LONDON—Phillips de Pury & Company achieved its best sell-through rate for a part-one sale of contemporary art in over a year on June 29, selling 30, or 77 percent, of the 39 lots and taking in £5.1million ($8.4million). The total, however, was just below the £5.3million/7.6million estimate, and down by 79 percent from last June’s £24.5million ($48.7million) total.
Whereas last June nearly half the lots were guaranteed, this year none were. There were, however, several previously guaranteed works that had been bought in, in which Phillips now had a financial interest. These included several of the top lots. Jeff Koons’s Mermaid Troll, 1986, had failed to sell against a £400,000/600,000 estimate at Phillips in London last June, and sold now for £241,250 ($396,900) below the £250,000/350,000 estimate. Another work from the same edition sold in October 2007 for £512,800 ($1million). Andy Warhol’s Five Guns, 1983, had also gone unsold last June with a £250,000/350,000 estimate, and sold now for £211,250 ($347,548) to Castlestone Management, a new art fund clearly on the lookout for bargains (estimate: £150,000/200,000).
Also among the top lots were works from the collection of Charles Saatchi. The success and failure rate of the Saatchi works reflect the uneven performance of the current market. Yue Minjun’s Untitled, 2005, depicting a flock of flying geese, for example, which had been bought at Phillips in New York in May 2006 for $464,000 (£249,000), yielded a good return, selling for £421,250 ($693,040) to a phone bidder against collector Ricardo Rossi in the room (estimate: £250,000/300,000). Feng Zhengjie’s Chinese Portrait P series 2006 no. 2, 2006, also did well, selling to dealer Olivia Kwok for £98,450 ($161,970), above the £50,000/70,000 estimate. But works by two other stars of the Chinese art boom, Zhang Xiaogang and Wang Guangyi, found no buyers.
Works by Western artists from the Saatchi collection also produced markedly uneven results. A large 2004 butterfly drawing by Mark Grotjahn, for example, sold for £145,250 ($238,970), a record for a drawing by the artist, to L&M Arts, New York, bidding against the Gagosian Gallery. Michael Raedecker’s Ins and Outs, 2000, also did well, selling for £111,650 ($183,690) on an estimate of £40,000/60,000. But Anselm Reyle’s large silver foil Untitled, 2005, brought £82,500 ($135,729), within the £70,000/90,000 estimate but low in comparison with two similar Reyle works, which sold last summer for around £200,000 ($380,000) each. Other works from the Saatchi collection by Western artists Inka Essenhigh and Tal R went unsold.
The major unsold lot of the evening was Richard Prince’s Spiritual America IV, 2005, an update of his original 1983 appropriation of commercial photographer Gary Gross’s image of a young Brooke Shields, rephotographed for the artist by Sante d’Orazio. The work attracted no bidding against the estimate of £400,000/600,000.
After the sale, Phillips’s Michael McGinnis was in a more upbeat mood than he had been last February, when 34 percent of lots failed. “There was a general mood elevation,” he told reporters. “People are feeling more confident. And they’re comfortable with the lower price points.”