Phillips ended this week’s contemporary art auctions with a modest sale that took in $78.6 million, with no major records set. An Andy Warhol quadruple portrait of Marilyn Monroe against an orange backdrop led the evening’s lots by a good margin, selling for $38.2 million.
Apart from that, no other lot sold for above $4.09 million, the figure reached by a Cor-Ten steel Thomas Schütte sculpture and paintings by Christopher Wool (“AND IF YOU DONT LIKE IT YOU CAN GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE,” it reads), Jean-Michel Basquiat and Roy Lichtenstein. (All prices include buyer’s premium.) Seven of the 37 lots offered failed to find bidders, leading to a respectable 81 percent sell-through rate by lot. The night’s overall hammer total, $67.9 million, fell below the sans-premium pre-sale estimates, which ranged from $77.5 million to $105.5 million.
“For all the volume of the week, it was a very good result,” said Phillips CEO Michael McGinnis, referring to the three other major auctions this week, which included Leonardo DiCaprio’s at Christie’s on Monday. People seemed tired, and chatted amongst themselves despite the enthusiastic auctioneering of Alexander Gilkes.
Warhol’s Four Marilyns (1962) sold without many bids to a woman on a mobile phone not far from the front who sat with three others: another woman, Chrissie Erpf (an employee of Larry Gagosian who frequently accompanies him at auctions) and Mr. Gagosian himself. When the woman on the phone won the lot, Mr. Gagosian, who was seated next to Ms. Erpf at the end of the row, held her paddle aloft for her. As he left the room he told reporters, “She bought it! She bought it!” Mr. Gagosian is of course deeply involved in the Warhol market, and the painting in question was sold by his frequent business partner Alberto Mugrabi, with whom he owns many works of art.
A Nate Lowman bullet hole piece, extremely similar to one that set a new record for the artist at Sotheby’s Tuesday, sold for $545,000, around $100,000 less than the one at Sotheby’s. One surprise of the evening was that a figurative Philip Guston work from 1969 of a can of paintbrushes failed to find a buyer at $550,000, despite another Guston work (this one from his abstract period, from 1958) having set a new record for the artist last night at Christie’s record-breaking auction, going more than $10 million over its top estimate to sell for $25.9 million.
“I saw the condition report on that one, it was cracked,” said collector John Allen outside after the sale, referring to tonight’s Guston. “And the color’s all wrong. But a good painting besides that.”
Paula Cooper Gallery director Steve Henry bought a 2004 Franz West sculpture for a client at $461,000. Art consultant Eve Reid purchased a portfolio of 10 Warhol prints from 1967 featuring Marilyn for $2 million (an edition of 250 plus 26 APs) and a Jeff Koons cut-out for $521,000. After a good amount of bidding Leslie Rankow bought a Wayne Thiebaud cityscape from 1993 for $893,000.
On Park Avenue after the sale Mr. Henry said that Phillips had, in his opinion, made great efforts, and largely succeeded, in “getting better quality works.”
Mr. Allen, also outside, had a different take.
“Last night was exciting,” he said. “This was dull.”