Private Richter Sales Hide in Plain Sight at $95 Million ExhibitBy
Phillips looking beyond auctions to bring in added revenue
Lineup includes a $25 million squeegee painting, tapestries
Phillips is starting 2017 with its biggest private sales exhibition ever.
The boutique auction house that’s seeking to gain ground on its larger rivals is displaying 11 abstract works by Gerhard Richter with a combined value of $95 million. Most of the works, on view beginning Saturday in New York, are large-scale and nine are for sale, with prices ranging from about $50,000 for a print to $25 million for a painting, according Robert Manley, co-head of 20th century and contemporary art at Phillips.
“There’s a strong market for them,” Manley said. “We wanted to put up a beautiful show, excite our clients. It’s a slow month.”
Private art sales, a more discreet and cost-efficient alternative to auctions, are becoming increasingly important as consignors grow reluctant to offer works publicly in a down market. They can take the shape of clandestine transactions or gallery-style shows with undisclosed final prices.
Phillips, headquartered in New York and London, is trying to strengthen its private sales by adding specialists and top executives. Miety Heiden, Sotheby’s former head of contemporary private sales for North America, joins in March as head of private sales.
The new exhibition, “Gerhard Richter: Abstraktes Bild,” arrives less than two months after $138 million of art by the German octogenarian sold in New York at major auctions in one week. The earliest piece is “Untitled (self-portrait),” a vortex of muddy brush strokes from 1971, when Richter often painted over earlier figurative images. Also included are paintings made with squeegees and two monumental woven tapestries.
The most expensive work is a sultry red and black square from 1991. The owner paid $21.4 million at Sotheby’s in November 2014, and the asking price now is 17 percent higher.
Phillips’s competitors are also pushing private sales as they look beyond the auction market for revenue. Sotheby’s private sales almost doubled in the third quarter from a year earlier to $167.9 million. Christie’s sent $250 million of art to Hong Kong for a private sales show in November, selling a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting for $24 million.