The analysis of the December 7 Modern and Contemporary Art Evening Sales at Phillips 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.)
Phillips was aiming to see the year out on a high note this evening with a sale of 35 lots of 20th century and contemporary art that carried a $110 million-$160 million estimate. So far this year, no evening sale of modern and contemporary art at any of Phillips’s international branches has made than $50 million (the joint New York Hong Kong sale last week). The highest in New York was $41 million in July. But tonight they surpassed that and hit their estimate with a $134.6 million total– also the highest total for a Phillips contemporary art sale in New York and a 25% increase on the equivalent sale last winter.
This time, they were really gunning for it. 4 works were estimated to bring over $10 million each and 14 lots were guaranteed (13 by third parties) with a combined low estimate of $89.6 million or 81.5% of the total– a high percentage even for Phillips. As chairman, Ed Dolman, has said in the past: “We need to make guarantees to get the works in for sale.”
The top of the list was David Hockney’s 7 foot-by-5-foot 1980 painting Nichols Canyon, a view close to his home in California. Consigned by an anonymous ‘Distinguished American Collector’, this was, in fact Seattle-based real-estate developer Richard Hedreen— the American collector currently better known for buying a Frans Hals from Sotheby’s in a private sale in 2011 for $11.75 million, only to be told that scientific tests suggested that it was a forgery. Sotheby’s reimbursed Hedreen but is still fighting a high-profile legal case with one of the sellers who asserts it is genuine.
Hedreen bought his Hockney from dealer Andre Emmerich soon after it was completed and then lent it to various important exhibitions including a retrospective at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art in 1988 and Tate Britain in 2017. The decision to auction follows the sale of ‘Portrait of an Artist (Pool With Two Figures)’, 1972, which made a record $90.3 million for a living artist two years ago. To prove that was not a fluke, Hockney prices generally have been on the up since then. Three 1960s paintings have sold for between $25 million-$45 million, and several later works sold within and above estimates for over $10 million, two during the pandemic.
No pure landscape has yet sold for more than $1 million at auction, but with substantial prices generally being paid for exceptional works in online and live hybrid sales during the pandemic, there seemed to be no unease about selling it now. Certainly, I have heard in museum circles that this painting is considered special. The interesting thing was Hedreen’s decision to sell with Phillips, which has never before sold a major Hockney. The highest price there was a a 2000 landscape, The Gate, which sold for $7 million in November. But then they did offer Hedreen a guarantee— likely in line with the $35 million estimate– which was no doubt more than either Sotheby’s or Christie’s offered.
At the sale, there appeared to be only three bidders, one on behalf of the guarantor. Estimated to sell at $35 million, it got one bid over that from London-based Phillips chairman Cheyenne Westphal to realise $41 million– a record for a Hockney landscape.
Next on the list was a rare Clyfford Still painting PH – 407, 1964; rare because most are in the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver. Guaranteed with an estimate of $17 million, it had previously belonged to the German collector Frieder Burda who had a museum in Baden-Baden but died last year after which it was bought privately by tonight’s seller. But there appeared to be only one bid on this as it sold to Miety Heiden, Phillips Head of Private Sales in New York, for a premium inclusive of $18.4 million— looking like a guarantor purchase.
4 works had been sent from the collection of Pamela K. and William A. Royall Jr., Virginia-based collectors and major donors to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. William died this summer and Pamela survives him along with an extended family. The selection of works here reflected their interest in contemporary Black artists.
The Bathers (2015) by Amy Sherald, opened the auction in dramatic fashion. The highly-saturated work was only the second work at auction by the artist, who famously painted Michelle Obama, and who has recently been added to the roster at Hauser & Wirth. Her first work at auction was sold in May 2019 for $350,000 against a $80,000 to $120,000 estimate. But The Bathers took off in a much bigger way with two New York-based staffers taking it far beyond the $150,000-$200,000 estimate to a hammer price of $4.3 million.
However, the Royall’s Barkley L. Hendricks painting, Salina/Star (1980), failed to take off— overshadowed perhaps by the artist’s sexier portrait of Jackie Sha-La-La, which sold for S2.8 million at Sotheby’s last month. Salina sold below estimate on a single bid for $937,500.
Perhaps the Hendricks market has peaked, but for younger artists in the Royall collections, like Sherald, the market for contemporary Black artists is still building up steam. Kehinde Wiley’s Portrait of Mickalene Thomas(The Coyote), 2017, just pipped the artist’s previous record to sell for a double estimate $378,000, while Mickalene Thomas’ previous record of $697,000 was overcome comfortably when the painting I’ve Been Good to Me (2013), depicting a confident seated woman in a rhinestone-studded dress, tripled its estimate to sell for another record of $901,200, to a bid taken by Sotheby’s former head of impressionist and modern art David Norman, who now serves under the same title at Phillips.
Artists of the African diaspora from other sources made an impression. Inevitably there was the currently ubiquitous painter Amoako Boafo, whose 2019 painting Purple on Red quadrupled estimates to sell for $756,000. Only two works by Vaughn Spann have appeared at auction before, and all since September. An artist spotted by the Rubells and exhibited by Almine Rech and Larry Gagosian is clearly someone to take account of…at least The Wall Street Journal did. Last week Christie’s sold an example of his work for a double estimate price of $187,500, and today Phillips had another– Big Black Rainbow (Deep Dive), 2019 (i.e., the paint barely dry)— with a comparatively tame $40,000-$60,000 estimate. A three-way bidding battle between London, New York and Michigan ended when the New York staffer, Kevie Yang (who often bids for Asian clients) won it for a new record, $239,400.
But even more competition came for auction newcomer, British artist Jadé Fadojutimi. The 25-year-old artist was discovered at her 2017 degree show by the London gallerist Pippy Houldsworth, who was drawn to her dynamic semi-abstractions. Houldsworth made early sales to the likes of Pamela Joyner, Theo Danjuma and Pulane Kingston, along with the Dallas collector Howard Rachofsky, and at an exhibition at PEER UK last year, her paintings sold out priced at £22,000 each. But a lot has been going on behind the scenes since then with museum exhibitions lined up, and for the artist’s second appearance at auction, her relatively early Lotus Land, 2017, estimated at $40,000-$60,000, attracted multiple bids from Samoa, Hong Kong, London and New York before selling to a New York online bidder for $378,000.
Also in the African American contingent was a large drawing by Charles White, the so called “founder of Black American post-war figuration,” who was honored with a U.S. museum touring exhibition last year and has been hailed by artists such as Kerry J Marshall as a major influence. Within the last 12 months or so, White’s work has graduated from Swann Galleries’s African American art sales to Phillips, Sotheby’s and Christie’s in New York where his work has broken the $1 million barrier for the first time. His 1963 pen and ink drawing, Roots, was from the collection of the descendants of the late LA civil rights campaigners Payson and Helen Wolff, and, as further evidence of Phillips’ competitive approach, carried one of the higher estimates yet for his work of $500,000-$700,000. It didn’t have a guarantee and didn’t need one as it sold on the top estimate for $877,000 to Phillips’s deputy chairman Robert Manley.
While the more recent works, including examples by Titus Kaphar and Matthew Wong, which sold far above estimates show sharp increases in value from primary to secondary market values, Phillips did provide some evidence on how the long-term market has performed for older generation post-war artists.
An early 12-inch square Agnes Martin, for instance, bought in 1981 for $5,000 sold for $2.5 million. In 2005, a horizontal abstract by Helen Frankenthaler, Off White Square (1973), one of the largest paintings the artist ever completed, sold at Sotheby’s for $419,200 the fifth highest price for the artist. Nine years later, with changes in the Frankenthaler market taking place and Gagosian taking over representation of her estate in 2012, the work was purchased privately by the French-American billionaire businessman, William Louis-Dreyfus. Since Drefyus’s death in 2016, a number of valuable artworks of his have been sent to market by the family “office”– a term that refers to the lucrative administration of wealth transfer from generation to generation. Most have gone through Sotheby’s or Christie’s auctions or privately through David Zwirner. Last November several works by Kandinsky, Dubuffet and Oldenburg hit the Sotheby’s auction block. In December, they sold a pastel by Sam Szafran for a record €876,500 at Sotheby’s in Paris.
So far, only one or two from Dreyfus’s collection have gone through Phillips. This evening, Phillips showed they were still in the competition. Having placed Off White Square with a guarantee and a $2.5 million-$3.5 million estimate– equal to the highest estimate yet made for Frankenthaler– they sold it for $3.7 million.
However, the market for another female abstract expressionist, Joan Mitchell, showed signs of flagging. An early work estimated at $10 million-15 million which was guaranteed sold on a single bid, probably the guarantor, for $11.3 million, while a later diptych with a $9 million-$12 million estimate became the most significant unsold lot of the sale.
In addition to 3 other unsold lots, there were 3 lots withdrawn minutes before the sale. For Barbara Kruger’s 11-foot-wide photo work, Untitled (Fear and Hate), 1990, bought from the Simon Lee gallery in London 2009, Phillips had been in bullish mood giving it the highest estimate yet for Kruger at of $300,000-$500,000 (although her record stands at $902,500). Of the top 10 prices for Kruger, Phillips had only one, and was looking to double that and without a guarantee. But there was not enough interest at that price going into the sale so that one will have to wait.
Also withdrawn was a voluptuous 6 ½-foot bronze of a standing nude by Gaston Lachaise with a hefty $600,000-$800,000 estimate. Conceived in the year of his untimely death, 1935, it was not cast until 1973. But that would not account for the lack of interest. A comparable work cast in 1993 from the Barney Ebsworth collection doubled estimates to sell for $3.7 million in 2018.
The most intriguing withdrawal may turn out to be Elaine Sturtevant’s Warhol Gold Marilyn (1972), a circular recreation of a Warhol’s painting by the arch appropriation artist who died in 2014. One dealer who knew her well but does not want to identified asks: “Why was it not included in the 2004 catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work? Such doubts and suspicions will need to be addressed.”