Subscribe to our RSS feed:

RSS Feed Button

Art Market Watch


by Rachel Corbett
Share |

Applause broke out early at last night’s contemporary art auction at Phillips de Pury & Co. after three bidders battled it out over the sixth lot, an untitled Jean-Michel Basquiat self-portrait done in 1981 during the height of his fame. In the end, the painting sold to a telephone bidder for $16.3 million (with premium), well above the $12 million presale high estimate and a new world record for the artist.

Other top lots were Willem de Kooning’s Untitled VI (1975) for $12.4 million, Andy Warhol’s Mao (1973) for $10.4 million and Gun (1981-82) for $7 million, Cy Twombly’s Untitled (Bolsena) for $6.2 million and Roy Lichtenstein’s Brushstroke Nude (1993) for $5.5 million.

Altogether, the sale totaled $86,897,500, within the $75 million-$110 million presale estimate, with 44 of 53 lots selling, or 80 percent. It’s a good number for the boutique auction house, whose prospects have been looking up since it was acquired in 2008 by the Mercury Group, Russia’s largest retail conglomerate.

Still, it pales in comparison to the record-smashing $395 million sale at Christie’s earlier this week. And save for two new records set later in the sale -- for young artists Dana Schutz and Seth Price -- the blaze dimmed after the Basquiat.

A 1989 Photorealist painting of Manhattan by Richard Estes (est. $500,000-$700,000) failed to sell, as did the next lot, a large Ed Ruscha silhouette painting of an anchor (est. $700,000-$900,000). Even market hero Gerhard Richter stumbled when his 1987 Abstraktes Bild (est. $3 million-$5 million) went unsold.

Was the work insufficiently sexy? Last fall, a Richard Prince painting of a busty nurse in a strapless bra sold for nearly $7 million. This time, a more buttoned-up nurse from 2004 was bought in. A little later in the sale, auctioneer Simon de Pury tried to raise the stakes for Prince by calling a nearly all-white Untitled (Protest Painting) by the artist -- an early joke painting from 1989-92 -- “one of the really, really, really good ones” that is “full of jokes.” It eked by its $200,000 low estimate and sold for $218,500.

And a Cindy Sherman “Centerfold” photograph went for $722,500, well below its $1 million low estimate. The week has seen several works from this series hit the auction block, with a relatively unappealing one failing to sell at Sotheby’s on May 9 and an iconic version going for $2.8 million at Christie’s on May 8. 

Towards the end of the sale, de Pury did rouse the crowd, or what was left of it, which included the more stalwart collectors like Peter Brant and Aby Rosen. From the sidelines, dealer Andrea Rosen intently eyed buyers casting bids on a syrupy red 10-by-12-foot arc sculpture (complete with an oversized tongue sticking out the side) by Sterling Ruby, who has shown with Rosen in the past but currently does not have U.S. gallery representation. The work sold for $206,500, just over its $200,000 high estimate, making it Ruby’s fourth-highest auction total to date.

Seth Price, who exhibits at Friedrich Petzel Gallery in New York, saw a new artist record with his vacuum-formed polystyrene bas-relief, Repossessed Audi/Bronze Custom Job from 2009, which surpassed its $50,000-$70,000 estimate at $92,500. And a 2003 half-bird, half-man painting by Dana Schutz, another Petzel artist who currently has a show up at the gallery, went for $482,500, above its $400,000 high estimate, and a new artist record.

Prices given here include the auction-house commission of 25 percent of the first $50,000, 20 percent of the next $50,000 to $1,000,000, and 12 percent of the rest.

For complete, illustrated results, see Artnet’s signature Fine Art Auctions Report.

RACHEL CORBETT is news editor at Artnet Magazine. She can be reached at Send Email