearance in the huge Centre Pompidou’s Dubuffet retrospective.
Another seven figure contender was Frank Stella’s geometric wonder, “Scramble: Ascending Spectrum/Ascending Green Values” from 1977 that sold for £2,866,000/$3,953,074 (est. £2-3 million).
It last sold at Sotheby’s New York in November 2006 for $1,920,000, bringing the seller a rather nice return.
Of the lone Pop Art era entries and a late one at that, Andy Warhol’s still striking “One Grey/Black Marilyn (Reversal Series)” painting in acrylic and silk screen ink on canvas from circa 1979-1986, sold on what appeared to be a single bid for £733,650/$1,011,923 (est. 700-900,000). It was backed by a third party guarantee.
The seller acquired the painting from London’s Waddington Gallery in 1990 and it was last exhibited at London’s White Cube in 2006 in the appropriately titled group exhibition “Dark Matter.”
In sharp contrast bidding wise, Marcel Duchamp’s iconic appropriation of the Mona Lisa, “L.H.O.O.Q. “ in graphite and gouache on offset lithograph and bearing number 34 from an edition of 35 attracted at least four bidders for the page sized prize and brought £491,400/$677,788 (est. £200-300,000). Another variant from the same edition, number 15 of 35, sold for $740,000 at Sotheby’s New York in November 2019.
(The cheeky title alludes to a French saying when enunciated out loud, “She has a hot ass” or as Duchamp himself stated, “there is fire down below.”)
Of more recent vintage, Banksy’s wickedly clever “Gas Mask Boy” from 2009 and armed with a Pest Control certificate of authenticity, the kneeling boy surrounded by cans of aerosol spray paint, went for £2,200,500/$3,035,150 (est. £1.6-2 million).
It ranks (according to Artnet) as the sixth highest Banksy at auction though still miles away from the record “Game Changer” from 2020 that sold last month at Christie’s London for a rousing and record £16.7/$23.1 million.
It also came to market with a third party guarantee.
In post-sale commentary aired via Zoom, Phillips’ ceo Edward Dolman spoke about the “evolution of our business” and confidently stated, “Live stream sales are absolutely here to stay.”