Art Market

Amoako Boafo’s auction debut sparked a frenzy at an otherwise tepid Phillips sale in London.

Christy Kuesel
Feb 14, 2020 5:41PM, via Artsy

The salesroom during the February 13th evening auction at Phillips in London. Photo courtesy Phillips.

Phillips’s postwar and contemporary art evening sale on Thursday in London was characterized as much by a lack of sales as it was by its standout lots. The auction brought in a total of £21.1 million ($27.3 million) with fees; its presale estimate, which does not take fees into account, was £18.1 million to £25.4 million ($23.4 million–$32.8 million). Four lots of the sale’s total of 41 were withdrawn before the auction, and another five failed to sell, making for a sell-through rate of 86 percent by lot.

The sale totaled a little over half of what the equivalent sale brought in last year, when a £15.5-million ($20.4 million) Gerhard Richter painting propelled the auction to a £36.4 million ($47.9 million) total.

Ed Ruscha, God Knows Where, 2014. Sold for £3.3 million ($4.2 million). Courtesy Phillips.

Top lots

  • Ed Ruscha’s God Knows Where (2014) hammered down at £2.8 million ($3.6 million), falling comfortably between its estimate range of £2.5 million to £3.5 million ($3.2 million–$4.5 million), and coming to £3.3 million ($4.2 million) with fees. Although this recent Ruscha work didn’t see interest from many bidders, another of his word paintings sparked a protracted bidding war at Christie’s New York in November, setting a new auction record for the artist.

Keith Haring, Untitled, 1981. Sold for £3.2 million ($4.1 million). Courtesy Phillips.

  • Keith Haring’s untitled 1981 work came just short of its low estimate of £3 million ($3.8 million), selling for a hammer price of £2.73 million ($3.5 million), or £3.2 million ($4.1 million) with fees. After bidding stalled at an even £2.7 million ($3.4 million), bidders started driving up the price of the work in £10,000 increments, an unusual move at an evening auction, where auctioneers prefer to move in £20,000 or £50,000 increments for more valuable works (the Haring had the biggest pre-sale estimate of the night).

Damien Hirst, Bodies, 1989. Sold for £1.3 million ($1.6 million). Courtesy Phillips

  • Damien Hirst’s Bodies (1989) rounded out the top lots of the night, hammering down at its low estimate of £1.2 million ($1.5 million), or £1.3 million ($1.6 million) with fees. The work, a sculpture of a pharmacy shelf, was one of four Hirsts offered up sale at the auction; all four sold within their pre-sale estimate range.

Amoako Boafo, The Lemon Bathing Suit, 2019. Sold for £675,000 ($875,000). Courtesy Phillips.

The lackluster evening started out on an exciting note, when Amoako Boafo’s debut work at auction, The Lemon Bathing Suit (2019), hammered down at 11 times its high estimate, £550,000 ($713,000), or £675,000 ($875,000) with fees. Earlier this week, the artist himself bemoaned that his work was being sold at auction so quickly in a Bloomberg article—Boafo is 35, and the work was only painted last year. The seller, notorious dealer, collector, and avowed flipper Stefan Simchowitz said he will use the money to support other emerging artists. The sale also set a new auction record for Tschabalala Self, with her painting Princess (2017) selling for £435,000 ($562,000) after fees. Self, another hot emerging artist, has expressed similar concerns about her work selling at auction.

Tschabalala Self, Princess, 2017. Sold for £435,000 ($562,000). Courtesy Phillips.

The pieces that were withdrawn or didn’t sell point to an art market that may be sated with the usual, populist artists at the moment—though the top lots of the night were predictable, both Anish Kapoor works offered went unsold. One KAWS work was withdrawn before the sale, while another hammered down at its low estimate and a third, the last lot of the night, failed to find a buyer. Online bidders purchased 2 of the evening’s 37 lots—a Cecily Brown diptych and a Marcel Broodthaers canvas—perhaps signaling how digitally savvy collectors are moving more aggressively into the realm of evening sales.

Christy Kuesel