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Phillips Sale Totals Less Than Half the Low Estimate

arts-phillips-auctionIt was perhaps a bad omen that before the auction of contemporary art even began at Phillips de Pury & Company on Thursday night, five works were withdrawn, including examples by such popular artists as John Currin, Richard Prince and Anselm Kiefer. And as the evening progressed, the results proved dreary, with about 40 percent of the art unsold and those works that did sell going for a fraction of their estimates.

The sales totaled just $9.6 million, less than half of the low estimate of $23 million. Yet the diehards came — collectors and dealers who hung in after a tough two days and nights of auctions.

At Phillips’s Chelsea headquarters, the struggling boutique firm had trouble putting together a strong selection. For sale was a disparate array of 51 works — lesser examples by trendy artists. The quality of the offerings was on a par with that of Sotheby’s or Christie’s lower-priced day sales.

Anything estimated at more than $1 million was either withdrawn or went unsold, with the exception of Donald Judd’s “Untitled (77/23-Bernstein),” one of the artist’s so-called stack sculptures. Fashioned from stainless steel and blue Plexiglas, the 1977 work was the cover image of the sale’s catalog. Simon de Pury, chairman of Phillips and the evening’s auctioneer, looked relieved when a lone telephone bidder wanted the sculpture, which he sold for $2.8 million, or $3.2 million with fees, well below its estimate of $4 million to $6 million.

(Final prices include the commission to Phillips: 25 percent of the first $50,000, 20 percent of the next $50,000 to $1 million, and 12 percent of the rest. Estimates do not reflect commissions.)

One of the few works that several people wanted was “Untitled (Mirror),” a 2003 stainless-steel sculpture painted deep blue by the English artist Anish Kapoor. Four bidders vied for the work, which was estimated at $500,000 to $700,000, and it sold for $650,000, or $782,500 including commission.

The Warhol market has been disappointing all week, and Phillips was selling three undistinguished paintings. The first, “$,” a 1981 version of the artist’s dollar-sign image, was estimated at $350,000 to $450,000. (At Sotheby’s on Tuesday, “Dollar Sign,” from 1981, was put on the block at $2.5 million to $3.5 million. Three bottom feeders bid on it, and the designer Valentino bought it for $2 million.) On Thursday, not a hand went up, and “$” remained unsold, as did another Warhol, “Portrait of R. C. Gorman” from the 1980s, depicting an American Indian artist in profile. It was estimated at $400,000 to $600,000.

But the artist’s “Details of Renaissance Paintings (Paolo Uccello, St. George and the Dragon, 1460),” from 1984, had one taker, bringing $582,500, well below its $600,000 to $800,000 estimate.

When a seminal work by Jean-Michel Basquiat is up for sale, it brings a high price. That’s what “Untitled (Boxer),” a 1982 painting, did on Wednesday at Christie’s, where it sold for $13.5 million. Phillips had two others, but neither measured up. “J. D. Card,” a 1984 cartoonlike painting with images and words, like “coal” and “rake,” was estimated at $2.2 million to $2.8 million, and “Thirty-Sixth Figure,” a 1983 canvas of an angry-looking angel, was expected to bring $1.5 million to $2 million. Both remained unsold.

The enthusiasm for work by Damien Hirst that had seemed endless at the artist’s landmark auction in London in September has cooled enormously. Phillips was selling three works by the artist, all made in the past two years. The most expensive was “Beautiful Artemis Thor Neptune Odin Delusional Sapphic Inspirational Hypnosis Painting,” an amalgam of the artist’s skulls and spin paintings, this one measuring 8 feet by 20 feet. Phillips had expected it to bring $3 million to $4 million, but it went unsold. So did one of the artist’s dot paintings.

But the salesroom came alive when a resin skull sculpture, “Happy Head No. 7,” also from 2007, was on the block. Four bidders wanted it, and it made $95,000 ($116,500 with the commission), above its high estimate of $90,000.

“It’s been a phenomenally tough season,” said Michael McGinnis, director of contemporary art worldwide for Phillips, after the sale, explaining that the company had cobbled the auction together during the summer, before the economic picture grew ugly. He said that the house’s experts had been trying for days to persuade sellers to lower their expectations.

“Obviously we’ve seen a modification in the art market,” he added.

Via: The New York Times

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November 17, 2008 - Posted by | Artists, Auction, News, photography, raw art gallery |

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