This evening, following record results in its day sales, Phillips in New York hosted its 20th-century and contemporary art evening auction, bringing in $99.9 million across 45 lots, a drop from the $131.6 million it earned at the same sale last year from 36 lots.
Only one of the 45 works failed to sell, an untitled Christopher Wool abstraction from 1998 that had carried an estimate of $2 million to $3 million. That performance was helped by a bounty of guarantees. Of the 45 works, 29 had guarantees (12 from third parties and 17 from the house), meaning that they were certain to sell.
Three artist records were set, for Tomoo Gokita ($1.08 million), Dana Schutz ($980,000, though that was eclipsed just hours later at Sotheby’s), and Nicolas Party ($608,000).
The top lot of the evening was Willem de Kooning’s dynamic Untitled XVI (1976). Estimated at $8 million to $12 million, it brought in $10.3 million, selling to New York gallery owner Christina di Donna.
Just behind the de Kooning was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Self Portrait (1983), which went for $9.5 million against a $9 million-to-$12 million estimate. The piece, which Basquiat painted across two dilapidated door frames, was previously owned by musician and music mogul Matt Dike, a close friend of artist who had acquired the work from him directly.
On the heels of the news that KAWS will have a survey at the Brooklyn Museum in 2021, and following the jaw-dropping $14.7 million price achieved for one of his works about a month ago in Hong Kong, his market power showed no signs of letting up. His piece The Walk Home (2012), which features SpongeBob SquarePants, blasted through its $600,000-to-$800,000 estimate, finishing at an astonishing $5.96 million. Crowd members either gasped or sighed when the gavel hit.
Just before the big KAWS sale, another growing auction force made a new record. Nicholas Party’s richly colored Landscape (2015) went for more than five times its $100,000-to-$150,000 estimate, bringing in a total of $608,000.
Asked about the KAWS after the action, Ed Dolman, CEO of Phillips, told ARTnews, “We knew before the sale that it was going to do pretty well because we had so much interest. But I don’t think anyone was expecting it to make that much of a splash.”
Dolman added, “When you think about how much money that is and you put it into context with all the other great art you can buy, it’s pretty spectacular.”
Another piece by KAWS, Untitled (MBFU9), 2015, this one featuring Snoopy, obliterated its $300,000-to-$500,000 estimate, raking in $1.34 million.
Estimated at $8 million to $12 million, Mark Bradford’s sweeping, large-scale collage piece Helter Skelter II (2007) was positioned to possibly shatter the artist’s $12 million record, but instead finished at $8.48 million on a single bid, presumably going to its third-party guarantor. Bradford’s record remains with its sister piece, Helter Skelter I (2007), which is currently in the collection of the Broad Museum in Los Angeles. Collector Eli Broad picked it up at Phillips in London last year.
Several pieces from the sale came from the collection of Miles and Shirley Fiterman, which was heavy on Pop icons like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, as well as 20th-century masters like Alexander Calder, Robert Motherwell, and Joan Miró. One highlight from their collection was Lichtenstein’s Horse and Rider (1976) sold for $5.9 million against an estimate of $6 million to $8 million.
Another Lichtenstein in tonight’s sale, Modern Painting (1967), sold to Austrian gallerist Thaddaeus Ropac for $2.9 million.
Alexander Calder’s large, mobile Black Gamma (1966), last seen in public in 1974, when it was on view at Paris’s Galerie Maeght, sold for $5.48 million against an estimate of $5 million to $7 million.
An untitled Cy Twombly chalkboard piece from 1970, estimated at $4 million to $6 million, sold for $4.7 million. It had previously gone for $5 million at Sotheby’s New York in 2015 at its May contemporary art evening sale.
No Title (1967) by Eva Hesse sold for $3.9 million, above its estimate of $2.5 million to $3.5 million, with art dealer Neal Meltzer as the unlucky underbidder.
Tomoo Gokita’s Be Just Like Family (2015) set his auction record at $1.08 million, well over his 2018 record of $807,000, and Dana Schutz’s Signing (2009) took her auction record to $980,000, besting a $795,000 mark set last year.
“We’ve had two really good days of sales, which is really gratifying,” Dolman said. “It points to the strength of the market, but also you can see this extraordinary shift in taste going on. The works by new younger artists are very strong in the market right now.”
Judd Tully contributed reporting.