Get ready for another art auction! Today Phillips de Pury will hold its Contemporary Art Evening Sale in London. We’re watching it online at 7 PM (2 PM for New Yorkers), and we’ve created a cheat sheet for the most talked about lots. Which records will be shattered? Which artworks will be remain unsold? And most important, will the auctioneer pronounce artists’ names correctly?
We made pros and cons for the works that were most interesting to us, so you can place your bets. Our predictions: cement trucks, dicks, and the letter U will all edge toward victory.
Lot 2: Tauba Auerbach, Estimate: £30,000-50,000
Pros: Binary Lowercase, another work from this series, sold for $86,500 at Phillips de Pury in March, so BOO-YAH, this works’s already on a winning team.
Cons: This was a puzzling piece to put up for auction. Tauba Auerbach is cool and all, but selling this one just a few months after the other one might seem too calculating. Artworks at least need to give the appearance of scarcity if they’re to get any traction at auction. And this painting’s track record isn’t strong yet: it’s been shown in just one exhibition, but most work needs to circulate a bit more before it can expect a fair return.
Verdict: Don’t expect Binary Uppercase to shatter any records. It’ll probably reach the estimate, but only because it’s surprisingly low already.
Lot 3: Wade Guyton, Estimate: £70,000-90,000
Pros: It’s a hot collector item. As collector and art writer Greg Allen wrote back in 2009, “Come to find out..you’re not a real Guyton collector until you pick yourself up one of these beautiful stainless steel jobs: a U Sculpture. This [photo] is the Rubells’, but everyone’s got one.” It’s also got some intellectual backing: Scott Rothkopf, former senior editor of Artforum, is a fan. He made a case for Guyton in his 2005 catalogue essay “Modern Pictures,” he curated Guyton’s U Sculptures at the 2007 Lyon Biennale, and Guyton has a solo exhibition coming up at the Whitney this year, where Rothkopf now curates. As far as we can tell, none of the U Sculptures have ever come up at auction; if what Allen says is true, we might see Guyton collectors come out of the woodwork for this one.
Cons: We don’t get it. It’s also Lot 3, and that’s not the safest place to be; nobody gets swept away by the auction excitement 90 seconds in. At the same time, that might reflect that Phillips de Pury expects a certain number of bidders that won’t need much sweeping— they’re here for the Guyton, and they’ll bid on it whatever the atmosphere. We’ll see. Either way, if it hits the low estimate, this’ll be a record for a Guyton sculpture at auction.
Additionally, it seems to have some kind of brain-draining powers. That’s the only way we can explain the sorta-theory kinda-thoughts in the description: “The chromed U Sculpture’s curve has the shape of a body, albeit an anthropomorphic one. Polyvalent, flexible, it can reflect any space it is placed in. The surroundings of the room or the viewer are made active and thus doubled. The objective, which is the mirror itself, creates the subjective, the distorted reflection.”
Verdict: With a solo exhibition coming up at the Whitney, and the fact that Guyton reminds people of things they already know are important, this U Sculpture is a contender.
Lot 12: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Estimate: £6,000,000-8,000,000
Pro: Basquiat is on fire at auction. In May, Phillips de Pury set a record price for Basquiat, at $16.3 million for Untitled (1981), which sent a strong signal that the auction house isn’t content to be a perennial third anymore. Sotheby’s followed that up two days ago, selling Warrior (1982) for £5.5 million despite the fact that that particular work is becoming a little too familiar on the auction block (it had previously sold at Sotheby’s in 2005 and 2007). Those make for pretty good comparables—Basquiat’s trademark big black figures on almost identically-sized canvases executed within a year of each other—but Phillips de Pury will have to prove the ~$10 million range is the new standard. On the other hand, this work has, at various points, been on display at the Whitney, the Brooklyn Museum, and LA MOCA; this isn’t a tough sell.
Also, it clearly has the best musical pairing in the auction.
Con: $16.3 million will be a tough act to follow. This one’s less frightening than Untitled, though, showing a squat buffoon of a character, not a frightening angel straight out of some graffiti hellscape. Oh, and the pricier one shows a full-on dick. Taking away scary nudity and replacing it with race is not a recipe for auction success.
Verdict: Basquiat’s too hot. Carol Vogel reports that the underbidder on Warrior telephoned in, so we’d watch the phones at Phillips de Pury today. We’re thinking the auction house only needs to find one other bidder to make bank here.
Lot 18: Cindy Sherman, Estimate: £200,000-300,000
Pros: We’ll place our bets on Cindy Sherman any day: this year alone, she’s hot off her first solo show at MoMA, another solo at Metro Pictures, and one of her early photos sold at auction for over $2 million. It’ll be a cold day in Hell if this work isn’t sold. And, adding to this work’s appeal, it looks like this one has a dick for a nose.
Con: Sherman’s clowns aren’t her strongest point at auction. One, Untitled #420 (2004), did sell for $1.2 million in 2010 at Phillips de Pury, but her earlier works are still the most popular, along with anything that shows a resemblance to Sherman’s actual face.
Verdict: This one might be too ugly to get a high price. Call it a dose of casual sexism, but people like to buy her prettier stuff. Her highest selling clowns were goofy, but this one’s dead-on creepy.
Lot 19: Andy Warhol, Estimate: £1,000,000-1,500,000
Pro: It’s a Warhol. Every collector in the universe wants one, and every dealer in the universe knows how to flip them, so everybody in the auction room is a potential buyer. All eight works from the Diamond Dust Shoes series to come up at auction in the past five years have sold, and they’ve all sold between £600,000 and £1,000,000; the last came up at Sotheby’s in February, and sold for £735,650. Phillips de Pury is trying to nearly double that with this estimate, and in the present bubble there’s no reason they can’t.
Con: There’s no face, and in the field of inanimate Warhols shoes come after cans and flowers. There’s a Diamond Dust Shoes at the the Andy Warhol Museum that has a much more interesting composition (the Foundation has been selling the lamer ones off for a few years now), but that didn’t blow us away, either. Then again, maybe people just like the idea of diamond dust; that was the selling point for the big Helen Frankenthaler that Ameringer and Yohe brought to Miami last year, and that sold just fine .
Verdict: Who knows? Shoes could be the new cans.
Lot 21: Wim Delvoye, Estimate: £150,000-250,000
Pros: This cement truck will roll to the finish line, crushing everything in its path. Is this stupid? Yes!
For in-your-face, commercial-looking projects such as pig tattooing, x-ray porn, fecal art, hand-carved wooden trucks, and his age, Delvoye associates easily with the YBAs. He sells about as well, too. Since the early 2000s, he’s been manufacturing feces; in May, one such vacuum-sealed sample went for over $13,000.
Con: What’s not to love about pieces of shit? If we must choose, the work is often exploitative. The pigs are available for stuffing or stretching over a canvas, and at least one of Delvoye’s full-size wooden cement trucks was hand-carved by a team of Indonesian laborers. But that’s never been a problem before, and we don’t expect it will here.
Verdict: A safe bet.
Lot 24: Gilbert and George, Estimate: £100,000-150,000
Pros: These guys can move just about anything with their faces on it— from large-scale photographs to posters, postcards, T-shirts, and dolls. This has to do with a loyal and diversified fanbase, but it also makes them extremely collectible. Though they’re now selling in the millions, you can still purchase smaller prints and inkwash paintings for a few hundred dollars.
The European duo has climbed steadily with sprawling exhibitions. They broke the $1 million mark as recently as 2008; earlier this year at Christie’s London, their work Bloody Life no. 13 sold for nearly twice as much.
Con: Needs more face and smut.
Verdict: To mix my metaphors, a double-header with a solid average.