Phillips ‘New Now’ Sale Brings Fierce Competition for Newcomers at the Auction Block
At Phillips’s latest sale in a series known as “The New Now,” which typically spotlights rising talents, familiar names like KAWS, Keith Haring, and Sterling Ruby dominated. But it was a lineup of newcomers that shined most brightly at the auction, which was held in New York on Tuesday.
“The New Now” has historically been a way to court competition among buyers looking to collect work by emerging artists. Phillips specialists have been vocal about meeting increased demand among collectors for works by upcoming and mid-career women artists and artists of color. These groups have long been under-represented at institutions around the world, but are now seeing a rush among collectors eager to correct the gap.
For this sale, Phillips took a new approach to peddling work by emerging artists. The house tapped New York art adviser Gardy St. Fleur to organize a sale-within-a-sale titled “The Crossover,” which comprised 13 new works by emerging Black artists such as Robert Peterson, Rashid Johnson, and Deborah Roberts. St. Fleur has garnered attention for his client base, which includes NBA stars like Kyrie Irving and Deron Williams.
“The Crossover” brought in just over $311,000, all of which will be put toward initiatives in Haiti and New York run by Project Backboard, a Memphis-based nonprofit that rehabilitates public basketball courts and commissions artists to make work for these sites. Though that number may represent a small portion of the $8.6 million that “The New Now” raked in, “The Crossover” was notable because of the fierce competition that works in that capsule sale faced.
Making his auction debut at Phillips was Milo Matthieu, whose painting Los Siete Infantes (2021), featuring three wide-eyed figures, sold for $176,400, 11 times its estimate of $15,000. A stylist turned painter, Desane was represented by Journeyin’ into Motherhood (2020–21), featuring two side-by-side views of a pink-clad Black woman. No doubt riding the momentum of her recent collaboration with the designer Jacquemus, the painting sold for $108,000, five times the estimate of $18,000.
Marcus Brutus’s Lounge (2020), a portrait of a reclining young male sitter, sold for $37,800, more than three times the $8,000 estimate. Deborah Roberts, who is more established than artists like Brutus, Matthieu, and Desane, saw her Folding the Red into the Black (2018), which depicts a young Black girl wielding boxing gloves, sell for $13,900, more than twice its low $6,000 estimate.
Across the 223 lots that came up for auction on Tuesday, the sale hammered at its high estimate, $6.7 million, and realized a 91 percent sell-through rate. The auction achieved records for Jenna Gribbon, Sanford Biggers, and Brutus. The result surpassed the $5.8 million total achieved at last year’s equivalent auction, which had an 82 percent sell-through rate.
This auction’s top-selling lot was KAWS’s THE GREAT BELOW (2011), a circular canvas made to look like the eye of the artist’s SpongeBob-inspired protagonist KAWSBOB. It sold for $529,200, against an estimate of $400,000. Salman Toor’s Girl with Beggar (2013), which shows a young woman driving as an older man peers into her car window, was the second-most expensive lot. It went for $302,400, four times its $70,000 estimate. Works by Manolo Valdés, Ruby, Eddie Martinez and Haring also achieved relatively high prices. Other works in the sale by Shaina McCoy, Marcellina Akpojotor, and Maja Djordjević were among the lots that saw the highest demand among collectors.