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Gamble on Guarantees Pays Off For Phillips with $27M Warhol ‘Liz’

For Phillips de Pury & Company’s evening sale on May 12, it was crucial to live up to the precedent created last November by the house’s first $100 million–plus sale, engineered by Philippe Ségalot who was granted carte blanche (also the title of the show; ANL, 11/30/10) to curate it.

NEW YORK—For Phillips de Pury & Company’s evening sale on May 12, it was crucial to live up to the precedent created last November by the house’s first $100 million–plus sale, engineered by Philippe Ségalot who was granted carte blanche (also the title of the show; ANL, 11/30/10) to curate it. To do so without Ségalot, Phillips had guaranteed ten lots with a combined low estimate of $44.6 million, including its highest-value lots by Andy Warhol and Richard Prince. In the event, all ten sold for a cumulative $49.5 million, with commission. Whether Phillips made a profit—the main guarantor was thought by trade sources to be its Russian backers—is debatable, but the final tally of $94.8 million, against an $84 million/121 million estimate, did make a statement that Phillips could live with the big two, just. However, 12, or 22 percent, of the 50 lots offered were not sold, the highest bought-in rate of the evening sales.

Five works by Warhol, including one collaboration with Jean-Michel Basquiat, were among the top-selling lots, contributing $45.8 million to the sale’s total—the highest percentage contribution, at nearly 50, by Warhol of all the series. Top lot was Liz #5 (Early Colored Liz), 1963, which had been acquired (from the collection of the late dealer Ileana Sonnabend through Larry Gagosian, who exhibited the work in 2009) by collector Steve Cohen, who consigned it to Phillips. It is not known how much Cohen earned from the flip, but the painting was guaranteed, had an unpublished $20 million/30 million estimate, and sold without competition to a phone bidder for $24 million or just short of $27 million including commission. Another version from the same series sold at Christie’s in November 2007 for $23.5 million.

Trailing that was a four-foot-square Flowers, 1964, consigned by the Mugrabi family who bought it at Christie’s London in June 2007 for £2.6 million ($5.2 million). Estimated at $8 million /12 million, and with a guarantee, it sold to a phone bidder, most likely the guarantor, on a single $7.2 million bid—$8.1 million with premium—a solid result for Mugrabi, but perhaps not for Phillips. Another Warhol, Witch, 1981, which had fetched $178,500 in November 1999 at Sotheby’s, showed again how long-term values for Warhol had increased, selling to a phone bidder for $2.7 million (estimate: $1.8 million /2.5 million).

The best results in comparison with their estimates were for a Warhol-Basquiat collaboration, Third Eye, 1985, which sold to a phone bidder for a record $7 million (estimate: $2 million/3 million), and young artist Jakob Kassay’s silver painting Untitled, 2009, which sold to Dutch art adviser Siebe Tettero (bidding against Pace Gallery’s Marc Glimcher) for $290,000 (estimate: $60,000/80,000). According to press reports, Kassay’s primary-market prices two years ago were under $10,000, but have leapt at auction on speculation that he has signed with Pace.

Several works bought over the previous four years failed to realize profits for their consignors, among them Christopher Wool’s Untitled (F48), 1992, which had been bought by the Mugrabis at Christie’s London in June 2007 for £333,600 ($663,197), but now failed to sell, on an estimate of $800,000/1.2 million; Rudolf Stingel’s four paneled Styrofoam Untitled, 2000, which had been bought at Christie’s London in June 2009 for £385,000 ($642,000) and also failed to sell, on an estimate of $500,000/700,000; and Roy Lichtenstein’s Still Life with Mirror, 1972, which was bought by an Asian dealer at Christie’s London in June 2007 for £4 million ($8 million), and now was sold, but only for $6.6 million, on an estimate of $6 million/8 million.

Phillips also had the most valuable Damien Hirsts of the week: A large butterfly painting, Tranquility, 2008, which was guaranteed, sold on a single bid for $1.2 million, including commission (estimate: $1.2 million/1.5 million), while another butterfly painting, Night Follows Day, 2007, was bought in on an estimate of $1.2 million/1.8 million. Hirst’s London dealers preferred to make bids on flavor-of-the-month artists Wade Guyton—$422,500 for a large ink-jet painting, Untitled, 2008 (estimate: $200,000/300,000), and Thomas Houseago—a record $98,500 (estimate: $80,000/120,000) for a painted plaster head, Untitled, 2008.

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