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Phillips Makes Its Best Total For a Contemporary Sale

On June 22 Phillips de Pury & Company realized £23.3 million ($46.4 million)—its best total for a contemporary art sale to date—surpassing the high presale estimate of £20 million and selling all but 15, or 13 percent, of 144 lots. Although smaller in volume than auctions at Sotheby’s or Christie’s, the Phillips sale seemed to

LONDON—On June 22 Phillips de Pury & Company realized £23.3 million ($46.4 million)—its best total for a contemporary art sale to date—surpassing the high presale estimate of £20 million and selling all but 15, or 13 percent, of 144 lots. Although smaller in volume than auctions at Sotheby’s or Christie’s, the Phillips sale seemed to be the most international in attendance and tone.

The top lot was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s huge Grillo,1984 (estimate: £3/5 million). Last sold in 1999 for $1.1 million, the work now fell to Daniella Luxembourg, former partner of auction house chairman Simon de Pury, for £4.9 million ($9.75 million)—the second-highest auction price for Basquiat. Other American artworks among the top sellers were Andy Warhol’s Self-Portrait, 1966, which fetched a slightly disappointing £1.8 million, or $3.6 million (estimate: £1/1.5 million); and Richard Prince’s Bachelor Nurse, 2003—last sold in 2003 to dealer Dominique Levy (presently a partner of L&M Arts) for £265,000—which now fetched £580,000, or $1.1 million (estimate: £300,000/400,000).

Unusually, the top-ten and record-price sheets were littered with Russian and Chinese names. Nonconformist “Sots art,” the Russian response to Pop art, was one of the highlights: Eric Bulatov’s 1987 oil-on-canvas Do Not Lean (estimate: £100,000/150,000), soared to a record £916,000 ($1.8 million). And Ilya Kabakov’s oil-on-wooden-panel La Chambre de Luxe, 1981 (estimate: £400,000/600,000), did likewise, selling for £2 million—a record for a contemporary Russian work.

Both sold on phone bids taken by Phillips’ worldwide director of contemporary art Michael McGinnis. Other Russian works to set new records were Evgeny Chubarov’s abstract painting Untitled, 1994, which brought £692,000, or $1.4 million (estimate £100,000/150,000); Komar & Melamid’s painting The Blue Cup, 1985-86, which made £156,000, or $310,400 (estimate: £50,000/70,000); and Vladimir Dubossarsky & Alexander Vinogradov’s Night Fitness, 2004, which sold for £132,000, or $262,700 (estimate: £15,000/20,000).

The highest-selling Chinese works were Zeng Fanzhi’s nightmarish Hospital Series, 1994 (estimate: £200,000/300,000), which sold to Charles Saatchi for a record £860,000 ($1.7 million); and Yue Minjun’s Free and at Leisure Series No. 12, 2004, which fell to Olivia Kwok for £669,600, or $1.3 million (estimate: £350,000/450,000). Further records were set for several other Chinese artists, including the Paris-based painter Yan Pei-Ming, whose Eros Center Prostituée de Francfort, 2005, went to a phone bidder for £311,200, or $619,300 (estimate: £100,000/150,000).

Several records also tumbled for European contemporary artists in the lower price brackets. Olafur Eliasson’s series of 32 c-prints, The Fault Series, 2001 (estimate £50,000/70,000), captured £168,000 ($334,300); and Thoralf Knobloch’s painting Merkwürden, 2003-04 (estimate: £15,000/20,000), made £36,000 ($71,600). Both works were acquired by Portuguese dealer Victor Pires-Vieira. He also purchased Sandro Chia’s Portrait of Bruno, 1980, for £108,000, or $214,900 (estimate: £60,000/80,000).

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