A Jean-Michel Basquiat drawing was the most expensive work last night in a $15.2 million auction of contemporary art at Phillips, the first to be held in London under its new branding -- and a new auctioneer.
Basquiat’s 1982 pastel, oilstick, colored crayon and charcoal work on paper, “Untitled,” showing a mask-like face with a halo and raised right hand, was knocked down by Phillips’s new British auctioneer Alexander Gilkes to a single telephone bidder for 1.9 million pounds ($2.9 million) with fees, the top price of the night.
The work had to be re-offered after failing to sell 10 minutes earlier, when the buyer could not make a telephone connection. Not seen at auction since 1984, the drawing had been valued at 1.8 million pounds to 2.5 million pounds.
The New York-based auction house has now reverted to its original name, derived from its 18th-century British founder Harry Phillips, following the departure of its former chairman and flamboyant chief auctioneer, Simon de Pury, in December.
Eton-educated Gilkes is a co-founder of the Paddle8 online auction house and is an affiliated auctioneer at Phillips, where he has taken some of the company’s day sales. He was dressed in a gray three-piece suit for his first evening event.
“Simon was a hard act to follow,” Morgan Long, director of art investment at the London-based Fine Art Fund, said in an interview. “Gilkes was confident and gave it a really good effort.”
Phillips’s sale raised 9.8 million pounds with fees from 33 lots, 82 percent of which sold, against a low estimate of 10.4 million pounds, based on hammer prices.
Phillips de Pury & Co.’s equivalent event last year raised 5.7 million pounds.
Basquiat has proved to be a mainstay of this February series of auctions in London, inspiring a top price of 9.3 million pounds at the previous night’s sale at Christie’s International. The former graffiti painter was the 7th-biggest- selling contemporary artist at auction in 2012 with $161.5 million of sales, according to the Artnet database.
Phillips’s event also included Basquiat’s 1985 canvas “For B.A.M.,” featuring a free-floating head and potted plant on a white background. Priced at 1.2 million pounds to 1.8 million pounds, this failed to sell.
The New York-based collector Jose Mugrabi, seated at the back of the room, was an active bidder, paying 1.7 million pounds for the 1997 Christopher Wool black-and-white enamel on aluminum abstract “Untitled (P271),” estimated at 1.3 million pounds to 1.8 million pounds, and 337,250 pounds for the 2005 painting, “Green Escalade” -- based on a bumper-sticker of a bullet hole -- by the New York painter Nate Lowman, estimated at 60,000 pounds to 80,000 pounds. Neither of these works had been offered at auction before, according to Phillips.
“Up-and-coming artists like Lowman are Phillips’s niche,” the Montreal-based collector Francois Odermatt said. “In 10 or 15 years, when these are established artists, this auction house will have some of the key clients. It’s a good long-term strategy.”
A 1964 Andy Warhol silk-screened “Brillo Soap Pads Box,” wrapped in its original plastic, had been estimated to fetch between 600,000 pounds and 800,000 pounds. Back in 2006, this same piece sold for $710,400 at Christie’s, New York. Last night it failed to sell, though Mugrabi -- who paid 223,250 pounds for a 1964 Warhol “Tomato Juice Box” immediately afterwards -- told Bloomberg News that he had made an offer after the event.
Muse highlights include weekend guides for New York and London, Lewis Lapham on history and Catherine Hickley on movies.
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