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|Art Market Watch
by Caroline Krockow
|The stock market is wobbling like a top. A federal antitrust investigation paints Christie's and Sotheby's management as a bunch of crooks and back-stabbers. A new U.S. President is about to be elected and the economy is sure to change.
But are the auction houses worried? No -- they got cojones.
Such is especially true of Christie's contemporary sale on the evening of Nov. 16, 2000 -- an auction that seems positively chock full of depictions of the male member. On the catalogue cover is Charles Ray's anatomically correct Male Mannequin (est. $700,000-$900,000), while inside is Eric Fischl's explicit 1980 painting of a nude man called Short Ride to the Border (est. $250,000-$350,000) and Jeff Koons' pornographic Red Butt (Distance) (est. $150,000-$200,000).
Koons' salacious photo, a Kama Sutra scene with then-wife Cicciolina, is printed as a gatefold on lewd red paper -- complete with a content warning, "The Following Image Contains Graphic Sexual Content."
All this esthetic testosterone is part and parcel of Christie's aggressive approach towards shoe-horning young artists into the multimillion-dollar evening sales. Though Sotheby's does its part, Christie's is by far the leader. Among other notably avant-garde works, Christie's Nov. 16 sale includes a glass crib by Mona Hatoum (est. $80,000-$120,000), a video "lamp" by Pipilotti Rist (est. $60,000-$80,000) and a chessboard of all knights by Gabriel Orozco (est. $60,000-$80,000).
There's a section of art from "80s Painters," featuring the aforementioned Fischl and Koons, plus a plate painting by Julian Schabel (est. $200,000-$300,000), a 10-foot-square work by Keith Haring ($120,000-$180,000) and works by Carroll Dunham ($60,000-$80,000), Peter Halley ($80,000-$120,000), David Salle ($80,000-$120,000), Philip Taaffe ($100,000-$150,000), Terry Winters ($100,000-$150,000) and Christopher Wool ($100,000-$150,000).
Other hot lots at Christie's include an Andres Serrano triptych, Red Pope I-III ($80,000-$120,000), and a Chris Ofili dung painting ($100,000-$150,000). All the sales have works by Andreas Gursky and Cindy Sherman galore -- there must be two dozen at auction in this week alone.
Of special note in the November sales is the late Felix Gonzalez-Torres, who died of AIDS in 1996. The highest price at auction for one of his works is $41,400, set at Sotheby's two years ago by Untitled (Last Night), a 132-inch long string of white light bulbs. Museums and major collectors are increasingly recognizing that Gonzalez-Torres is an essential holding -- and his works on the market are rare.
Both Sotheby's and Christie's have works by the artist in their evening sales. At Sotheby's is Untitled (Lover Boys) (1991), a large replenishable heap of blue and white candies that is estimated at $300,000-$400,000. At Christie's is Untitled (Blood) (1992), a hanging curtain of red and clear plastic beads that carries a presale estimate of $400,000-$600,000.
The Chelsea dealer Andrea Rosen, who has represented the artist since 1989 and is widely known to require collectors to give her gallery the right of first refusal on resale of their works (both the pieces at auction were originally sold by other dealers), seemed a little irked at the attendant auction hype. "I'm conservative. There is a small, concise body of Felix's work -- 24 candy pieces and five beaded curtains -- and I prefer to see them in the right hands -- people that understand and appreciate his work."
Rosen notes further that Christie's contemporary art chief Philippe Ségalot owns the only other copy of Untitled (Blood). "This kind of bull market is a great opportunity for him to set a value for it," she said.
Another artist making his serious debut in the evening sales is the South African filmmaker William Kentridge (b.1955), who is seeing one of his animated films offered for auction for the first time at Christie's. A pair of his works on DVD -- the eight-minute-plus Felix in Exile and the somewhat shorter History of the Main Complaint (1994 and 1996, respectively) -- go on the block with a presale estimate of $50,000-$70,000. The work is number four from an edition of ten.
Kentridge works have only appeared at auction twice previously, with a set of videotapes selling for over $16,000 at Phillips New York last fall. Observers expect this film to be hotly sought after by museums and collectors.
British mega-collector Charles Saatchi is said to be unloading works by many of his young American artists, including Tom Friedman's Untitled (Fly) (1995), which is illustrated on the cover of Christie's catalogue for its Nov. 17 day sale. Friedman's auction record is £36,425 (ca. $54,800), paid for a photograph (of a gravity-free body apparently collapsed on the ceiling). The estimate for Fly -- which originally sold for about $7,000 and is now very much in demand -- is $40,000-$60,000.
Two notable lots at Sotheby's contemporary sale on the evening of Nov. 14 come right at the beginning of the sale. Sotheby's has chosen to launch its auction with a work by the young painter Cecily Brown (b. 1969), who has never had a work in an evening sale before. Her Twenty Million Sweethearts (1998-99), which she showed at Deitch Projects last year where it probably sold for about $10,000, carries an estimate of $30,000-$40,000 (in line with the prices commanded by her larger new paintings at Gagosian earlier this year, which were reported to sell for $40,000).
Two other paintings by Brown are included in Christie's day sale on Nov. 17 -- Kiss Me Stupid (1999) and Untitled (Trapeze) (1997). Curiously, both pictures at Christie's carry the same presale estimate as the one at Sotheby's -- $30,000-$40,000.
The second lot at Sotheby's on Nov. 14 is Gary Hume's seven-foot-tall Pauline (1996), a buff and ochre painting on aluminum of a nude with red hair. Though Hume's market is hot as a pistol -- his installation in the British Pavilion at the 1999 Venice Biennial was a big hit -- his current auction record is a "modest" £58,750 (ca. $88,400) for one of his "hospital door" abstractions.
Pauline is estimated at $90,000-$120,000, and seems likely to put Hume over the six-figure mark, where he could keep company with his compatriots Peter Doig, whose auction record is £106,000 (ca. $172,000) and Ofili, whose record is £84,000 (ca. $136,500).
As for Phillips, its evening contemporary sale is set for Nov. 13 -- but we're still waiting for the catalogue to be published.
CAROLINE KROCKOW is an editorial assistant at Artnet Magazine.