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Warhol, Richter Coast, Young Artists Soar at Phillips

"Mao" (1973) by Andy Warhol. The silkscreen and synthetic polymer paint on canvas was estimated at $12 million to $18 million. Source: Phillips de Pury via Bloomberg

Phillips de Pury & Co. sold $79.9 million of contemporary art last night, setting records for four young artists but failing to stir much excitement about top lots by Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

The evening’s tally surpassed the presale low estimate of $73.6 million, although six of the 35 lots failed to find buyers.

“At the end of the week there’s a bit of fatigue,” said Wendy Cromwell, a New York-based art adviser.

Phillips followed two stellar evening sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s earlier this week at which buyers spent a total of $787 million on postwar and contemporary art.

Coupled with their day sales, the three auction houses sold more than $1 billion of postwar and contemporary this week.

The top lot at Phillips, “Mao” (1973) by Warhol, sold for $13.5 million. It was one of 14 lots whose sellers had been guaranteed an undisclosed minimum price financed by the auction house, third parties or a combination thereof.

Estimated at $12 million to $18 million, it drew a sole bidder and was sold to that “gentleman in the room,” as he was described by auctioneer Simon de Pury.

Another guaranteed lot, Basquiat’s 1982 canvas “Humidity,” was estimated at $12 million to $18 million. It drew a sole telephone bid to bring $10.2 million.

An abstract 1985 painting “Kegel (Cone)” by Richter, whose market has risen dramatically in recent years but was tepid this week, fetched $12.4 million just past its presale low estimate of $12 million.

Sparking Fireworks

Works made in the past four years by younger artists sparked fireworks. Tauba Auerbach’s small trompe l’oeil 2010 canvas “Untitled (Fold)” sold for $290,500, nearly double her previous record set in June at Phillips in London. In 2006, Auerbach’s paintings went for $15,000 on the primary market.

Sterling Ruby’s 2008 “SP 17,” an 11-foot-wide spray-painted canvas, brought $626,500, exceeding the presale high estimate and nearly double his previous record of $326,500 set at Phillips a year ago.

“It’s expensive,” said Don Rubell, co-founder of the Rubell Family Collection and Contemporary Arts Foundation in Miami where four monumental paintings by Ruby were shown in a recent exhibition called “American Exuberance.”

“People can’t get enough of them, I guess,” he said, speaking of the record-setting young artists. “The reality is they will be even more expensive a year from now.”

Chewing Gum

Dan Colen’s “S & M,” a 2010 canvas densely covered with masticated-looking chewing gum in bright colors, was another winner. Estimated at $200,000 to $300,000, it went for $578,500, smashing the artist’s previous record of $386,500 set at Sotheby’s in 2009.

The bidding for the Colen started at $140,000 with hands going up all over the room; Cromwell placed the winning bid on behalf of her client.

“It was a targeted purchase,” she said after the sale. “It’s something I identified several years ago and tried to obtain for the client on the primary market and could not.”

Phillips, which is owned by the Russian retailer Mercury Group, charges buyers 25 percent of the hammer price up to $50,000, plus 20 percent from $50,000 to $1 million and 12 percent above $1 million. Presale estimates don’t include the buyer’s premium, while the sale total does.

Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard and Philip Boroff on theater.

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