The postwar and contemporary art department at Sothebys New York pitched a perfect game in its evening auction last night, May 12, 2004, selling all 58 lots offered for a total of $65,670,400, above the presale high estimate of $64,700,000 -- a rare occurrence, to be sure. The white glove sale, as auctioneer Tobias Meyer called the 100-percent-sold event, set new auction records for 16 artists, from Clyfford Still, James Rosenquist and Ellsworth Kelly to Maurizio Cattelan, John Currin and Rachael Whiteread. Twenty-two lots sold for above $1 million, with lively bidding on almost every item.
Sothebys art selling machine, as former employee Jeffrey Deitch once called it, put together a perfectly proportioned sale, dotted with three Basquiats, three Calders, three Judds, four Lichtensteins, two Richters and five Warhols. (To tell the truth, the auction was rather dull, except for the prices paid -- providing an apotheosis of a different sort.) We made a special effort to go younger with a group of 10 to 12 artists who are more contemporary, said Sothebys New York expert Matthew Carey-Williams at the post-auction press conference.
The lot that exemplified this strategy was Maurizio Cattelans The Ballad of Trotsky (1996), a taxidermied horse hanging in a leather sling from the ceiling. It sold for $2,080,000, well above the presale high estimate of $800,000, to an anonymous buyer on the phone. The same paddle number also won Damien Hirsts Still Pursing Impossible Desires, a large steel and glass vitrine containing a two-color abstract painting balanced on a sawhorse and several dead butterflies, for $624,00, and Roy Lichtensteins Pop dyptich, Step-On Can with Leg (1961), which sold for $5,104,000, just above its presale high estimate of $5 million.
The seller of both the Cattelan and the Lichtenstein was collector and newsprint magnate Peter Brant, who owned 12 works in the sale, according to Carol Vogel in the New York Times. He bought the Cattelan sculpture at Christies London in June 2001 for about $875,000, and obviously must be happy with the current auction result. He did less well with the Lichtenstein, which he bought only 18 months ago in the same room for $4,849,500 -- a less impressive short-term return. The Lichtenstein was the top lot in the auction.
The number two lot was a cross-hatch watercolor by Jasper Johns called Corpse and Mirror (1975-76), which sold for $3,144,000, just above its $3,000,000 presale high estimate. The buyers were Museum of Modern Art patrons Kathy and Richard Fuld, who are big collectors of drawings -- they also won Richard Diebenkorns painting on paper, Untitled (Ocean Park) (1987), for an impressive $1,408,000, almost three times the presale high estimate of $500,000.
A new auction record was set for Keith Haring, when his Untitled (People), a large (10 x 15 ft.), colorful jigsaw-like painting on tarpaulin, sold for $624,000 (est. $400,000-$600,000).
Other buyers spotted in the room included Andrew Fabrikant of Richard Gray Gallery, who won Takashi Murakamis Flower Ball (2002) for $624,000, a new auction record for the artist; Larry Gagosian, who bought Andy Warhols Campbells Soup Can (Clam Chowder-Manhattan Style) (1962) for $2,024,000, just above its $2,000,000 presale high estimate; and London jeweler Laurence Graff, who carried off the dramatic Jean-Michel Basquiat painting, Low Pressure Zone (1982), for $2,136,000, as well as Jean-Paul Riopelles untitled allover abstraction from 1950 for $736,000 (est. $400,000-$600,000).
Jack Tilton bought Gerhard Richters moody violet-toned Girl in Arm Chair (Lilac) (1965) for $1,464,000, just below its presale high estimate of $1.5 million; and Andrea Crane, director of Jan Krugier Gallery (which recently moved out of the Fuller Building into private quarters at 980 Madison Avenue), snapped up Basquiats Untitled (1981) -- a simple but effective graffito painting of a crown and a grimacing face painted inside a shallow wooden box -- for $209,600, below the presale low estimate of $250,000.
Cologne dealer Raphael Jablonka snagged Warhols mural-sized black-and-white sketch of The Last Supper (1986), overlaid with a huge blue version of the Wise potato chips eye logo, for $2,920,000, above the low presale estimate of $2.5 million; and Ted Bonin of Alexander & Bonin Gallery on 10th Avenue in New Yorks Chelsea district bought George Segals white construction of The Artist in his Loft (1969) -- clearly in the a.m., as the figure is shaving over a small sink -- for $400,000 (est. $350,000-$450,000). The work is destined for a U.S. museum, to be announced. A Minimalist white Segal? I think it was a smart move, the dealer said.
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