Auction Watch November 2023: New York Marquee Sales
Phillips Evening and Day Sales

Untitled by Keith Haring - Christie's 2023 Image © Image / Untitled © Keith Haring 1983
Joe Syer

Joe Syer, Co-Founder & Specialist[email protected]

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Phillips evening sale premiered second in the highly anticipated marquee auctions spanning two weeks in New York City. The highlight of their offerings was the prestigious Triton Foundation Collection, serving as the opening act for the main evening sale. These two auctions jointly achieved an impressive sales total of $128 million (hammer). Subsequently, the evening sales were followed by the day sales, divided into morning and afternoon sessions. On November 15th, Phillips concluded its presence in the marquee sales, amassing a significant $143.6 million at the hammer across four sales, marking an overall success that exceeded the low presale estimate by +7%.

Overall, Phillips' evening sale was a resounding success, performing in line with their presale estimates. The hammer price achieved a commendable 94% sell-through rate across 56 lots. This dual-sale accomplishment now ranks as the second-highest achievement in Phillips' history, spanning both the 20th century and Contemporary art sectors. This exceptional performance significantly outshone the total from the October London sale, surpassing it by an impressive factor of 3.3, solidifying its position as the standout Phillips marquee sale of the year. However, when making a comparison, it's worth noting that during the same period last year, Phillips' 20th Century and Contemporary sale generated $115.7 million from a single sale of 43 artworks at the hammer. This highlights the profound impact that single-owner sales can wield over the overall success of evening auctions, especially in the context of the 2023 art market and prevailing economic conditions.

Phillips Evening Sale Part I

Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation - 14/11 (Live)

  1. Presale estimate: $73,290,000 - $103,750,000
  2. Sales Total Hammer: $69,872,500 / -5% below low estimate
  3. Sell-through rate: 100%
    1. Above: 13 % (4)
    2. Within: 46% (14)
    3. Below: 26% (68)
    4. Unsold: - (0)

Phillips announced its sale of The Triton Foundation Collection in early October. The curation took shape through the acquisitions of Willem Cordia, a prominent figure in the Dutch shipping and oil industry, and his wife, Marijke van der Laan. Following Cordia's passing in 2011, these artworks were transferred into a foundation managed by their two children. The entire collection is comprised of over 200 pieces, spanning from Impressionism to Post War Abstraction. The careful selection presented by Phillips is truly unique, reflecting the avant-garde tastes of the leading Dutch industrialists in the 20th century.

From 2022 and into 2023, art enthusiasts have been fixated on a notable trend: the shift in collectors preference and younger generations emerging as prominent art enthusiasts. Phillips sale exemplifies this generational shift, as the funds from this sale will go to funding new acquisitions for the collection. The heirs are now more interested in acquiring blue chip contemporary artworks, especially those by artists in high demand this year.

Presented as part one of Phillips evening sale, the continued pattern of auction house and third-party guarantees was evident. The 30-lot sale, rich in Modern 20th century trophy lots, demonstrated a high-value price distribution. Of the 30 works offered, more than half were sold for over seven figures, with five of them surpassing the five-million-dollar mark, accounting for 92% of the total sale.

Here are the highlights:

Femme en corset lisant un livre by Pablo Picasso - Phillips 2023Image © Phillips / Femme en corset lisant un livre © Pablo Picasso

Star Lots: Fernand Léger and Pablo Picasso reach eight figures

The standout piece of the event, as anticipated, was Fernand Leger's Le 14 juillet (circa 1911-1912). Like many works in this sale, it made its auction debut after being held in private collections. This abstract representation of Bastille Day fetched $17,625,000 (including fees), falling within its estimated range of $15 - $20 million. Another artwork that crossed the eight-figure mark was by none other than Pablo Picasso. Rare and high value paintings of Picasso’s muses have flooded this round of New York marquee sales and Femme en corset lisant un livre , a cubist representation of his muse Eva Gouel was no exception. This work achieved $2,238,00 (including fees) aligning within estimates.

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Woman Contemplating a Yellow Cup (Study) by Roy Lichtenstein - Phillips 2023Image © Phillips / Woman Contemplating a Yellow Cup (Study) © Roy Lichtenstein 1994

21st Century Blue Chip Artists

Roy Lichtenstein and Louise Bourgeois

The sale also featured several works by Post War and  Contemporary artists. Roy Lichtenstein’s Woman Contemplating a Yellow Cup (Study) (1994) made a welcomed appearance of the female figure in Lichtenstein's oeuvre — his Nudes series have been trending this year in the print market. Although this work fell just short of its $2 million high estimate, it set a benchmark for its first-time auction appearance by selling for $1,996,000 (including fees).

Expressing diversity in mediums, a sculpture by Louise Bourgeois was offered. Tits, conceived in 1967 and executed in 1982 is crafted from black marble and abstractly represents the female chest. A smaller pink marble version of this work previously sold in 2013 for £118,545 (including fees). This particular piece commanded an impressive $317,500 (including fees).

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Phillips Evening Sale Part II

20th Century & Contemporary Art - 14/11 (Live)

  1. Presale estimate: $41,210,000 - $57,840,000
  2. Sales Total Hammer: $58,205,000 / +40% below low estimate
  3. Sell-through rate: 92%
    1. Above: 15 % (4)
    2. Within: 42% (11)
    3. Below: 30% (8)
    4. Unsold: 7% (2)

Phillips' 20th Century and Contemporary Art evening sale showcased a vibrant array of artworks, achieving a sales total that slightly exceeded the presale high estimate. This positive outcome was underscored by the fact that the majority of the lots, specifically 15 out of 26 (considering the 4 withdrawals presale), found buyers.

Within this sale, several remarkable lots garnered significant attention. In the realm of ultra-contemporary art, Gagosian star Jadé Fadojutimi, delivered an exceptional performance with Quirk my mannerism (2021). This work achieved a remarkable result by realising $1.9 million (including fees), surpassing its high estimate of $800,000. This sale set a new auction record for the artist, eclipsing the previous record of $1.6 million set just the previous week at Christie's 21st Century evening sale.

Additionally, Belgian artist Ben Sledsens made a strong impression with A second nice break (2017), which achieved a price of $279,400 (including fees), marking a 55% increase over its high estimate and ranking as his second highest selling work.

Here are the highlights:

Abstraktes Bild (636) by Gerhard Richter - Phillips 2023Image © Phillips / Abstraktes Bild (636) © Gerhard Richter © 1987

Blue Chip Winners

Gerhard Richter and Keith Haring

Demonstrating his resurgence following the previous Sotheby's October London auction, Gerhard Richter took centre stage with Abstraktes Bild (636) (1987), achieving an impressive $34,800,000. This sale appears to have met the spending standards set before 2023 and stands as Richter's fourth highest-selling work and the third highest among his Abstraktes Bild series.

Keith Haring also experienced a more favourable outcome in this auction compared to Christie's, where a rare works from his formative years fetched a relatively low price point. An untitled piece, created in 1983 using vinyl paint on vinyl tarpaulin, showcases Haring's remarkable versatility with various mediums. It features Haring's iconic totemic central figure, stretching from top to bottom of the tarpaulin, exuding a sense of celebration and the dynamic spirit akin to the New York street scene that Haring was an integral part of. This sale marks the artwork's fourth appearance at auction, having first been sold in 1994 in Stockholm and subsequently at Christie's in 2004 and 2017. This sale realised $3,206,000 (including fees) and represents Haring's highest-performing auction in 2023 and ranks as the third highest-priced lot of the entire sale.

Browse Richter and Haring prints on the Trading Floor and find out more about the print market growth on the MAB100 Print Index.

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Anthropométrie sans titre, (ANT 149) by Yves Klein - Phillips 2023Image © Phillips / Anthropométrie sans titre, (ANT 149) © Yves Klein 1958

Yves Klein's Anthropométrie sans titre (ANT 149) (1958) was another highlight, also showcasing the female form in the artist's signature International Klein Blue. This iconic piece, stemming from one of his performative works, achieved solid results within its estimates, selling for $1,016,000 (including fees).

Last but not least, American abstract painter Sam Gilliam's Purple, Orange & Green (1958) exceeded expectations, selling for $482,600, which was 1.6 times higher than the high estimate.

UNTITLED (DBZ2) by KAWS - Phillips 2023Image © Phillips / UNTITLED (DBZ2) © KAWS 2007

Blue Chip Surprises

Damien Hirst and KAWS

A delightful and unexpected turn of events unfolded with the artist KAWS during this sale, particularly with his piece titled UNTITLED (DBZ2), (2007). UNTITLED (DBZ2) exemplifies KAWS' deep understanding of both Japanese and American pop culture from the mid-2000s. KAWS blended the edginess of Appropriation and Street Art, skillfully harnessing the universal language of cartoons. While the KAWS market has experienced noticeable adjustments, this particular artwork delivered a pleasantly surprising performance, achieving a remarkable $1,875,000 (including fees), which is 25% above its high estimate of $1.5 million. It firmly places this piece among KAWS' top-selling works and represents the highest selling price since 2019.

Meanwhile, Damien Hirst, while not necessarily a surprise performer, also delivered a strong showing with Covenant (2007). Hirst's large-scale butterfly paintings continue to captivate viewers with their enduring blend of beauty and contemplation. The artwork fetched an impressive price, selling for $952,500 (including fees), comfortably aligning with the upper end of its estimated value. It stands as one of the standout pieces among works of similar size and caliber created in the same year.

Browse Hirst and KAWS prints on the Trading Floor and find out more about the print market performance of these artists in our American Pop Market Report.

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Phillips Day Sale

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning and Afternoon - 15/11 (Live)

  1. Presale estimate: $18,896,000 - $27,437,000
  2. Sales Total Hammer: $15,549,500 / -17% below low estimate
  3. Sell-through rate: 78%
    1. Above: 21 % (47)
    2. Within: 31% (71)
    3. Below: 26% (59)
    4. Unsold: 22% (41)

Phillips' 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale presented a comprehensive selection of lots, adhering to the traditional morning and afternoon sessions structure, with the highest-valued pieces leading the way. While this auction yielded competitive results, the morning session fell short by -14% and the afternoon by -22% below the presale estimate at the hammer. However, when aggregating the turnover of both sessions, they managed to meet the presale estimate. These sales showcased an increase in works exceeding their presale estimates, demonstrating strength in this aspect. Simultaneously, there was a higher number of unsold works, totalling 49 lots across both sessions, excluding withdrawals, a common occurrence in auctions featuring a substantial number of lots with lesser known non-branded names.

The morning session of Phillips' day sale saw its most high value pieces attributed to American Pop art icons, reinforcing a consistent theme we've emphasised throughout the year: these artists hold strong appeal for investors.

Here are the highlights:

Kimiko Powers by Andy Warhol - Phillips 2023Image © Phillips / Kimiko Powers © Andy Warhol 1972

Phillips Day Sale Top Performers

Andy Warhol and Tom Wesselmann

Andy Warhol took the spotlight with Kimiko Powers (1972), a rarity in the market that had not surfaced since 2015 where a purple variation sold for £269,000 (GBP) (including fees) at Sotheby's. This artwork stole the show in the day sale as the star lot and also set a new record for the work realising $952,500 (including fees).

American Pop aficionado Tom Wesselmann also made a notable impression, both in terms of volume and sales performance. Smoker Study #41 (1967) was estimated at a high of $250,000 but surpassed this amount at the hammer and realising $330,200 (including fees). This outcome was unsurprising, given the popularity of his Smoker series, as highlighted in our Tom Wesselmann market watch report. In total, the morning session featured three works by Wesselmann, each performing either within or above the estimated values, collectively indicating the potential resurgence within Wesselmann's market.

Browse Warhol and Wesselmann prints on the Trading Floor and find out more about the print market growth on the MAB100 Print Index.

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