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Contemporary Art


May 18-19, 2000

Phillips Rebounds Strongly

By Carter B. Horsley

While executives of Sotheby's and Christie's may have quietly taken some solace in the less than stellar performance of the Impressionist and Modern Art auction this spring at Phillips's stunning temporary quarters at the American Crafts Museum at 40 West 53rd Street across from the Museum of Modern Art, Phillips's second major auction may give them some serious second thoughts.

Despite some fine works, the first major Phillips auction since it was acquired by Bernard Arnault, the head of LVMH Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton, only sold about 60 percent of its offerings and many of those that passed were among the best.

As its second important auction in its campaign to make Phillips a major high-end competitor with Sotheby's and Christie's, which have dominated the art auction business for decades, the evening contemporary auction at Phillips May 18, 2000 was very critical in this high-stakes game and was a resounding success.

Of 39 offered lots, only two did not sell, an excellent ratio, and records were set for works by Agnes Martin and Damien Hirst.

"Drift of Summer," a 1965 white abstract grid painting by Agnes Martin sold to a telephone bidder for $1.4 million, more than double her previous auction record that was set in 1996. The sales results in this article include the buyer's premium which is lower at Phillips than at the other two houses and is 15 percent of the first $50,000 and ten percent of higher amounts.

The most famous work in the auction was "Out of Sight, Out of Mind," a 1991 work by Damien Hirst of two cow heads in formaldehyde, each in their own glass vitrine, which sold for $552,500, an auction record for the artist. The controversial work encountered some customs problems and Phillips announced before the bidding that purchasers could pick up the work in Britain or the European Union, "but if purchased by a client in the United States, U.S. Customs will require that the new owner sign an affidavit stating that they will not use the medium in any way other than for the purpose of an art exhibition, as to prevent the potential threat of mad cow disease or any other hazardous epidemic that can be associated with the natural decay of dead animal tissue." It sold to an unidentified buyer.

Perhaps the most attractive work was "Apple Orchard," a 1987 oil painting by Gerhard Richter, shown below, that sold for $1.65 million, well over its high estimate of $1.2 million.

"Apple Orchard" by Gerhard Richter

"Apple Orchard," by Gerhard Richter, oil on canvas, 1987

The second part of the contemporary sale at Phillips held May 19, 2000 was not as successful with only 55 percent of the lots selling. Nonetheless, the combined sales total for the two contemporary Phillips auction was $12,146,430, a not unimpressive figure for this rejuvenated "upstart."

See The City Review article on the May 16, 2000 evening auction of Contemporary Art at Christie's

See The City Review article on the May 17, 2000 Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall, 1999 auction of Contemporary Art at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Sotheby's Nov. 17, 1999 auction of Contemporary Art

See The City Review article on the auctions of Contemporary Art from a European Private Collection and Contemporary Art, Part 2, at Sotheby's Nov. 18, 1999

See The City Review article on the May 18, 1999 Contemporary Art Auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on Contemporary Art Part 2 auction at Sotheby's May 19, 1999

See The City Review article on the Christie's, May 19, 1999 Contemporary Art auction

See The City Review article on the Christie's, May 20, 1999 Contemporary Art Part 2 auction


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