While works by Willem de Kooning and Andy Warhol are the gold standard at the uptown auction houses, at Phillips, de Pury & Co. in Chelsea the coin of the realm is Richard Prince and Christopher Wool. The room is fairly raw and much smaller, the crowd certainly is younger and prettier, and the totals considerably less. Phillips' contemporary art sale of Nov. 16, 2006, totaled $29,694,800, with 60 of 68 lots finding buyers, or 88 percent.
And despite a sense that the sale was lackluster, auction records were set for 18 artists. Among these are several names relatively new to the evening sales, including Hernan Bas ($168,000), Jim Lambie ($144,000), Qiu Shi-Hua ($137,000), Banks Violette ($117,000) and Mark Handforth ($114,000). Clearly, Phillips remains a place for market movers to put new names in play.
Also notable are the new records set at Phillips for regulars in the contemporary auction market: Mike Kelley ($2,704,000), Andreas Gursky ($2,480,000), Richard Prince ($2,256,000), Christopher Wool ($1,696,000), Tom Friedman ($856,000), Julian Schnabel ($822,400), Karen Kilimnik ($420,000), Jack Pierson ($352,000), George Condo ($228,000), Wilhelm Sasnal ($212,000) and Fred Tomaselli ($192,000).
Prices include the auction-house premium of 20 percent on the first $200,000 and 12 percent on the remainder.
The top lot was Mike Kelley's Deodorized Central Mass with Satellites (1991-99), a room-sized installation of nine hanging "planets" made of found stuffed animals, which sold for $2,704,000, below the presale low estimate of $3,000,000. The work was previously exhibited only in Germany, originally in a smaller form at the Jablonka Gallery in Cologne. The buyer was megacollector Peter Brant, probably bidding against the reserve.
Another top lot was a Richard Prince nurse painting that was first exhibited at Barbara Gladstone Gallery in 2003. Tender Nurse (2002) sold for $2,256,000 to Hollywood B-movie producer Stavros Merjos after some typically theatrical cajoling by auctioneer Simon de Pury. "Can you go up just one last little bit," he asked, urgently, "One tiny, tiny little bit?"
By the way, de Pury's new practice of marking bought-in lots by bringing the hammer down sharply, without saying "passed" as is the common practice at other New York auction houses, may not be in exact compliance with the New York commercial code rules governing auctions.
Both the Kelley and the Prince were reported to be among perhaps 10-20 lots being sold by hedge-fund manager Adam Sender, who has become a major player in the contemporary market while amassing a collection of some 800 artworks. Sender is the first hedge-fund collector to test the market with a substantial sell-off, though his curator Todd Levin has told reporters that the deaccessions are just part of a normal fine-tuning of his holdings. The 37-year-old Sender keeps a modest website for his art at http://sendercollection.com
The rhythm of the sale was momentarily interrupted after a life-sized carousel by Charles Ray, Revolution Counter-Revolution (1990) -- the carousel spins one way while the horses move slowly in reverse -- which carried a presale estimate of $1,500,000-$2,000,000, was bought-in without any bidding. At that point, both SoHo dealer Jeffrey Deitch and Sam Orlofsky from the Gagosian Gallery got up and approached Phillips' specialist Michael McGinnis. A few moments later, de Pury reopened bidding on the lot, and Deitch bought it, bidding against the reserve, for $1,400,000 at the hammer, $1,584,000 with premium. Apparently, the Gagosian Gallery did not bid.
After the sale, Deitch said he never bids "against the house," but in this case he made an exception. "It's a major work," he said. "I couldn't see it being packed up and shipped back to Italy," where it had been in the collection of Massimo Sandretto. While the purchase could have been made after the auction, reopening the lot allowed the work to qualify as an official sale rather than a buy-in.
Among buyers spotted in the room was Kim Heirston, who won the record-setting Jim Lambie lot, Green Door (2004) -- a pair of wooden doors, cut into strips and hinged like folding screens, described in the catalogue as a play on William Blake's Doors of Perception as well as the classic rock group The Doors -- for $144,000. Heirston also snagged Tim Noble and Sue Webster's 1999 sign, Vicious, for $192,000, below the presale low estimate of $200,000.
Real estate mogul Aby Rosen won the record-setting Fred Tomaselli work from 1992, Colorado River, an almost-abstraction of resin, hemp leaves and pills that turns an aerial view of a river valley into a cosmic vista, paying $192,000 (est. $100,000-$150,000).
The buyer of Julian Schnabel's mural-sized (ca. 8 x 12 ft.) Bob's World, a classic plate painting from 1980, was Swiss art historian Petra Gilow, who said after the sale that she was acting for a Swiss private collector, and that the painting would probably end up in a museum. The record-setting price was $822,400, well above the presale high estimate of $600,000.
Other buyers, according to the Baer Faxt, included Goff and Rosenthal, who won the Hernan Bas, and Max Davidson IV, who bought Paul Pfeiffer's 2001 Race Riot video installation for $144,000.
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