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Phillips Scores $31.7 M. Contemporary Sale in London, New Wolfgang Tillmans Record

Wolfgang Tillmans’ Freischwimmer #84 (2004).

COURTESY PHILLIPS

The post-Art Basel evening auctions in London wrapped tonight with a £24.4 million ($31.7 million) 20th-century and contemporary art evening sale at Phillips, a slow but steady affair in which only two lots failed to find buyers, resulting in a 94 percent sell-through rate. While there were few blockbusters, several lots doubled their high estimates, allowing for the sale’s total to sail past its low estimate of £17.9 million ($23.2 million) and come very close to breaching its high estimate of £25.4 million ($33 million).

The night’s haul was more than double what the equivalent sale yielded last year, when a weakened market resulted in disappointing sales at all three houses.

The sale came while Phillips is a bit more in the spotlight than usual—the decision by Christie’s to not hold a June postwar and contemporary sale in London made the Berkeley Square salesroom one of only two major spots to pick up new work. Phillips made the most of the extra attention, as the first few lots dragged on, with auctioneer Henry Highley letting the bids dribble in slowly.

“Cancel those dinner arrangements,” he said dryly during a particularly extended bout of bidding on Wolfgang Tillmans’s Freischwimmer #84 (2004).

The approach paid off, as Highley ably played specialists Kevie Yang and Svetlana Marich against each other, with Marich seizing the work at a £500,000 hammer. With fees, the work’s price went up to £605,000 ($786,000), minting a new auction record for the artist. The price was slightly higher than the amount paid for the Tillmans offered yesterday at Sotheby’s, and continues the upswing in the market for the artist, who has presented shows this year at Tate Modern and the Beyeler Foundation in Riehen, Switzerland.

The sale continued with Phillips’s chairman, Cheyenne Westphal, claiming for a client Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (682-4), 1988, for £2.4 million ($3.1 million) and the house’s contemporary art head, Jean-Paul Engelen, securing for his client Peter Doig’s Tunnel Painting (Country-rock), 2000, for £1.16 million ($1.5 million). The only speed bump came when Joe Bradley’s Hat Trick (2009) stalled at £200,000 and failed to attract further bidding, resulting in a pass.

The post-Basel sales in London wrap up with the 20th-century and contemporary art day Sale tomorrow at Phillips.

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