Auctions Contemporary art Market United Kingdom

Young stars shine at Phillips

The work of emerging artists spurred a flurry of bidding in an otherwise muted sale

A record was set for Rashid Johnson (b. 1977), with Sun Goddess, 2009, going for £122,500 (est £60,000-£80,000)

Phillips kicked off London’s contemporary evening auctions on Wednesday night—a “courageous” act according to the company’s chief executive, Michael McGinnis, given the distractions of Frieze London and the slew of other fairs. Although the sale total of £13m fell just short of the low pre-sale estimate of £13.3m (against a high estimate of £18.9m), the sell-through rate was strong, with 91% sold by value and 84% sold by lot.

A hefty 20% of the artists on offer are under 40 and it was the young stars who buoyed the results. Ryan Sullivan’s February 5th, 2011, 2011, sold for £98,500 (est £40,000-£60,000), a record for the 30-year-old artist, whose enamel and latex paintings are on show at Sadie Coles’s new Kingly Street gallery (until 2 November). A record was also set for Rashid Johnson (b. 1977), with Sun Goddess, 2009, going for £122,500 (est £60,000-£80,000).

Young market darlings Jacob Kassay (b. 1984) and Oscar Murillo (b. 1986) also fared well; their paintings sold for £158,500 (est £70,000-£90,000) and £218,500 (est £40,000-£60,000) respectively. Although some way off their records—Kassay’s stands at $290,500 (£182,000) and Murillo’s at $401,000 (£251,000)—their lots attracted flurries of bidding in a generally muted auction; one third of the works in the sale received a single bid. Murillo is also currently gaining institutional recognition with a show at the South London Gallery (until 1 December).

The top lots by the veterans Gerhard Richter, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Christopher Wool did not quite match expectations. Wool’s painting was the only one to scrape home within estimate (once the buyer’s premium had been added): Untitled (P430), 2003, fetched £1.1m against an estimate of £1m-£1.5m. Richter’s Weiss (White), 1988, went for £2.4m (est £2.5m-£3.5m) to the New York curator and dealer Vito Schnabel (the son of the artist and film-maker Julian).

Meanwhile Basquiat’s Untitled from 1981—the highest valued lot of the three evening sales this week with an estimate of £3m to £4m—sold for £1.9m. McGinnis said the jump in prices at the top end of the market had pushed up the estimate on the Basquiat, but that Phillips “had a good reserve on the piece and it sold well”. The contemporary specialist Svetlana Marich negotiated the sale over the phone for a Russian speaker who also bought the two moderately valued Warhols on offer for £110,500 and £194,500. The Israeli collector Jose Mugrabi was an underbidder for the Basquiat.

Describing the week’s evening sales as “a barometer for the market”, McGinnis concluded that Phillips’s results proved there is strength in the market for work by younger artists, as well as in the blue chip market. The performance of emerging artists’ work was especially encouraging, he added: “The contemporary art market can very much be about the young guns.”

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