Basquiat Drawing Brings $3 Million

A Jean-Michel Basquiat drawing was the most expensive work this week in a $15.2 million auction of contemporary art at Phillips, the first to be held in London under its new branding and ownership, as well as, a new auctioneer.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social network are eager to see the success of the Russian-acquired auction house {see AK Files 24 December 2012}.

Basquiat’s 1982 pastel, oilstick, colored crayon and charcoal work on paper, “Untitled,” showing a mask-like face with a halo and raised right hand, was knocked down by Phillips’s new British auctioneer Alexander Gilkes to a single telephone bidder for 1.9 million pounds ($3 million with fees), the top price of the night.

The work had to be re-offered after failing to sell 10 minutes earlier, when the buyer could not make a telephone connection. Not seen at auction since 1984, the drawing had been valued at 1.8 million pounds to 2.5 million pounds.

The New York-based auction house has now reverted to its original name, derived from its 18th-century British founder Harry Phillips, following the departure of its former chairman and flamboyant chief auctioneer, Simon de Pury, in December.

Eton-educated Gilkes is a co-founder of the Paddle8 online auction house and is an affiliated auctioneer at Phillips, where he has taken some of the company’s day sales. He was dressed in a gray three-piece suit for his first evening event.

Sale Total

Phillips’s sale raised 9.8 million pounds with fees from 33 lots, 82 percent of which sold, against a low estimate of 10.4 million pounds, based on hammer prices. Phillips de Pury & Co.’s equivalent event last year raised 5.7 million pounds.

Basquiat has proved to be a mainstay of this February series of auctions in London, inspiring a top price of 9.3 million pounds at the previous night’s sale at Christie’s International.

The former graffiti painter was the 7th-biggest- selling contemporary artist at auction in 2012 with $161.5 million of sales, according to the Artnet database.

Phillips’s event also included Basquiat’s 1985 canvas “For B.A.M.,” featuring a free-floating head and potted plant on a white background. Priced at 1.2 million pounds to 1.8 million pounds, this failed to sell.

Mugrabi’s Purchases

The New York-based collector Jose Mugrabi, seated at the back of the room, was an active bidder, paying 1.7 million pounds for the 1997 Christopher Wool black-and-white enamel on aluminum abstract “Untitled (P271),” estimated at 1.3 million pounds to 1.8 million pounds, and 337,250 pounds for the 2005 painting, “Green Escalade” -- based on a bumper-sticker of a bullet hole -- by the New York painter Nate Lowman, estimated at 60,000 pounds to 80,000 pounds. Neither of these works had been offered at auction before, according to Phillips.

Unsold Warhol

A 1964 Andy Warhol silk-screened “Brillo Soap Pads Box,” wrapped in its original plastic, had been estimated to fetch between 600,000 pounds and 800,000 pounds. Back in 2006, this same piece sold for $710,400 at Christie’s, New York.

It failed to sell, though Mugrabi -- who paid 223,250 pounds for a 1964 Warhol “Tomato Juice Box” immediately afterwards -- made an offer after the event.