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 Four lots of the sale’s total of 41 were withdrawn before the auction, and another five failed to sell, making for a sell-through rate of 86 percent by lot.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.
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.
The pieces that were withdrawn or didn’t sell point to an art market that may be sated with the usual, populist artists at the moment—though the top lots of the night were predictable, both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 One KAWS work was withdrawn before the sale, while another hammered down at its low estimate and a third, the last lot of the night, failed to find a buyer.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.