Works to Buy This Week at Phillips: Head of Sale Henry Highley on Highlights and the Market

Auctioneer, Specialist, and Head of Contemporary Art Day Sales in London, Henry Highley, has been with the auction house since 2008, specialising in mid-career American and European artists. In tandem with our first partnership with Phillips, we spoke with Highley about personal highlights from the forthcoming 20th Century and Contemporary Art Day Sale (June 28th), newer artists in the sale to look out for, and other market trends. 

  • Henry Highley at the 2016 Spring 20th Century  & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, New York. Courtesy of Phillips and Jean Bourbon. 

Artsy: Can you start by walking us through some of your personal highlights from the auction? Are there any especially interesting points from your selections that might not be apparent when viewing online? 

Henry Highley: What makes this June Day sale in London so exciting is that we have a wide variety of material spanning throughout the 20th Century up to the present day. The sale is aimed at all collectors, new and established. For example, the Mimmo Rotella, Untitled, circa 1958 (lot 164) is a striking early décollage acquired directly from the artist by Constantin Tacou and inherited by descent by the current owner. This work has been in the same private collection since originally bought from the artist and is entirely fresh to the market. 

The two works by Korean artist Chung Sang-Hwa from 1987 and 1990 (lots 111 & 112) highlight the increasing critical and aesthetic interest in Dansaekhwa, a movement conceived in the 1960s in Korea, exploring monochrome painting. Dominique Lévy in New York currently has a seminal solo show of Chung Sang-Hwa including paintings from 1969 -2015; further, reinforcing the interest in Dansaekhwa. 

Rodney Graham, Inverted Drip Painting #34, 2008 (lot 108) is my personal highlight from any of the works in the sale that have been produced in the last few years. Hung upside down, against the gravitational flow of the paint, there is a lack of control over the canvas, and a slight nod to Jackson Pollock. This is the largest format and only the second “Drip Painting” to ever come to auction – I expect this to make an auction record for the artist.

A: For a new collector of Modern or Contemporary art, which works would you recommend from the auction as “anchor” pieces? 

HH: Always buy the best quality within your price bracket. Therefore, I suggest the looking at the Rotella, either work by Sang-Hwa, or the Graham. 

A: How about for a seasoned collector? Are there any works by newer, emerging artists that collectors should be considering?

HH: The first lot of the sale by Pamela Rosenkranz, Because they try…, 2012 (lot 101) is a principal example. For an artist in her mid-30s, she has accompanied an enormous amount; primarily representing Switzerland in the Venice Biennale in 2015. Her works are difficult to acquire on the primary market, the current example retails for $60,000.

HH (cont.): Joe Bradley, Tonga, 2007 (lot 104) is an important early Bradley originally sold and exhibited at CANADA, New York, one of Bradley’s first dealers. The Bradley market has seen exponential growth in the last two years, but the more esoteric earlier works are still undervalued in my opinion and are ideal for seasoned Bradley collectors. 

HH (cont.): Oscar Murillo continues to excite and interest me for an artist of 30 years old. He immediately stood out amongst his peers when I witnessed his performance at his M.F.A. graduation show at the Royal College of Art, London in 2012. It won’t be long before we see a work realize over $1million at auction. Oscar Murillo, Number 11, 2012 (lot 200) is a striking small scale example which I expect to perform well.

A: Are there any particular categories or media that you are seeing an especially high interest in this year? 

HH: We have certainly seen a return to Modern and Post-War material in the last 18 months as younger collectors become more educated and increasingly look further back in history to understand what influences their favorite contemporary artists.

A: Any other market trends you have been seeing that collectors should be aware of? 

HH: Younger collectors have moved away from collecting entirely abstract works and have turned their attention towards increasingly figurative work or native-figuration. Torey Thornton, Don’t Lose Your Dome Shader…, 2014 (lot 102); Ella Kruglyanskaya, Untitled (Bather with Sunglasses), 2014 (lot 103); Chantal Joffe, Untitled, 1995 (lot 151) are all examples of this increasing interest in figuration. I’m particularly interested in the Thornton, as this is the first time the artist has been to auction.

Explore Phillips’ 20th Century and Contemporary Art Day Sale on Artsy, and place max bids on more than 150 artworks. Live bidding opens Tuesday, June 28th, at 2:00pm BST (9:00am ET). 

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