Phillips hammers record after record in Ultra-Contemporary art

[17 Mar 2021]

In the U-C market – that Philips has made a strategic priority – the thirst for novelty seems unquenchable. The success of its New Now sales, mixing established signatures with young artists on auction debuts, just keeps unfolding…

Hosted on 3 March last, Phillips’ latest New Now session elicited enthusiasm from all over the globe with bidders from nearly 60 countries registered to participate. Indeed, the season could not have started better for Phillips, which took a record $9.5 million for a sale of this type. New auction highs were hammered for no less than 20 artists, including Hernan BAS, Katherine BRADFORD and Igshaan ADAMS. We take a look at some of the sale’s key results.

The only 7-digit result – for a vibrant canvas by Matthew WONG completed in 2017 – added a million dollars to its high estimate. Titled Lotus, the painting reached $1.6 million just three months to the day after Phillips hammered his River at Dusk (2018) at nearly $5 million (Wong’s current record). With eight works fetching 7-digit sums over the past year, Matthew Wong – who took his own life in 2019 – is still one of the market’s most in-demand artists.

Six-figure results

In addition to Matthew Wong’s canvas, a dozen works fetched 6-digit results thanks to a sharp and eclectic selection including Lawd by Peter SAUL (who pre-figured bad painting), a multimedia sculpture by Nam June PAIK (Gotherbot), the subtle tones in an untitled Lucas ARRUDA canvas and a relatively small sculpture by John CHAMBERLAIN. Above all, Phillips hammered a new record ($352,800) for Downhill at Dusk (The Runaway) by American artist Hernan Bas. Recently exhibited in New York (Lehmann Maupin in 2019), Paris and Hong Kong (Perrotin gallery in 2020), Hernan Bas’s “expressionist” painting has already joined the collections of around twenty cultural institutions, including the Whitney and the MoMA in New York. The year is looking good for this artist who is becoming one of the hottest names on the market.

Brand new, already high

First auctioned by Phillips six months ago, the company has confirmed demand for a young Ugandan artist, Godwin CHAMPS NAMUYIMBA (born 1989), whose work explores the construction of identity in relation to race and individuality in a postcolonial African context (as he is quoted in the catalogue). Indeed, Namuyimba’s work appears to be tailor-made for the current wave of demand for works that (again quoting him in the catalogue) “attempt to critique stereotypical representations of blacks, while exploring the conflicts and tensions between the ideologies of Afrocentrism and Eurocentrism.” His colorful and alluring painting, The One That Got Away (2020) fetched $22,000 against an estimate of $8,000 – 12,000.

Jammie HOLMES, 36, also puts black-American identity at the heart of his work. He can apparently already count singer Lenny Kravitz and curator Beth Rudin DeWoody among his clients. Since his auction debut last December (Christie’s New York), five of his canvases have already been offered in auctions, and all have sold. The latest, Toy Soldier, was sold for $85,680. A Few days later, another painting was sold for 137 500$ at Christie’s (This Week’s Last Supper). A self-taught painter from Thibodaux, Louisiana, and a self-proclaimed neo-expressionist and politically-engaged citizen, Jammie Holmes sent banners into the skies over Dallas, Detroit, Miami, Los Angeles and New York last May with George Floyd’s last words writ large (I can’t breathe). A poetic gesture to honour the memory of George Floyd while denouncing police violence and systemic racism.

The 28-year-old American prodigy Vaughn SPANN – already very much in demand – has already confirmed his place in the Ultra-Contemporary market. The painting offered by Phillips on 3 March fetched $138,600, but the artist reached an additional $100,000 last December with Big Black Rainbow (Deep Dive), a work from 2019. Vaughn Spann is already well followed by international collectors after two solo exhibitions at Almine Rech in New York and Brussels.

More unexpected is the success of Brandon LANDERS, whose painting Baby Broodie in His Bunny Onesie with His Brown Cap Gun (2017) soared to $44,100, more than five times its high estimate. An impressive result for an auction debut. The 35-year-old artist, who lives in Bakersfield, California, cites Jean-Michel Basquiat and Leon Golub as sources of inspiration. His efficient, incisive and refreshing painting seems perfectly in tune with current collector demand.

At its New Now New York sale last September (2020), Phillips had already introduced six new artists to the secondary market. In its quest to identify the most promising artists before its competitors, last summer Phillips formed an exclusive partnership with Articker, a searchable technology platform that analyses the media coverage of more than 150,000 artists.

New Now – Top 10 – March, 3rd