Phillips Sale Ends $241 Million Contemporary-Art Marathon

A surrealist painting by the U.K. artist Glenn Brown sold at a Phillips auction in London that concluded the two-month summer season of high-end contemporary art events.

Evening sales of contemporary art at Phillips, Sotheby’s and Christie’s International in the U.K. capital raised a total of 158.2 million pounds ($241 million), a 29.8 percent decline on the 225.4 million pounds achieved by the equivalent events last year. The auction houses are having problems feeding all-year-round demand for quality works by the market’s 50 or so investment-grade favorites.

“The supply side is clearly lacking,” the London-based dealer Richard Nagy said in an interview. “The auction houses just don’t have enough time after the May sales in New York. People are also worn out by the end of June. That said, the demand was still there for anything interesting.”

Brown’s giant 1999 canvas, “Oscillate Wildly (after “Autumnal Cannibalism” 1936 by Salvador Dali),” showing one of the Spanish surrealist’s paintings as if seen in a fairground mirror, sold for 2.9 million pounds with fees on June 27. Despite being painted in less commercial black and white, it realized its hefty estimate of 2.5 million pounds to 3.5 million pounds.

The Phillips top lot was bought by a lone telephone bid taken by Phillips’s chief executive officer, Michael McGinnis. Valuations for works by the artist had been boosted by the record 5. 2 million pounds paid for “The Tragic Conversion of Salvador Dali (After John Martin)” at Sotheby’s in London last June.

Phillips’s sale raised 12.3 million pounds with fees against a low estimate of 11.9 million pounds at hammer prices. The auction found buyers for 92 percent of the 26 lots.

Telephone Bidders

Telephone bidders dominated the buying, with only five works falling to bidders in the room. Among these was a South American private collector who paid a quadruple-estimate 146,500 pounds for the 2011 oil, paper and debris on canvas abstract, “Untitled,” by the young Colombian artist, Oscar Murillo.

The previous day, at Christie’s Part II sale of more affordably estimated contemporary material, another work by Murillo -- who is gaining a reputation as South America’s Jean-Michel Basquiat - had sold for a record 253,875 pounds. Inscribed graffiti-style with the word “Pasteles,” this had been estimated at 20,000 pounds to 30,000 pounds.

Bacon, Gursky

During the week of sales, a Francis Bacon triptych fetched 11.3 million pounds at Sotheby’s, which also sold five Andreas Gursky photographs of stock exchanges for 5.5 million pounds. Greg Coffey, the ex-co-chief investment officer of Moore Capital Management LLC’s European business, was the seller of the Gurksys, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

Sotheby’s sale on June 26 raised 75.8 million pounds with fees against an estimate of 66.1 million pounds to 94.6 million pounds, based on hammer prices. Buyers were found for 78 percent of the 68 lots, as had been the case the previous night at Christie’s, which took 70.1 million pounds.

The Christie’s top lot was a Basquiat untitled painting of his trademark cartoon-like figures which sold for 18.8 million pounds including fees.

In recent years, such evening contemporary auctions have routinely sold more than 80 percent. Dealers blamed fatigue induced by $1.1 billion auctions in New York, the Venice Biennale and Art Basel fairs in Hong Kong and Switzerland. The events also coincided with the Masterpiece London art fair.

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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