Just before the beginning of Phillips Evening sale last Thursday, an uncharacteristically dressed-down Tobias Meyer stood in the middle of the sale room waiting to wish his former lieutenant Cheyenne Westphal luck in her first sale at Phillips.
Turns out, she didn’t need luck. Smart sale management showed that Phillips has moved up a weight class and is now a light heavyweight. Judiciously withdrawing two lots—one a high-priced Richter abstract that had been shopped around (and shared the green color scheme of one withdrawn a few years ago in London)—allowed Phillips to sell everyone one of the lots on offer even if, at times, compromises had to be made.
The house’s big bet on Peter Doig paid off with a $28.8m sale. The late de Kooning from 1980 got out alive after Christie’s withdrew an earlier work with a similar title from its sale. The de Kooning sold below estimates but made $13.1m with fees.
The same was true with the house’s $10m guaranteed Lichtenstein work being sold for the foundation. Phillips took a $9m bid that yield the guarantee with fees. Damien Hirst’s large pill cabinet work got a bid but sold for just above the low estimate making $5.85m and suggesting there’s been little recently to move Hirst’s market out of its trading range. Ai Weiwei’s gilt zodiac heads made a solid $3.37m pleasing those already invested in the artist and his market reputation.
Elsewhere in the sale there were pockets of real excitement. Phillips cast the first four lots properly generating bidding wars on Nicole Eisenman, David Hammons, Kenneth Noland and Ellsworth Kelly. That’s quite the range of artists.
Other notable contests were the Marlene Dumas that sold for nearly $4.2m above the estimates and the Adolph Gottlieb work that made just over a $1m when several bidders including David Benrimon were struggling to get their bids recognized. Elsewhere in the sale, an early Richard Prince joke painting, the kind not often seen on the market, that had been bought from the 1999 show it appeared in, made $1m over a $600k high estimate.
As the sale ended, a gaggle exited the mezzanine sky boxes. An Acquavella, a Brant and a Mugrabi or two all drifted cheerily toward the elevators. The sale was an undercard event, especially with Sotheby’s knockout Basquiat a few hours later. But no one left Phillips Park Avenue sale room disappointed—which is a victory not to be overlooked.