Phillips 20th century and contemporary art auction realised £18.3 million ($22.4 million), aligning closely to last October’s Frieze Week sale. Amidst the bustling Frieze Week auctions, Phillips found its niche, sandwiched between Sotheby’s and Christie’s, staging a mid-afternoon part-one sale of 20th-century and contemporary art on Friday, October 13.
Despite the buzz surrounding Frieze Week auctions, Phillips grappled with sombre figures. The top lots, a white-slashed Lucio Fontana Concetto Spaziale, Attese (1964-65) and a 1975 Dubuffet, Lieu Rouge au Chateau (1976), both anticipated with estimates of £1.4 million-£1.8 million and £700,000-£1 million respectively, faced a lack of presale interest, leading to their withdrawal. The leading sales, a Banksy mural, Forgive Us Our Trespassing (2011), and Luc Tuymans’s Rome (2007), were guaranteed but sold at or below their low estimates, reaching £2.7 million ($3.3 million) and £1.5 million ($1.8 million) respectively, aided by an Asian guarantor.
However, beyond these headline lots, the results were disheartening—many top pieces sold below estimate, resulting in seller losses. Anish Kapoor’s Untitled (2012) fetched £825,000 ($1 million), significantly less than its 2014 purchase price of $1.8 million. A Matisse bronze, Grande Nu Accroupi (Olga) (1909-10), originally bought for $2.2 million in 2007, was sold for £660,400 ($806,480). The losses continued with a Cy Twombly paper collage, Untitled (1974), purchased for £311,000 in 2007, now sold for £190,500 ($230,962).
However, amidst these setbacks, the opening lots witnessed fervent bidding. Mohammed Sami’s Childhood (2018), a captivating painting of a windowless room, soared to £228,600 ($277,154), doubling its estimate. Stefanie Heinze’s surreal masterpiece, Median (Fin Fotole) (2018), achieved a double-estimate £165,100 ($200,167), with spirited competition from online bidders in Japan and U.S. collector Max Dolciger.
A cloud-filled landscape, Baptism (2020), by young British artist Emma Webster, generated heated bidding wars between participants from Japan, Hong Kong, and New York, eventually doubling its estimate to sell for £228,600 ($277,154). However, the most fervent competition surrounded Francesca Mollett’s Two Thistles (2021), reminiscent of van Gogh’s style. Initially estimated at £25,000-£35,000, the work ignited a fierce battle among bidders from Michigan, Japan, and Dolciger, culminating in a London phone bidder setting a record price of £254,500 ($297,643).
Despite these individual successes, the overall auction reflected the challenges faced in the contemporary art market, reminding participants of the unpredictable nature of the art world.
Scrutinising the top lot results reveals a less optimistic picture. Two presale top-10 lots—a Lucio Fontana Concetto Spaziale, Attese (1964-65), and a Dubuffet, Lieu Rouge au Chateau (1976)—were withdrawn due to lack of interest, signalling a shaky start. The top-selling lots, a Banksy mural, Forgive Us Our Trespassing (2011), and Luc Tuymans’s Rome (2007), both guaranteed, sold at £2.7 million ($3.3 million) and £1.5 million ($1.8 million) respectively, close to their low estimates.
While some works soared, such as Raghav Babbar’s The Bath in Holy River (2021), which fetched £457,200, others faced disappointments. Notably, Anish Kapoor’s copper alloy disc, Untitled (2012), sold for £825,000 ($1 million), significantly lower than its 2014 purchase price of $1.8 million. A Matisse bronze, Grande Nu Accroupi (Olga) (1909-10), bought for $2.2 million in 2007, was sold for only £660,400 ($806,480).
The auction attracted bidders from over 35 countries, reflecting London’s status as a global art hub. Despite occasional sluggishness, the overall sentiment remained cautiously optimistic, providing a modest reassurance amidst uncertain times.
Photo: Courtesy Phillips Auctioneers
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