Phillips usually schedules its annual November contemporary art auction on a Thursday, following Sotheby’s and Christie’s earlier in the week. But this year the house tried to get ahead of the crowd by staging the event on a Monday—and the risk seems to have paid off. The house brought in $68 million, just above its $65.1 million low presale estimate, with 88 percent of lots selling.
Pop art, comic canvases, and other works steeped in mass-culture influences seemed to steal the show. Roy Lichtenstein’s ad-inspired painting of a woman serving up a plate of peanuts went for $10.8 million, making it the top lot of the night. Coming in at a close second was one of Andy Warhol’s signature Marilyn Monroe screenprints, Nine Gold Marilyns (Reversal Series), 1980, for $9.1 million. And the $725,000 sale of another Monroe-inspired work, Trash Landing Marilyn #12, by Nate Lowman, set a new record for the artist.
Elsewhere, a 1988 Jeff Koons sculpture of a sad-eyed Buster Keaton on horseback sold to David Zwirner for $4.4 million and Lucien Smith’s painting of a background scene from Winnie-the-Pooh—which was part of the artist’s 2011 college thesis show—more than doubled its $150,000 high estimate to achieve $389,000, a figure that’s especially brow-raising considering that it’s the artist’s first-ever auction sale.
Phillips also set records for Gutai co-founder Kazuo Shiraga ($4 million), young monochrome painter Jacob Kassay ($317,000), and improvisational installation artist David Hammons ($8 million).
The night contained a few flops, namely a dark, moody Mark Rothko painting that was expected to fetch $10 milllion to $15 million estimate, but failed to find a buyer. Overall, however, the blue-chip lineup delivered the prices to match.
Meanwhile, in the day sale, a Robert Indiana sculpture of the number five more than doubled its low estimate, selling for $425,000, and a Robert Longo graphite wave painting likewise multiplied its estimate to fetch $60,000. A simple Tracey Emin neon from 2013 that stated "Loving" in purplish pink light found an avid buyer as well, more than tripling its low estimate for $62,000, and an off-cut Helen Frankenthaler from 1958 quadrupled expectations for $137,000.