London's contemporary season gets going at Phillips de Pury
Sale is a healthy starter for this week's auctions
LONDON. Phillips de Pury's decision to open, rather than close, the London contemporary auction season this evening, and with bigger ticket works in a new central location, paid off. Its pared-down catalogue (31 lots) sold for £11.2m (est £10m-£14.5m) with a sell-through rate of 87%, which must have been a refreshing turn of events for auctioneer Simon de Pury. The auction house's equivalent sale last year made £4m, well below expectations, and with nearly half the works (47%) unsold.
“It was a very strong sale for them. They've found a great niche in the [auction] market for younger artists and it seems to be working,” said dealer Paolo Vedovi, who had bid on Wade Guyton's three-legged inkjet “X” painting, Untitled, 2007 (this went for £205,250, est £150,000-£250,000). The auction house also had great success in February with Guyton when New York dealer Stellen Holm, bought a 2001 “X” painting for £213,650 (est £50,000-£70,000).
Other sought-after emerging artists did well. An untitled 2009 work by this year's brightest young thing, Jacob Kassay, unsurprisingly went past its £50,000-£70,000 estimate to sell over the telephone for £145,250. Bidding was lively, both via the telephones and in the saleroom, but was less fierce than in the auction house's May evening sale in New York (where another 2009 silver deposit work by Kassay went for $290,500 against an estimate of $60,000-$80,000). Nevertheless, with his work selling for around £15,000-£20,000 in the primary market, the heat has yet to leave Kassay's market at auction.
Phillips' catalogue included bigger-ticket items than in recent sales: works in the low tens of thousands have been common, while tonight the £50,000-£70,000 Kassay was one of the lowest-estimated items. This more confident approach paid off, despite ambitious estimates, and the auction house achieved two significant artist records in its evening sale: for Beatriz Milhazes, whose O Moderno, 2002 went for £713,250 (already estimated to make a record at £650,000-£750,000) and Ugo Rondinone, whose white tree sculpture, Get Up Girl a Sun Is Running the World, 2006, went for £541,250 (est £200,000-£300,000). Both went to telephone bidders.
“It's exactly the sort of work that people want at the moment, to put in a big empty Georgian house that's has been redecorated with white walls and no furniture,” said New York private dealer and collector, David Nisinson, of the Rondinone. He himself bought Cecily Brown's I Will Not Paint Any More Boring Leaves (2), 2004 for £529,250 (est £350,000-£450,000). “I was pleased, I thought it could have gone for more,” he said after the sale.
Nevertheless, the atmosphere never really picked up, and the auction house worked hard for its £11.2m. Despite a state-of-the-art, recently opened saleroom near London's Victoria Station, Phillips has committed to a new “exhibition and retail” space in Claridge's Hotel in Mayfair, where this evening's auction was held. “It's convenient for our clients and worked well,” said de Pury. Furthermore, a high proportion—five of the original 32 lots—were guaranteed by third parties (one of these, Cindy Sherman'sUntitled Film Still #4, 1977, was withdrawn as a similar work had been seen at the Art Basel fair earlier this month, said Phillips). “[Guarantees are] a big part of the strategy for a competitive auction house,” said Michael McGinnis, Phillips' head of contemporary art. A couple of these, including the Milhazes, sold to their guaranteed bid alone. Other works expected to give a buzz to the saleroom fell rather flat, including Damien Hirst's butterfly painting Confession, 2008 (picked up by dealer-collector Jose Mugrabi for £690,850, est £600,000-£800,000) and the sale's headline piece, Jean-Michel Basquiat's bottle-capped Self-portrait, 1985, which sold to its guarantor bid of £1.8m (£2.1m with buyer’s premium, est £2m-£3m). The work had been on the market for some time, and it had sold at Phillips New York in 2003 for $647,500 (then the equivalent of £387,000).
In general dealers felt it was a good start to the week: “It's a strong opening,” said Vedovi. The major sales are at Christie's tomorrow and Sotheby's on Wednesday. Combined the evening sales this week are forecast to make between £140.2m and £197.8m.