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Phillips Scores with Smaller Offering of Cutting-Edge Work

Phillips, de Pury & Company began the proceedings for its evening sale in New York on May 15, as it has before, with a sale to raise funds for an arts institution—this time for the education program at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

LONDON—Phillips, de Pury & Company began the proceedings for its evening sale in New York on May 15, as it has before, with a sale to raise funds for an arts institution—this time for the education program at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. All 29 lots sold, raising $1.9 million (estimate: $1.3 million/1.75 million) with no premium charged.

John Baldessari, a trustee of the museum, led the way, contributing two works which sold for $110,000 and $240,000. The big surprise was a painting by Los Angeles artist Sterling Ruby (b. 1972), dubbed “one of the most interesting artists to emerge in this century” by the New York Times. His painting SP28, 2008, soared above the $35,000/45,000 estimate to sell for a record $260,000. Perhaps Ruby’s inclusion in the collections of Howard Rachofsky, Donald and Mera Rubell and Adam Sender, as well as the Guggenheim Museum, has made him a hot artist to watch.

Another one to watch is Los Angeles–based African American artist Mark Bradford, whose delicate collage I Thought You Knew, 2001—his first work at auction—sold for $325,000 (estimate: $80,000/120,000). This was the first lot in Phillips’s main sale, which took $59 million, toward the lower end of the presale estimate. Still, with only nine out of 64 lots unsold, this auction was the house’s best in New York yet.

Veering away from trying to break into the ¬postwar-classics market, Phillips had a greater preponderance of blue-chip contemporary works than usual. Among the top lots was Jeff Koons’s marble Self-Portrait, 1991, last sold in 2002 for $2 million, which sold for $7.5 million (estimate: $6 million/8 million) to the Gagosian Gallery, and Robert Gober’s classic sculpture of a severed leg, Untitled, 1990. From the collection of Kent and Vicki Logan, it had sold for $912,000 in 2005 to Phillips specialist Michael McGinnis, presumably bidding for a client, and sold now for a record $3.6 million (estimate: $1.2 million/1.8 million) to dealer Christophe van de Weghe.

Other records of note were set for Mark Grotjahn, whose painting Untitled (Blue Face Grotjahn), 2005, shown at the Whitney Biennial in 2006, brought $1.2 million (estimate: $300,000/400,000), and George Condo, whose Tumbling Heads, 2006—which was shown last year at the Simon Lee Gallery, London, where the paintings sold out at prices up to $250,000—brought $1 million (estimate: $300,000/400,000).

After the record price paid at Christie’s, Peter Halley’s work showed further signs of a resurgence when his Todd, 1991, sold for $241,000 (estimate: $80,000/120,000). As could be expected given Phillips’s agreement to subsidize admission at the Saatchi Gallery, London, there were several works from the Saatchi collection for sale. The six works, by Cecily Brown, Wilhelm Sasnal, Albert Oehlen, Kai Althoff, Jörg Immendorff and Dirk Skreber, were featured in Saatchi’s “Triumph of Painting” exhibitions, and sold for a total of $1.8 million, though four sold below estimate.

There was a higher proportion of unsold lots among the lower-value works, as was reflected in the results for all the part-two sales of the season. Bought-in rates in the evening sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s ranged from 5 percent to 12 percent; at Phillips and all the part-two sales, buy-in rates rose to between 14 percent and 36 percent.

Among the unsold lots at Phillips were guaranteed works by Anish Kapoor (estimate: $800,000/1.2 million) and Wayne Thiebaud (estimate: $800,000/1.2 million). And there were bargains to be had: of the 55 works sold, 28 went for prices at or below the low estimates.

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