After a busy auction season, Phillips delivers good, but not ground-breaking, results at its 20th century and contemporary art sale in London

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It was a calm, concise and solid set of sales for Phillips last night in London, as its 20th century and contemporary art evening sale delivered a £17.5m total, with fees against a £13.5m to £18.4m presale estimate (all estimates are caculated without fees).

Kicking off the auction with British artist Antonia Showering’s We Stray (2020) proved a savvy move, as the record-breaking £190,000 hammer price (made against a £40,000-£60,000 estimate) led the way for a strong string of sales by female artists.

Energetic bidding was seen for works by Lauren Quin, María Berrío and Caroline Walker, which were followed by the sale of the dynamic Moi aussi je déborde (2017) by the British artist Flora Yukhnovich, hammering in at an impressive £1.4m to an online bidder (£1.7m with fees), against a £350,00 high estimate.

The vitality on phone lines dropped soon after, but quality examples by key names performed as expected, against sensibly set estimates.

Cy Twombly’s Untitled (1962) hammered in at £2.2m (edging up to £2.7m with fees, just below its £3m to £4m estimate), a significant example by Michelangelo Pistolleto, Ragazza in minigonna /Ragazza seduta per terra (1962-67) comfortably attracted £1.8m (£2m with fees), and a 2002 hanging soft sculpture of a hugging couple by Louise Bourgeois, hammered at £700,00 (£869,500 with fees) with little fuss.

The only passes of the evening were for works by Philippe Parrenno and Damien Hirst, although two lots were also pulled from auction before the sale began, suggesting some nerves. Third party guarantees were dotted throughout, but none were offered by the auction house itself.

Whilst most auctions these days are described by press departments as enjoying “deep and wide” bidding, the spread of bidders across the globe genuinely felt broad last night, with regular calls coming in from Europe, Asia and North America. Bidding from paddles in Lebanon felt particularly frequent, with one buyer there taking lots from Ouattara Watts and Robert Nava.

The earlier day sale brought in £6m (with fees) against a presale estimate of £4.1m to £5.8m and sold 88% by lot. It was, again, more solid than ground-breaking. There was good results for Pakistani-American born artist Salman Toor, whose Cloudy Day (2017) brought in £504,000 (with fees) against a £200,000 high estimate and the Spanish artist, Cristina BanBan, whose claustrophic and fleshy As I Set Myself Free (2019]), brought in £144,900, with fees, against a significantly lower estimate of £30,000 to £50,000.

Nevertheless, if the somewhat average sales from Sotheby’s and Christie’s earlier this week prompted concerns of an impending levelling or correction of the market, yesterday’s performance at Phillips suggested an appetite remains for younger artists and well-sourced works (94% of the 33 lots in this sale had apparently not been to auction before).

“It’s been a long season for everyone and, after New York came Basel and auctions in Hong Kong, and Maastricht. It’s true at the end of the season we always have to work a little harder and this is something we’ve experienced in the past,” said Cheyenne Westphal, global chairwoman of Phillips.

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