Art Market

Titus Kaphar and Amoako Boafo Works Star in Phillips’s Sold-Out Virtual Evening Auction

Benjamin Sutton
Jul 3, 2020 2:27AM

View of the sales room during Phillips’s 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Auction on July 2,2020. Courtesy of Phillips.

Three days after Sotheby’s became the first of the three major auction houses to test the virtual format necessitated by the pandemic in a grueling four-and-a-half-hour marathon, Phillips tried its hand at the newly normal format, pulling off an efficient and successful 25-lot sale in just over an hour. Officially “happening” in New York but, like the Sotheby’s sale, led by an auctioneer in London—in this case, Phillips head of contemporary art evening sales Henry Highley—the auction saw competitive bidding on a majority of lots.

All but four of the works offered sold for hammer prices above their low estimates, and a full 40 percent of lots sold for more than their high estimates. Every lot found a buyer, making it a so-called “white glove sale.” The sale’s hammer prices totaled $34.7 million, firmly within the presale estimate of $29.4 million to $41.6 million. Presale estimates do not take auction house fees into account; with fees, the night’s total take was $41.1 million.

Bidding was sluggish on the night’s two biggest-ticket works, but lots at lower price points—especially figurative paintings by younger artists—elicited sustained bidding wars between specialists in Phillips’s salesrooms in London and New York, as well as online bidders around the world.

Top lots

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Victor 25448, 1987. Courtesy of Phillips.

  • Joan Mitchell’s Noël (1961–62), the night’s cover lot, loomed large over the phone bank at Phillips in New York. But when it came time to bid on the splashy canvas, only two specialists piped up. After a brief contest, the bidder on the phone with senior specialist Kevie Yang prevailed, winning the work for a hammer price equal to its low estimate of $9.5 million, or $11 million with fees. It’s been a big week for Mitchell’s market—three of her works were offered at Sotheby’s on Monday evening, collectively bringing in a total of $22.7 million. Next week, Christie’s will offer another of her major works, La Grande Vallée VII (1983), with an estimate of $10 million to $15 million.
  • Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Victor 25448 (1987), an enormous composition, similarly crept up to its low estimate and stalled there, selling for a hammer price of $8 million, or $9.2 million with fees. A portion of the proceeds from its sale will go to support Art for Justice, a nonprofit working for prison reform that was founded by mega-collector and philanthropist Agnes Gund.
  • Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (801-3) (1994), one of the German master’s so-called “squeegee paintings,” sparked a slow but steady bidding war that pushed it just over its high estimate of $3 million before it sold to a phone bidder on the line with specialist Robert Manley for a hammer price of $3.05 million, or $3.6 million with fees.

Joan Mitchell, Noël, 1961-2. Courtesy of Phillips.

Titus Kaphar, Untitled (red thread lady), 2013-18. Courtesy of Phillips.

The sale’s most dramatic bidding came on works with five-figure estimates, beginning with the very first lot—a painting embellished with red thread by Titus Kaphar. Multiple phone bidders quickly pushed the work, Untitled (red thread lady) (2013–18), past its high estimate of $60,000. It ultimately sold for a hammer price of $150,000, or $187,500 with fees, setting a new auction record for Kaphar’s work—fueled perhaps in part by his recent move to mega-gallery Gagosian and Time magazine cover.

The night’s second lot, Mood Room (2018), a bright interior scene by the late Matthew Wong, likewise soared past its high estimate ($80,000) to finally hammer down at $690,000, or $848,000 with fees. That astonishing result was nevertheless well short of the artist’s record, set on Monday by Sotheby’s when a work with the same estimate, The Realm of Appearances (2018), sold for a stunning $1.8 million with fees—or more than 22 times its high estimate.

This evening’s sale also marked the secondary-market debut of Ghanaian painter Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe. His magnetic portrait painting Shade of Black (2018) spurred one of the sale’s most dramatic bidding frenzies, ultimately selling for a hammer price of $200,000, or $250,000 with fees—more than eight times its high estimate of $30,000.

Matthew Wong, Mood Room, 2018. Courtesy of Phillips.

Star artist Amoako Boafo continued to command enormous demand. His 2019 painting Joy in Purple breezed past its high estimate of $70,000 to sell for a hammer price of $540,000, or $668,000 with fees. That result was good enough for his second-highest auction result ever, though well short of his record, established by Phillips in London back in February.

The sale also set a new auction record for the work of Los Angeles–based painter Christina Quarles; her 2017 canvas Placed sparked a bidding war among a half-dozen specialists. In the end, head of evening sale Amanda Lo Iacono logged the winning bid of $320,000, or $400,000 with fees. The night’s other smashed auction record was for a work by Tehran-born, New York–based painter Ali Banisadr, whose 2013 painting Motherboard sold firmly within its presale estimate for a hammer price of $460,000, or $572,000 with fees—just enough to surpass his previous record of $557,000, set at a Sotheby’s auction in Doha in 2014.


George Condo, Stump Head, 2009. Courtesy of Phillips.

Amoako Boafo, Joy in Purple, 2019. Courtesy of Phillips.

The evening’s total take of $41.1 million was well short of equivalent auctions at Phillips in recent seasons—$99.9 million in May of last year, for instance, and $108.1 million in November. But given the prevailing climate of uncertainty due to the pandemic and the slimmed down offerings (25 lots versus the 42 offered in November), the sale was an overall success.

“We really targeted those things we felt have a really strong market, and we’ve learned a lot from online sales and private sales over the past few months,” Manley said during a virtual press conference after the sale. “If things were not in the sale, there’s a reason.”

Helen Frankenthaler, Head of the Meadow, 1967. Courtesy of Phillips.

For Phillips CEO Edward Dolman, the results of the evening sale and the preceding day sales of 20th-century and contemporary art (which brought in an additional $10.2 million) signaled an art market eager to get back to business. “It’s quite obvious to us that there’s a significant amount of money waiting on the sidelines for the chance to get back into the market and invest in art,” he said. “It’s a strong pointer to what we hope to see in the rest of the year.”

The next major measure of whether collectors are ready to move their money off the sidelines will come on July 10th, when Christie’s conducts a virtual relay sale in its salesrooms in Hong Kong, Paris, London, and New York.

Benjamin Sutton