Phillips pulled off what can only be described as an incredible feat in London today, March 3, when he landed a £30m ($40m) evening of modern and contemporary art amid talk public about a possible boycott of the Russian auction house.
Arguably the biggest story of the sale emerged before the auction even started, when Phillips announced that it would donate all of its buyers’ and sellers’ net premium proceeds to the Ukrainian Red Cross.
The wise decision was made quickly and decisively after some industry players, including former Bonhams manager Matthew Girling, said it would be imprudent work with the competing company.
Ultimately, Phillips raised $7.7 million for the Red Cross.
“Before we move on to the results of our sales,” Phillips CEO Stephen Brooks said after the auction, “I think it’s important to acknowledge the unusual and frankly tragic events that have transpired this week. Witnessing the horrific scenes in Ukraine, I made a very clear statement earlier this week about our condemnation of the invasion of Ukraine, and tonight we did something very practical.
Despite the withdrawal at the 11th hour of five lots, including a Glenn Ligon withdrawn from the sale when it had already begun, the auction was a great success, with intense bidding for works by emerging artists, traditionally a strong niche for Phillips.
It also included strong, if less impassioned, tenders for works of established first-rate masters such as John Chamberlain, David Hockney, Francis Bacon and Claude Monet.
In total, 39, or 95% of the 41 lots offered, were sold. The total sales figured perfectly in the revised lower estimate of the sale (taking into account the withdrawn lots) of £24.4 million to 35.3 million pounds ($32 million to 47 million). By comparison, expectations were higher by around £5m (£29-42m) before the removal of the five works.
Eight works of art, or around 20% of the total lots, were backed by third-party guarantees, two of which were negotiated on the last day before the sale, indicating that buyers were seeking deals as the auction house was looking for additional insurance in a context of uncertainty.
The highest price of the sale was the £4.9m ($6.5m) secured for David Hockney’s 1984 diptych Self-portrait on the terrace, which sold for just under its low estimate of £4 million ($5.3 million), with a hammer price of £3.9 million on a few bids. (Final prices include fees; pre-sale estimates do not.)
Bidding was much more subdued for a failed 1992 abstract painting by Hockney’s contemporary Gerhard Richter for sale after falling short of its low estimate of £1.6 million ($2 million).
But the real excitement – as always with Phillips – was for the works of highly sought-after young art stars and their emerging counterparts.
British painter Cecily Brown When time ran out (2016) fetched the second-highest price of the night, landing at £3.2 million ($4.3 million) after vigorous bidding. The same collector who won the lot thanks to Phillips specialist Svetlana Marchin also took that of Shara Hughes Curve (2017) at £627,500 just before. This work broke his high estimate of £250,000.
A few batches earlier, the same Marchin client won the Issy Wood painting Chalet (2019), which set a new auction record for the artist when it sold for £441,000 ($588,000) against a high estimate of £150,000 ($200,000).
One of the most exciting battles of the night was over Painting by Jadé Fadojutimi My cover has a possessive nature (2018).
Its winner fought off competition from at least three bidders, including online collectors vying for the work of Hong Kong and Germany. The winner ultimately captured the photo for £529,200 ($705,000), nearly triple the high estimate of £180,000 ($240,000).
Later in the sale, the same paddle number won John Chamberlain’s 2000 sculpture Snatch the bookmaker Bobwhich sold for £346,500 ($462,000) against a high estimate of £200,000 ($267,000).
Brown and Fadojoutimi each had two works in the sale, each of which sparked intense competition to push the lots far beyond the highest published expectations.
“Online and telephone bidding from Asia was particularly strong throughout the sale,” said Olivia Thornton, head of 20th century and contemporary art at Phillips. “And we had a host of young female artists” for whom the prices were solid, she said. the ‘The rise of figurative artists’, she added, was reflected in high prices for images from Cinga Samson (£304,416), Kwesi Botchway (£138,600) and Tschabalala Self (£138,600) .
Yet there are limits. The estimate of a 2015 painting by highly sought-after Swiss figurative artist Nicolas Party, Houses, felt a bit aggressive at £1.1m to £1.5m, and the work carried a third-party guarantee. He was quickly hammered to a Phillips specialist bidding for a client for £1.2 million ($1.6 million).
At the post-sale press conference, Phillips global chairman Cheyenne Westphal said the main story of the night was “British”, noting the results for Brown, Hockney and Hurvin Anderson, whose Untitled (Handsworth Park) (1998) sold to one of his customers over the phone for £1.3 million ($1.7 million).
Asked about the withdrawn lots, Westphal attributed it to diminished interest.
“There were some works that we felt we just couldn’t capture market attention in a way that would lead to a successful sale,” she said. “In these cases, we advised [clients] to withdraw the work.
Brooks also responded to a reporter’s question about whether Phillips was monitoring lists of Russians whose assets might be frozen.
“We don’t deal with anyone under sanction,” he said, adding that the auction house had an “extensive compliance process” in place.
The reporter also asked if the auction house had received any requests for senders that their works do not sell to Russian buyers for fear that they will not be able to pay.
“No,” Brooks replied. “I haven’t received any.”
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