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Andy Warhol
Jackie (Two Works)

Andreas Gursky

Frank Stella
Jacques le Fataliste

Bernd and Hilla Becher
Water Towers

Neo Rauch
Back Light

Richard Tuttle

George Clinton
at Phillips, May 10, 2003
Photo by Nancy Smith
Loud techno music greeted the overflow audience at the May 15 evening sale of contemporary art at Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg, as if Manhattan's boutique auction house was seeking to emphasize its downtown pedigree, now that it is ensconced in rough-hewn industrial-style quarters on West 15th Street in Chelsea. Indeed, as auctioneer Simon de Pury reminded the press after the sale, the legendary George Clinton and Funkadelic had performed at the reception a week earlier. Perhaps as a result, many of the lots went to telephone buyers.

In any case, by the end of the auction, Phillips had sold 38 of 42 lots offered, or more than 90 percent, for a total of $11,675,170. "The room had a great energy and feel," de Pury said, but several of the star lots went for less than their presale low estimate. All prices reflect Phillips' buyer's premium of 19.5 percent on the first $100,000 and 10 percent on the remainder (estimates do not include premiums).

The top lot, Cy Twombly's 1969 Untitled (Bolsena), a 6 x 8 ft. graffiti painting that has passed through the hands of Gian Enzo Sperone and Larry Gagosian, went for $1,934,500, well below its $2,500,000 presale estimate. The same anonymous buyer won Andy Warhol's Jackie (Two Works) (1964) for $383,500, below the presale low estimate of $400,000.

Other top lots included Andreas Gursky's Klitschko (1999), a huge color photograph of a boxing match in a vast arena, done in an edition of six, which sold for $460,500 (est. $250,000-$350,000) to New York dealer Stellan Holm, sitting in the front row; and Frank Stella's Jacques le Fataliste (1974), a pristine 11 x 11 foot painting of red, orange and yellow concentric squares that sold for $449,500 (est. $400,000-$600,000) to Los Angeles dealer James Corcoran, standing in the back.

A highlight of the sale was the group of five artworks from the bankrupt Enron corporation, which elicited spirited bidding. "There is a certain mysticism in the name," admitted Phillips contemporary expert Michael McGinnis. One Enron work was Soft Light Switches (1963-69) by Claes Oldenburg, which sold for $405,500, below its presale low estimate of $500,000. Enron had bought the same work at Phillips in 2001 for $574,500.

The Enron lots also included an untitled bullnose wall sculpture from 1984 by Donald Judd that sold for $301,000, more than double the presale high estimate of $150,000, and a set of eight large black-and-white photographs of water towers by Bernd and Hilla Becher that sold for $97,990, well above the $50,000 presale high estimate. The fourth Enron lot, Bridget Riley's large and colorful painting In Attendance (1993) went for $130,500, also more than double the $60,000 presale high estimate.

The final Enron work, a group of found antique letters spelling "Stardust" by Jack Pierson, sold for $135,000 (est. $40,000-$60,000), a new auction record for the artist. Enron is selling five more works in Phillips day sale on May 16. Enron got a special deal from Phillips, according to Bloomberg News reporter Nina Siegal, taking four percent of the auctioneer's 19.5 percent buyer's premium on sales up to $100,000, and two percent of the 10 percent premium on the remainder.

The sale included two works by the East German figurative-painting sensation Neo Rauch, and his Back Light (2000) sold for $196,500 (est. $100,000-$150,000), a new auction record for the artist.

Other successful bidders spotted in the room included former Warhol superstar Jane Holzer, who snagged Thomas Struth's large color print of tourists in the Kunsthistorisches Museum I, Vienna, 1989, from an edition of 10, for $125,000; and SoHo dealer Jack Tilton (sitting with Miami collector Marty Margulies), who won both Cindy Sherman's blue-toned "History Portrait" from 1988 in an edition of six for $141,500, and Richard Tuttle's untitled 1967 golden shaped and dyed canvas work for $130,500.

After the auction, de Pury spoke of the "dramatic cost improvements" that Phillips expected to gain by centralizing its entire operation under one roof. He also noted that the firm was planning to introduce more "private auctions," a type of sale with sealed bids and a fixed closing date, that de Pury said can lower costs (and increase profits) substantially; the firm completed a $2.6 million "private auction" of jewelry in Geneva on May 13.

And finally, de Pury promised a pair of 20th-21st century design auctions in June, including something he called a "hoover" sale, featuring offbeat material. Plus more "special events" -- like the George Clinton performance, perhaps?

For complete illustrated results, see Artnet's signature Fine Art Auctions Database.

Mark Rothko
No. 9 (White and Black on Wine)

Yves Klein
Re 2

Andy Warhol
Hammer and Sickle

Duane Hanson
Housewife (Homemaker)

Gerhard Richter
Laacher Wiese

Mark Tansey
Source of the Loue

Felix Gonzalez-Torres
Untitled (Fortune Cookie Corner)

Jeff Koons
Hippo (Dark Pink)
Christie's New York had a really big sale of post-war and contemporary art on May 14, 2003, putting 60 works on the block and selling 43 of them, or 71 percent, for a total of $68,788,625. The total is the highest in recent memory for any contemporary sale, noted auctioneer Christopher Burge. Taking bids was "a workout -- like being at the gym," he joked. Prices given here include Christie's buyer's premium, 19.5 percent on the first $100,000 and 20 percent on the rest.

Top lot was an imposing, 14 x 9 ft. Mark Rothko painting from 1958, No. 9 (White and Black on Wine) that had been included in the major Rothko retrospectives in 1961-63 and 1978-79, as well as the 2001 Rothko show at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel. The price -- $16,359,500 -- was well above the presale high estimate of $12,000,000, thanks to an exciting salesroom duel between two top Manhattan dealers, Robert Mnuchin of C&M Gallery and Douglas Baxter of PaceWildenstein. The price is a new world auction record for Rothko (the work sold in 1983 for $1.8 million, a record then, too). The painting was reportedly being sold this time by Christie's owner, François Pinault.

A second Rothko, Brown and Blacks in Reds (1957), ex the Seagram Collection, was also bought by C&M dealer Jennifer Vorbach for $6,727,500 ($6 million-$8 million). C&M was notably active during the sale, also buying Joseph Cornell's 1933 box construction, M'lle Faretti, for $343,500, and Frank Stella's large 1959 black painting, Bethlehem's Hospital, for $4,375,500.

The third highest price of the night was paid for RE 2, a funky, sponge-covered deep blue work from 1958 by Yves Klein. It sold to a telephone bidder for $5,271,500, well above its presale high estimate of $4,000,000. It too was being offered by François Pinault. The same work had appeared at Christie's London in 1990, where it went unsold over a high presale estimate of about $5 million.

Top lot among the auction's seven Andy Warhol works was Marlon (1966), which went for $5,047,500 (est. $4,000,000-$5,000,000) to an unidentified Midwest collector. A classic 1962 Warhol Campbell's Soup Can (Pepper Pot) sold to Andrew Fabrikant of the Richard Gray Gallery for $2,415,500, and a decorative Warhol Hammer and Sickle painting from 1977 sold for $1,239,500 to San Francisco collector and Dia Art Foundation trustee Frances Bowes.

The sale set auction records for six artists. In addition to the Rothko, these included the $567,500 paid for Takashi Murakami's life-size fiberglass statue of a blonde gamin anime, Miss ko2. The work, from an edition of three with two artist's proofs, was bought by Chicago collector Stefan Edlis, according to the Baer Faxt.

Other records were set for Chuck Close, whose 1988 profile portrait of Cindy Sherman sold for $1,463,500, and Duane Hanson, whose 1969-70 sculpture of a slovenly, magazine-reading Housewife (Homemaker) went for $343,500. The buyer of the Hanson was Chelsea dealer Lawrence Luhring, according to salesroom observers. Records were also set for Piero Manzoni ($1,015,500) and Phillip Taaffe, whose large 1984 Op Art work, Adam, Eve, went for $175,500.

Other notable buyers spotted in the room were SoHo dealer Jack Tilton, who paid $2,359,500 for Gerhard Richter's photo-realist landscape Laacher Meadow (1987); real estate mogul Aby Rosen, who paid $130,700 for Mel Ramos' classic 1963 painting Camilla No. 2, depicting a Marilyn Monroe look-alike posing in a zebra-striped bikini; German collector Udo Brandhorst, who paid $365,900 for Dan Flavin's white neon Untitled (Monument to V. Tatlin); former Christie's contemporary expert Neal Meltzer, who paid $511,500 for Donald Judd's untitled bullnose wall piece from 1965; former dealer Irving Blum, who paid $1,351,500 for a green and white triangular painting by Ellsworth Kelly from 1968; and Larry Gagosian, who paid $1,575,500 for a 1968 Roy Lichtenstein painting of the back of a canvas, $2,695,500 for Sam Francis' Big Orange (1954-55), and $2,247,500 for Warhol's early black-and-white Dance Diagram from 1962.

Despite all the good cheer -- "Everything that was desirable sold well," said SoHo dealer Jeffrey Deitch after the event -- the last third of the auction arrived with an almost-audible thump, and 11 of 20 lots were passed. Many of these were by the "new blue chips" -- unsold lots included works by Mike Kelley, Charles Ray and Jeff Wall, as well as works by the likes of Gerhard Richter, Jasper Johns and Frank Stella.

Perhaps a premonition of this development was provided early in the sale, when Mark Tansey's 1988 Source of the Loue -- a large, blue-monochrome rendition of workmen bricking up a cave that presumably holds the famous spring (immortalized in the 19th century by Gustav Courbet) -- failed to sell. Its presale estimate was $600,000-$800,000, which seemed quite reasonable considering his record auction price of $999,000, set last year.

Another work that failed to sell was Felix Gonzalez-Torres' untitled heap of approximately 10,000 Chinese fortune cookies piled in a corner, which carried a presale estimate of $600,000-$800,000. "Did the SARS scare have anything to do with it?" joked one journalist at the post-sale press conference.

One exception to this trend was Jeff Koons' Hippo (Dark Pink) (1999), a mirror shaped like the head of a cartoon animal, that sold for $276,500 to a woman that salesroom observers identified as Sotheby's London contemporary art expert Elena Guena. New York art lovers will remember that this piece was included in Koons' "Easyfun" exhibition at Sonnabend Gallery in 1999 (one of the last held at 420 West Broadway before the gallery's move to Chelsea), where it was priced at $100,000.

And, the auction's biggest lot, Arshille Gorky's Year after Year (1947), once part of the collection of California collector Gifford Phillips, which came with its own catalogue and carried an unpublished presale estimate of $15 million, also failed to elicit a bid. "I thought the audience would applaud when that piece of junk was bought in," said one dealer after the auction, clearly no fan of Gorky's brand of abstraction.

The evening sale was also notable for the absence of works by any of the formerly hot "Young British Artists." For complete illustrated results, see Artnet's signature Fine Art Auctions Database.


Jackson Pollock
Number 17, 1949

Andy Warhol
Four Foot Flowers

John Chamberlain
White Thumb Four

Bradley Walker Tomlin
Number 15

Robert Rauschenberg
The top tier of the art market proved its resiliency once again as Sotheby's New York tallied $27,339,600 for its contemporary auction on May 13, 2003. Of 46 lots put on the block, 39 found buyers, or almost 85 percent. "The sale was put together during a time of uncertainty," noted Sotheby's contemporary art expert Laura Paulson after the auction. "It was purposely tight and smaller in scale." Prices given here include the buyer's premium of 20 percent on the first $100,000 and 12 percent on the remainder.

The top lot was a small Jackson Pollock drip painting, Number 17, 1949, done in enamel and aluminum paint on paper mounted on fiberboard, that sold quickly for $5,272,000 (est. $5,000,000-$7,000,000) to dealer Larry Gagosian, sitting in the front row. The work was being offered by AG Foundation, which is either an agricultural research organization or an arts charity set up by Museum of Modern Art trustee Agnes Gund.

The AG Foundation provided several of the star lots in the sale, in fact, selling works by Franz Kline, Roy Lichtenstein, Larry Rivers, David Smith and Bradley Walker Tomlin, for a total of more than $8,000,000 at the hammer. Sotheby's gave the foundation an undisclosed guarantee for the works.

The sale's number two lot, Andy Warhol's Four Foot Flowers (1964), sold for $2,136,000, again at the low end of its presale estimate. The buyer was identified by a fellow collector as London jeweler Lawrence Graff. In all, the auction included seven works by Warhol; three failed to find buyers, which led Paulson to speculate after the sale that the market for the Pope of Pop, after a considerable run-up, had come back to a "slightly more conservative level."

Among the Warhol successes were Knives (1981-82), which sold to Cologne dealer Rafael Jablonka for $422,400 (est. $380,000-$480,000), and Campbell's Boxes (Tomato Juice), a set of 10 silkscreened wooden boxes from 1964 that were bought, according to the Baer Faxt, by real estate tycoon Aby Rosen (whose RFR Holdings owns Sotheby's headquarters building, among other properties). A portrait of Rosen by painter Ahn Duong is currently hanging in the Dolce Gabbana boutique on Madison Ave.

Other successful buyers spotted in the room included Chelsea dealer Christoph Van de Weghe, who won an untitled Brice Marden drawing for $78,000; collector Peter Brant, who paid $299,200 for John Chamberlain's White Thumb Four (1978); and former Warhol superstar Jane Holzer, who snagged Tim Noble and Sue Webster's pink electric sign, Vicious (1999), for $66,000 for her foundation in Palm Springs.

Two works in the auction reportedly came from the collection of disgraced Imclone founder Sam Waksal, who also tried to sell several works from his collection last fall, with disastrous results. This time around, he did rather better. Willem de Kooning's Untitled V sold for $1,912,000 (est. $2,000,000-$3,000,000), the fourth highest price of the night, and Roy Lichtenstein's 1996 Landscape with Seated Figure brought $792,000 (est. $500,000-$700,000), a good price for a late painting by the artist and the 10th highest in the sale. Waksal paid $2.4 million for the de Kooning and $900,000 for the Lichtenstein -- but got tagged for failing to pay New York City sales taxes of 8.25 percent on the purchases.

The sale set auction records for two artists, when a 15-inch-square, 1990-95 oil painting of ocean waves by Vija Celmins sold for $545,000 (est. $200,000-$300,000) to a telephone bidder, and the AG Foundation's elegant calligraphic painting by Bradley Walker Tomlin, Number 15 (1953), sold for $904,000 (est. $350,000-$450,000).

The Toledo (Ohio) Museum of Art cashed in on a Mark Rothko oil on paper mounted on canvas, White over Orange (1959), that seems to have spent most of the 1960s and '70s on loan to various U.S. embassies in Eastern Europe before being consigned to storage. It sold at the hammer for $620,000, well below its presale low estimate of $800,000; the museum's proceeds are earmarked for acquisitions.

Among the disappointments was Robert Rauschenberg's Minutiae, a free-standing painted construction made for a 1954 Merce Cunningham performance that was estimated to sell for $6,000,000-$8,000,000, but failed to make its reserve. "Museums are building galleries, not collections," hazarded auctioneer Tobias Meyer after the sale in explanation of the buy-in. "It will have its moment in the market."

The spring contemporary auctions continue at Christie's on May 14 and Phillips on May 15. For complete, illustrated results, see Artnet's signature Fine Art Auctions Report.