£19 Million Phillips Sale Led by Polke, Warhol, and Ghenie

  • Courtesy of Phillips.

    Courtesy of Phillips.

Phillips held a solid 20th-century and contemporary art evening sale early Friday evening with the sun streaming in through glass walls into its ground-floor salesroom. Nearly all of its 36 lots sold for a total of £19.3 million, or £23.9 million with buyer’s fees.

That represents a 34% rise from last fall’s total of £17,867,750 over 30 lots, although some of the increase is thanks to a change in the house’s buyer’s premiums, which Phillips raised in mid-September following similar announcements from Sotheby’s and Christie’s (the price hikes at Sotheby’s do not go into effect until November 1st, sparing buyers this go-round).

The majority of the works carried estimates in the mid- and low-six figures. Its biggest sale of the night, Sigmar Polke’s Tänzerin (1994), sold for £2.8 million, or £3.3 million including fees, squarely within its estimate of £2.5 million to £3.5 million. The acrylic on canvas features an image of a dancer in motion, rendered through Polke’s hand-painted dots.

The sale also saw a record set for Turner Prize nominee Hurvin Anderson, when his Peter’s Series: Back (2008) sold for £1.5 million, or £1.8 million with buyer’s fees, after extended bidding that started in the four-hundred-thousands. It had been estimated at £600,000 to £900,000. The record was short-lived, however: Another Anderson painting went for £2.2 million, or £2.6 million with fees, roughly two hours later at Christie’s.

Andy Warhol’s blood-red on black Knives (1982) was created after the feminist writer Valerie Solanas, author of the SCUM Manifesto, attempted to assassinate him, although Phillips’s catalogue essay notes the artist had long been fascinated by American crime. It sold for £2.2 million, or £2.6 million after fees, against an estimate of £2 million to £3 million. It had last sold at Phillips in 2011 for $3.4 million, including buyer’s fees.

Andreas Gursky’s massive Cibachrome print Los Angeles (1998–99), which pictures the city’s lights glowing against a dark night, sold for £1.4 million, or £1.6 million after fees,  just at the low end of its estimate of £1.4 million to £1.8 million. It is the fourth print in an edition of six.

The Collector 4 (2009) by Adrian Ghenie, one of the few artists to retain his value at auction after the emerging-artist bubble burst in 2015, sold for £1.7 million before fees, or £2 million with, above its high estimate of £1.5 million. It is one in a four-part series on obsessive collectors, with a focus on the art-loving Nazi leader Hermann Göring.

The only two sculptures in the sale were both by Ai Weiwei. Map of China (2009) sold for £650,000, or £789,000 with buyer’s fees, coming up short of its low estimate of £800,000 and far below the $2.5 million after fees it fetched in May of last year at Christie’s in New York, a price roughly double its pre-sale estimate. The sculpture is made from wood taken from Qing Dynasty temples. It resembles a seamless stump from afar, but reveals itself to be made of tightly joined pieces. The other sculpture, Coca Cola (2012), went for £240,000, or £297,000 after fees, just in the middle of its estimated range of £200,000 to £300,000. The Han dynasty vase is painted with the red logo of the iconic soda brand.

Albert Oehlen’s colorful La Playa Nueva (2002) was one of two lots that didn’t sell; the other was an untitled 1990 work by Günther Förg. Oehlen’s painting was one of the higher-priced lots, with an estimated of £700,000 to £900,000. It had been auctioned twice before at Sotheby’s, selling for $530,500 in 2012 and for £338,500 in 2014, including buyer’s fees.

The new buyer’s premiums are as follows: 25% of the hammer price up to and including £180,000, 20% of the portion of the hammer price above £180,000 up to and including £3 million, and 12.5% of the portion of the hammer price above £3 million. Prices quoted, where stated, include buyer’s premiums, but estimates do not.


—Anna Louie Sussman