Art Market

Phillips’s 20th century and contemporary auction achieved a record $134.5 million.

Justin Kamp
Dec 8, 2020 10:31PM, via Phillips

Amy Sherald, The Bathers (2015). Courtesy Phillips.

Phillips’s 20th century and contemporary sale closed in New York yesterday with a final total of $134.5 million, a nearly 25 percent increase from the firm’s same sale last fall and the highest sales ever achieved at the auction house’s New York location. The auction saw 31 out of 35 lots find buyers for a sell-through rate of 89 percent by lot.

Jean-Paul Engelen and Robert Manley, Phillips’s worldwide co-heads of 20th century and contemporary art, said in a statement:

We are thrilled to be ending an unprecedented year so strongly; nine months after the initial shut down that threw the live auction world into uncertainty we have just had one of the strongest sales in Phillips’ history. This success is testimony to the strength of our team and the deep relationships we have with our collectors, forged over decades of expertly bringing the best works to market with the creativity and dynamism for which Phillips is known. The sale was one of our most diverse and we were pleased to see five artists of color achieve worldwide auction records this evening.

Among the artists whose work achieved new auction records were Amy Sherald, Kehinde Wiley, Vaughn Spann, Jadé Fadojutimi, and Mickalene Thomas. Sherald’s pastel-hued 2015 canvas The Bathers shattered the artist’s previous record of $350,000 when it sold for $4.2 million, beating its high estimate of $200,000 by a factor of more than 20. Wiley’s 2017 portrait of fellow artist and auction record-breaker Mickalene Thomas, meanwhile, sold for $378,000, surpassing the artist’s previous record of $350,000, set at Sotheby’s this past June.

A work by Thomas herself was also the subject of a new auction record. The mixed media collage I’ve Been Good To Me (2013) tripled its high estimate of $300,000 to sell for $901,000, superseding her previous record of $567,000, set in 2019. According to Artsy data, works by Thomas on the platform have seen a steady rise in interest over the past five years, even as the supply of available works has slowed. The average number of inquiries per available work by Thomas on Artsy is on track to nearly double between 2015 and 2020.

Further Reading: Obama Portraitist Amy Sherald Gives Advice to Young Artists

Further Reading: Vaughn Spann’s New Paintings Remind Us to Make Time for Healing

Further Reading: Mickalene Thomas Opens a Seductive, Spectacular Show in Miami

Justin Kamp