Phillips's `White Glove' Auction Tallies Record $49 Million

  • Every artwork finds a buyer at company's 36-lot auction
  • Cy Twombly loops painting sells for $12 million as top lot

Phillips sold all 36 offerings in its 31.5 million-pound ($48.8 million) evening auction of contemporary art, the highest tally in London since the company began hosting sales here in 2006.

Known as a “white glove” sale because 100 percent of its lots were sold, it was a coup for the smaller rival to Sotheby’s and Christie’s, which last pulled off such an auction feat 11 years ago. Wednesday night’s tally fell within the presale estimated range and was more than double the total from the similar auction a year ago despite fewer lots being sold.

The evening sale at Phillips’s new Berkeley Square headquarters kicked off a week of local auctions coinciding with the Frieze Art Fair. Phillips, Christie’s and Sotheby’s are seeking to sell as much as 260.8 million pounds of contemporary art combined.

‘Solid’ Material

“The estimates were correct and the material was solid,” said Benjamin Godsill, who recently left Phillips to become an art adviser. “People pushed themselves. It was a great start to the auction week.”

Cy Twombly's Untitled, 2006
Cy Twombly's Untitled, 2006
Source: Phillips

The top lot was Cy Twombly’s 2006 canvas depicting large, crudely painted terracotta loops that fetched 7.9 million pounds, just shy of its presale low target of 8 million pounds.

The work was among the pieces in the sale whose outcome was left to chance. Fifty-eight percent of the lots were guaranteed by third parties, meaning they were essentially presold.

One additional painting was guaranteed by Phillips, which promised the consignor an undisclosed minimum price regardless of whether the piece sold or flopped.

The bulk of the auction was represented by the estate of Fredric S. Brandt, a Miami plastic surgeon who committed suicide in April. Many pieces sold within their estimates but some soared.

Pouting Girl

“Missing in action,” a 2000 painting by Yoshitomo Nara of a pouting girl, fetched 1.99 million pounds, almost twice its high estimate of 1 million pounds. It was an auction record for the Japanese artist. The prices include the buyer’s commission charged by the auction house; the estimates don’t.

Rudolf Stingel’s large blue and black abstract painting sold for 1.93 million pounds, compared with a 1 million-pound high estimate, after it was chased by at least five bidders. The winner was New York art dealer Joseph Nahmad, who bid in the room.

Mark Bradford's Constitution IV , 2013.
Mark Bradford's Constitution IV , 2013.
Source: Phillips

Stefan Simchowitz, Los Angeles-based collector and entrepreneur, paid 1.43 million pounds for Tauba Auerbach’s “Untitled (Fold)" painting resembling a folded piece of fabric.

Mark Bradford’s 11-by-10 foot abstract painting, “Constitution IV”, sold for 3.8 million pounds, an auction record for the Los Angeles-based artist.

The third artist to achieve a record price was Danh Vo, for his “V J Star” painting of an American flag, made with gold leaf on cardboard. It fetched 602,500 pounds.

Hugues Joffre, who recently joined Phillips as chairman in the U.K. and Europe as well as worldwide head of 20th century art, made his debut as the firm’s chief auctioneer.

“This was the warmest gift the Phillips team could make me,” Joffre said of the sale.

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