ARTnewsletter Archive

Phillips Auction Misses Mark by a Wide Margin

Phillips, de Pury & Company took the worst beating of the week with two sales on Oct. 18 that brought in just £8.1 million ($14.1 million) against an estimate of £25.1 million/32.5 million.

LONDON—Phillips, de Pury & Company took the worst beating of the week with two sales on Oct. 18, which brought in just £8.1 million ($14.1 million) against an estimate of £25.1 million/32.5 million. At the final count, Phillips sold 38 out of 70 lots in its evening sale, with only half of those selling within estimate. The evening sale realized only £5 million ($8.7 million) on an estimate of £18.7 million/26.2 million, and its ­highest-estimated lots went unsold. These included Takashi Murakami’s fiberglass sculpture Tongari-Kun, 2003–4, consigned by U.S. collector Richard Sachs, which carried an estimate of £3.5 million/4.5 million, and Joan Mitchell’s La Grande Vallée XIII, 1983, estimated at £2 million/3 million.

Not far behind among the casualties was Anselm Kiefer’s installation A Tomb in the Sky, 1991, which features an iron rocket (estimate: £700,000/900,000). The work had previously been sold by a Spanish museum and then held in storage, at some point suffering some damage; it was never exhibited at Phillips.

Of the top ten lots, only three made their estimates. Marlene Dumas’s Cleaning the Pole, 2000, sold for £553,250 ($923,460) to New York dealer Per Skarstedt (estimate: £400,000/600,000). Albert Oehlen’s oil Untitled, 1989, consigned by the Saatchi Collection, sold for £175,250 ($303,490) on an estimate of £120,000/180,000. And Bill Viola’s video installation The Quintet of the Silent, 2000, sold for £157,250 ($272,320) on an estimate of £100,000/150,000.

The Viola work was one of seven lots which had been bought in at previous Phillips sales, where they had been guaranteed and were therefore owned by the auction house. Quintet had been estimated at a much higher $400,000/600,000 in May of last year, so the price achieved now probably represented a loss for Phillips.

Other previously guaranteed and bought-in works by Richard Prince, Andy Warhol and Anish Kapoor were re-offered here, with lower estimates the second time around, but did not sell, and are now presumably owned by the Russian luxury-goods company Mercury Group, which has taken a controlling stake in Phillips (ANL, 10/14/08).

Jake and Dinos Chapman’s tribal-art bronze CFC.77393898, 2001, had also previously been bought in with an £80,000/120,000 estimate and a guarantee, but it sold now for £49,250 ($85,300) to Murakami, who sat in the second row (estimate: £40,000/60,000). The only work from this group to break even was Prince’s photograph Untitled (Cowboy), 1980–86, which sold for £133,250 ($230,760) against the same £100,000/150,000 estimate it carried when it failed in 2007. Apart from these, Phillips had noticeably reduced its guaranteed property, to just three minor lots.

The only two lots to sell above their estimates were Grayson Perry’s glazed earthenware pot Nostalgia For The Bad Times, 1999, which sold for £46,850 ($81,130) on an estimate of £20,000/30,000, and Michael Raedecker’s The Reflex, 2003, which sold for £115,250 ($200,000) on an estimate of £70,000/90,000.

There was also some evidence of the bull market at work in the scattered cases in which pieces bought recently on the primary market turned handsome profits. Subodh Gupta’s airport luggage trolley Oman to Madras, 2006, had been priced at $90,000 at that year’s Art Basel, but sold here for £139,250 ($241,150) on an estimate of £100,000/150,000. Scottish artist Jim Lambie’s Four Seasons Pizza Slice, 2006, which had sold on the primary market for £6,000, now made £17,500 ($30,300). In the day sale, For the Laugh of God, 2007, Peter Fuss’s parody of Damien Hirst’s $100 million diamond skull, made with cheap imitation diamonds and a plastic skull, sold for £19,375 ($33,500); it originally cost £1,000.