Basquiat Drawing Tops $15.2 Million Phillips London Sale

A Jean-Michel Basquiat drawing was the most expensive work last night in a $15.2 million auction of contemporary art at Phillips, the first to be held in London under its new branding -- and a new auctioneer.

Basquiat’s 1982 pastel, oilstick, colored crayon and charcoal work on paper, “Untitled,” showing a mask-like face with a halo and raised right hand, was knocked down by Phillips’s new British auctioneer Alexander Gilkes to a single telephone bidder for 1.9 million pounds ($2.9 million) with fees, the top price of the night.

The work had to be re-offered after failing to sell 10 minutes earlier, when the buyer could not make a telephone connection. Not seen at auction since 1984, the drawing had been valued at 1.8 million pounds to 2.5 million pounds.

The New York-based auction house has now reverted to its original name, derived from its 18th-century British founder Harry Phillips, following the departure of its former chairman and flamboyant chief auctioneer, Simon de Pury, in December.

Eton-educated Gilkes is a co-founder of the Paddle8 online auction house and is an affiliated auctioneer at Phillips, where he has taken some of the company’s day sales. He was dressed in a gray three-piece suit for his first evening event.

“Simon was a hard act to follow,” Morgan Long, director of art investment at the London-based Fine Art Fund, said in an interview. “Gilkes was confident and gave it a really good effort.”

Sale Total

Phillips’s sale raised 9.8 million pounds with fees from 33 lots, 82 percent of which sold, against a low estimate of 10.4 million pounds, based on hammer prices.

Phillips de Pury & Co.’s equivalent event last year raised 5.7 million pounds.

Basquiat has proved to be a mainstay of this February series of auctions in London, inspiring a top price of 9.3 million pounds at the previous night’s sale at Christie’s International. The former graffiti painter was the 7th-biggest-selling contemporary artist at auction in 2012 with $161.5 million of sales, according to the Artnet database.

Phillips’s event also included Basquiat’s 1985 canvas “For B.A.M.,” featuring a free-floating head and potted plant on a white background. Priced at 1.2 million pounds to 1.8 million pounds, this failed to sell.

Mugrabi’s Purchases

The New York-based collector Jose Mugrabi, seated at the back of the room, was an active bidder, paying 1.7 million pounds for the 1997 Christopher Wool black-and-white enamel on aluminum abstract “Untitled (P271),” estimated at 1.3 million pounds to 1.8 million pounds, and 337,250 pounds for the 2005 painting, “Green Escalade” -- based on a bumper-sticker of a bullet hole -- by the New York painter Nate Lowman, estimated at 60,000 pounds to 80,000 pounds. Neither of these works had been offered at auction before, according to Phillips.

“Up-and-coming artists like Lowman are Phillips’s niche,” the Montreal-based collector Francois Odermatt said. “In 10 or 15 years, when these are established artists, this auction house will have some of the key clients. It’s a good long-term strategy.”

A 1964 Andy Warhol silk-screened “Brillo Soap Pads Box,” wrapped in its original plastic, had been estimated to fetch between 600,000 pounds and 800,000 pounds. Back in 2006, this same piece sold for $710,400 at Christie’s, New York. Last night it failed to sell, though Mugrabi -- who paid 223,250 pounds for a 1964 Warhol “Tomato Juice Box” immediately afterwards -- told Bloomberg News that he had made an offer after the event.

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