This evening in London, Phillips brought in £36.4 million ($47.7 million) at a 20th century and contemporary art evening sale, comfortably within its estimate of £27.4 million to £38.8 million ($35.8 million–$50.7 million). In all, 25 of the 28 lots on offer found buyers, for a sell-through rate of 89 percent, with 80 percent of the lots going for within or above their estimates.
Kicking off the sale was Tschabalala Self’s Lilith (2015), which nearly tripled its low estimate of £40,000 ($52,000), selling for £125,000 (163,900) with buyer’s premium, a new record for the closely watched young artist. (All prices included premium, unless noted.)
A few lots later, KAWS’s Moving The Mirror (1984), a close-up of SpongeBob SquarePants that was being sold with a third-party guarantee, went for £805,000 ($1.1 million) against an estimate of £700,000–£1,000,000 ($916,000–$1.31 million). The piece was last sold at auction at a Christie’s postwar and contemporary afternoon sale in May 2017 for $236,000, about a fourth of tonight’s price.
Also improving on a past performance was Martin Kippenberger’s Ohne Titel (Meine Lügen sind ehrliche), 1992, which sold at Sotheby’s contemporary evening art sale in London in 2014 for £2.3 million ($3 million), but today finished at £3.82 million ($5 million).
Not every piece was posting big increases, though. A Roy Lichtenstein enamel, Girl in Mirror (1963), finished slightly below the $6.9 million that another piece in the edition made at Christie’s postwar and contemporary evening sale in November 2014. Today’s work brought in £4.8 million, or $6.28 million.
Two lots later came the sale’s main event, Gerhard Richter’s stark, frantic depiction of a fighter jet in motion, Düsenjäger (1964), which has a complicated auction history.
The backstory: In November of 2016, Phillips offered the Richter, which had been consigned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, in New York with an estimate of between $25 million and $35 million. It sold to its third-party guarantor, a Chinese businessman named Zhang Chang. But Zhang allegedly failed to fork over the $24 million he had agreed to pay, and the auction house pursued legal action. This time, the house offered the work with an estimate of £10 million to £15 million ($13 million to $19 million), and it sold for £15.5 million ($20.4 million), earning back at least some of the money it was obliged to pay to Allen, who died last year.
Three lots passed: Damien Hirst’s Serenity (2007), which had been estimated at £500,000–£700,000, ($654,000–$916,000), as well as a visceral George Condo drawing, The Monk at the Brothel (2007), which held an estimate of £400,000–£600,000 ($523,000–$784,000) and Alberto Burri’s Combustione E4 (1960), estimated at £280,000–£350,000 ($366,00–$458,000).
The sale ended with one of Cory Arcangel’s signature gradient pieces, Photoshop CS: 72 by 110 inches, 300 DPI, selling for £300,000 ($393,000), which brought to a close the contemporary evening sales this week in the British capital.
But a bit more auction action is on deck tomorrow at Phillips, which will be hosting its contemporary day sale.
Update, May 3, 2019: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the same Lichtenstein enamel had previously been sold at Christie’s in November 2014; in fact, it was a different piece from the edition.