Phillips de Pury's Petite London Sale Scores $9 Million, Buoyed by Andy Warhol's Fontana

Detail of Cindy Sherman's "Untitled #410," 2003
(Courtesy Phillips de Pury)

LONDON —  Boutique auction house Phillips de Pury & Company closed out the contemporary evening series of sales on Thursday with a small but successful event that tallied £5,695,550 ($8,998,436 million). Some 23 of the 25 lots offered sold for a tiny buy-in rate of eight percent by lot and 11 percent by value. The end-of-the-night total fell within the modest pre-sale estimate range of £5,165,000-7,670,000.

Three of the lots carried third-party financial guarantees, meaning an anonymous funding source outside of the auction house guaranteed a confidential minimum price for those wares. Only one work sold for over a million pounds and that was Lucio Fontana’s slashed canvas “Concetto Spaziale, Attese” in virginal white from 1960, which sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for a little over £1 million ($1.7 million) (est. £1-1.5 million/$1.6-$2.4 million). The most remarkable thing about the Fontana is that it was once owned by Andy Warhol and sold back at Sotheby’s New York in May 1987, shortly after the artist’s death following gallbladder surgery for a minute $132,000 figure.


Phillips offered a small-scaled Warhol himself as well, “Mao” (1974), which sold to another telephone bidder for £457,250 ($722,694) (est. £300-500,000). An otherwise unidentified Asian woman bidding at the back of the Howick Place salesroom was the underbidder.

But Phillips’s staple, younger, more cutting-edge contemporary art was mostly successful, with Joe Bradley’s Malevich-esque, black and red “Killroy” (2008) in two parts sold to London’s Simon Dickinson Gallery for £49,250 ($77,603) (est. £30-40,000). Kelly Walker’s brick-patterned four-color silkscreen on canvas with an appropriated image from “Hola!” magazine from 2007 sold to Amsterdam dealer Siebe Tettero for £85,250 ($134,328) (est. £50-70,000).

“I thought the sale was a little tepid,” said Tettero later, "but they did well, just as Sotheby’s did last evening with what they had. I think Christie’s won this round.” Asked about the small scale of Phillips de Pury line-up tonight, Tettero added, “I think people are hesitant to give their works out to this house, which is a pity.”

Still, Phillips soldiered on with a steady beat as Christopher Wool’s leaf-patterned alkyd-on-paper “Untitled” (1988) sold to a telephone bidder for £169,250 ($266,687) (est. £120-180,000). Paris dealer John Sayegh-Belchatowski was the underbidder.

Sayegh-Belchatowski also underbid the Jean-Michel Basquiat oil-stick-and-graphite “Untitled (Half-Eaten)” (1983), featuring images of a banana and Basquiat's own head, which sold to the telephone for £181,250 ($286,386) (est. £150-200,000). “It was cheap,” admitted Sayegh-Belchatowski, who watched the action from his seat in the second row, close to auctioneer Simon de Pury, “but after £130,000, it was enough.”

In contrast to the bouts of wild bidding at Christie’s earlier in the week for the likes of Gerhard Richter and Francis Bacon, competition at Phillips was decidedly more relaxed. Rudolf Stingel’s densely patterned abstraction, “Untitled” (2004) in oil and enamel on canvas sold to another telephone bidder £505,250 ($798,336)

Of the trio of third-party guaranteed lots, Cindy Sherman’s wildly outfitted cowgirl clown, “Untitled #410” (2003), a color photograph from an edition of six, attracted the most competition, bringing out four telephone bidders who drove the price to £433,250 ($684,565). Another guaranteed entry, George Condo’s classically weird seated figure, “Woman in a Blue Chair” (2007), sold to New York’s Skarstedt Gallery, the artist’s primary market dealer for £205,250 ($324,332) (est. £200-300,000). Marc Quinn’s bad taste “The Golden Column (Microcosmos)” (2008), cast in gold leaf and bronze and featuring a waif-thin Kate Moss in a contorted yoga pose, was also guaranteed, selling to a telephone bidder for £289,250 ($457,071) (est. £300-500,000).

One of the few lots to draw serial bidding was the sensation Walead Beshty’s “Fed Ex Kraft Box" (2005), a laminated glass, silicone, and metal Fed Ex shipping box sculpture that sold to a telephone bidder for £58,850 ($92,992) (est. £15-20,000). “It gets silly,” said London Saville Row dealer Carl Kostyal, referring to the price, who was one of the underbidders. “It comes after a hyped series of auction sales and people are going crazy.”

The only casualties of the quickly paced evening were Andreas Gursky’s “Jumeierah Palm” (2008) and Damien Hirst’s ridiculous confection in painted bronze, “Sensation” (2003). They carried respective estimates of £400-600,000 and £350-450,000.

Moments after the sale, Michael McGinnis, Phillip’s worldwide head of contemporary art described the overall result, saying “It’s exactly what we expected. It was a modest price point sale and we felt confident it would do well across the spectrum of Postwar art.” Asked about the low number of buy-ins, McGinnis added, “we have a much better indication of what the market can absorb, and smaller and more confident is better than a higher risk.”    

To see some of the star lots from Phillips de Pury and Company's London contemporary sale, click on the slide show.