Phillips London Achieves Strong $31.6M Contemporary Art Sale Despite Struggling Ai Weiwei

In a jam-packed week of contemporary art auctions held in London to accompany Frieze Week art fairs, Phillips found a spot on Friday afternoon, just before Christie’s main sale. Anticipating larger than usual crowds, the auction house moved from the basement to the larger ground floor showroom.

The move certainly didn’t hurt. The £23.9 million ($31.6 million) result was not a record for Phillips London, but it was a solid and credible performance. Including two lots sold privately, 34 of the 36 lots, or 94%, were sold. The total was below estimate and was Phillips’ third highest for a contemporary London sale.

Of the eight guaranteed lots, four went to competitive bidding – a threshold Phillips needs to cross more often to become a serious player. Those four included the top lot, Sigmar Polke’s Dotted Tanzerin (1994), which sold under the watchful eye of its elderly German shipper for an average estimate of £3.4 million ($4.4 million). And the disaster of Adrian Ghenie The Collector 4 (2009) from the Katayama Collection saw bidding by art adviser Nicolai Frahm before selling above estimate for £1.7 million or $2 million. (Final prices include buyer’s premium; pre-sale estimates do not.)

Sigmar Polke, Dancer (1994). Courtesy of Phillips London.

But other guaranteed lots revealed weak spots in the market. by Ai Weiwei map of china (2008) was purchased from Christie’s in May 2016 for a double estimate of $2.5 million. But on Friday it sold below estimate, for just £650,000 ($789,000). Another Ai sculpture, Coca Cola (2012), was unsold at Phillips in May 2015 with a warranty and an estimate of $400,000. Yesterday it returned to the podium as a Phillips property and sold for £240,000 ($297,000).

Ai Weiwei, Coca-Cola.  Courtesy of Philips.

Ai Weiwei, Coca Cola (2012). Courtesy of Phillips London.

Contrary to the perception that prime contemporary works are increasing in value, recently released unsecured works have tended to see no gains. by Andy Warhol Knives (1982) was purchased from Phillips in New York for $3.4 million in 2011; on Friday it sold for £2.6 million ($3.5 million). A photo-collage joke painting by Richard Prince bought in London almost six years ago for £481,250 hammered for £460,000 ($601,000) before the buyer’s premium was added.

Afternoon winners were selling Cecily Brown’s to park (2004), which was purchased from the same room for £421,250 ($550,423) in 2011. On Friday, the work sold for £849,000 ($1.11 million) to an Asian telephone bidder against an offer from San Francisco dealer John Berggruen. Georg Baselitz dreamal (1989), which was purchased at Christie’s New York in 2014 for $185,000, fetched £261,000 ($344,520).

Hurvin Anderson, <i>Peter’s Series: Back</i>, 2008. Courtesy of Phillips London.” width=”805″ height=”1024″ srcset=”https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2017/10/Anderson_Peters-Series- Back-805×1024.jpg 805w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2017/10/Anderson_Peters-Series-Back-236×300.jpg 236w, https://news.artnet.com/app/ news-upload/2017/10/Anderson_Peters-Series-Back-39×50.jpg 39w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2017/10/Anderson_Peters-Series-Back-1509×1920.jpg 1509w” sizes=”(max-width: 805px) 100vw, 805px”/></p>
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Peter’s Series: Return (2008). Courtesy of Phillips London.

by Hurvin Anderson Peter Series: Return (2008) was shown the year it was made at Anthony Meier’s gallery in San Francisco, when primary market prices were still below $50,000. Coming from an anonymous American collector, the work held the artist’s record, albeit briefly, selling for £1.8 million ($2.4 million) to an Asian buyer. (The record was broken at the Christie’s sale a few hours later when Anderson’s Country Club: Chicken Wire sold for £2,648,750 or $3.5 million.)

“We were concerned about the selectivity of the market after yesterday, but we were ultimately pleased,” Phillips CEO Ed Dolman said, referring to the Sotheby’s sale. “The sale showed what we could do with fresh material on the market,” he added, referring to the Polke, the Anderson and a Basquiat. Untitled work from 1984, which was sold by the artist’s estate for £1.6 million ($2.1 million) against an offer from London dealer Inigo Philbrick.

Jean-Michelle Basquiat, Untitled, 1984. Courtesy of Phillips London.

Jean-Michelle Basquiat, Untitled (1984). Courtesy of Phillips London.

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Laura J. Boyer