In a landmark achievement last week, Phillips’ 20th Century & Contemporary Art Sale totalled a staggering $162.4 million - an unprecedented figure in the history of the auction house. It marks a 25% increase over the event held this time last year, despite a barrage of challenges faced by international art markets in recent times. Both emerging artists and prestigious names alike blew the lid off of presale estimates and shattered individual and auction house records.
One of the most remarkable stories came with Amy Sherald’s The Bathers, which sold for $4,265,000, almost 30x its presale estimate. Among other successes, Ghanaian painter Amoako Boafo’s Purple on Red achieved $756,000, tripling its presale estimate; the late Mathew Wong’s Before Night Falls did the same, bringing in $1,252,100; and Ruth Asawa’s stunning wire sculpture Untitled doubled its presale estimate by selling for £3,539,000.
Nichols Canyon by David Hockney set a record for the artist, achieving a monumental $41,067,500 to become his highest selling landscape. The piece, from 1980, depicts Hockney’s route from the Hollywood Hills to his studio on Santa Monica Boulevard and remains a warm, inviting, rare Fauvist masterpiece that delights the senses. Portrait of A-One A.K.A King by Jean-Michel Basquiat came to the market for the first time in 30 years, selling for $11,500,000. The focus, renowned graffiti artist and close friend Anthony Clarke (A-One/King), is presented donning a golden crown seemingly fused to his head with the words ‘kings, kings, kings’ to his left. Not only is this in reference to Clarke’s earned, rather than inherited, authority and kingship, but in crowning his own icons Basquiat addresses the exclusion of black portraiture throughout Western royal art traditions.
The collective determination to help right this historical wrong continued to be a common theme throughout the auction. Works by the above-mentioned Amy Sherald and Amoako Boafo were both extraordinary works of black portraiture, as were Mickalene Thomas’ I’ve Been Good To Me, Kehinde Wiley’s Portrait of Mickalene Thomas and Barkley L. Hendricks’ Selina/Star, which sold for $901,200, $378,000 and $937,500 respectively. Further works by Pablo Picasso, Joan Mitchell, Gerhard Richter, Roy Lichtenstein, Helen Frankenthaler, Clyfford Still and René Magritte contributed to the record-breaking Day and Evening Sales.
It came almost two years after Phillips announced its highest yearly total ever, having sold nearly $1 billion worth of art and collectibles in 2018. A focus on 20th and 21st Century art, an expansion into Asia and a move to increase their modern art offerings likely combine to explain this recent surge. Another record broken this year in New York only goes to show the serious gains Phillips continues to make in the international market.