Could the third contemporary art auction of the week do well, considering that at Christie’s on Wednesday night, paintings by Jackson Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein and Jean-Michel Basquiat smashed all previous auction records?
Although the struggling boutique auction house managed to win pricier materials than in recent seasons, it had only one real star — Warhol’s “Four Marilyns.” The 1962 painting of Marilyn Monroe, times four, sold for $34 million, or $38.2 million with fees. (Its estimated sale price was $35 million to $45 million.) The buyer, Victoria Gelfand, a director at the Gagosian Gallery, beat out three other bidders.
While officials at Phillips declined to discuss the story behind the consignment, people familiar with the transaction say Phillips’s owners, the Russian retail giant Mercury Group, bought the painting a year ago from the Manhattan dealer Robert Mnuchin.
(Final prices include the buyer’s commission to Phillips: 25 percent of the first $100,000; 20 percent of the next $100,000 to $2 million; and 12 percent of the rest. Estimates do not reflect commissions.)
“Four Marilyns” was the high point in an otherwise ho-hum auction, one that totaled $67.9 million, or $78.6 million with fees. (Its low estimate was $77.5 million.) Of the 37 works on offer, only seven failed to find buyers.
Several works by more popular artists brought solid numbers. The word paintings by Christopher Wool sold well earlier in the week. On Thursday, “And If, 1992” — in which letters are broken in disjointed columns — had an estimated sale price of $3.5 million to $4.5 million. A telephone bidder paid $3.5 million, or $4 million with fees. It was the second-highest price of the night.
At Christie’s, Basquiat’s 1982 painting “Dustheads” sold for a record $48.8 million. At Phillips, the prices were far lower. An untitled work, one of the artist’s first images of Jackie Robinson, had been estimated to bring $3.5 million to $4.5 million. It went to a lone telephone bidder for $3.5 million, or $4 million with fees. But a graffiti-filled collage, “Untitled (Soap),” from 1983-1984, failed to sell at all, never mind match its estimated sales price of $5 million to $7 million.
Lichtenstein’s 1972 Pop take on a traditional old master still life sold for $3.5 million, or $4 million with fees, just barely matching the estimate of $4 million to $6 million.
There was slightly more interest for a sculpture by Thomas Schütte, whose tied and twisted figures currently adorn the Doris C. Freedman Plaza at the entrance to Central Park. “GroBer Geist Nr. 9, 1998,” a more than eight-foot-tall Cor-Ten steel figure, sold for $3.5 million, or $4 million including fees, just above its low $3 million estimate.
Phillips results were not what the audience — predominantly dealers, a smattering of collectors and Courtney Love — wanted to discuss. Everyone was still reeling from the high prices the night before.
“It’s amazing to think that Christie’s sold nearly half-a-billion dollars worth of art,” said the dealer Larry Gagosian. “Few movies do that for their entire run. And the sale was even the length of a feature film. It just shows the power of the market.”
The Miami collector Donald Rubell shook his head in amazement when asked about the volume of art that changed hands in three days. “Think how much was absorbed at auctions in just one week,” he said. “That’s probably more business than the galleries did all spring.”
The big question, however, is how long will the boom continue?
“Who knows,” Mr. Gagosian said. “We’ll have to wait till next season.”
Or perhaps next month, when the next round of auctions take place in London.
in "The New York Times"