NEW YORK — Speaking of a hard act to follow… Phillips‘s evening sale commenced just 24 hours after Christie’s record-setting half-billion-dollar result. It proved mildly successful. The boutique-scaled auction house, headquartered on Park Avenue and 57th Street, sold $78,618,000 of contemporary art, with 30 of the 37 lots offered finding buyers. That translates into a buy-in rate by lot of 19 percent and 12 percent by value.
The total fell shy of last May’s $86.8 million sale with a similar buy-in rate by lot of 20 percent. It just nicked (with premium added) the low-end of the $77,550,000-105,500,000 pre-sale estimate. (Speaking of the buyer’s premium: the fees added onto the hammer price for each lot offered, Phillips now charges a whopping 25 percent of the first $100,000, then 20 percent up to $2 million, and 12 percent for anything above that.)
In tonight’s sweepstakes, 13 works sold for over a million dollars; of those, four made more than four million dollars and one scored over $30 million. The lion’s share of the major lots this evening carried third-party guarantees, meaning the works would sell no matter what happened in the salesroom, thanks to pre-sale selling done to calm reluctant consignors.
Unlike at previous Phillips auctions, here there was considerably less so-called cutting-edge art and more examples of less-than-stellar work by blue-chip artists. It was also unsettling at first to see Simon de Pury, former Phillips chairman and star auctioneer, sitting like a civilian in the center of the salesroom as his protégé Alexander Gilkes confidently and crisply navigated from the rostrum.
The auction started off with Wade Guyton’s mirrored stainless steel “U sculpture (v.5)” (2007) from an edition of three plus one artist proof that sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for $365,000 (est. $250-350,000), followed by Nate Lowman’s “Escalade” (2005-07), which sold to another phone buyer for $545,000 (est. $400-600,000).
On the guaranteed side, of the 11 or so works, Christopher Wool’s text painting, “And If” (1992), comprised of the bold-faced, run on, full-cap message, “and if you don’t like it you can get the fuck out of my house,” sold to the telephone for $4,085,000 (est. $3.5-4.5 million). The same price greeted Thomas Schütte’s giant “Großer Geist Nr. 9” (1998), a Cor-ten steel sculpture of a striding man (est. $3-4 million). A C-print laminated on Plexiglas by Andreas Gursky, “Rhein” (1996) — one of the artist’s central images from an edition of five — sold to another telephone bidder for $1,925,000 (est. $1-1.5 million).
Surprisingly, given the record-breaking Basquiat fireworks at Christie’s, the 60-by-60-inch “Untitled (Soap)” (1983-84), died at a chandelier bid $3.9 million (est. $5-7 million). Asked later why this Basquiat didn’t sell, Michael McGinnis, Phillips’s top contemporary specialist as well as CEO of the firm, said it wasn’t a question of an over-reaching estimate. “Maybe it’s a case of being too much Basquiat [on the market] and being at the end of the week. There was pre-sale interest,” he said, “but it didn’t materialize.”
Another Basquiat offering, this one backed by a financial guarantee, “Untitled” (1981), featuring a bat-wielding baseball player, sold for $4,085,000 (est. $3.5-4.5 million).
The evening’s top lot was also the cover lot, Andy Warhol’s rare “Four Marilyns” (1962), featuring the blonde-tressed screen siren in electric red lips and turquoise-colored eye shadow. It sold for $38,245,000 (est. $35-45 million). According to the artist’s catalogue raisonne, it is one of four compositions with the quartet of Marilyn headshots poached by Warhol from a movie studio publicity still from the 1952 black-and-white film “Niagra.” It last sold at auction atSotheby’s New York in November 1998 for $2,312,500.
According to several reliable sources, the painting was recently acquired from New York dealerRobert Mnuchin and put up as the firm’s star lot, without a guarantee. It was bought tonight by Victoria Gelfand of Gagosian Gallery, bidding with a cell phone clasped closely to her ear.
Another Warhol offering, “Flowers” (1964), measuring 24 by 24 inches, sold for $2,461,000 (est. $2-3 million) to Kristy Bryce, director of New York’s Eykyn Maclean, a private gallery that recently staged a Warhol “Flowers” exhibition. “I think it sold just right,” said Bryce as she exited the salesroom.
A third Warhol offering, “Blue/Green Marilyn From Reversal Series” (1979-86), sold to another anonymous telephone bidder on a single bid for $1,325,000 (est. $1-1.5 million). It last sold at auction at Christie’s New York in May 1996 for $46,000. That’s some appreciation!
On a more esoteric note, Franz West’s “Untitled (Two heads)” (2004), sold to Steven Henryof Paula Cooper Gallery for $461,000 (est. $400-600,000). Buttonholed outside the salesroom, Henry said, “I was happy with what we got — it’s a terrific piece at a fair price.”
Henry also expressed a sentiment echoed by others regarding the boutique-scaled Phillips: “You want to root for them, they’re making inroads.”
At the end of the night, grunge rocker (and more recently, visual artist) Courtney Lovebrushed by in a rather elegant white dress, tattoo well in evidence. The celeb sighting was big news to art dealer Andrew Fabricant of Richard Gray Gallery, who moments earlier bought the last lot of the evening sale, Thomas Houseago’s “Untitled” bronze head from 2010, for $209,000 (est. $150-200,000).
“Wow,” said a flabbergasted Fabricant. “I was sitting next to her in the salesroom.”