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Volume and Demand Drop at Phillips Contemporary Sale

At Phillips, de Pury & Company’s contemporary sale on June 29, only 24, or 53 percent, of the 45 lots offered found buyers, yielding a total of £3.96 million ($6 million) including premium.

LONDON—At Phillips, de Pury & Company’s contemporary sale on June 29, only 24, or 53 percent, of the 45 lots offered found buyers, yielding a total of £3.96 million ($6 million) including premium. On a hammer basis the total was £3.3 million ($4.9 million), compared with a presale estimate of £6.1 million/8.6 million. The total was even less than last year’s £5.1 million ($8.4 million). Only one lot in the sale exceeded its high estimate, and of the 15 highest-estimated lots, 13 sold at hammer prices at or below low estimates, or were unsold.

The highest price of the sale was £481,250 ($724,763) for Thomas Schütte’s Janus-like Doppelkopf (Double Head), 1994 (estimate: £400,000/600,000), and record prices were established for Salvatore Scarpitta, whose Trapped Canvas, 1958, sold for £409,250 ($616,331) compared with an estimate of £250,000/350,000; and Ugo Rondinone, whose stark white aluminum tree, air/ gets/ into/ everything/ even/ nothing, 2006, sold for £361,250 ($399,467) against an estimate of £200,000/300,000 to a phone bidder against adviser Kim Heirston in the room.

Other bidding from the floor was sparse, with Jose Mugrabi picking up Tom Wesselmann’s Study for Pat nude, 1979, for £159,650 ($240,433) compared with an estimate of £150,000/200,000. Heirston acquired a pleated silver foil work by Anselm Reyle, Untitled, 2006, for £99,650 ($150,178) on an estimate of £70,000/90,000, and London collector Amir Shariat bought a gray finger painting, Graues Bild I, 1971, by Gerhard Richter, for £91,250 ($137,518) against expectations of £80,000/120,000).

Among the major unsold works were Emilio Vedova’s oil with newspaper collage Ciclo, 1960–62 (estimate: £400,000/600,000), and Roy Lichtenstein’s magna on board Prop for a Film, 1969 (estimate: £500,000/700,000). Even red-hot artist Matthew Day Jackson received a setback when his laser-cut formica copy of a 1962 Life magazine cover, Gimme Shelter, 2009, was bought in with an estimate of £100,000/150,000.

Now that Charles Saatchi spreads his offerings among all three main auctioneers, his input was minimal. Of two works by Chinese artists from his collection, one, Gift (diptych), 2003, by Li Songsong, sold for £169,250 ($255,068) on an estimate of £150,000/200,000, while Zheng Guogu’s wax Waterfall, 2003, was unsold with a £40,000/60,000 estimate.

After the sale, chairman Simon de Pury, who had hosted a lavish party at the Saatchi Gallery earlier in the week to celebrate his wedding, issued a statement saying: “While we are clearly pleased with the new record prices for works by Rondinone or Scarpitta, strong results for Schütte or [Johannes] Kahrs, we are disappointed with some other results most probably due to a summer fatigue after a highly successful first six months. The market however continues to be strong.”

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