Auctions Market News

Phillips Closes Spring Auctions With Fainting Spell and Respectable $97.1 M. Contemporary Sale

Francis Bacon, "Seated Woman," 1961.

Francis Bacon, Seated Woman, 1961.

The New York Spring auctions ended earlier this evening with a modest sale at Phillips that saw the house bring in $97.1 million, a relatively small sum compared to those seen at the other houses earlier in the week but strong enough for the perpetual third placer (overall estimates had the night bringing in a total of $96.1 million to 138.3 million, without premium) and bolstered by more lots than usual, as well as Francis Bacon’s Seated Woman (1961), which sold for $28.1 million, with premium.

That lot was cause for more excitement than just its price. It received just one bid for $25 million and right at the moment it did a specialist in the phone bank fainted. (She was not the specialist who took the bid.) Auctioneer Alexander Gilkes put the auction on hold and asked if there was a doctor in the house. The woman was eventually escorted to an ambulance.

At the press conference after the auction Phillips CEO Ed Dolman said the woman was fine, she had simply experienced the “same drop in blood pressure” he did when the bid came in, only more severely because she is pregnant.

The auction was destined to be overshadowed by Christie’s and Sotheby’s, its sell-through rate remained solid, with 56 of the 70 lots offered finding buyers. Some even went over estimate, among them a severe James Lee Byars sculpture of piled basalt bricks, The Figure of Death (1985), which sold to dealer Brett Shaheen for a hammer price of $630,000 over a high estimate of $500,000.

“It’s an extraordinary work by an under-appreciated artist,” said Shaheen, who bought it for a private American collector. “Works like this of Byars’ don’t come to market very often.”

That piece set a new record for Byars, and the evening also saw new records for Fred Sandback, and Günther Förg. A gold Rudolf Stingel from 2012 sold for for $4,757,000, which happened to be the exact price of the record achieved last night for the artist at Christie’s for another shiny piece, this one from 1993.

At the press conference, Dolman said some had worried that the Phillips sale would “seem modest compared to some of the other sales we’ve been dealing with this week,” but added that the night was one of the best Phillips New York had seen in some time. (True enough: the May 2012 sale garnered $87 million, the November 2014 sales just $52 million and though last year’s May sale totaled $114, much of that was due to the sale of a $56 million Mark Rothko.)

Still, dealers were generally reticent to comment on the evening’s results, though London dealer Inigo Philbrick said that he thought house needed “more senior staffers.”

“Selling art is a based entirely on relationships,” he said. “They just don’t have enough people with enough of a track record.”

All the same, he’d bought a Rudolf Stingel from 1996, for near its high estimate, at a hammer price of $1.4 million.

The New York auctions resume this November.

Correction: an earlier version of this post a few hours prior erroneously said the evening had no artist records. 

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