Auction Watch: Basquiat Leads Phillips New York Sale

Untitled (Portrait of Famous Ballplayer) by Jean-Michel Basquiat 1981 Image © Phillips / Untitled (Portrait of Famous Ballplayer) © Jean-Michel Basquiat 1981
Joe Syer

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

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Phillips followed in the lineup for the May New York sales, hosting the Modern & Contemporary Art Evening sale on Tuesday, May 14th. With a modest sell-through rate of 85% across 28 lots, the atmosphere in the room mirrored the subdued sentiment that has been associated with the coinciding New York art fairs. Bidding was met with what appeared to be hesitancy, as Phillips' head auctioneer, Henry Highly, patiently guided the proceedings.

Phillips Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

The Stats

The total hammer for the sale amounted to just over $72 million ($86 million with fees), falling -20% below the low presale estimate of $89 million. In comparison to the 2023 sale, Phillips' performance was 28% higher in terms of hammer price, despite selling eight fewer lots—24 in 2024 compared to 33 in 2023–which demonstrates two things, more high value works in the sale and a sustained appetite for buying. However, similar to Sotheby’s, there was a notable presence of house-backed irrevocable bids, with 14 works—half of the available lots—indicating a mediocre level of confidence in the sale. Impeded by four unsold works and two withdrawals, notably a Pablo Picasso piece estimated at $12 million, the total hammer could have pushed the sale closer to $84 million, approaching 2019 levels. Despite these setbacks, the sale performed decently with impressive sales, although no new records were established, with 67% of lots selling above or within estimates.

Here are the the highlights:

Untitled (ELMAR) by Jean-Michel Basquiat 1982Image © Phillips / Untitled (ELMAR) © Jean-Michel Basquiat 1982

Jean-Michel Basquiat

At the forefront of the sale stood Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (ELMAR) (1982), surpassing the low presale estimate of $40 million at the hammer and realising $46.4 million with fees . This artwork boasts a prestigious provenance linked to the Annina Nosei Gallery, New York, Basquiat’s initial representation, making its auction debut and previously exhibited at the Foundation Louis Vuitton in 2019. Also showcasing robust performance was Basquiat’s Untitled (Portrait of Famous Ballplayer) (1981), making its auction debut. This piece, exploring the theme of American sports and the black experience, features Basquiat’s iconic crown motif. From the collection of Francesco Pellizzi, it met expectations, fetching $7.8 million with fees. Additionally, Untitled (Grain Alcohol) (1983) by Basquiat exceeded estimates, achieving an impressive $1.9 million, surpassing the $1.5 million high estimate in its auction debut.

Explore our Jean-Michel Basquiat Investment Guide to learn more about his print market performance.

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Statue of Liberty © Andy Warhol 1986 Image © Phillips / Statue of Liberty © Andy Warhol 1986

Andy Warhol

No auction is complete without Andy Warhol, and Phillips continues to intrigue the art world by unveiling previously unseen works by the iconic artist. Following the rare blue portrait of Princess Diana featured in the recent March London auctions, Phillips presented an equally exceptional piece: a silkscreen of New York's Statue of Liberty titled Statue of Liberty (1986). This artwork, depicting a cropped portrait of Lady Liberty against a white backdrop with a green-washed patina, made its auction debut and was the sole Warhol work of the sale. It performed within estimates, achieving $1.1 million with fees.

Explore our Andy Warhol Investment Guide to learn more about his print market performance.

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Nets in the Night (TPXZZOT) by Yayoi Kusama 2007 Image © Phillips / Nets in the Night (TPXZZOT) © Yayoi Kusama 2007

Women Artists

While predominantly showcasing male artists, the sale also highlighted commendable performances from women artists. Helen Frankenthaler’s Acres (1959) took centre stage, presenting a large-scale square rendition exhibiting vibrant colours characteristic of the artist's signature soak-stained technique from a pivotal period in her career. Making its auction debut, it surpassed expectations, hammering above the $2.5 million high estimate and achieving $3.6 million with fees, outperforming Degas at 45 (1974), which was offered in Sotheby’s Contemporary Day Auction. Yayoi Kusama was also featured, with her continually popular Infinity Nets paintings. Nets In the Night (TPXZZOT) (2007), a rare black expanse, met expectations, achieving $1.87 million with fees.

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The Pour by Jadé Fadojutimi 2022Image © Phillips / The Pour © Jadé Fadojutimi 2022

Who Hit and Who Missed

Also showcasing strong performance was the ultra-contemporary star Jadé Fadojutimi, who is currently on a hot streak in the secondary market. Her piece The Pour (2022) realised just over $1 million, nearly doubling the performance of her work offered in Sotheby’s evening sale. Additionally, black artists Noah Davis and Derek Fordjour performed favourably, both hammering above estimates. Among American artists, Alex Katz fell slightly short with Martha (1981), selling just below estimates. Lastly, the legendary Frank Stella faced challenges. Oftentimes is the case, the markets of recently passed masters can be indefinable as a work from one of Stella’s most sought after series made during a pivotal period in his career, a large-scale multicoloured square canvas, passed.


Phillips Modern & Contemporary Art Day Sale

The Stats

The day following its main evening sale, Phillips presented the Modern & Contemporary Art Day sale in two segments, a morning and afternoon session. Together, these auctions generated a combined total of $18.4 million (hammer), marking a 53% difference compared to the sales from the previous year, 2023. This variance can be attributed in part to the reduction in lots offered, which decreased by 20%. When comparing the sales performance of the lots from this year to those of the previous year, it remained relatively consistent, with a similar number of works selling above and within estimates, as well as those remaining unsold. Overall, the combined sell-through rate for both sessions reached 78%. The $18.4 million contribution from these auctions brings Phillips' May New York sales total to $90.4 million (hammer), just slightly below the $90.8 million total achieved in the May New York sales of 2023.

Here are the highlights:


Butterfly by Yayoi Kusama 1990 Phillips © Image / Butterfly © Yayoi Kusama 1990

Phillips' evening sale yielded a mixture of outcomes. Among the three auction houses, Phillips is renowned for showcasing more ultra-contemporary works, often introducing newer artists who may not yet have a presence in Christie’s or Sotheby’s sales. Therefore, it came as no surprise that the lots surpassing the high estimate primarily came from these emerging artists, despite the highest valued lots being from blue chip artists. This dynamic underscores an intriguing aspect of the art market, demonstrating how the auction platform can benefit specific artists. However, for consignors holding onto blue chip artworks, exploring alternative avenues for sale may potentially lead to more lucrative outcomes. Read our Auction vs. Private Sale guide for more details on this.

Helen Frankenthaler and Yayoi Kusama

The highest-valued lot of the sale was Frankenthaler’s Spirits of Wine (1972), which hammered just below the low presale estimate but still garnered commendable results, achieving $1.1 million with fees for its rose and green-hued soak-stain canvas. Another notable performance came from women artists, notably Kusama, who, like Frankenthaler, featured prominently throughout the main evening sales. One of Kusama’s popular mosaic-patterned butterfly canvases was offered, hammering at the upper echelon of the high estimate and ultimately achieving an impressive $355,600 with fees for this blue and white rendition in its second auction appearance. This particular artwork was last offered in 2016 at Mallet Japan auctions.


Untitled by Jean-Michel Basquiat 1987 Image © Phillips / Untitled © Jean-Michel Basquiat 1987

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Basquiat, naturally, made a notable appearance with several distinctive works on paper. One such piece, Untitled (1987), showcased drawings of the human jaw, accompanied by text below reading “Ivory False Teeth,” and a drawing featuring “King Cobra” alongside a “Lemmings ©” drawing and a sun labeled “15,000,000 degrees centigrade.” Despite hammering below the estimate, it remained one of the highest-valued lots of the sale, achieving $190,500 with fees. Another noteworthy work from Basquiat, Free Comb Pagoda (1986), containing only a few sketches, underscored the demand for original pieces by the artist, hammering above estimate for a work in fair condition, realising $177,800 with fees.

Keith Haring

An Untitled (1988) drawing by Haring made its second auction appearance since 2010, depicting Haring’s signature motifs, albeit without the patterned celebratory figures typically associated with his work, revealing a more avant-garde aspect of Haring’s style. Despite hammering below the estimate, the piece ultimately realised $152,400 with fees, also remaining among the higher-valued lots of the sale.

Explore our Keith Haring Investment Guide to learn more about his print market performance.

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Ladies and Gentlemen by Andy Warhol 1975 Image © Phillips / Ladies and Gentlemen © Andy Warhol 1975

Warhol also made an appearance with Karen Lerner (1972), showcasing a silkscreen photograph a LIFE magazine photographer, according to Phillips. The piece underscores Warhol’s innate skill in capturing not only celebrities but also his shared interest in the cultural dialogue of his time. This enigmatic work sold impressively in its debut auction appearance, achieving $111,760 with fees. Lastly, we were delighted to see a Ladies and gentlemen etching. Warhol’s Ladies and Gentlemen prints has been one of his most trending series throughout 2023 and the success is seeming to follow into 2024. This work, created in 1975, met expectations and realised $25,400 with fees demonstrating valuable works by blue chip artists at more affordable price ranges for collectors looking to enter the market.

Explore our Sotheby's and Christie's auction reports for further insights of the May New York sales.

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