Sotheby's typically rules the Impressionist auction market, while Christie's does better in contemporary. So it was last night, May 11, 2004, with Christie's evening sale of post-war and contemporary art. Of 67 lots offered, 60 sold -- 90 percent by lot -- for a total of $102,111,650 (including the buyer's premium of 19.5 percent of the first $100,000 and 12 percent of the remainder). The total presale estimate was $74.4 million-$105.5 million. "The headline is simple," said auctioneer Christopher Burge at the post-sale press conference. "The first $100-million contemporary sale -- a milestone has been passed."
Indeed, in its Impressionist evening sale last week, Christie's sold 32 of 39 lots for a total of $56.6 million. If you're looking for evidence of the rising contemporary art market, here it is.
The sale set new auction records for nine artists: Jackson Pollock ($11,655,500, the top lot of the sale); Ed Ruscha ($3,591,500); Willem de Kooning ($3,479,500 for a sculpture); Chuck Close ($2,807,500); Jeff Koons ($1,687,500 for a work on canvas); Joan Mitchell ($1,463,500); Brice Marden ($1,295,500 for a work on paper); Dan Flavin ($679,500); Marlène Dumas ($634,700).
Many lots were greeted with lively bidding, both within the room and from the telephones. Burge began the bidding on the Pollock painting, Number 12, 1949, a small (31 x 22.5 in.) work on paper laid down on masonite, at $3 million; the price then jumped at million-dollar intervals to $7 million, thanks to aggressive intervention by C&M Arts principal Robert Mnuchin bidding on the aisle; and then the auction took on a more deliberate pace as two telephone bidders battled it out, stepping upwards at $200,000 a pop until the painting was hammered down at $10.4 million. One wonders whether the two phone bidders had actually examined the painting itself, as the paper has noticeably yellowed.
In any case, the Museum of Modern Art should be pleased with the sale, since the Pollock came from its collection. Perhaps the Pollock's condition explains the clear lapse in curatorial responsibility -- presumably to be laid at the feet of department head John Elderfield and MoMA director Glenn Lowry -- that led to the deaccession, which has otherwise gone uncontested by the New York Times (old-timers will remember when the "paper of record" has some teeth in such matters) or any art-professional watchdog organization.
In a less questionable move, MoMA also sold off two works by Jean Dubuffet, a painting of a cow from 1954 and one of a dorky-looking man in a suit from 1945. They brought $3.1 million and $1.3 million at the hammer, respectively. With the proceeds, the museum should be able to buy several photos by Andreas Gursky!
The new record for Jeff Koons was set when his Jim Beam J.B. Turner Train (1986), a stainless steel cast of a commercial advertising prop (produced in an edition of four), sold for $4.9 million ($5,495,500 with premium) after lively bidding to an unidentified telephone bidder. The presale estimate was $2,000,000-$3,000,000.
Koons had three works in the sale, including the four-year-old, James Rosenquist-like painting Saint Benedict (2000), which went for $1,687,500 after feverish action, also to a telephone bidder. The price is more than three times the previous Koons painting record of $498,604, set in London 14 months ago. The third Koons lot, an erotic photo-on-canvas from 1991 of the artist with his then-wife, the Italian sex star Cicciolina, sold for $545,100 (est. $200,000-$300,000) -- suggesting that whatever resistance that the art market may have had to Koons' pornographic "Made in Heaven" series has disappeared. The work was bought by C&M Arts, according to auction-room observers.
C&M's Robert Mnuchin also rescued the Mark Rothko's No. 15 (1958), buying it for $8 million at the hammer, the work's low estimate, in an apparently uncontested auction. Another active buyer in the room was Daniella Luxembourg, whose month-old ArtVest art investment company seems to be going great guns -- she won Alexander Calder's severe black mobile Armada (1945) for $1,071,500, below its presale low estimate of $1,200,000; Donald Judd's pre-Minimalist abstract painting from 1961 for $791,500, above a presale high estimate of $450,000; and Brice Marden's landscapey graphite on paper drawing from 1967 for $500,300, above a high presale estimate of $350,000.
Larry Gagosian also won at least three lots, according to auction-room observers. After watching the bidding begin on de Kooning's Porch in a Landscape (1977), he leapt in at $1.9 million, winning the lot at $2.3 million ($2,583,500 with premium). Presumably, visitors to the much-praised centennial exhibition of de Kooning's work at Gagosian Gallery's Chelsea branch now have an idea of the price range of those pictures. Gagosian also bought Gerhard Richter's huge 1970 skyscape, Wolken (Stimmung), for $2,023, 500, just above its presale low estimate; and Jasper Johns' graphite wash Map of the U.S. from 1971 for $1,071,500, also just above its presale low estimate.
Another Richter work in the sale, the impressive 4,096 Farben (1974) sold for $3,703,500, apparently to Rachel Mauro of New York dealers Dickinson Roundell, though the auction house said the work had gone to a "European private" buyer. Short-seller James Chanos was tagged as the winning bidder on Ed Ruscha's silhouette painting of a wagon train, The Uncertain Trail (1986), which sold for $623,500, above a high estimate of $600,000. And Richard Grey Gallery won the Joseph Albers 1961 Homage to the Square for $354,700 above a high estimate of $200,000, and Andy Warhol's Single Elvis (1963) for $3,367,500, just under the high presale estimate of $3.5 million.
Former Christie's expert Philippe Segalot snagged Flavin's Alternate Diagonals of March 2, 1964 (to Don Judd) (1964) for $679,500 (est. $350,000-$450,000), and Cologne dealer Raphael Jablonka took home Flavin's unique white neon sculpture from 1966 for $477,900 (est. $350,000-$550,000).
And finally, according to the Baer Faxt, real estate mogul Aby Rosen bought the huge bronze de Kooning Standing Figure, cast in 1984 in an edition of nine, for $3,479,500, above a presale high estimate of $3 million. Perhaps we will soon see the sculpture installed in front of Lever House or another of Rosen's properties.
For complete, illustrated results, consult Artnet's signature Fine Art Auctions Report