Phillips Auction House recently announced that their overall 2018 sales had rocketed 29% up from the year before, jumping from $708.8 million in 2017 to a whopping $916.5 million last year, setting an all-time record for the 200-year-old auction house. Here we look at some of the top-selling artists of the year, and offer works representative of each artist... for much more affordable prices.
Phillips’ crowning sale was Pablo Picasso’s 1932 painting La Dormeuse, which sold for $57.8 million, more than doubling the high estimate of $23.2 million. The painting comes from a series depicting a sleeping Marie-Thérèse Walter, a french model and Picasso’s lover from 1927 to around 1935. The two met when she was 17 and Picasso was 45 and still living with his first wife, Russian ballerina Olga Stepanovna Khokhlova. The large-scale portrait had been part of the artist’s personal collection until his widow, Jacqueline Roque, inherited it after his death in 1973. It was acquired by a European collector in 1995. While acquiring an original Picasso painting is likely not an option for you, collecting a coveted print could be. Artspace has a number of Picasso prints ranging from $400 for an exhibition poster (Picasso 60 Years of Graphic Works Los Angeles 1966) to $1,100 for a lithograph (Bacchanale) to the erotic Etreinte, a 1963 hand-singed etching pictured above, for $6,000.
In Phillips’ May evening sale in New York, an oil-on-canvas by Pat Steir sold for the price of $2,295,000—that’s almost $1.5 million over the highest estimate of $800,000. The large 1992 canvase features blue, green, and yellow paint splattered across an expansive red background. Steir’s acute understanding of color theory, and the drips and spatters she uses to express it, are what make Steir’s expressive images so visceral. Influenced by both Abstract Expressionism and the tradition of 17th-century Chinese landscape painting, Steir developed a conceptual painting technique that references both. By flicking or flinging paint from the end of her brush to the canvas, Steir references the “flung-ink style” of Chinese and Japanese painting, and with it, represents the movement of liquid itself. Mountain in Rain, pictured here, illustrates Steir’s signature brushwork and style.
KAWS may be best known for his Companion series—toy figurines that embody that artist's signature cartoonish style. Phillips consistently auctions these sculptures for the millions (for example, a massive Companion sculpture called CLEAN SLATE sold for $1,995,000 in November), in addition to prints and paintings by the street artist, apparel producer, and graphic designer. For instance, KAWS’ Infant Print, a printed black-and-white image of a baby with a blue scull-like face with “X”s for eyes, sold for $15,000 in September of 2017. Artspace currently has two similar prints by the artist, each featuring KAWS' signature skull face superimposed over a photographic figurative image. Both prints are part of a series of five that was made to commemorate KAWS’ involvement with Japanese designer Undercover for their Spring/Summer 2000 collection, which launched in 1999. At just $2,500 (or as low as $220/month) a piece, these prints aren’t going to last—so if you’re interested in acquiring a KAWS at an affordable price, act fast.
During Phillips’ March evening sale in London, a painting by Allen Jones called T-riffic sold for £ 705,000 (roughly $921,350 USD). The 1966 painting was one of the first compositions featuring legs, a characteristic that Jones would later become known for. According to the artist, the legs “were my response to the clarity I found in the New York paintings of Roy Lichtenstein and Tom Wesselman whose images were clear and unambiguous.” In Study for Maitresse, we see a woman’s leg peeking out from a sheer curtain, seducing the viewer. The signed work (a steal for just $439) was a study for a later series; the color-saturated Maitresse I is also available on Artspace for $2,826. One of the last living Pop artists, it’s no wonder Allen Jones is seeing the values of his works rise; he was one of a group of students (including the likes of David Hockney, Peter Phillips, and Derek Boshier) who radically changed the face of British art in the ‘60s, '70s, and '80s.
Glenn Ligon, whose work was recently up for auction in Phillips’ anticipated American African American exhibition, was in high demand in 2018. His 2007 piece No Room (Gold) #56 sold for $220,000 in September. Smudged black text executed with oilstick sits over gold acrylic on canvas. In Some Circled, Some Not, created in the same year, Ligon again uses text—this time abstractly, with letters scattered, barely legible. Ligon’s language-based conceptualism is best understood within the fraught cultural atmosphere wherein it emerged in the late ‘80s—one profoundly affected by AIDS and racial tension. Ligon’s years of artistic engagement speak to his identification as an African-American gay man. With the rest of Ligon’s work sold out on Artspace, this etching is sure to move quickly.
In November of 2018, Amy Sillman’s U (2008) sold for a record price of $855,000, which was well above the estimate range of $300,000 – 400,000. The piece was part of Sillman’s “couples project” that began in 2006 and culminated in a series that travelled as the exhibition “Third Person Singular,” which launched as part of the Hirshhorn Museum’s 20th installment of Directions—a series of exhibitions that present new works by trailblazing contemporary artists. The Brooklyn-based artist has been celebrated by her abstract approach to portraiture; each work in the “couples project” begins with a sketch of a couple in their own home, which Sillman brings back to her studio where she abstracts the image with large gestural contour lines and colored geometric planes. The results are not quite figurative, not quite abstract. Hirshhorn curator Anne Ellegood explains: “Sillman has not… replaced representation with abstraction. Rather, she more strongly asserts her longstanding commitment to embrace abstraction without abandoning representation.” S & E (pictured above) illustrates this description perfectly: limbs are defined just enough to be barley discernible. Signed, numbered, and dated by the artist, and within a small edition size of just 20, this 2007 etching is a steal for $5,000.