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Phillips Gallery – Contemporary Art Auction

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

The recent Phillips Gallery show of contemporary art was one of the best values in Manhattan.

I went to shows at The Museum of Modern Art, The Frick Gallery, The Guggenheim, The Whitney Museum of American Art and elsewhere, and all of them were exceptional, but this exhibition of contemporary art at the Phillips Gallery on 57th Street was a real surprise. Everything on the three floors was for sale, and is going up for auction as I type this tomorrow evening, but what surprised me the most was that if one were a billionaire, or even a well-heeled millionaire, one could pick up an entire “instant museum” in one evening, since practically every major 20th and 21set century artist was represented, and all at what I’d consider reasonable estimates.

Nevertheless, one must bear in the mind the the auction estimates will probably be exceeded — that’s what an auction is for, in any case — and some of the signature pieces, such as the Warhol Marilyn, actually four panels set together as a group, and displayed in a room all their own, said simply “estimates available upon request.” With Warhols rocketing off the shelf at record prices, who knows what they’ll go for?

But there were superb pieces from a wide variety of artists on display, many of them quite attractively priced, and though I certainly can’t afford to attend the auction, much less buy any of the work on display, it’s a nice gesture that one is able to walk through the gallery at one’s leisure, free of cost, and enjoy all the masterworks on display — for free. With nearly every other museum in Manhattan now charging as much as $25 at the door, this alone was a breath of fresh air, and the works themselves were iconic — authentic talismans of the evolution of modern art.

UPDATE: The Warhol quadruple Marilyn sold for $38.2 million; the total collection sold for $78.6 million.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him or his website,

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