NEW YORK––Phillips Auction, Design (29 July 2020) was something of a test, and this canary did not die in the mine. Some markets have crumbled in the era of the pandemic and others have held up very well. Results for Lucie Rie and Hans Coper were excellent. Peter Voulkos, however, did poorly as we will explain.
The highlight was Lot 83 with an estimate of $25,000 t0 $35,000 achieved a stunning $225,000 for a small bowl by Lucie Rie from 1978. Although we do not know the name of the buyer, we can give their nationality. The Japanese give highest importance to Rie’s smaller work––a 4 ½-inch tall in the zone of- traditional tea bowl. Other works did well too and below you can see results for all the auctioned Rie pots.
A catalogue bonus is an essay by Allison Britton that thoughtfully and tenderly unfolds the aesthetic of several of Rie’s pots.
The shocker is Lot 98. This excellent 1979 Stack Pot fetched $35,000, just sneaking past the low estimate of $30,000. Ever since Voulkos died in 2002 his fans expected his values to soar, but this has not happened, possibly because he had not been taken in by the fine arts. Even so, on December, 12, 2017 at the Phillips Evening Auction, it seemed that his market was finally about rise––Rondena, a rare sculpture from 1958, sold for $915,000.
Subsequent auctions of his work were closely watched and not only did prices not increase, they inched downwards. In 2010, when Mark Del Vecchio and Garth Clark were working with Cowan’s Auctions, they set the record for a stack pot, Gash, at $105,750, which still stands today.
Even by current standards this price is disturbingly low. As you see above, both form and the articulation of the surface place this work among his best.
The sale of just under $1 million is an object lesson (no pun intended) on being careful about sudden high spikes in auction. Often that means that the sale came down to two stubborn buyers. If that price can be repeated in say the next three sales, it’s a new marker. Otherwise, its an anomaly. But auction’s are a moving target and Voulkos’ takeoff may still happen.