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ArtByNumbers: Buy High

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The media microscopes were trained on the Phillips auction of Impressionist and modern art last week, but the house's role as a contemporary-art major player will come into focus this week. The sales on Thursday and Friday, in which works by Warhol, Basquiat, and Lichtenstein (pictured) will go on the block, were organized, says Phillips's contemporary-art director Michael McGinnis, with a marketing strategy designed "to gain confidence with the clientele. In a competitive environment, we need property, and if it takes doing a deal to get that property, it's worth it to get market share." And what exactly do these deals entail? About 75 percent of Phillips's works for Thursday's sale (which has a presale total estimate of $10 million to $13.6 million) are guaranteed, making sellers very comfortable indeed. And in a highly unusual move, some works are being offered at prices lower than what Phillips paid for them. New York dealer Edward Nahem thinks this ploy might result in a rush of consignments for next fall: "If they are prepared to sell for a loss and ingratiate themselves to the public, they can legitimatize themselves -- particularly when Christie's and Sotheby's are at their weakest."

More art-world news can be found online at www.baerfaxt.com.


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