Contemporary Art

After Action Report: Phillips London Evening Sale

Young artists with persistent markets helped the house close the season with a £17.5 million sale.

Phillips London Evening Sale totaled £17.5 million ($21.28 million) with 31 of the 33 lots offered finding buyers. That’s a 94% sell-through rate, helped along by the withdrawal of two lots—a Baselitz and a Grotjahn—before the sale. Of the 33 works sold, 11 made prices above the estimates or 33%; 8 sold for prices within the estimate range, or 24%; and 11 made prices below the estimates. One lot was an NFT without an estimate. The average price of a work of art excluding the NFT was $698,178.

“It was a long season for everyone,” Phillips Chairwoman Cheyenne Westphal said at a post-sale press conference referring to many sales and art fairs that took place in the preceding two months. “But we’re happy with the results of our younger artists.”

Phillips being the home of emerging artists did well with a roster of Contemporary names.

  • Flora Yukhnovich has established a strong price point at $2 million. Today, Moi aussi je d´borde from 2017 became the fifth work of the painter’s to reach that level when it made £1.7 million over an absurdly low £250,000 estimate. 
  • Antonia Showering opened the sale with We Stray from 2020 that made £190,000 hammer price which translated to $292,068 with fees. This was the second highest price for a Showering work slightly behind April’s It Wasn’t To Be from 2017 that made $302,790. 
  • The Riders II from 2012 became the second work by Maria Berrio to sell at Phillips. It made a very sold £650,000 hammer price which was good enough to make it her sixth highest price at auction. Perhaps more important, the sale established continuing demand for the artist around the $1 million price level. 
  • Scottish painter Caroline Walker’s Afters from 2016 became her second highest auction price when it made £250,000 hammer or £315,000 premium. 
  • Lauren Quin’s Numbness filled in her price record with her fourth highest price at $240,000 with fees. Successive sales are showing lower prices which might equally be a measure of demand getting filled or a lower quality of work coming to market. 
  • Rafa Macarron saw a bit of a price recovery as Machaquito made £327,600 with fees. That’s his third highest price and brings his public auction prices closer to the private market and to the top prices around $500,000 established for his work in October and April.
  • Robert Nava is an artist whose work one might expect to be diminished by the shifting macroeconomic environment. But the sale of Maybe Metatron for £252,000 helped shore up his price structure filling at the same level as similar works sold a few months before. 
  • Other younger artists who beat their expectations were Tschabalala Self, Emmanuel Taku, and Anna Weyant. But not all artists were able to maintain their momentum. Simone Leigh, and Shara Hughes had sales below expectations. 

Where Phillips seemed to struggle was with more established artists. It’s true that Louise Bourgeois did quite well when Couple sold for £869,500 with fees in line with prices for similar works from her long practice. John Chamberlain’s Ramwater Sweets from 2002 sold for £258,300 with fees which was above the low estimate.

But a Michelangelo Pistoletto from the 1960s also sold to a guarantor who paid a price slightly below the low estimate to get the work for £2 million with fees. THe top lot of the sale in price, a Cy Twombly painting from 1962, had to be sold at a significant discount to the estimate of £3 million pounds. The buyer ended up paying £2.68 million with fees.

Other stalwart names that showed that pricing may be shifting back in the favor of buyers were George Condo, Nicolas de Staël, Günther Förg, Carmen Herrera and Damien Hirst.

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