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Phillips BRIC Auction Drops From Year-Ago Levels

Phillips de Pury & Company held its second BRIC sale—named after the acronym coined ten years ago for the world’s four fastest-growing economies at the time, Brazil, Russia, India and China—on April 14–15, and it followed a similar pattern to the first (ANL, 5/3/10).

LONDON—Phillips de Pury & Company held its second BRIC sale—named after the acronym coined ten years ago for the world’s four fastest-growing economies at the time, Brazil, Russia, India and China—on April 14–15, and it followed a similar pattern to the first (ANL, 5/3/10).

The major difference was that the amount of lots offered was 192—trimmed from last year’s 375 for greater discipline and focus—which made the total £6.5 million ($10.6 million) seem much more robust than last year’s £7.1 million ($10.9 million). But whereas last year’s sales touched the low estimate, this year’s fell significantly below the £7.5 million ($12.2 million) low estimate.

If the sale can be used to calculate the respective health of the four “emerging” markets, then the statistics tell us that China came out on top, with 43, or 62.3 percent, of 69 lots selling for £2.7 million ($4.4 million), followed by Russia, with 31, or 54.4 percent, of 57 lots selling for £2.1 million ($3.4 million). Brazilian art, which is often touted as the hottest of the four markets, saw only 18, or 48.6 percent, of 37 lots sell for £1 million ($1.63 million), while India languished behind the field with just nine, or 26.5 percent of 34 lots selling for £570,000 ($929,100). None of the four sectors reached their low estimates.

The sale was top heavy, with four lots comprising half the total proceeds. Ilya Kabakov’s Holidays #10, 1987, sold on a single phone bid for £1.5 million ($2.4 million), compared with an estimate of £1.5 million/2.5 million.

Zeng Fanzhi’s The Mask Series No. 21, 1994, sold for £993,250 ($1.6 million), against an estimate of £800,000/1.2 million; Liu Wei’s Untitled (Worker), 1992, doubled estimates to sell for £385,250 ($629,113) compared with an estimate of £100,000/150,000; and Beatriz Milhazes’s patterned abstract painting I just wanted to understand why he did that, 1989, sold for £361,250 ($589,921), against an estimate of £250,000/350,000—all to phone bidders.

One of the few buyers in the room was the London-based collector of Latin American art Catherine Petitgas, who bought Ivan Serpa’s small abstract, Untitled No 12 from the series “Amazon,” 1970, for a record £32,450 ($52,991), compared with an estimate of £15,000/20,000, and Mira Schendel’s Untitled, 1965, for £145,250 ($237,193), against an estimated £150,000/250,000.

Sales of Brazilian art suffered from the country’s high import tax, said Phillips expert Henry Allsopp, the house’s worldwide director of theme sales. A major unsold lot, Helio Oiticica’s dangling geometric sculpture, Relevo Espacial, 1959 (constructed in 1991) was estimated to fetch a record £300,000/400,000, but would have incurred an additional 65 percent tax on the hammer price if sold to a Brazil-based buyer, said Allsopp.

While the market for modern Indian art has been recovering, more contemporary works are struggling. Top price in this category was Rashid Rana’s Veil IV, 2007, from the Frank Cohen collection, which sold for £301,250 ($491,941), on an estimate of £250,000/300,000. But other works of Cohen’s, such as a Bharti Kher, estimated at £300,000/400,000, and a Subodh Gupta, estimated at £200,000/300,000 were unsold.

Several of the Russian artworks had been seen recently at Haunch of Venison’s nonconformist art exhibition “Glasnost,” 2010, and had difficulty meeting their estimates, though Oleg Vassiliev’s After the Rain, 1993, sold at Christie’s London in June 2009 for £39,650 ($64,074), did at least see some return, selling for £63,650 ($103,750), compared with an estimate of £40,000/60,000.

Among the Chinese works to sell well was Ai Weiwei’s set of 24 C-prints of the Olympic stadium in Beijing, 6.3-4, 2006. Four of the prints had been damaged, announced auctioneer Simon de Pury, and would be replaced by the artist, though he couldn’t say when. Earlier this month, the artist, who has been an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, was detained at the Beijing airport by Chinese police and has not been heard from since (ANL, 4/19/11). The works sold for £145,250 ($236,800), compared with an estimate of £70,000/90,000, to a phone bidder.

While the evening sale realized £5.8 million ($9.5 million) against a £5.9 million low estimate, the day sale saw well over 50 percent of lots going unsold, adding little to Phillips’ total or confidence in the market. Allsopp, however, remained upbeat, telling ARTnewsletter that the company had just taken on top young Brazilian businesswoman Jackie de Botton, and that next year’s BRIC sale would be even more selective.

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