Phillips Hedges Bets With High Reserves


A contemporary sale studded with works by Cy Twombly, Damien Hirst and Cindy Sherman tallied $71.3 million last night at Phillips de Pury & Company in New York. The sale, held in the company’s Midtown auction room, launched the second week of big money evening sales in New York. Last week’s Impressionist and modern auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s totaled $400.2 million.

The Phillips total beat the sale’s $66.2-million low estimate but missed the $97.4-million high end of the range. Forty-four lots were offered with 37 finding buyers. The consignors weren’t willing to take many chances. Nearly half the sale, 18 lots, bore a guarantee symbol indicating the seller was promised an undisclosed sum, regardless of the outcome of the sale.  “It was a really good night for the sellers,” said dealer Josh Baer, who publishes an art market newsletter.

The evening sale began with a 22-lot benefit auction for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Bidding was heated, ultimately raising $2.7 million. Maurizio Cattelan’s Others, a flock of 11 taxidermied pigeons, fetched $580,000, while Christopher Wool’s 6-foot-tall Untitled (2008/2011), an abstract silkscreen, enamel and ink on paper, sold for $330,000. George Condo’s 2011 painting The Butler, depicting a deadpan servant beside a nude female, nearly doubled the $150,000 high estimate, fetching $280,000. Auction records were achieved for Rob Pruitt, Adam McEwen, Nate Lowman, Hans-Peter Feldmann and Haegue Yang. (Guggenheim lots were sold without any buyer’s fees. For the rest of the sale, prices are reported with fees. Estimates do not reflect these commissions.)

In the main draw, a 2006 painting of dripping red loops by the recently deceased Cy Twombly brought the evening’s highest price, selling for $9 million, just above the $8-million low estimate.

Five Warhol paintings were up for grabs, including a 1984 work made with Jean-Michel Basquiat. Four found buyers. Among these, a dark 1980 painting titled Nine Gold Marilyns sold for $7.9 million, just above the $7 million low estimate. A 1982 red and black painting titled Knives sold for $3.4 million, with a $3 million low estimate.

A red and black Warhol Dollar Sign (1981), projected to go for as much as $700,000, failed to sell.

The sale included Richard Serra’s 1985 Palms, a pair of angular Cor-ten steel slabs, which sold for a record $2.3 million, just below the $2.5-million low estimate. The work was sold with the proviso that the artist be given approval over where it is to be installed. Purchased by dealer Larry Gagosian, the sculpture had been in a private Japanese collection.

Richard Prince’s Runaway Nurse (2006), like other paintings in his Nurse series, borrows image and title from a 1960s pulp paperback novel. Prince plays up the objectification by disrobing the woman and presenting her before a menacing red background. The painting sold to a telephone bidder for $6.8 million, just below the high estimate of $7 million.

Strong prices were also achieved for three black-and-white paintings on aluminum by Christopher Wool. Untitled (P 177), an imposing floral composition executed in 1993, sold for $2.2 million. 

Auctions continue tonight at Christie’s, and Sotheby’s on Wednesday.

Above: Cy Twombly, Detail, Untitled, 2006. Right: Andy Warhol, Nine Gold Marilyns (Reversal Series), 1980.