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Artists Fresh, Hip and Affordable Illuminate Strong Phillips Sale

The Phillips, de Pury and Company took $29.5 million in its evening contemporary art sale on May 11—among the highest totals in its short history of selling contemporary art in New York. The 2 percent buy-in rate for the 76-lot sale also ranks as the best rate of the week.

NEW YORK—The Phillips, de Pury and Company took $29.5 million in its evening contemporary art sale on May 11—among the highest totals in its short history of selling contemporary art in New York. The 2 percent buy-in rate for the 76-lot sale also ranks as the best rate of the week.

The auction was heavily weighted to the art of the last 20 years, though Phillips still keeps its hand in with earlier works. Among the top-selling lots were a 1965 painting, Untitled (Hero), by Georg Baselitz ($1.1 million at the low estimate); Brice Marden’s two-toned Far, 1969, (above estimate at $1 million to art adviser and private dealer Neal Meltzer); Lucio Fontana’s torn-steel Concetto Spaziale, 1962 ($968,000, just above the top estimate); and Joan Mitchell’s Blue Nose, 1962 ($878,400, also just above the top estimate, to Edward Tyler Nahem). In the same category of earlier works was Tom Wesselman’s Bedroom Painting #42, 1978, which brought a record $1.7 million (estimate: $1/1.5 million) from a phone bidder.

The sale’s top lot was Jeff Koons’ Buster Keaton, 1988, from an edition of three, which fell to Aby Rosen for $2.7 million (estimate: $1.2/1.8 million). Previous sales from this edition were $370,000 in 1999 and $1 million in 2002, but it could not be determined if this was one of them. (Phillips does not provide edition numbers in its catalogues, unlike Christie’s and Sotheby’s, which do so in the interest of transparency.)

Some of the most interesting sales were for the art of the 1990s on. Among the top lots was Peter Doig’s Olin MK IV, 1995, from a collection in Germany. Optimistically estimated to break the artist’s record with some ease at $1/1.5 million, it fell after just a couple of bids to Nick Acquavella for $1.1 million. Richard Prince’s Heiress Nurse, 2002, sold above estimate for $1 million to Madame Georges Marci against competition from Larry Gagosian and Tony Shafrazi.

Mike Kelley’s photograph series Ahh . . . Youth, 1991, equaled the record set at Christie’s, selling to collector David Ganek for $688,000.

Prince and Kelley were two of the most ubiquitous artists in the sales. An ’80s Cowboy photograph by Prince fell to his dealer Barbara Gladstone within estimate for $262,400, and other works by Kelley at Phillips were bought by Patricia Marshall (giving an above-estimate $192,000 for the installation Party Girl, 1998) and property developer Harry Lis (paying $228,000, within estimate, for the sculpture Balance Mass and Emotional Investment, 2001).

Most of the 17 records set were lower down the scale for artists who are well-known on the exhibition circuit yet relatively new, and occasionally completely new, to auction.

A double-estimate $408,000 was given by Elena Geuna for Piotr Uklanski’s inkprint Untitled (Skull), 1999. White Cube bid above the $200,000 high estimate to get Ugo Rondinone’s fiberglass clown If There Were Anywhere but Desert. Thursday, 2000, for $307,200. Jason Rubell took Thomas Schütte’s motorized sculpture Maschine, 1993, near the high estimate of $300,000 for $307,200.

Tatsuo Miyajima’s electronic LED Time Grid, 2001, more than doubled the high estimate of $70,000 to sell for $144,000, as did David Schnell’s painting Gestange II, 2002. Nobuyoshi Araki’s 100 Works for Robert Frank (Private Diary), 1993, was acquired by collector Richard Sacks for $132,000 (estimate: $60,000/80,000). For You It Has Come to This, 2004, the first work by Miami artist Hernan Bas to come to auction, sold above retail to dealers Goff + Rosenthal (estimate: $60,000/80,000).

Phillips included works by contemporary Chinese artists. The top price was $464,000 (estimate: $120,000/180,000), given by dealer Irena Hochman for Untitled, 2005, by Yue Minjun, a star of Sotheby’s recent Contemporary Asian Art sale (ANL, 4/25/06). And Huang Yong Ping’s installation Da Xian-The Doomsday, 1993, set a record at $168,000 (estimate: $50,000/ 70,000). A further record was made for Wang Du when his satirical sculpture installation Marché aux puces (Flea Market, Sale of Bargain Information), 1999, went to a phone bidder against Alberto Mugrabi in the room for $329,600 (estimate: $120,000/180,000).

The market was also noticeably strong for Tom Friedman—$251,200, more than double the $120,000 high estimate, for a galaxy of colored Styrofoam balls, Untitled (Various Sizes), 1999—and a triple-estimate $273,600 from Rosen for a cardboard-box construction, Untitled, 1996 (estimate: $60,000/ 80,000).

German artist Albert Oehlen also continued his upward run of good prices when In the Hairdresser’s Chair, 1998, was bought by publisher Benedikt Taschen for $284,800 (estimate: $100,000/150,000).

Other buyers at the sale included: dealer Anton Kern, who bought John Bock’s video installation A Gentleman Works, When a Gentleman Works, 2002, below estimate for $60,000; adviser Todd Levin, who took Barbara Kruger’s Untitled (We are not made for each other), 1983, at the high estimate for $120,000; and collector Tim Nye, who acquired Paul McCarthy’s Santa (With Butt Plug), 2002, near the low estimate for $441,600.

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