KAWS Continues Market Rise at Phillips and $50-Million Rothko Sells at Sotheby’s
Top Lots, Sotheby’s
- Study for a Head (1952) was bought for a $44 million hammer, well ahead of its $30 million high estimate, and with fees the final price came to $50.4 million. It was purchased by a dealer in the middle of the salesroom who was speaking into a cell phone, and he held off a slew of hard-charging Sotheby’s specialists, including Amy Cappellazzo, David Galperin, David Schrader, and Bame Fierro March. The small painting, which is one of Bacon’s famed “Screaming Pope” works, came from the collection of Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis. The Seattle philanthropists bought the work in 1975 and loaned it out very rarely in the subsequent decades. At the press conference following the sale, head of contemporary art Grégoire Billault appeared to reference Koons’s record-setting reflective metal rabbit, which sold at archrival Christie’s on Wednesday, saying of the Bacon: “This one was not shiny, it was not happy, but it was one of the best works I’ve seen in my 20 years at Sotheby’s.”
- Untitled (1960) sold for a $43.75 million hammer, captured by Cappellazzo, and with fees the total came to $50.1 million. Some competition from Sotheby’s Asia chairman Patti Wong helped push the work over its $35-million guarantee, though the Chinese bidding wasn’t fervent enough to overcome the client on Cappellazzo’s phone. The work was a rare example of a major museum deaccessioning a blockbuster work—the painting came from SFMOMA, which was selling the work to raise funds in order “to make great strides in diversifying the collection,” as the museum’s senior curator of painting and sculpture Gary Garrels put it when the consignment was announced. Beating the guarantee has to be considered a win for Sotheby’s, and while the work fell short of the Rothko record by more than $35 million, it was the most expensive Rothko sold since No. 10 (1958) was purchased at Christie’s in May 2015 for $81.9 million.
- Another Bacon, Study for Portrait (1981), sold to the client on the phone with Billault for a $12.5 million hammer, or $14.5 million with fees. That total barely edged out the low estimate of $12 million and failed to truly excite the salesroom. It was one of the six works consigned by the Gerald L. Lennard Foundation Collection, which sold for a total of $45.1 million. The funds will go toward supporting the foundation’s various causes, which include the visual arts as well as healthcare and environmental concerns.
Top lots, Phillips
- Willem de Kooning’s Untitled XVI (1976) sold for an $8.8 million hammer, just above its low estimate of $8 million, to the gallery director Christina di Donna, who was talking on a cell phone in the center of the room. With fees, the price came to $10.3 million. The hammer came after several long pauses waiting for Kevie Yang to reach a client on the phone, to no avail.
- Self Portrait (1983) also sold to di Donna, who secured it with a $9-million bid. With fees, the price was $9.5 million. (Though the hammer price was the highest of the night, the with-fees figure was lower than the de Kooning due to the structure of the irrevocable bid on the lot.) The hammer price was right at the low estimate, despite the intriguing story behind the work. The painting was consigned by the estate of Matt Dike, a gallery assistant for Larry Gagosian who essentially ended up working as an assistant for Basquiat. After a stint as a popular hip-hop producer, Dike became a recluse and remained holed up in his Los Angeles home during his final decades. Dike kept the work with him until he died in March 2018.
- Helter Skelter II (2007) only saw one bid, from a client on the phone with Miety Heiden—meaning the work sold to the guarantor. The hammer price was $7.7 million, below the $8-million low estimate, and with fees it was $8.4 million. That’s significantly less than the work’s companion piece, Helter Skelter I (2007), achieved when it came up for auction at Phillips in London in March 2018—that picture sold for nearly $12 million including fees, which led to a big payday for its consignor, the tennis great John McEnroe. Sources say the consignor of Helter Skelter II was Alden Pinnell—the Dallas collector who is the founder of local exhibition space the Power Station. Pinnell may not have scored the payday that McEnroe got, but it’s safe to assume that the $7.7 million price he’s getting is much, much more than what he paid when he acquired the work through Bradford’s former dealer, Sikkema Jenkins, in 2007.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Sotheby’s post-war and contemporary art evening sale in November 2018 totaled $362.5 million, but that sum included $48.5 million from the same evening’s sale of works from the collection of David Teiger. The November 2018 Sotheby’s post-war and contemporary art evening sale totaled $314 million. The text has been updated to reflect this.