Auction  November 22, 2022  Megan D Robinson

Phillips 20th Century Evening Auction Brings in Record-Breaking Sales

Image courtesy of Phillips

Cy Twombly, Untitled, 2005

Phillips’ always popular 20th Century Evening Auction made record-breaking sales on November 15th, with bids coming in from nearly thirty countries. Led by Cy Twombly’s Untitled, which sold for $41.6 million USD,  the auction realized $138.9 million USD total, the third highest sale total in Phillips’ history. A fascinating mixture of iconic 20th-century artists and emerging contemporary artists, in a range of genres from realism to pop art, surrealism, and abstraction, the auction’s amazing success illustrates the world’s continued appetite for fine art.

Image courtesy of Phillips

Marc Chagall, Le Père, 1911

The auction was centered around Marc Chagall’s Le Père (1911), one of many artworks stolen by the Nazis during World War II, and one of fifteen artworks recently restituted to family heirs by the French government. Le Père was taken in 1940 from David Cender, a Polish musical instrument maker, before he and his family were sent to Auschwitz. Chagall reacquired the painting in 1966, and his estate donated it to the Parisian National Museum of Modern Art in 1988. It was on view at the Museum of Art and History of Judaism for the last twenty-four years. Returned to the Cender family this past April, the painting is the first of the fifteen restituted artworks to go to auction. A rare example of his early work, Le Père is a loving portrait of Chagall’s father and was one of the artist’s favorite pieces. The painting sold for $7,404,500 USD.

Painted in 2005, Cy Twombly’s colossal Untitled, part of his Bacchus series, illustrates the buoyant vitality and potential rage brought on by intoxication, with a riotous explosion of red looping ellipses against a white background. The painting also references the moment in the Iliad when Achilles kills Hector and drags his corpse around the walls of Troy. Sixteen feet wide, it is one of the largest of Twombly’s works to be auctioned. Twombly’s work has been incredibly popular on the auction circuit, and this piece inspired very active bidding.

Image courtesy of Phililps

Jean-Michel Basquiat, To Repel Ghosts, 1985

Jean-Michel Basquiat's seven-foot-tall To Repel Ghosts was one of the top ten auction sales, selling for $7,862,500. A portrait of a friend, fellow artist, and Mapplethorpe’s romantic partner and muse, Jack Walls, it’s painted on wooden boards, giving the piece a gritty, urban flavor. Highlighted with vibrant fields of yellow, black, and green, the portrait synthesizes Basquiat's street art roots with his developing painterly style. It also reflects Basquiat’s exploration of his Afro-Caribbean heritage; Walls’ wears a cross necklace and holds a broomstick like a staff, evoking Caribbean voodoo and Santería practices.

Image courtesy of Phillips

Julie Mehretu, Tsunemasa (next to Kaija), 2014

Julie Mehretu's Tsunemasa, a multi-layered, roiling field of black and gray with white accents, overwritten with gestural, calligraphic black marks reminiscent of cuneiform, pictographs, or graffiti, captures the eerie feeling of a building storm. Mehretu created her painting in 2016 while designing sets for an opera inspired by the famous Japanese Nôh drama Tsunemasa, in which a lute player killed in battle haunts his own memorial service. It is one of two of her paintings reproduced and enlarged as stage backdrops for the aforementioned opera, Only the Sound Remains. Another of the top ten sales of Phillips’ auction, Tsunemasa sold for $4,386,000 USD.

María Berrío’s He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not made a record-breaking sale of $1.6 million USD, three times its low estimate. The mixed media collage on canvas is a powerful celebration of feminine power. Three ethereal women stand on large, floating flowers. An idyllic mountain range, inspired by the Columbian landscape, shimmers in the background. Crowned with elaborate floral headdresses, they are gloriously attired in embroidered shawls, multi-colored skirts, and ornate jewelry; Berrío has adorned them with actual rhinestones.   

About the Author

Megan D Robinson

Megan D Robinson writes for Art & Object and the Iowa Source.

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