On Wednesday, ahead of its upcoming London evening sale scheduled for the end of the month, Phillips launched its New York spring season with a promising start during its biannual mid-season ‘New Now’ auction. Generating a total of $9.5 million across 168 lots sold, the sale brought in the highest total in the history of the London-and-New York-based series which is focused around emerging and mid-career contemporary artists. The total nearly doubled the pre-sale expectation of $4.8 million.
Moving up records for more than 20 artists, including Hernan Bas, Katherine Bradford, and Igshaan Adams, the result marks an increase of 20 percent over the equivalent March 2020 total of $7.9 million made across 195 lots. Still a show of success, it is a smaller margin than the 52 percent increase between the 2020 result and the 2019 February edition, a 168-lot sale, which brought in $5.2 million, against an estimate of $3.6 million.
“Demonstrating the resilience and fortitude of the middle market,” said Phillips head of the New York ‘New Now’ series, Patrizia Koenig, in a statement on the sale’s outcome, “the enthusiasm of the international collecting community was clear.”
Another metric of the sale’s success was the bulk of works that sold above the high estimate, some 42 percent, which was more than the number of works that sold within the estimate, at 31 percent.
Among the top tier of works sold was Matthew Wong’s large-scale pointillist-inspired landscape Lotus (2017), which sold for $1.6 million with premium. That result came against a conservative pre-sale estimate of $400,000 considering Wong’s sales history has consistently seen works of this size and subject matter sell in the seven figures. Outside of the market, Wong’s pedigree remains strong. Another of his landscapes recently entered MoMA’s collection, a gift by the late artist’s parents following their 35-year-old son’s recent death.
The second highest seller in the grouping was an untitled collage by Mickalene Thomas from 2014, sporting the artist’s signature bejeweled detailing, which sold for $889,100, in excess of 9 times the high estimate. The seller saw a high return for the work. It was bought initially at Phillips in November 2019 for $131,250. The sale realized an increase of 578 percent in value in less than two years. In the fall, Phillips notched a new record price of $901,200 for Thomas, whose works are not often resold on the secondary market, when her 2013 painting I’ve Been Good to Me sold from the collection of Virginia philanthropists Bill and Pam Royall during Phillips December New York evening sale.
The ‘New Now’ sale also made a new record for Hernan Bas, whose 2008 painting Downhill at Dusk (The Runaway) sold for $352,800, more than four times the estimate of $70,000. The seller purchased it for an undisclosed amount the year it was made at the high-profile TWO x TWO charity auction put on by the Dallas Museum of Art. Several other works among the top ten lots saw their final results surpass estimates. An untitled monochrome 2016 Lucas Arruda painting went for $289,800, double the estimate of $100,000; Fernando Botero’s Paul Cézanne Jr. (1963), a riff on a portrait of the modern painter, for $214,200, five times the estimate of $40,000.
The few works that saw some of the most competitive bidding across the sale were those by emerging artists with nascent secondary markets. Among them was Vaughn Spann’s Dalmatian (No. 3), a fabric-collage canvas split down the middle with tape separating two sections of abstract and animal patterning. New York art advisory firm Gurr Johns won it on a hammer price of $110,000 (or $138,600), for a California-based collector, according to art advisor Dane Jensen. The hammer result is more than double the pre-sale estimate of $40,000.
South-African born artist Igshaan Adams, whose 2018 wall-hanging made of fabric, beads and woven nylon titled, For Those Who Know, went for $94,500, 7 times the $12,000 low estimate. (The estimate was below the primary market threshold for Adams, which is around $30,000-$60,000 according to the artist’s dealer Casey Kaplan Gallery.) The result follows the artist’s recent U.S. museum debut at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah and also broke the artist’s previous record price of $24,106 set in 2019.
It was not just emerging names who saw high results. 73-year old Black Brazilian artist Sônia Gomes’s Sem título from the series Torção from 2013 followed a similar track as Spann and Adams, when it sold for $138,600, 17 times the expectation of $8,000. The Phillips sale shows renewed attention on Gomes likely been spurred by her addition to the blue-chip rosters at Pace and Blum & Poe in June 2020.