The Contemporary Art Evening Sale at Phillips de Pury marked the last auction of the May season in New York. At the start, the salesroom was filled with lively energy among the crowd, with collectors mingling, including a Mugrabi brother. This show came after a record breaking fortnight of auctions and fairs within the art world. Coming down to the final sale, it was apparent that the buying was beginning to slow. Still, Phillips de Pury achieved a solid total sale of $86.8 million, which fell within their anticipated estimate of $75–110 million.
Before the Contemporary Evening Sale begins. Photo By Aubrey Roemer for Art Observed.
The foremost star sale—and the top lot—of the evening was Jean-Michel Basquiat‘s Untitled (1981) which sold for $16.3 million, above the high expectation of $12 million. The piece is an example of the artist’s Neo-Expressionist style. Active bidding for the painting set a world record price at auction for the artist’s work, surpassing the former price set in 2007 of $14.6 million. When the hammer struck down, the crowd applauded its success. Simon de Pury later commented, “Achieving a new world record price for Basquiat tonight is certainly one of the great moments in my career. It’s been a remarkable week for Contemporary Art and with this great momentum we look ahead to our upcoming sales.”
Willem De Kooning, Untitled VI (1975). All remaining images courtesy of Phillips de Pury.
The second highest price went to Willem De Kooning‘s Untitled VI (1975), which boasted $12.4 million, within its expected range of $10–15 million. This painting was displayed in the salesroom for the duration of the auction.
Many lots sold in this very same fashion—within their estimates, but not soaring above the highs. In fact, the third most expensive work was Andy Warhol’s Mao (1973) which sold for $10.3 million, just over the low of $9 million. While Simon was trying to entice another bid for the Warhol, the future buyer accidentally raised his paddle, prompting Simon to quip “you’re not allowed to bid against yourself.” Cy Twombly‘s Untitled (Bolsena) had a similar fate, selling for $6.2 million, a touch higher than the $6 million low estimate.
The cover lot, Christopher Wool‘s Untitled (S 69), boasted $4 million, above its high estimate of $3.5 million. At the start of the bidding Simon announced, “as you all can read, ‘sex, love,'” in his notoriously playful manner.
Of the last three lots two of them sold well above their estimate, setting new records for Contemporary artists Seth Price and Dana Schutz. Price’s sculptural painting Untitled, acquired $92,500—over $20,000 more than its expected high of $70,000. Remarkably, Schutz’s energetic and otherworldly Death Comes To Us All boasted $482,500, considerably above the high estimate of $400,000.
Some lots did not share in the success, and were passed on all together. Namely Richard Prince‘s Emergency Nurse, which started at $1.7 million dollars and received no bidders. Surprisingly, Gerhard Richter‘s Abstratkes Bild 638-4 was passed on, despite Richter’s work being a front runner in the other auction houses. Nonetheless, Phillips still maintained a sell through rate of 80%, with 35 of the offered 44 lots selling.
All things considered, Phillips de Pury enjoyed a sound Contemporary Art sale, replete with artist’s records achieving new heights. The sale had additional buoyancy attributed to the auctioneer’s sense of humor propelling the auction. At the very end—with Andreas Gursky‘s Prada II on the block and collectors saying farewell to one another—Simon remarked, “It is very dangerous to wave at your friends right now—if you wave, you may end up owning it.”
Contemporary Evening Sale [Phillips de Pury]
Basquiat Painting Brings $16.3 Million at Phillips Sale [New York Times]
Basquiat, Schutz Boost $87 Million Phillips de Pury Sale [Bloomberg]
$16 Million Basquiat Sets New World Record at Phillips Art Sale [Forbes]