Despite the small sale and smaller results at Phillips de Pury’s wind-up of auction week sale last night, there are positive signs that the art market is function just as it should. Judd Tully observes that when buyers and sellers found a comfortable price, works cleared:
Sherrie Levine’s brilliant homage to Duchamp’s readymade urinal, Fountain (Buddha) (1996), in a high-polished cast bronze edition of 6, sold to a telephone bidder for $446,500 (est. $150–200,000).
“I got outbid” on the Levine, declared New York private dealer Jennifer Vorbach, who also competed for Mark Grotjahn’s six-foot-high abstract painting Untitled (White Butterfly, Blue MG) (2001), which sold to the artist’s L.A. dealer, Tim Blum of Blum & Poe, for $386,500 (est. $200–300,000).
Buttonholed moments later, Blum observed, “Really good quality things are selling for fair market value, whatever that is. It’s spectacularly clear.” [ . . . ]
The sole classic work offered from the 1960s, Dan Flavin’s minimal yet elegant fluorescent-lit sculpture Untitled (“Monument for V. Tatlin”) 22 from 1964, sold to New York private dealer Meredith Palmer for $458,500 (est. $400–600,000).
“I think there are some very good buys now,” said Palmer as she headed for the exit, “but I feel the [price] level is still not corrected fully.”
The New York Times’s Carol Vogel spoke to Mark McGinnis after his sale:
“People are holding on to their art,” he said. “And in some cases we had buyers who simply weren’t ready to meet the seller’s requirements.”
While it was hard for all the auction houses to cobble together sales in this economy, it was especially tough for Phillips, a small operation that had to rely in part on its relationship with Charles Saatchi. [ . . . ] An estimated 10 of the works were from Mr. Saatchi’s collection, and the rest were a mixed bag of items, many of which had been for sale privately. Thursday’s buyers had a firm grip on their wallets, refusing to bid for almost anything approaching $1 million.[ . . . ]
Another respectable price was made for “Suddenly Last Summer,” a 1999 painting by Cecily Brown. Two telephone bidders tried to buy the canvas, estimated to bring $600,000 to $800,000, which eventually sold for $550,000, or $662,500 with fees.
Even with press commentary that suggested over-traded artists like Brown would not perform during the week, we see the contrary. Market participants are making decisions about individual works and their artist’s markets. Even in the most vulnerable end of the market, the sector Phillips has chosen for its own, buyers are using their now more valuable dollars to pursue painters. Here’s Tully again:
Also holding its own was super-traded Chinese artist Feng Zhengjie’s Chinese Portrait L Series 2006 No. 10 (2006), which sold to Dutch collector Herman Heinsbroek for $128,500 (est. $70–90,000).
“I think a year ago it would have sold for $360,000,” said Heinsbroek after the sale, “so it’s a third the price. I’m pretty comfortable it won’t go any lower. We are getting to the bottom of the crisis, I think. Slowly but surely, it will go up again.”
Phillips Contemporary Auction Falls Short of Estimate (New York Times)
Phillips Limps to the Finish Line (ArtInfo.com)