Phillips Ends Auction Week With a Whimper


The week’s run of contemporary evening sales ended on a somewhat somber note at Phillips de Pury & Company’s Chelsea warehouse, where last night’s auction drew just $7,752,500, far below pre-sale estimates of $12.2 – 17 million. Twelve of the 43 lots remained unsold for a sell through rate of 72 percent by lot; by value, that figure dipped to a mere 57 percent. By comparison: Sotheby’s pulled a $47 million profit on Tuesday; Christie’s nearly doubled that sum with its $93.7 million coup the following night.

The evening’s star lot, an outsized box of Farina Hot Wheat cereal rendered in wood and vinyl by Robert Gober, Untitled (1993-1994) soon became an emblem of disappointment; it had been expected to earn between $2.5 – $3.5 million, but offers petered out after a single $1.6 million phone bid. An untitled 2004 aluminum wall relief by Anish Kapoor (est. $800,000 – 1.2 million) languished without a single bid, as did Elizabeth Peyton’s double-portrait from 1990, Genuina y Pura, (est. $300- 400,000), and Richard Prince’s Untitled (Check Painting) #6 from 2004 (est. $150-200,000), which lost steam at $130,000 — somewhat surprising, despite recent market adjustments. Otherwise, only one lot drew more than a million dollars: Philip Guston’s Anxiety (1975) was the evening’s top seller at $900,000, or $1 million with fees. (Phillips levies a 25 percent commission fee on the first $50,000, 20 percent of the next $50,000 to $1 million, and 12 percent of the rest. Prices listed factor in the fee, while estimates do not.)

The night had a few more high notes: Aside from Guston, Sherrie Levine’s 1996 cast bronze urinal, Fountain (Buddha) sent a buzz through the room, selling for over double its $200,000 high estimate at $446,500 (Los Angeles collector and Museum of Contemporary Art board member E. Blake Byrne was the rumored buyer). At a final sale price of $662,500, Cecily Brown’s Suddenly Last Summer, from 1996, also surpassed expectations. A Dan Flavin fluorescent light sculpture from 1964, Untitled (“Monument for V. Tatlin”) 22, also crept past its $400,000 low estimate, selling for $458,500 to a private New York dealer.

Contemporary Chinese art was also featured at last evening’s sale, due in no small part to the Phillips de Pury’s relationship with Charles Saatchi. (According to an agreement in which Phillips helps subsidized free admission to the London gallery he opened last year, Saatchi conducts most of his buying and selling through the house; the Chinese pieces were featured in an exhibition at the space, “The Revolution Continues: New Art From China.”) While that particular market has softened considerably, Zeng Fanzhi’s landscape Little Boy (2006) exceeded its $300,000 estimate, selling for a $446,500 phone bid.


[Philip Guston, Anxiety, 1975; image courtesy Phillips de Pury]