This report with the backstory on auction newcomers Salman Toor and Portia Zvavhera, two of the evening's best performers, as well as the sellers of the Baselitz, Warhol, Hirst and Tillmans, is available to AMMpro subscribers. (The first month of AMMpro is free and subscribers are welcome to sign up for the first month and cancel before they are billed.)
Sales may not have been as buoyant at this year’s Frieze hybrid live-online art fair in London as they were last year, but the accompanying auctions could keep the ball afloat better than most would have expected. Discounting Christie’s single-owner sale from the estate of Jeremy Lancaster, the pre-sale low estimate for the evening and day contemporary art sales staged by Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Phillips and Bonhams last October was £173.2 million. This week, where there are no single owner collections, that estimate is £172.4 million (which could go down if more lots are withdrawn). So the auctioneers have done well to bring the goods in and with relatively few guarantees at time of writing. All that remained to be seen was if vendor’s confidence could be justified.
Phillips’ was first out of the block today and turned in a £26.3 million ($34 million) contemporary art sale today, against an estimate of £21.7 million-£30 million for 36 lots, of which 10 were guaranteed, with a combined low estimate of £8.9 million or around 40% of the low estimate for the whole sale. The equivalent sale last year contained 42 lots, realizing a mid-estimate £25.8 million, including premium, with 60 % of the £17 million low estimate under guarantee.
So much for the basic stats which indicate the market, at first glance, looks to be holding up ok. Now for some details, some of which you won’t find in the catalogue. This was a sale of two different markets— the red hot and the cool, with some lukewarm results in the middle where artists have hit their peak and are treading water.
The sale had started somewhat experimentally, though not for those with their noses to the ground. Alien Shores (2018) was only the seventh work by Emily Mae Smith to come to auction; the first was at Phillips in New York in 2015, since when the market for her colorful, surrealistic paintings has taken off. In July, Christie’s hit a record $187,000, but today Phillips went a few stages better selling Alien Shores for a new record £277,200. 18 bidders vied for the work including a phone bidder from Hong Kong who was the underbidder. Kate Bryan of Phillips said in a post sale press conference that Smith's style "hits all the right notes for buyers and her work is impossible for most to buy on the primary market.” Sounds familiar.
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