ARTnewsletter Archive

Phillips Takes Chances and Reaps Generous Rewards

Phillips de Pury & Company ran the gauntlet by electing to hold four consecutive contemporary art sales over nine hours on Saturday, Oct. 14, while the Frieze Art Fair (Oct. 11-14) was still going on. They also took the risk of guaranteeing three of the sales, which were the properties of private collectors entirely, as

LONDON—Phillips de Pury & Company ran the gauntlet by electing to hold four consecutive contemporary art sales over nine hours on Saturday, Oct. 14, while the Frieze Art Fair (Oct. 11-14) was still going on. They also took the risk of guaranteeing three of the sales, which were the properties of private collectors entirely, as well as 27 lots in a mixed-owners sale. But with one or two exceptions, the guaranteed lots, approximately 275 of them, met and often exceeded estimates. In all, the sales took £41.92 million or $85 million.

First up were 137 lots from the collection of Italian biochemist and philanthropist Marino Golinelli. Estimated at £3.3/4.8 million, and consisting mainly of works made in the last two decades, it fetched £5 million ($10.1 million) after commissions, with 11 lots (8 percent) left unsold.

Thirty-five record prices were set, though 13 of these were for artists never sold at auction before. Top-selling lots included an untitled 2003 alabaster and red-pigment sculpture by Anish Kapoor, which fell near its low estimate for £445,600 ($903,350); and a 1998 painting by Beatriz Milhazes, O Periquito, that sold for a triple-estimate £144,000 ($292,300).

Among the record prices: Haim Steinbach’s 1990 sculpture Untitled (breast mugs, Marilyn Guitar) l-2, which tripled the high estimate to sell for £60,000 ($121,800), against bidding from Philippe Ségalot; and Fiona Rae’s 1997 painting Blush, which took £33,600 ($68,200), more than twice the £15,000 high estimate, against bidding from dealer Micky Tiroche.

Another Kapoor Piece Takes $1.1M

Phillips then held its “evening sale” at 4 p.m. It realized £23.1 million, or $46.9 million (estimate: £17.3/24.7 million), with 103, or 84 percent, of the 123 lots selling, and another 20 records broken. Among the top lots: another Kapoor alabaster sculpture Untitled, 1999, that was acquired for £524,000, or $1.1 million (estimate: £500,000/700,000), by New York private dealer David Nisinson; and Martin Kippenberger’s Paris Bar, 1993, (not the painting with the same title in the Saatchi collection), which sold for a record £636,000, or $1.3 million (estimate: £200,000/300,000), to Ségalot—who went on to buy the top lot, Damien Hirst’s 171⁄2-foot-wide butterfly tapestry Eternity, 2002-04, from the Mugrabi collection, for £4.7 million, or $9.5 million (estimate: £2.5/3.5 million), against bidding from Hirst’s European dealer Jay Jopling.

Although the reasonably estimated Hirst spot painting Diethylene Glycol, 2006, sold comfortably at £636,000, or $1.3 million (estimate: £400,000/600,000), two of his works from the Saatchi collection were bought in. Both estimated at £400,000/600,000, they were the painted (Untitled) Spot Mini, 2000, and a fly-encrusted canvas from the “Cancer Chronicles” series, originally priced at £175,000 at White Cube in 2003.

Altogether Saatchi offered about 30 lots in the sale, as part of the agreement by Phillips to sponsor free entry into his new London gallery when it opens next spring, garnering approximately £2.5 million ($5.1 million).

Artists bringing the highest prices for Saatchi were Cecily Brown, whose Night Passage, 1999, sold for £468,000, or $950,000 (estimate: £300,000/400,000); Daniel Richter, whose Trevelfast, 2004, sold to dealer Nisinson for £378,400, or $768,000 (estimate: £200,000/300,000); Franz Ackermann, whose Mental Map, Evasion IV, 1996-97, sold for £288,000, or $584,640 (estimate: £180,000/200,000); Marlene Dumas, whose Over Dead Bodies, 1993, was scooped up by Chicago collector Stefan Edlis for £228,000, or $462,840 (estimate: £250,000/350,000); and Jake and Dinos Chapman, whose hand-colored copy of the “Disasters of War” suite of etchings, 2000, originally priced at £100,000, went to White Cube gallery for a record £192,000, or $389,760 (estimate: £200,000/300,000).

Other buyers at the sale: art adviser Polly Robinson, who bought Sarah Lucas’ Eating a Banana, 1992, for £45,600, or $92,600 (estimate: £25,000/35,000); dealer Thaddaeus Ropac, who bought Anselm Kiefer’s Deep Water, 1967-88, for £132,000, or $268,000 (estimate: £100,000/ 150,000); dealer Tiroche, who nabbed Dirk Skreber’s Untitled (Sunken Houses), 2000, for £74,400, or $151,032 (estimate: £80,000/120,000); Madame Georges Marci, who purchased a car decorated by Tracey Emin for £42,000 ($85,260); and Dubossarsky and Vinogradov’s large Autumn March, 2004, for £66,000, or $134,000 (estimate: £25,000/35,000).

As at Sotheby’s, 40 percent of the lots sold on hammer prices at or below low estimate, but this was outweighed by the stream of record prices for rising artists such as Anselm Reyle, recently taken on by Gagosian (£144,000, or $292,300); Mark Grotjahn (£264,000 or $535,900); Jim Hodges (£356,000, or $722,700); Johannes Kahrs (£180,000, or $365,400); and Steven Parrino (£228,000, or $462,800).

Russian and Chinese Troves Cap Vibrant Sales

Signaling its intentions to explore new markets, Phillips wound up the day with private U.S. collections of Russian and Chinese art. “Nonconformist” Russian art, mostly dating from the late ’80s, from the collection of John L. Stewart, brought £3.6 million, or $7.3 million (estimate: £2.5/3.6 million), with 59, or 90 percent, of lots selling. The three highest selling lots were all by Erik Bulatov. But estimates, based on Phillips’ June sale, which saw a record £916,000 ($1.85 million) for the artist, were set too high to encourage competitive bidding. Each sold on what appeared to be a single bid, fetching prices from £412,000/860,000 ($836,360/1.7 million).

One of the most active buyers in the room was Igor Markin, who bought ten works, including Simon Faibisovich’s Soldiers (Train Station Series), 1989, for a record £311,200, or $631,736 (estimate: £40,000/60,000). Other notable records to be set were for Ivan Chuikov (£84,000 or $170,520), Oleg Vassiliev (£156,000 or $316,680), Vadim Zakharov (£42,000 or $85,260) and Svetlana Kopystiansky (£57,600 or $116,928).

These were all artists whose first experience of auction rooms was in Moscow in 1988 when Sotheby’s held its groundbreaking sale of modern and contemporary Russian art. Phillips’ current chairman Simon de Pury was the auctioneer then, so it was appropriate he should be wielding the gavel again just as the resale market for nonconformist Russian art is finally taking shape.

Chinese contemporary art is presently the most buoyant in the market, and New Yorker Howard L. Farber’s collection of 45 works soared to £10.1 million, or $20.5 million (estimate: £3.3/4.6 million), with only five lots unsold. The top lot was Zeng Fanzhi’s Xiehe Hospital Series Triptych, 1992, which sold for £2.7 million, or $5.5 million (estimate: £500,000/700,000)—one of six new record prices in the sale. Farber had decided to sell the works in London after another work from Zeng’s hospital series sold to Saatchi for a record £750,000 at Christie’s London in June.

Among the buyers at the Phillips sale was Saatchi, who bought Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline Series, 2005, for £804,000, or $1.6 million (estimate: £500,000/700,000); and Farber’s son-in-law, New York collector Larry Warsh, who bought Wang Guangyi’s Great Criticism: Coca-Cola, 1991-94, for £893,600, or $1.8 million (estimate: £400,00/600,000). Farber had paid $25,000 for it in 1996.

The price was a record, but stood for only a few minutes. Two lots later, Wang’s Mao AO, 1988, sold for £2 million, or $4.1 million (estimate: £500,000/700,000). That pretty much captures what the Chinese market is like.