For its last major auction in its second-floor salesroom at Park Avenue and 57th Street—before it relocates to a swanky new subterranean bidding arena next spring—Phillips logged a muted but solid $108.1-million sale of 20th century and contemporary art on Thursday evening. Despite measured bidding on the night’s lots, the total was higher than equivalent sales a year ago and last May. The evening achieved a sell-through rate of 95 percent by lot, with just two of the evening’s 42 lots failing to sell; 15 of them sold for hammer prices above their low estimates.
While Thursday’s sale felt decidedly routine, the auction house did have one surprise in store: the cheeky doctor’s office scene Before the Shot from 1958, a painting by Norman Rockwell, an artist more commonly featured in sale of American art sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Phillips’s wager paid off, with the work handily surpassing its low estimate of $2.5 million to sell for a hammer price of $3.9 million, or $4.7 million with fees, making it the night’s fifth-biggest lot. Its adventurous buyer is “very much a contemporary art collector,” Phillips chairwoman Cheyenne Westphal said after the sale.
The auction set one new auction record, for the work of New York painter Sean Scully. His Red Bar (2003–04) sold for a hammer price of $1.45 million, or $1.7 million with fees, to a buyer bidding online from Hong Kong. That result was just enough to surpass the artist’s previous auction record, set during an auction in Hong Kong earlier this year.
Though there were few fireworks, the sale capped a successful week for Edward Dolman, Phillips’s CEO. The day before, the house had held its most successful day sale ever, bringing in $40.2 million and setting new auction records for nine artists.
“This sale was up 22 percent on last year, and this follows a record-setting day sale yesterday,” Dolman said at a press briefing after the evening sale. “We’re really seeing the fruits of the team we’ve brought on, that even in a shrinking art market, we’re still continuing to grow.”