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Bewigged Warhol Caps $347 Million Contemporary-Art Sales

Andy Warhol's
Andy Warhol's "Self-Portrait" (1986) sold for 2.9 million pounds at Phillips in London, on July 2, 2014. Source: Phillips via Bloomberg

A self-portrait of Andy Warhol in a spiky fright wig sold for 2.9 million pounds ($4.98 million) at Phillips yesterday in London, concluding the spring auction season in Europe.

This week’s evening sales of contemporary art at Phillips, Sotheby’s and Christie’s in the U.K. capital produced a total of 202.4 million pounds, a 28 percent jump from the tally at equivalent events last year. New buyers from China and other international markets are boosting prices for top postwar and contemporary artists, as the works are being increasingly seen as strong investments.

Phillips, a boutique auctioneer owned by Russia’s luxury retailer Mercury Group, held the smallest of the three evening sales. Twenty-three of the 27 lots offered found buyers. The sale’s total of 9.9 million pounds with fees came within the auction house’s target range. The result represented a 20 percent drop from its 2013 evening sale, and less than a single Francis Bacon painting fetched at Christie’s the day before.

The auction started with excitement as a muted 2012 abstract canvas by David Ostrowski, “F (Gee Vaucher),” sold for 170,500 pounds, more than three times the work’s high presale estimate of 50,000 pounds. The 33-year-old German artist emerged this week as the latest “it” boy on the art-flipping circuit, appearing at each of the three evening sales with multiple bidders in pursuit. More than 12 registered bidders pushed Ostrowski’s price to an auction record for the artist yesterday, according to Michael McGinnis, chief executive officer of Phillips.

Smith, Prince

Another abstract 2012 painting, “Boys Don’t Cry” by 25-year-old Lucien Smith, fetched 116,500 pounds as eight registered bidders pushed its price beyond the high presale estimate of 60,000 pounds. Prices include buyer’s commission; estimates don’t.

Bidding for established artists was more reserved. Richard Prince’s “My Life as a Weapon,” featuring a marriage joke imposed on a colorful background, went for 680,500 pounds, within the presale estimated range.

McGinnis placed the winning bid on behalf of an undisclosed client for Warhol’s 1986 self-portrait, which sold within its target of 2.5 million pounds to 3.5 million pounds. A much larger painting from the “fright wig” series of self-portraits sold for $32 million at Art Basel last month.

“Tonight’s auction saw solid bidding from international collectors including those from North and South America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East,” McGinnis said in a statement.

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