When Fredric Brandt, the plastic surgeon to the stars, took his own life earlier this year, he left behind a trove of artworks that might have surprised those who thought his tastes were purely cosmetic. His collection, scattered between his homes in New York and Miami, includes works by Wool, Baldessari, Stingel, and Oehlen, and when it came time to find an auction house for the estate, Phillips emerged victorious after a fairly competitive jostle. It began readying the sale of 200 works, valued at $15 million in total, and 18 of these works went on sale tonight, at the house’s contemporary art evening sale in London.
Brandt’s untimely passing lent a melancholy air to the proceedings, especially with a heartfelt program written by the CEO of Dr. Brandt Skincare, Stephane Colleu.
“His canvas, the face,” reads the introduction. “His paintbrush and paintbox, the tools of his trade. His inspiration, the collection of contemporary art he amassed over the past 30 years.”
There was a possibility that the auction itself would be just as melancholy. Phillips’s “New Now” sale last month in New York was a pretty bad clunker, with many lots left unsold and plenty others going for well under their low estimates.
But the Brandt sale, presided over by auctioneer Hugues Joffre, turned out to be a success, bringing in a total of £31.5 million ($48.8 million). The first few lots each went for somewhere around their low estimates: a bronze Mark Grotjahn sold for £116,500 (about $180,000), and Peter Doig’s Bird House (1996) went for £242,500 ($375,500). A Christopher Wool work on aluminum from 1994 nearly hit its high estimate at £2.6 million ($3.5 million).
Other mid-career artists fared even better. An earthy, juicy black-on-blue Rudolf Stingel from 1996–97 hammered at £1.9 million ($3 million)—nearly double the high estimate. Yoshitomo Nara’s Missing in Action, 2000, and also nearly doubled its high estimate at £1.9 million ($2.94 million), while setting an auction record for Nara. An auction record was also set for Mark Bradford, whose Constitution IV (2013), sold above its high estimate of £3 million estimate for £3.7 million—about $5.7 million. A large Cy Twombly, however, failed to meet its low estimate of £8 million ($12.3 million).
But every single lot sold, even the work from Richard Prince’s controversial Instagram series. It went—incidentally—to an online bidder.