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Art Market Watch
May 18, 2006 

The evening sale of contemporary art at Phillips, de Pury & Co. on May 17, 2007, was an unalloyed success, totaling $33,326,400, with 68 of 74 lots selling, or almost 92 percent.

Certainly the most impressive work in the top ten was David Hammons Untitled wall sculpture from 2004, consisting of 12 African masks, one placed on the other and held together by wire, with a hand mirror on top of the lot. Estimated at $1,500,000-$2,000,000, it sold for $1,496,000, a new auction record for the artist. Acquired directly from Hammons, it's quite possible that this witty and mojo-packed work (reminiscent in its way of Jasper Johns' 1958 Three Flags) made its first public appearance at Phillips' presale exhibition.

Though very contemporary art is certainly in vogue at all the houses, Phillips specializes in the avant-garde more than the other auctioneers. Thus, the sale included knock-out prices for works by some of the most exciting artists on the scene today -- with many of them soaring way above their presale estimates.

For instance, 2006 Whitney Biennial veteran Rudolf Stingel's untitled slab of shiny tin-foil-covered insulation board spotted with punched-in graffiti (including the query , "Who do you love?") sold for $734,400, almost ten times the presale high estimate of $80,000, and a new auction record for the artist.

Mike Bidlo's 1983 Lavender Mist, a large (84 x 112 in.) version of Jackson Pollock's painting of the same name, also soared above its presale estimate to go for $420,000, a new auction record for the artist. The buyer was Madison Avenue dealer Nicholas J. Sands, according to the Baer Faxt.

Richard Phillips' Lip-Biter, a 1999 portrait of a blonde woman (taken from a phone-sex magazine but vaguely resembling Tori Spelling) measuring 48 x ca. 44 in., sold for $384,000, more than triple the high estimate. Phillips' current show at Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills, which runs Apr. 21-May 26, 2007, is sold out at prices upwards of $200,000 per canvas, according to insiders.

New auction highs were also achieved for works by Mark Grotjahn ($360,000), Fred Tomaselli ($336,000), Jiri Georg Dokoupil ($312,000), Rosemarie Trockel ($312,000), Francesco Vezzoli ($300,000), Matthew Ritchie ($216,000) and Anselm Reyle ($192,000), among others.

Christie's New York morning and afternoon "day sales" of post-war and contemporary art on May 17, 2007, totaled $93,097,200, a new record for the category. More that 50 Christie's employees were working the phones, the auction house said.

Christie's two-day total for post-war and contemporary is $477,751,600, also a new record for the category. Combined with the results of the Impressionist and modern sales last week, Christie's total for the two weeks of sales is $760,193,000, allowing the firm to "continue to dominate the high end of the market."

Top lot of the morning session was Alexander Calder's delicate hanging mobile Yellow Flower (1963), which sold for $1,384,000, well above the presale high estimate of $900,000. The buyer was Jonathan O'Hara of O'Hara Gallery.

The afternoon sale set a new auction record for Keith Haring, as his 1982 untitled drawing on a vinyl tarpaulin -- showing a trio of spotted dogs jumping through the hollow center of a standing figure with raised arms -- sold for $2,840,000, more than double the presale high estimate. The buyer was art consultant Kim Heirston, according to the Baer Faxt.

Many works soared above their presale estimates. Helen Frankenthaler's 1968 stain painting, Glow II, sold for $622,400, double its presale high estimate of $300,000. A 1999 painting from Zhang Xiaogang's "Bloodline Series" sold for $540,000, well above the presale high estimate of $300,000. A smallish (ca. 20 x 26 in.) David Hockney oil pastel Study of Grand Canyon V (1998), sold for $408,000, more than double the presale high estimate.

And a Cindy Sherman photograph from 1990, number four in an edition of six, depicting the artist made up like Caravaggio's Self-Portrait as Bacchus, sold for $384,000, more than double the presale high estimate of $180,000.

New auction records were set for works by Terry Winters ($240,000), Wangechi Mutu ($156,000) and Damian Loeb ($114,000), among other artists.

The day sales at Sotheby's New York on May 16, 2007, totaled $89,698,000, with 419 of 472 lots finding buyers, or almost 89 percent. Sotheby's two days of sales of contemporary art totaled $344,474,800.

Top lot in the day sale was an early Frank Stella painting of concentric squares, Untitled (Black and White Maze), which sold for $2,616,000, more than double its presale high estimate.

Among the top ten at Christie's day sale, a new auction record was set for Lee Ufan, whose 78083 (from "Point Series"), an abstraction from 1978, sold for $1,944,000. The Japanese artist Yoshitoma Nara also saw a new auction record when his 1991 acrylic of a sleepwalking girl, Night Walker, went for $1,160,000.

Again, many top lots went for well above their presale estimates. A Sean Scully triptych from 1994, Flannan, sold for $936,000 (est. $250,000-$350,000), a new auction record for the artist. And Takashi Murakami's five-part Po + Ku Surrealism Mr. Dob (1998) went for $908,000 (est. $250,000-$350,000).

Other interesting prices included the $240,000 brought by Piotr Uklanski untitled chromogenic print of a psychedelically colored skull and crossbones from 2003, purportedly depicting François Pinault. The final price was more than double the lot's high estimate. Pinault -- who was spotted at the Sotheby's presale exhibition -- owns another number from the edition of five and has exhibited it in his museum at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice.

Sean Landers' wickedly clever, mural-sized (86 x 214 in.) oil on canvas titled Genius (2001), featuring a frieze of weird Chippendale-styled furniture and Picassoid (and Jasper Johnsian) figures -- surreptitiously spelling out the word "Genius" -- sold for $360,000, a new auction record for the artist.

New auction records were also set for works by John Wesley ($360,000), Harry Bertoia ($276,000), John McCracken ($276,000) and Delia Brown ($78,000)

For complete, illustrated sales results, see Artnet's signature Fine Art Auction Report.