Lucien Smith’s 8-foot-tall canvas made by spraying blue paint from a fire extinguisher fetched 194,500 pounds ($319,135) at Phillips’s auction of contemporary art yesterday in London.
Known as “rain” paintings because the marks resemble drops of rain, the works by the 24-year-old were priced at $3,000 to $12,000 at OHWOW Gallery in Los Angeles during Smith’s first solo show in September 2012, a person familiar with the matter said earlier this month.
Phillips’s evening sale kicked off a week of postwar and contemporary auctions in London expected to generate as much as $500 million as buyers chase trophies and lucrative returns from works by prominent artists and emerging stars. The auction tallied 10.4 million pounds, within the firm’s estimated range and 6 percent above the results for the same event a year ago.
“It’s one of the best curated auctions that I’ve seen at Phillips,” Vienna-based collector Amir Shariat said as he exited the cavernous salesroom. “It’s much tighter and much better quality. That’s what the market wants.”
Eight of the 33 lots failed to sell. Auctions records were set for three artists: Nate Lowman, Mark Flood and Fredrik Vaerslev.
The top lot, Gerhard Richter’s small 1992 abstract canvas, went for 1.9 million pounds, within the estimated range. It was bought by the client of Svetlana Marich, Phillips’s Moscow-based director and international specialist.
At least four bidders chased Smith’s 2012 canvas, which had been estimated at 40,000 pounds to 60,000 pounds. Bidding started at 35,000 pounds and reached 80,000 pounds within seconds. The final prices include fees while the estimates don’t.
Vaerslev set an auction record with a 2011 blue, fence-like structure, “Untitled (Frieze Garden Painting #02),” which fetched 48,750 pounds, surpassing the high estimate of 30,000 pounds.
Two works by the elusive British street artist Banksy did better than expected. “Happy Shopper,” a 2009 sculpture depicting a classical female statue weighed down by oversized sunglasses and numerous shopping bags, sold for 506,500 pounds against the high estimate of 300,000 pounds. Marich placed the winning bid on behalf of an anonymous client.
Banksy’s “Rembrandt” (2009), which reproduces the Dutch master’s 1669 self-portrait as a 63-year-old but adds googly eyes, attracted 398,500 pounds, surpassing the high estimate of 250,000 pounds.
No fireworks greeted a painting by Oscar Murillo, 28, whose 24 works generated $4.8 million at auction last year. In New York in September, Phillips set an auction record for his work when an abstract painting featuring doodles and dirt sold for $401,000, more than 10 times the presale high estimate. Bidding was more subdued yesterday as his 2011 untitled abstraction fetched 98,500 pounds, compared with the presale high estimate of 80,000 pounds.
A silver painting by Jacob Kassay, a young market star who generated more than $5.5 million in auction revenue since 2010, according to Artnet Worldwide Corp., fetched 86,500 pounds, within the estimate range.
“The more opportunities you see in the market, the more selective you can be as a buyer,” said Michael McGinnis, chief executive officer of New York- and London-based Phillips.
Eight works by Murillo and two by Kassay are being offered this week in London, according to Artnet.
The results for Damien Hirst and Dan Colen underscored the perils of buying into an overheated market.
Hirst’s 2007 “Night Follows Day” diptych dotted with butterflies fetched 578,500 pounds against the estimated range of 500,000 to 700,000 pounds. In 2011, the work failed to sell at Phillips in New York when it was estimated at $1.2 million to $1.8 million.
Colen’s 2010 “It’s Only Natural (The Replacement),” a painting made by spreading colorful globs of chewing gum (instead of paint) across a canvas, was estimated at 200,000 pounds to 300,000 pounds. It failed to attract a bid.