Powered by Basquiat, Klein, Calder, Kusama, and a host of newer stars, Phillips’s “20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale” hauled in $225 million on Wednesday, a landmark for the auction house. The auction was 100 percent sold, both by lot and by value. It not only marked a mind-boggling 90 percent increase over last year’s total, but also stands as the most successful night of sales in company history, as a post-sales press release was quick to trumpet.
Colorful moments abounded throughout the evening. “We’ll start with the breakout star of the auction season!” the exuberant auctioneer bellowed to the crowd.
I’ll give you a hint what artist he was referring to: just-announced representation with Gagosian… Had a piece hammer for $1.2 million on a $200,000 low estimate at Christie’s last week…? You got it: Anna Weyant’s moody still life Buffet II (2021) led the sale, once again shattering an instantly quaint estimate of $100,000 to $150,000 with a selling price of $730,800. The piece will go to a collector in Hong Kong. Many other lots from the night’s sale will join it.
María Berrío’s Burrow of the Yellow (2013) also went to a buyer in Hong Kong. The storybook, Klimt-esque mixed-media collage sold for $998,000 over a $400,000 low estimate, making Berrío something of a breakout.
A bidding war erupted over Shara Hughes’s The Not Dark Dark Spots (2017), another colorful, almost psychedelic piece. The tug-of-war was between a collector in Korea and one in Hong Kong. It eventually sold for $1.6 million, more than triple its high estimate of $500,000.
Some sales happened on the floor, however.
Gallerist Joe Nahmad nabbed a Calder mobile, 39=50 (1959) for $15.6 million. The piece comes from Calder’s “Snow Flurry” series, which was inspired by the winters in his hometown of Roxbury, Massachusetts. It had been in a private collection in New York since it was purchased in 2007 from François Pinault.
The marquee lot of the night was an untitled work by Jean-Michel Basquiat from the golden year of 1982: a sprawling canvas stretching over 16 feet long and 8 feet tall. The striking work comes from the collection of the art world’s favorite astronaut, Yusaku Maezawa, and sold for a staggering $85 million. That’s the third highest price the artist has ever achieved at auction, and a 50 percent increase from the painting’s last sale in 2016.
Several of the evening’s most expensive lots followed this event. These included Yves Klein’s Relief Éponge bleu sans titre (RE 49) (1961), which sold for $20 million, and Pablo Picasso’s portrait of his muse Marie-Thérèse, Figures et Plante (1934), for $10.3 million.
While the most expensive lots of the night were all from 20th century artists, most of whom are no longer living, one contemporary star made her way into the top ten: Cecily Brown’s Angie (2005) sold for $6 million. Yayoi Kusama broke her auction record for the sale of Untitled (Nets) (1959), which sold for $10.5 million, beating out her previous record set last year at $8 million.
Other artists to set new auction records include Robin F. Williams, whose piece Nude Waiting It Out (2017) sold for $328,000, and Reggie Burrows Hodges, whose Intersection of Color: Suite (2019) brought in $730,000.
The evening was bookended by shattered estimates. Just before the evening adjourned, a frenetic, deeply layered painting by Los Angeles breakout Lauren Quin, titled Second Palm Third Stem (2020), staggered the crowd when it sold for nearly ten times its low estimate of $40,000, bringing in just over $300,000.
Overall, this was the house’s most profitable sale to date. While the big Basquiat surely played a role, so must have the 14 female artists who made the evening’s sale majority women, “a conscious choice,” according to Robert Manley, the house’s Deputy Chairman and Worldwide Co-Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art. But, he added, “tonight’s result reflects strength across all sectors of the market.”
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