Phillips rounded out London’s winter contemporary art night sales on Thursday night with a passable £20.7million ($27million) auction that barely scratched its low estimate of 18.2million pounds sterling ($23.7 million). (As always, final prices include buyer’s premium, unlike pre-sale estimates.)
Although the event was reasonably well attended, total sales (which had a high estimate of £25.5m, or $33.3m) were down a considerable 43% from the last year, although it reached a higher total than previous winter sales in 2015 and 2017.
Of the 41 lots in the catalogue, four were unsold at the end of the evening and three were withdrawn before the sale even started.
Outstanding in both categories was the artist known as KAWS, whose prices have risen rapidly of late due to Asian demand. But the extraordinary KAWS market seems to have been brought under control for now, and not before time, some would say.
On Tuesday night at Sotheby’s a guaranteed KAWS sculpture produced no benefit for the guarantor. Then, at Phillips on Thursday, another sculpture, titled Last days, was withdrawn (it was estimated between £700,000 and £900,000, or $913,042 and $117,391); a table titled On time (estimated at £300,000–£400,000 or $391,303–$521,738) was not sold; and another photo, Blessed FRIENDS AWAY, sold on a single bid and for just £900,000 ($117,391), below its estimate.
Phillips had secured third-party guarantors for most of its top-selling lots, but the majority of those big-ticket items seemed to sell to those backers — and with little competition. These could include Ed Ruscha’s awesome landscape God knows where (estimated at £3.4 million, or $4.4 million); a tarpaulin painted by Keith Haring from 1981 (£3.2m, or $4.2m); and a Damien Hirst medicine cabinet, Body, from 1989 (£1.4 million, or $1.8 million).
The cabinet comes from the collection of financial dealer Robert Tibbles, who bought it at the Artist’s Diploma Exhibition in 1989 for £600. Tonight it set a record for a Hirst medicine cabinet when it sold for £1.4m ($1.8m), even though there was no another auction. Such was the situation for Phillips, who had to compete with Sotheby’s and Christie’s for the £4 million Tibbles collection, and had to offer a higher quote than they might have preferred.
Also in the Tibbles collection was one of Hirst’s earliest point paintings, Antipyrylazo III, which enjoyed a bit more competition, selling within the estimate for £1.3 million ($1.7 million). But it was still several bids short of the highest prices for the artist’s one-off paintings, which were set at the height of Hirst’s market in 2007-2008.
The rest of the Tibbles collection, which focuses on YBA art, included medium prices for Hirst’s early spin and butterfly paintings and a large image by YBA guru Michael Craig-Martin (now represented by Gagosian). The painting, titled Full, sold above estimate for £162,500 ($211,956), just short of the record £175,000 set for a work by Craig-Martin at the George Michael Collection sale at Christie’s the year last. Full is probably the best painting, but Tibbles is not George Michael.
Queuing the Tibbles collection has been Magnolia wears a by Gary Hume, which was sued by London dealer Offer Waterman before selling above estimate for £40,000 ($52,173). The only survivor of a series of Hume door paintings on which the gloss paint cracked beyond repair, this may have been a bargain. Overall, the Tibbles collection has been a test from which the YBA market has emerged satisfactorily, given that it has not yet entered the realms of historical significance, and in light of the fact that this type of concept art is not in vogue right now.
What is à la mode was depicted in the early lots of the sale, and indeed the very first painting in the auction was by Ghanaian-born artist Amoako Boafo. Lemon swimsuit, a large, colorful figurative painting by the young artist, was reportedly commissioned by Los Angeles dealer and collector Stefan Simchowitz, and it sold – amazingly – for a reference of £675,000 ($881,432) against an estimate from £30,000 to £50,000 ($39,130 to $65,217).
This estimate was based on a sold-out exhibition by Chicago dealer Mariane Ibrahim at Art Basel Miami Beach, where paintings cost between $15,000 and $45,000. But clearly speculative elements in the market have decided to send Boafo prices into orbit.
The Boafo was quickly followed by another young up-and-coming artist, Julie Curtiss, whose four buns was sued by London dealer Omer Tiroche before selling to an Asian phone bidder on the high estimate of £137,500 ($179,347). Separately, a new record of £435,000 has been set for a work by Tschbalala Self for her stitched fabric, human hair, stiletto heels Princess, from 2017.
A fashionable opening quartet was complemented by a large colorful abstract canvas, John of Neanderthal, by Eddie Martinez, whose work has been selling well all week. The buyer this time, estimated at £375,000 ($489,129), was Russian art specialist and dealer James Butterwick, who was also active for a client at Sotheby’s on Tuesday.
Other dealers buying (and there weren’t many tonight) included representatives of the Levy Gorvy Gallery, which bought an under-estimate 1990 work by Gunther Forg for £411,000 ($536 $085). Forg’s prices have risen since his death in 2013, and this painting was last sold at auction in 2006 for £66,000 ($86,086 in today’s dollars).
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