Warhol Fuels Bidding Once Again at Phillips de Pury's $94.8 Million Sale

Phillips de Pury & Company, the boutique-scaled auction house that recently made a big move to a sleeker space on 57th Street, delivered a respectable $94.8 million evening sale of contemporary art, finishing off a marathon week of bidding battles. Thirty-eight of the 50 lots offered found buyers, translating to a buy-in rate by lot of 24 percent and 12 percent by value. The tally fell in betwixt and between the $84.5 to $121.3 million pre-sale estimate.

Stripped of the added-on buyer's premium — check the auction catalogue's fine print for the stepped breakdown — the house sold $82,700,000. Nineteen lots sold for over a million dollars, and of those, three made over five million, and one, a pristine Andy Warhol painting of Elizabeth Taylor, surpassed $25 million.

Two artist records were set, one of them being for the tag-team collaboration between Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat: "Third Eye," a giant acrylic-on-canvas from 1985, completed two years before Warhol's death and three before Basquiat's, sold for $7,026,500 (est. $2-3 million). Four bidders chased the red-drenched canvas that teemed with advertising images and Basquiat's signature foreboding skull.

Many of the big prices realized benefited from the crutch of 11 multimillion-dollar third-party financial guarantees, another indicator that Phillips is harvesting deep-pocketed investors to keep its Russian-owned ship afloat. Most impressively, tonight's tally more than doubled last May's result of $45.6 million.

Higher visibility, thanks to its stylish perch on the corner of Park Avenue and 57th Street — a favorite shopping spot of the rich and international set — partly enabled that transition from its funkier downtown quarters in Manhattan's Meatpacking District. "The location has been an amazing asset for us," said Michael McGinnis, worldwide head of Phillips de Pury's contemporary department. "It's helping our ability to get consignments."

Why else, for example, would hedgie and supercollector Steve Cohen entrust his "Liz 5 (Early Colored Liz)" from 1963 — formerly part of the renowned Ileana Sonnabend collection — to Phillips? Well, the secret third-party guarantee no doubt helped, and the estimate on request, believed to be in the $20-30 range, came close to fruition with the 40-by-40-inch Liz in glowing shades of thalo green or, if you prefer, turquoise, to hit $26,962,500, selling to an anonymous telephone bidder.

Unlike last night's marathon bidding battle at Christie's for Warhol's "Self-Portrait" in four parts from 1963-64 that featured the artist in shades and skinny tie, the publicity-still image of the ragingly beautiful Taylor came and went in about one minute.

Auctioneer and globetrotting Phillips chairman Simon de Pury opened the bidding at $18 million and took million-dollar-increment bids to the $24 million hammer price, sold to an anonymous telephone bidder. It came and went almost before anyone could register it had sold.

Warhol made 13 versions of Liz, and when he first showed them with Leo Castelli in the 1960s they were typically priced at $1,500, according to Castelli's widow, the art dealer Barbara Castelli. It isn't known what astronomical price Cohen paid for the painting when the Sonnabend estate sold a $600 million swath of its goodies in 2008 in order to pay death duties.

For time-capsule comparisons, another versions of "Colored Liz" from 1963 (one of the 13), sold for $23.5 million at Christie's New York in November 2007. Another, sporting the same turquoise background and painted eyelids a Cohen's, sold at Sotheby's New York in November of 2001, just two months after 9/11, for $3.6 million. The same painting made just $176,000 when it sold at the same house in October of 1987, eight months after Warhol's premature death at the age of 58.

Apparently, this time the hoopla about the Sonnabend provenance — and it being the first such work to come to auction — didn't do much beyond the 2007 number.

Still, this Liz became the third most expensive Warhol to sell at auction this week, trailing "Self-Portrait" from 1963-64 that made $38.4 million at Christiie's, as well as the "Self-Portrait" from 1986 that sold to Jose Mugrabi at Christie's for $27,522,500 on Wednesday evening. It beat out the much-coveted "16 Jackies" from 1964 at Sotheby's on Tuesday evening that sold for $20.2 million.    

Another Warhol at Phillips, the four-foot-square "Flowers" from 1964 (another of the third-party guarantee lots), sold to a telephone bidder for $8,146,500 (est. $8-12 million), making it the fifth-most-expensive Warhol in the week's derby. It last sold at Christie's London in June 2007 "to the U.S. trade," as Christie's described the buyer, for £2,596,000 ($5,160,848).
That is an impressive markup.

Not to pass out from too much ado about Warhol's endless market, his quirky and childlike, green-faced "Witch" from 1981 sold to the telephone for $2,658,500 (est. $1.8-2.5 million). London jewelry magnate Lawrence Graff was the underbidder.

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Overall, the night's Warhol tally at Phillips came to $41,770,000 for the four works, beating Sotheby's take of $35,999,000 on Tuesday evening for six paintings by the artist. Both houses, however, lagged far behind Christie's $90,988,000 bonanza for the eight Warhols they sold on Wednesday evening. The cumulative total in Warholia cash terms (with premium) for the 18 works that sold in the evening sales is $168,757,000. Compare that to the overall evening tallies of $579,416,000 for Christie's, Phillips de Pury, and Sotheby's and you'll begin to see the light of how much impact Warhol has on the contemporary art market.

Phillips had other Pop art offerings as well, including Roy Lichtenstein's large and sleek "Still Life With Mirror" from 1972 that sold to a telephone bidder for $6,578,500 (est. $6-8 million), free of any financial guarantee.

Of more recent vintage, Richard Prince's "Wayward Nurse (Crashed)" from 2006, a blood-streaked figure in form-fitting nurse whites, sold for $4,562,500 (est. 4-6 million). It too had a third party guarantee. Meanwhile, Upper East Side dealer Ann Cook successfully bid on Richard Prince's 48-by-36-inch "Untitled: Joke Painting" from 2009 for $782,500 (est. $350-450,000).

Of a more formal nature, Gerhard Richter's 78 ¾-by-63-inch "Abstraktes Bild" from 1988 sold to Katherine van Thillo, Phillips de Pury's Belgian consultant, for $4,114,500. She was the only woman spotted wearing a fur wrap and long black dress, as if a refugee from a grand opera.

There were a bunch of casualties, including works by Cindy Sherman, Marlene Dumas, Damien Hirst, Christopher Wool, Robert Morris, Rudolf Stingel, Alighiero e Boetti, and Mark Rothko, but they were mostly of a minor nature or simply overpriced.

"The market is still very selective," said Florence de Botton, the Paris based private dealer and former Sotheby's specialist, "so when you have beautiful things, there's no problem. But there is a lot of material out there and you must be careful."

Phillips's specialty, presenting younger artists to the auction market, was typically snappy, as evidenced by hotshot painter Jacob Kassay's "Untitled" from 2009 that sold to Dutch art advisor Siebe Tettero, the former deputy director of Sotheby's Amsterdam, for $290,500 (est. $60-80,000). Underbidders including Pace Gallery and Acquavella Galleries.

Chelsea dealer Tony Shafrazi nabbed Urs Fischer's three-part "Cup/Cigarettes/Skid" from 2006, executed in wood, polyurethane, acrylic paint, and nails for the same price as the Kassay (est. $200-300,000). "He's a good friend and a great artist," said the veteran dealer as he exited from the salesroom onto the concrete plaza area that Phillips set up as paddle registration station.

Shafrazi, spotting his longtime pals Peter Brant and Alberto Mugrabi, shouted at them in seeming jest that they were going to treat him so badly as an old man that he'd be forced to hawking pencils outside Yankee Stadium. Both men burst our laughing, as the tension and fatigue of the marathon week of sales began to take a rather clownish effect.

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