Phillips wound down its auction week in New York with a day sale of 20th-century and contemporary art that saw a fairly mediocre sell-through rate of 72 percent, with 159 of 221 lots finding buyers. That sell-through rate was almost identical to the rate at the house’s contemporary art day sale last November, when 139 of 195 lots sold for an average of 71 percent.
The general mood during the auction was subdued; live attendance, at its peak, only filled around three-quarters of the available seats, and sales were made made briskly over the phone, online, or via eBay, which recently began a partnership with Phillips. (The auctioneer, August Uribe, and a specialist had a bit of fun at the expense of one such early adapter, whom they gleefully referred to as “eBay” for the duration of two lots.)
Artist records were broken for works by Aaron Garber-Maikovska ($87,500), Math Bass ($81,250), Tetsumi Kudo ($197,000), Masahisa Fukase ($40,000), Shomei Tomatsu ($23,750), Miyako Ishiuchi ($27,500), and Jon Pestoni ($43,750). The result for Los Angeles–based artist Garber-Maikovska would seem significant: a painting of the same size sold at Philips in London five months ago for just $35,382, the artist’s previous record. The one that sold at Phillips this season jumped way past its estimate of $15,000-$20,000. Zeng Fanzhi’s Untitled (Landscape) (2006) ended up as the priciest lot of the day, even though it fell short of its $500,000 low estimate, selling for $485,000.
Works by Alexander Calder, Ugo Rondinone, Mike Kelley, Vik Muniz, Daido Moriyama, Robert Indiana, Jean-Paul Basquiat, Alex Katz, Scott Reeder, Kiki Smith, Wade Guyton, Oscar Murillo, and Le Corbusier stuck to their estimates, while others by Carroll Dunham and Takashi Murakami sold for significantly less than their estimates, and several Warhols and a de Kooning didn’t sell at all.
On the bright side, two Gerhard Richter prints on aluminum exceeded their estimates by upwards of $30,000, a Jeff Koons sculpture (made to promote his collaboration with Dom Pérignon) more than doubled its $30,000 low estimate on the way to a $68,750 finish, Carol Bove’s Innerspace Bullshit (2007) quickly soared past its $20,000–$30,000 estimate, pulling in $106,250, and a rainbow-hued Cory Arcangel photograph nearly doubled its $150,000 high estimate, making $269,000.
A thinning lunchtime audience was roused from its early afternoon stupor at the sound of a loud crash. The auctioneer’s brisk, capable babble petered to a hesitant trickle. Heads swiveled, gratefully intrigued, to the right. A woman had tripped and fallen face-first onto the carpeted floor, not far from Julian Schnabel’s enormous oil-on-velvet Carey (1992). She stayed this way for a few moments, eyes closed and moaning, before sitting up and touching her face hesitantly, which was now stained with blood in several places from an apparent nosebleed. (Hopefully just a nosebleed!)
The crowd was silent as she was helped to an exit, still concerned, until the Uribe’s tongue flicked twice across his teeth, the way one might lick their fingers before turning a page. “Are we all right? Henry!” he called impatiently. “Yes, sir,” answered a young male British voice, snapped to attention. Lot #165 was up; it was time to get back to business. That lot, a 2003 Susan Rothenberg painting, sold for $75,000. The Schnabel would go later in the afternoon for $93,750.
The New York sales continue tonight with Christie’s postwar and contemporary art sale.