This analysis the past 10 years of Second Quarter sales at the three main auction houses—Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips—was made possible with data from our friends at Pi-eX. It is available to AMMpro subscribers. Subscriptions begin with a free month for the curious.
Phillips viewed its ability to land the Fiterman collection of Pop art classics a turning point in the boutique house’s campaign to become a meaningful alternative to its two full-service rivals. Last night, that collection sold well enough but without much in the way of fireworks and at times treating estimates as if they were aspirational rather than meaningful sales guidance. Some of the other marquee works like Mark Bradford’s Helter Skelter II and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Self Portrait sold well but on little or no competition. That doesn’t mean the evening lacked excitement. Despite the presence of numerous works by KAWS around town, Phillips was able to keep its pole position on the artist’s market by selling The Long Walk Home, a Sponge Bob work, for just shy of $6m or 10x the low estimate.
Phillips’s size and market position have made its Evening sale totals more volatile than its much bigger rivals. The numbers on this May’s Evening sale show a level around 2015 volume which is both better and worse than several of the intervening years. What makes this Spring different is that the presence of the Fiterman collection means the sale was more varied and less dependent upon a few very high value guaranteed works.
On an aggregate basis, the volatility is apparent. Without works offered without published estimates, there is a consistent pattern of hammer prices reaching levels near or below the aggregate low estimate. This season, Phillips was able to perform better against the aggregate estimates probably because the Evening sale was able to find buyers for 42 of the 43 offered lots. The presence of a few strong works that out performed estimates helped too, no doubt.
On an average lot basis, remembering that works sold without published estimates do not get calculated here, we can see that Phillips has returned to the trend of meeting the average low estimate level after falling far short last year.