Phillips de Pury Totals $71.3 M. at Solid, Low-Key Evening Sale

At the contemporary art auction at Phillips de Pury & Company earlier this evening, auctioneer Simon de Pury  hammered down a respectable result of $71.3 million, including buyer’s premium, a total that fell squarely within the evening’s high and low estimates of $66.2 million and $97.4 million, respectively.

Despite a charity auction to benefit the Guggenheim beforehand, which may have served as a pump-primer (given philanthropy’s wallet-opening properties), the mood in the room was generally sleepy—perhaps an inevitable side effect of the fact that some half the lots were secured by third-party guarantees, essentially meaning that someone had already committed to buying it. No drama in that.

Phillips head of contemporary art Michael McGinnis defended the extensive guarantees immediately following the auction. “It’s becoming an industry standard,” Mr. McGinnis said, comparing the resulting transactions to private sales. “You work with a list of buyers and you know what they’re looking for, and they just buy it this way instead.”

Of the 44 lots on offer, only seven went unsold, a healthy sell-through rate of 84 percent by lot. A full 35 of the lots sold within or over their pre-sale estimates. The Guggenheim auction raked in a total of $2.7 million and featured highlights like Mr. de Pury’s pronunciation of Nicki Minaj’s last name (the piece was a study for her recent W cover, and “Min-ah”). For this auction, C K Swett, the young auctioneer recently profiled by The New York Times, stood by the right-hand phone banks in the awkwardly shaped room and enthusiastically called out bids beyond Mr. de Pury’s line of vision.

There were a number of bright spots in the bidding, too, among them a late Cy Twombly from 2006 that sold, with premium included, for about $9 million. The record for Twombly is $15.2 million, achieved in May for a piece made in 1967. Until this evening, the highest price paid at auction for a work of his made after 1970 was $4.8 million

Andy Warhol’s Nine Gold Marilyns (Reversal Series) (1980) was the second most expensive lot of the evening, at $7.9 million with premium, which came close to the “Reversal Series” record of $8.1 million, set for a multicolored Marilyn in 2008. Tonight’s work sold after a single bid, suggesting that it was bought by its third-party guarantor.

Dealer Larry Gagosian picked up a work by Richard Serra, whom he represents, for $2.3 million with premium. David Nahmad purchased an Alexander Calder at the hammer price, and low estimate, of $5 million. Pleased with the bargain, he shook hands with his son Helly, seated to his left, at the hammer.

Clothing designer Tommy Hilfiger faced minimal bidding when he nabbed Damien Hirst’s Disintegration—The Crown of Life (2006) for a hammer price of $1.2 million. Walking out of the auction, he told Gallerist that he already owned a number of Hirsts, though “no butterflies.”

“I’d don’t know where we’re going to hang it,” he said of this evening’s win. “It’s quite big. We’ll have to figure it out.”

Phillips saved the best—or at least the most speculation-prone—work for last: an untitled painting by Jacob Kassay that started at $50,000 and jumped to a hammer price of $170,000 with shocking speed. Still impressive for an artist not yet 30, such results have become standard practice over the past year.

As Mr. Kassay’s first one-person museum show opened at ICA London last month, silver paintings of the same size sold at Sotheby’s for $228,488 and Phillips for $257,248. The high for a Kassay was set at Phillips in May, when one sold for $290,500 on an estimate of $60,000-$80,000. That sum was more than three times the price that was made last year when one sold for $86,500 at Phillips, well above an estimate of $6,000-$8,000.

Just after the auction, art adviser Stefano Basilico told Gallerist that he was pleased with the results.

“It was a good beginning,” he said. “A fairly robust sale for a sale of generally not stellar material.”

All price research courtesy of Artnet.

Additional reporting by Andrew Russeth.

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