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Record for Wolfgang Tillmans as Phillips and Bonhams achieve top results in contemporary sales

Auction houses capitalise on summer season of biennales and art fairs

By Anny Shaw

Echoing the sentiment at Sotheby’s this week, Ed Dolman, the chief executive of Phillips, last night (29 June) emphasised the significance of the June season in London after Christie’s decision to cancel its contemporary sales.

“For us the June sale season is a really important one,” he affirmed. “It comes after Venice, Documenta and Basel, and falls squarely in the middle of events in London.”

It is a strategy that appears to have paid off. Phillips took £20.2m (£24.4m with fees) against an estimate of £17.9m to £25.4m, with only two lots failing to find a home. The sale doubled last year’s total, which was mustered under the cloud of Brexit and turbulence on the stock markets. It is the second highest result for Phillips in London in June. 

Earlier in the day Bonhams achieved one of its best ever results in a contemporary sale, taking £5.8m (£7.1m with fees) against a £4.7m low estimate. Here too, only two lots failed to sell. 

At Phillips, the single record of the night went to Wolfgang Tillmans, whose Freischwimmer #84 (2004) sold on the phone to the Russian specialist Svetlana Marich for £500,000 (£605,000 with fees). The price pipped the £410,000 (£500,750 with fees) achieved the night before at Sotheby’s for a similar work. “It was satisfying to go another step,” Dolman said with a smile. 

Female British artists had a solid night. Rebecca Warren’s Fascia III (2010) sparked a contest between five bidders, selling on the phone for £270,000 (£329,000 with fees), just short of her record. Bridget Riley was the only woman to make the top ten. Rill (1974) sold for £1.2m (£1.4m with fees). Cheyenne Westphal, the new chairman of Phillips, says there are plans to capitalise on the growing demand for female artists with a strong showing in the October sales. 

Even Damien Hirst, whose market has looked shaky, came out on top. A spot painting executed in 2007 sold for £360,000 (£437,000 with fees; est £250,000-£350,000) to the New York-based adviser Ronald Harrar, who was bidding on behalf of a client. “Hirst’s market is on the rebound; we are betting on him,” Harrar said.

Bidding from Asia was strong, particularly in Taiwan, Singapore and Japan, according to Phillips. One Japanese collector bidding online at 4am local time snapped up the two paintings by Jonas Wood on the block. “Japanese bidding is more significant now, and it’s not just one person,” Dolman said. “The arrival of new Japanese bidding into the middle market is having a real impact.”

Dolman attributed the success of the night to the expertise of his burgeoning team, as well as the wider economic situation. “The art market is more and more linked to the stock markets, which are just off historic highs,” he said.

However, the impressive 94% sell-through rate was always going to be strong thanks to the number of third party guarantees. Of the 31 lots, five were guaranteed by a third party and a further seven were backed by the house.