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‘Carte Blanche’ Powers Phillips to Record Sale Results

Contemporary art boomed once again, as Phillips de Pury & Company opened the season with a sale on Nov. 8 at its new headquarters at 450 Park Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. Including a special sale assembled by private dealer Philippe Ségalot entitled “Carte Blanche”—which took in $117 million—Phillips realized a total of $137 million, its

NEW YORK—Contemporary art boomed once again, as Phillips de Pury & Company opened the season with a sale on Nov. 8 at its new headquarters at 450 Park Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. Including a special sale assembled by private dealer Philippe Ségalot entitled “Carte Blanche”—which took in $117 million—Phillips realized a total of $137 million, its highest-ever result for an evening contemporary sale. Work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Cindy Sherman, Robert Morris and Rudolf Stingel, among others, set new records.

Chairman Simon de Pury called Carte Blanche a “milestone for a new type of auction,” adding, “I’m thrilled with what is the most successful auction in the history of the company and our greatest night ever.”

Some observers found the sale, which Ségalot not only curated but also advised buyers and bid at—sometimes even bidding against both his assistant and his business partner Frank Giraud—highly unusual. Ségalot further shared in a percentage of the buyers’ premium garnered by the sale.

Carte Blanche’s top lot was a seminal work by Andy Warhol, a black-and-white silk screen on canvas, Men in Her Life, 1962, showingElizabeth Taylor with her third husband, Mike Todd. The painting evoked many of Warhol’s major themes, according to the catalogue: “celebrity, wealth, scandal, sex, death, Hollywood, icons of American life.” Despite what some observers called a lofty estimate of $40 million/50 million, the work soared to a final price, with premium, of $63.4 million (it was hammered down at $56.5 million). This was the second-highest auction price for Warhol, after Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I), 1963, which sold at Christie’s for $71.7 million in spring 2007 (ANL, 5/29/07).

The next-highest lot, Takashi Murakami’s Japanese anime-style sculpture of a leggy blond in high heels, Miss ko2, 1997, brought $6.8 million (estimate: $4 million/6 million).

Self-Portrait, 1982, by Jean-Michel Basquiat sold within estimate for $4.6 million (estimate: $4 million/6 million). And a record $4.5 million was paid for Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s installation Untitled (Portrait of Marcel Brient), 1992, a pile of hard candies, individually wrapped in blue cellophane, which viewers can partake of.

Thomas Schutte’s swirling, cast-aluminum sculpture Grosse Geist No. 16, 2000, leapt past its $1 million/1.5 million estimate to sell for $4 million. A new record for photographer Cindy Sherman was set when her color image Untitled #153, executed in 1985, sold for $2.8 million (estimate: $2 million/3 million).

Of 33 lots offered, just three, under 10 percent, did not sell. By value the sale realized 95 percent.

While Carte Blanche accounted for the bulk of the proceeds, Phillips’ regular evening sale brought in $19.9 million for 26 lots offered. Of these, 22, or 85 percent, were sold.

The top lot was Ed Ruscha’s acrylic on canvas Sex at Noon Taxes, 2002, depicting that palindrome superimposed on a snowy mountaintop. It sold for $4.3 million, compared with a $3 million/4 million estimate. Roy Lichtenstein’s Two Figures, Indian, 1979, oil and magna on canvas, was the second-highest lot, fetching $3.9 million against a $3 million/5 million estimate. Warhol also figured in the top lots here, with Mona Lisa, 1979, a purple silk screen, realizing just under $2 million ($1.986 million) on a $1 million/1.5 million estimate.

Maurizio Cattelan’s installation of two upside- down policemen, Frank and Jamie, 2002, sold for $1.6 million, clearing the high end of the $1 million/1.5 million estimate.

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