ARTnewsletter Archive

New Highs But Many Buy-Ins at Phillips

Phillips de Pury & Company kicked off the contemporary-art auctions with a concert by rock star Patti Smith, but at the sale on June 29 a large 1979 portrait of her by Swiss artist Franz Gertsch, estimated at £1.5 million/2 million ($3 million/4 million), failed to sell.

LONDON—Phillips de Pury & Company kicked off the contemporary-art auctions with a concert by rock star Patti Smith, but at the sale on June 29 a large 1979 portrait of her by Swiss artist Franz Gertsch, estimated at £1.5 million/2 million ($3 million/4 million), failed to sell. It was one of several major failures in the £24.5 million ($48.7 million) sale, which, despite taking in the highest total for a part-one sale by Phillips in London, also had the highest unsold rate of 34 percent, or 31 of the 91 lots offered.

Among the sale’s strong points, London dealer Ivor Braka secured Willem de Kooning’s late ribbon painting Untitled, 1984 (estimate: £1.5 million/2.5 million), for £3.5 million ($7 million) as well as Albert Oehlen’s abstract Bereite Katzen werden an die Spitze getrieben, 1999 (estimate: £70,000/90,000), for £157,250 ($313,000).

A number of record prices were posted for mainly younger artists, including £205,250 ($408,450) for Banks Violette; £181,250 ($360,700) for Ugo Rondinone; £103,250 ($205,500) for the artist collective Faile; £61,250 ($121,900) for recent Turner Prize–winner Jeremy Deller and £55,250 ($109,950) for Elmgreen & Dragsett. A long-awaited record for Franz West was finally achieved when his two-part sculpture Larvae, 2004 (estimate: £200,000/300,000), fetched £361,250 ($718,900), and there were also bullish prices for works by Subodh Gupta and Richard Prince.

Among a group of works consigned by Charles Saatchi, records also fell for the potter Grayson Perry, who garnered a price of £58,850 ($117,110), and the Polish artist Wilhelm Sasnal, who had a trio of paintings sell for £229,250 ($456,200). Other lots in the group, however—by Franz Ackermann, Eberhard Havekost, Jörg Immendorff, and a joint work by Jonathan Meese and Oehlen—failed to sell.

Other casualties were Andy Warhol’s The Scream (After Edvard Munch), 1984, last sold in February 2007 in London for £1.1 million ($2.1 million) and offered here with an estimate of £800,000/1.2 million ($1.6 million/2.4 million); Zhang Xiaogang’s seven-part series of paintings, Amnesia and Memory (One Week), 2004 (estimate: £1 million/1.5 million); and Paul McCarthy’s 1996 installation Bunk House (estimate: £1.5 mil¬lion/2 million). Bunk House was previously owned by German collector Friedrich Christian Flick, and had been shown at dealer David Gill’s London space during last year’s Frieze Art Fair, priced at $3.5 million.

These three were among 39 guaranteed lots in the sale, 12 of which did not sell and another 11 of which sold at or below their low estimates. The guaranteed lots carried a combined low estimate of £16.5 million ($32.9 million) without premium, and raised £15.5 million ($30.8 million) with premium, with only two selling above the high estimate, suggesting that Phillips must have incurred losses on its guarantees this time around.

The spotlight was also on the works of Damien Hirst, who had just announced he would hold a one-man sale of new work at Sotheby’s in September. Phillips offered six works, five of which sold at or below their low estimates, supported by bidding from one of Hirst’s dealers, White Cube; the sixth was unsold. Smallpox, 2003, from the “Cancer Chronicle” series (estimate: £200,000/300,000), sold to Jose Mugrabi, bidding against White Cube, for £229,500 ($456,705); and a 2005 spin painting, Beautiful Contents of My Wife’s Handbag Cheeky Tangerine and Raspberry Ripple Painting (estimate: £300,000/400,000), sold to White Cube for £337,250 ($664,380).

Overall, it was an inauspicious start for London’s first standalone week of contemporary sales, though most dealers put the results down to high estimates, and not an impending market ¬collapse.

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