After Action Report: Sotheby's & Phillips Frieze Evening Sales

With Sotheby's posting £97 million and Phillips reaching £18.7 million, the London sales proved there's more demand left in this market

LiveArt After Action Report:  Sotheby’s The Now + Contemporary Evening Sale (Combined)

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Total: £97,141,250 with 98% sold (50 /51 + 9 lots withdrawn)
Dollar Total: $ 107.9 million
Composition of Results:  40% above/ 38% within/ 11% below estimates 
Aggregate Low Estimate: £51,110,000
Aggregate Hammer: £83,095,000
Hammer Ratio: 1.62
Average Lot Value: $2,253,263


Call it a Goldilocks market: Just when everyone was convinced the art market would fall, the Frieze auctions offered a little bit for everyone. Some sales like Sotheby’s with a 1.62 hammer ratio still felt a little too hot; you’ll see below that Phillips Evening sale was a little lukewarm; and Christie’s Day sale might have been just right. That’s not to say that anyone walked away from this week disappointed given the jitters coming into the week. 

Sale Management Is the New Watchword: All three auction houses are now singing from the same hymnal. Maintaining the appearance of an orderly market is paramount. Each house aggressively policed their sales—often withdrawing lots during the sale—and worked with consignors to get sales even if they were significantly below expectations on several lots. 

Mallin Collection Lots Helped Provide Strong Results: The very solid provenance of the Mallins combined with conservative estimates helped the Mallin lots included in the Evening sale to a total of £12.4 million. 

The Top Lots

The biggest lots of the sale, Gerhard Richter’s 192 Farben and Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, may be the best example of the Goldilocks market. There was bidding but the works sold for expected prices. 

Among the top ten lots, the works with dynamic bidding were Frank Auerbach’s new record price at £5.6m for Head of J.Y.M.; Juan Munoz’s Conversation Piece from the Mallins that made nearly three times the estimate to sell for just over $3 million; and Louise Bourgeois’s Listening One, also from the Mallins, that made $2.637 million.

Lots to Watch

Sotheby’s ended up setting a new record price for Caroline Walker at £529,200 only minutes after Phillips had done the same. Curiously, both works were nocturnal scenes. Another record at Sotheby’s was for Charline von Heyl at £478,800.

Meanwhile, Nina Chanel Abney sold very well with Anytime, Anyplace (2018) selling for £378,000 and Andre Butzer, the last lot of the sale, saw his fifth highest price set at £264,600. 

The Andy Warhol market seemed to have revived recently. But these sales presented two data points that suggest there’s still significant weakness on the edges of that market. Sotheby’s sold  Nine Multicolored Marilyns (Reversal Series) for $5.8 million. The work had previously sold eight years earlier for $7.8 million. A few hours earlier, Phillips sold a small (8 x 10”) dollar sign painting for $681,826. It had previously sold seven years earlier for $629,409.


LiveArt After Action Report: Phillips Evening Sale

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Total: £18,720,150 with 94% sold (31/33 + 4  lots withdrawn)
Dollar Total: $ 20,910,408
Composition of Results:  54% above/ 16% within/  29% below estimates 
Aggregate Low Estimate: £15,280,000
Aggregate Hammer: £15,160,000
Hammer Ratio: .99
Average Lot Value: $686,685


Phillips Continues to Open New Markets: A quick scan of Phillips results captures the mood of the market. The most familiar names—Burri, Banksy, Kusama, Hirst—populate the highest value but with weak hammer ratios. Where Phillips was able to shine was in breaking out artists like Michaela Yearwood-Dan whose only previous auction sale was at Phillips in June. This time, her work sold for an eye-catching £239,400. Doron Langberg is another artist whose only public sales are at Phillips. Nir und Zach from 2018 advance that cause significantly when it sold for $427,200. Phillips shares the market for Austyn Weiner with Christie’s but established a very strong new auction record for her work with the $256,320 paid yesterday. Rebecca Ness has sold for as much as $256,830 but getting $135,280 for Pencil Flipper from 2020 will help add heft to her market.  

The Top Lots

Just when it might have seemed like the naive painters were losing market momentum, eths sales have posted strong results for Jordy Kerwick but a new record for Robert Nava. Phillips got a whoppingn £639,600 for Before Minotaur from 2019. Nava has not had a new record price since March.  

Lots to Watch

Two Damien Hirst spot paintings sold at Phillips and Sotheby’s for nearly the same price of just under $800,000. One work was 15-feet wide while the other was an almost square 6-feet by 6 and a half feet. So much for the assumption years ago that these works would be priced by yardage. Still, what to make of the coincidence?

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