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Modest Estimates, Subdued Buying Mark Phillips Evening Sale

Phillips de Pury & Company took in $7.1 million in its part-one sale of contemporary art on Nov. 12.

NEW YORK—Phillips de Pury & Company took in $7.1 million in its part-one sale of contemporary art on Nov. 12. The total was within the $5.8million/8.3million estimate, but was the lowest ever for a contemporary evening sale at Phillips in New York, the second-lowest being last May’s $7.75million auction.

The top lot of the sale was Infinity Nets (T.W.A.), 2000, one of the largest from a series of “Infinity Net” paintings that Yayoi Kusama made throughout her career. The work sold with a guarantee for $842,500 against an estimate of $300,000/400,000. It was reportedly bought by Marc Simoncini, an Internet-dating company mogul from Paris, who is relatively new to the art market. Simoncini also bought the third-highest lot, Ed Ruscha’s Mean as Hell, 2002, for $590,500 (estimate: $400,000/600,000). Another healthy price was the $842,500 paid for Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box, 1964, one of the original wooden boxes that had belonged to Warhol’s manager, Fred Hughes (estimate: $700,000/900,000). The price was a record for a Warhol Brillo box.

Among the other top lots were two in which Phillips had a financial interest, since they had been guaranteed by the house and either unsold or not paid for last year. Warhol’s Diamond Dust Shoes, 1981, was last on the market at Phillips in London in October of last year, and went unsold with a $550,000/740,000 estimate. Returning with an estimate of $300,000/400,000—a 40 percent reduction—it sold for $506,500.

British graffiti artist Banksy’s Insane Clown, 2001, had been sold at Phillips in London in June of last year for £241,500 ($487,633), and came back to sell for $386,500 against an estimate of $200,000/300,000—a 50 percent drop from last year’s estimate of $400,000/600,000. Another previously guaranteed work was Jeff Koons’s Ice Buc­ket, 1986, which had also been bought in at Phillips in London in June of last year, on an estimate of $400,000/600,000. Returning with a halved estimate of $200,000/300,000, it sold for $230,500.

The major unsold lot was Richard Prince’s photographic work Untitled (Four women with their backs to the camera), 1980 (estimate: $400,000/600,000). Out of nine works by Prince offered in this November’s sales, it was one of four that failed to sell. Two other conspicuous buy-ins were neon works by British artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster from the Saatchi Collection: Girlfriend from Hell and Puny Undernourished Kid, both 2003, which were each estimated at $100,000/150,000. Saatchi was more successful with Polaroid Wall, 2005, by Dash Snow, which fetched $50,000 (estimate: $40,000/60,000), and Jules de Balincourt’s Ambitious New Plans, 2005, which sold for $116,500 against an estimate of $50,000/70,0000.