$46.5 M. Basquiat Leads Phillips’s Tepid $86.3 M. New York Auction

Following a solid, if somewhat disappointing, pair of sales at Sotheby’s last night, Phillips continued this week’s New York marquee auctions on Tuesday with a sale of modern and contemporary art. The Phillips sale brought in $86.3 million, coming in just below the auction’s $90 million pre-sale estimate. Still, this result marked an improvement over last year’s May New York auction held by Phillips, which brought in $69.5 million.

Of the 30 lots that headed to sale, two ended up being withdrawn. One of those was a $12 million Picasso painting, one of the most expensive lots that was to be sold by Phillips this week.

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The priciest lot was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (ELMAR), from 1982, one of 13 lots that hit the block with a third-party guarantee. Phillips gave the painting a $60 million high estimate, putting it on track to become one of the most expensive Basquiat paintings ever sold at auction. That number was in part a reflection of its decorated provenance: it had been acquired from dealer Annina Nosei by anthropologist Francesco Pellizzi, a friend of Basquiat. Pellizzi then sold it to the current consignor.

Untitled (ELMAR) didn’t come close to that $60 million figure, ultimately hammering for just a hair above its low estimate, at $40.2 million. Even if that wasn’t an astounding number, it was good enough for people in the room, who greeted the sale with a round of applause. With fees, the final result was $46.5 million. (All sales listed here include buyer’s premium, unless noted otherwise.)

The action at this sale was slow, with few bidding wars. Most works sold for within their estimates. There was just one record set, for the painter Kent Monkman, and there were few surprises. On the whole, the Phillips auction was largely free of drama—which is perhaps the best thing the house could ask for, given that anxiety about a market slowdown has been pervasive. (Plus, Phillips has something one of its competitors does not: a working website. As Christie’s headed into its marquee sales this evening, its site remained offline following a cyberattack.)

A painting of a Black woman facing the viewer wearing a white tank top that says "Bitch."
Barkley L. Hendricks, Vendetta, 1977.

Barkley L. Hendricks’s 1977 painting Vendetta, featuring a woman wearing a tank top emblazoned with the word “bitch,” was among the most closely watched lots ahead of tonight’s sale. The painting had come to auction from Richard D. Segal, a Whitney Museum trustee, and had been given a $3.5 million high estimate.

Hendricks’s $8.4 million record was set this past November at Sotheby’s in New York, and Vendetta didn’t eclipse that benchmark. This painting sold for $3.2 million—a respectable sum that put it within the house’s estimate, but one which may not have quite tracked with pre-sale anticipation.

Another buzzy lot was Untitled (Boy with Glasses), a 2010 painting by the late Noah Davis, whose art has gained some market momentum on the auction block in recent years. That energy has coincided with institutional attention for him: today brought the announcement that Davis will have a retrospective opening at collector Hasso Plattner’s Das Minsk museum in Potsdam, Germany, before the show travels in 2025 to London’s Barbican Centre and Los Angeles’s Hammer Museum.

Aryn Drake-Lee, the ex-wife of actor Jesse Williams, had consigned the piece to auction, where it came with a $200,000 high estimate. The painting, which is based on a photograph of the rapper Lil John, ended up outpacing that figure, selling for $279,400. That’s a good outcome, albeit one that can’t quite match the frenzy that surrounded a Davis painting at Phillips’s New York auction last May, when a canvas by Davis sold for $990,600, more than nine times its $100,000 estimate. (The artist’s auction record stands at $1.5 million, set at Christie’s in 2022.)

An abstract painting with streaks of brown, pink, and blue surrounded by masses of black.
Helen Frankenthaler, Acres, 1959.

Helen Frankenthaler’s Acres (1959), a soak-and-stain painting from this Abstract Expressionist’s heyday, was one of the few works that managed to incite a bona fide battle. Over the course of several minutes, two phone bidders duked it out, pushing the work far beyond its $2.5 million high estimate. In the end, it sold for $3.69 million—hardly a record for Frankenthaler, whose most expensive work at auction sold for $7.8 million at an online Sotheby’s sale in 2021, but a good result no less.

But the Frankenthaler was an exception during an auction in which buyers seemed cautious about bidding on work by established artists. A $5 million painting by Frank Stella, who died earlier this month, failed to sell altogether. Likewise works by Pierre Bonnard and Robert Mangold.

When it came to less established artists at auction, the young painter Jadé Fadojutimi continued to shine. The Pour (2022), a purplish abstraction, made its way to Phillips just two years after it was purchased by the consignor from London’s Pippy Houldsworth Gallery. It shot beyond its $600,000 high estimate, selling for $1.08 million. Derek Fordjour’s painting Numbers (2018) also performed well, going for $889,000 on a $600,000 high estimate.

A painting of a woman in a feathered headdress.
María Berrío, The Lovers 2, 2015.

One star faltered: María Berrío, whose 2015 portrait The Lovers 2, depicting a woman whose face is hidden beneath a feathered veil, returned to Phillips tonight, less than two years after it sold for $1 million at a Hong Kong auction. On Tuesday, it came to auction with a $350,000 high estimate—and failed to find a buyer.

Following the hour-long auction’s conclusion, some said it was tough to speak in grand pronouncements about the results. “We’re seeing a mixed, artist-specific market at Phillips tonight,” art adviser David Shapiro told ARTnews. But he said there were some positives: the sell-through rate was 92 percent, which he noted was solid, “notwithstanding some tepid results.”

Karen K. Ho contributed reporting.

Source: artnews.com

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