Phillips went first in London last night and set the tone for the week that opened with more than a little hand-wringing and worry about the fate of the art market in the midst of a global slowdown. Early reports from the Frieze fairs helped with the mood but there’s nothing like a successful public sale to soothe nerves. Phillips provided that as Hugues Joffre took the podium for the first time and delivered a $48.8m clean sheet sale with every lot sold. Having guarantees on 58% of the lots didn’t hurt either but the sale sent two important messages.
Judd Tully caught the first missive: the market is still there.
“We were worried about the market going into the sale,” said Edward Dolman, CEO and chairman of Phillips, moments after the auction, “but there’s nothing to worry about.”
Colin Gleadell had the second point: Phillips continues to move toward becoming a meaningful third player in the global auction market:
After the sale, art advisor, Heinrich zu Hohenlohe, summed it up as “definitely a step in the right direction for Phillips.”
On the first point, Phillips had a benchmark sale in its Twombly which Katya Kazakina points out was one of the few lots sold “naked” or without a guarantee. The consignor was clearly confident and eager to reap all the rewards of speculation. And it worked … sort of. The Twombly was bought for a little more than $9m in 2011 and the consignor will received $10.8m or a 20% return in four years. That’s good money but nowhere near the mouth-watering returns that have previously driven interest in the art market.
Judd Tully records the details:
the large and late Cy Twombly scribbled abstraction “Untitled” from 2006, as the rather juicy cover lot, sold to another telephone bidder for the top lot price of £7,922500/$12,042,200 (est. £8-12 million). It last sold at Phillips de Pury & Company in New York in November 2011 for $9,042,500.
The Twombly market may be a measure of art as a reserve currency for a few players but that is not what Phillips is known for. Instead, Phillips remains the mart for emerging artists or Contemporary artists moving toward reserve-currency status. Records for Mark Bradford, Yoshitomo Nara and Dahn Vo helped contribute to market confidence.
Judd Tully spotted a few of the buyers behind this trend:
notable purchases were made by dealer Stefan Simchowitz, wearing his trademark hat, who bought a Tauba Auerbach crumpled paper painting on the low estimate for £1.4 million, and by Daniella Luxembourg, who paid a record £3.8 million pounds for Constitution 1V (2013), a large palimpsest of letters by Mark Bradford that had been estimated at £2 million.
Colin Gleadell reminds us that not every artist makes this transition or makes it smoothly:
An Urs Fischer set of four stainless steel sculptures,Horse Proud (2010), had sold two years ago for $785,000 but now sold for only £362,500 or $524,000.
And Judd Tully had his points on this subject too:
Surprisingly, or so it seemed to this observer, there was barely any interest in Jonas Wood’s figurative painting of a freckle-faced basketball star, “D.J.” from 2009, which sold to a telephone bidder for £62,500/$95,000 (est. £50-70,0000). Woods is currently starring in a major, one-person show at Gagosian Gallery on Britannia Street, and larger and later works are coming up at both Sotheby’s and Christie’s.
Though Tully also found buyers who felt they were getting a bargain hiding in plain sight:
The last lot of the evening was KAWS’s “Snoopy: Red Baron” from 2014, executed in acrylic on canvas and laid on panel, which sold to London collector Robert Beecham for £128,500/$195,320 (est. £80-120,000).
“I’m very happy with the price,” said Beecham moments later. “I think in Europe they don’t have any idea about this guy, but I do.”
Phillips Scores a White Glove Sale (BLOUIN ARTINFO)
Phillips’s $48.8 Million Sale Sets Two Records (artnet News)
Phillips’s `White Glove’ Auction Tallies Record $49 Million (Bloomberg Business)