On Tuesday, Phillips’s “New Now” sale in London generated a total of £3.8 million ($5.1 million) across 172 lots, landing at the low end of the pre-sale estimate of £3.7 million–£5.5 million (with premium) and realizing a 76.6 percent sell-through rate. The total was a disappointment when measured against the hopes of the estimates but not against the history of these sales. The £3.8 million marks the house’s highest total achieved for its “New Now” iteration in London.
The “New Now” sales showcase Phillips’s prowess in creating markets for emerging artists. With speculative buying returning to the forefront of collecting (as opposed to a flight to blue-chip quality) the series in London and New York continues to gradually expand. Last year’s equivalent sale brought in a total of £3.7 million, though that 2019 sale’s top lot was a work by an established mid-career artist, William Kentridge; it realized the same total achieved the year before in 2018.
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The London sale follows Phillips record-setting $134.6 million contemporary art evening sale total in New York, achieving the highest figure for an evening sale in the house’s history. The sale was led by a $41 million David Hockney landscape Nichols Canyon (1980), sold by Seattle-based real-estate developer Richard Hedreen.
Leading the New Now auction by price was Pakistan-born New-York based market darling Salman Toor’s Liberty Porcelain (2012), which found a new buyer for a £378,000 ($505,688) premium price. That was nine times the estimate of £40,000. Toor’s growing value, bolstered by a current solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York which runs until April, is moving toward the forefront of the market’s attention. The sale comes on the heels of Toor’s auction debut when one part of his triptych Rooftop Ghost Party I from 2015 sold for $822,000. That sale made eight times the estimate of $100,000 during a Christie’s New York contemporary art day sale in early December.
The second-most expensive lot was Banksy’s well-known image Girl with Balloon from 2004, which sold for £189,000 ($252,800), against an estimate of £100,000–150,000. Another staple artist in the Phillips contemporary sales is Eddie Martinez, whose Skullscape 3 (large), from 2012, sold on Tuesday for £163,800 ($219,100), double its estimate of £80,000.
Elsewhere in the sale were a selection of works donated directly by artists to benefit the U.K.-based Yinka Shonibare Foundation, an eponymous nonprofit founded in 2019 by the British-Nigerian artist. Among the top works sold to raise funds for the organization was Antony Gormley’s cast iron standing sculpture STAY 1 (MEME) II (2018), which went for £151,200 ($202,300), double the estimate of £60,000 (Gormley also serves as an advisor for the foundation). Shonibare’s 2019 stitched quilt work Bird, which incorporates European landmarks alongside imagery related to the artist’s Nigerian heritage sold for £56,700, within its estimate of £40,000-60,000. Also in that segment of the sale was an example by Kara Walker, another adviser to the foundation. Walker’s Up Frum Slubbery, a nod to Booker T. Washington’s 1901 autobiography Up from Slavery, which sold for £18,900 with buyer’s fees, hammering below the low estimate of £20,000. In total, the sale raised £252,720 ($343,000) for the foundation.
Meanwhile, Oscar Murillo’s canvas Candi (2013) sold for £148,946 ($202,300) against an estimate of £120,000–180,000 £151,200; Irish painter Genieve Figgis’s House of Masks (2013), featuring artist’s signature meshing of the classical and the macabre, made £113,400 ($151,700), against an estimate of £30,000–50,000; and Yoshitomo Nara’s painting on envelope Fuck You (2003), which includes the Japanese artist’s signature mischievous child image, sold within its estimate of £60,000–£80,000, making a final price of £75,600 ($101,100).
Ugandan-born emerging painter Godwin Champs Namuyimba’s Memories (2020), featuring a seated black silhouetted figure, was among the few works from the sale that outperformed. It went for £18,900, three times its low estimate of £6,000. Namuyimba, who is represented by East Projects in New York, was the subject of his first exhibition in Europe in November 2019.