Hours after the latest edition of Frieze New York opened to VIPs Wednesday, Phillips staged an evening sale dedicated to art from the 20th century to today that brought in a total of $69.5 million with fees. That figure was down significantly from last year’s equivalent sales total of $226 million and less than the 2021 total of $118 million, a sign of a cooling art market.
Of the 37 works offered, 33 lots sold with just one withdrawn before the sale’s start. Works by mid-career established artists like Simon Leigh and Caroline Walker were among the ten lots backed by the auction house with third-party guarantees. By the end of the hour-and-a-half long sale, led by Phillips London–based auctioneer Henry Highley, the evening’s lots hammered at a total of $56.4 million, a figure that landed well below the pre-sale estimate of $63.2 million to $91 million.
Anchoring the sale was a work by Banksy, a fixture at Phillips evening sales that typically brings in seven-figure prices, buoying them in the process. The Banksy was a smaller financial anchor than the 1982 painting Untitled (Devil) by Jean-Michel Basquiat that Phillips sold in last year’s May sale. That painting, which was being sold by prominent collector Yusaku Maezawa, went for $85 million, marking the most expensive lot ever secured by Phillips.
Wednesday night, paintings by Banksy, Pablo Picasso, and Roy Lichtenstein were among the top sellers. Despite relatively tame bidding, each sold for final prices within their estimates: $9.7 million, $7.3 million and $5.5 million, respectively.
Unlike past seasons, works by Warhol have largely been out of the limelight this season at sales across all three major auction houses, even with a recently opened show dedicated to the Pop artist at the Brant Foundation’s East Village space. The only one to appear in an evening sale is a 1973 silkscreened painting in which four Mona Lisas are rendered in a black-and-sepia-toned grid. It hammered at $1.9 million, below its $2 million low estimate, to a bidder on the phone with Phillips New York deputy chairman, Robert Manley.
Among the standout lots of the night was a figurative painting by Noah Davis that was offered as the first lot of the evening. Multiple bidders on the phone with New York–based specialists vied for Davis’s untitled painting from 2010 that depicts a half-dressed Black woman splayed out asleep on a life-sized stuffed animal. The painting sold for $990,600, more than nine times its $100,000 estimate. The result is the second highest price for the artist at auction, behind the $1.5 million record set at Christie’s last year, and served as a coup for Phillips, which competes against the much larger Sotheby’s and Christie’s for contemporary art consignments.
In an interview following the sale, New York advisor David Shapiro said the result for the Davis reflects pent up demand among collectors for works that are difficult to find by the late artist, who died at the age of 33 in 2019. “The works are so rare, especially to find one that good,” he said.
Interest in undervalued artists of color, a trend that has defined the auction circuit in the last three years, continued in this sale. A 2019 painting by the Los Angeles–based artist Henry Taylor, 65, titled Dakar, Senegal #3 was among the few works alongside Davis’s to elicit a bidding war. Taylor produced it while traveling to Senegal in 2019, the year he was featured in the Venice Biennale. The painting, a portrait of a seated security guard whose visage is slightly masked by a pair of sunglasses, hammered at a price of $460,000 to applause; the sum was more than five times the $80,000 low estimate. With fees, the final price was $584,200, going to a bidder on the phone with Phillips content administrator, Ferguson Amo. The figure was still under the standing record of $975,000 set for a work by Taylor at auction in 2018.
At other points, early and mid-career figurative painters like Anna Weyant and Caroline Walker, were among the artists to see attention among interested buyers. UK-based Walker has gained a following among European collectors and has recently been in a fixture in London evening sales.
Her 2010 painting, Conservation, which depicts a woman in her underwear stretching to reach a vase, surpassed expectations. The painting, which had a financial guarantee, hammered at a price of $370,000, well above the estimate of $150,000. It went to a bidder in the room, who competed against a client on the phone with Manley for it. The final price of the work was $469,900 with fees.
At another point, the emerging category saw more selective bidding. A canvas by Weyant, a rising painter now represented by Gagosian whose slick portraits of female figures have gained recent traction, was one of the evening’s few ultra-contemporary lots. Works of this kind, typically ones made in the past three years, have been a main focus for Phillips. Her 2021 painting Unconditional Love, a scene depicting two women with one seated on the other’s lap, sold for $609,600 (with fees), hammering in the middle of its estimate range.
By the sale’s end, things were coming to a close on a high when a work the late American artist Elaine Sturtevant, known for her irreverent copying of canonical male artist came up on the block. Study for Marilyn, a riff on Warhol, hammered at $1.5 million, again with Manley’s bidder over its $1 million low estimate. The work went for a final price of $2.9 million with fees.