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Willem de Kooning
Two Standing Women, 1949

Louise Bourgeois
Untitled, 1953

George Segal
Man on Bench, 1985
pass at $65,000

Sigmar Polke
Audacia, 1986

Eric Fischl
Tigers of Autumn, 1980
pass at $80,000
artnet auction report: christie's contemporary

by Walter Robinson

As the crowd filed in for Christie's blue-chip contemporary sale last night, Nov. 18, the dozen or so art journalists waiting in the wings were conducting their usual betting pool, each kicking in a dollar to guess the hammer price of the sale's top lot, in this case number 112, de Kooning's Two Standing Women (1949).

Ever optimistic, your correspondent picked a big $8 million -- and lost. The work, which was on paper, sold for "merely" $4,182,500 (with commission), right in the middle of its presale estimate of $3.5 million to $4.5 million. The winner of the pool? Veteran art reporter Andrew Decker, who knew better than to second-guess Christie's contemporary art expert Neal Melzter.

Meltzer's uncanny ability to call the market -- most of the lots came within or close to their estimated range -- may have given the general impression that the sale lacked "fireworks." Never mind that the audience seemed semi-comatose. I say the prices were huge, considering.

The sale realized $24.8 million for 62 lots sold, out of 72 offered (that's 86 percent sold by lot). The two top lots were both de Kooning: the aforementioned $4.2-million Two Standing Women, and Woman (Blue Eyes) (1953), which went for about $2 million (est. $800,000-$1,200,000).

The rest of the top ten included a large 1961 Rothko, glowing and fresh, that went for $1.9 million; an uneventful 1960 Kline called Diamond, apparently inspired by a railroad locomotive of the same name, that sold for $1.1 million; a four-part Warhol Self-Portrait (1978-79) for $1 million; an $800,000 Calder mobile from 1955; a $772,500 Morris Louis Floral (1959); a $717,500 Hofmann, bright and pretty, now the second highest price for the artist's work at auction; another Calder, this one from 1948, for $651,500; and a sublime Richter cloudscape for $552,500.

The most interesting prices were realized for lots from living artists. What is today's price for a phallus by Louise Bourgeois? Her Untitled (1953), a five-foot-tall, disjointed column of metallic-painted wood pieces, went for $332,500. Sigmar Polke's Audacia (1986) -- actually a good painting -- went for $189,500, just above its presale estimate of $120,000-$180,000.

Among the unsold lots was a large horizontal Brice Marden painting consisting of four butted-together four-foot-square panels, painted blue, yellow, green and red, respectively, and bisected by similarly colorful lines. First Window Painting (1981) was estimated at $350,000-$450,000 and passed at $220,000 bid. Too atypically colorful? Also bought in was Susan Rothenberg's jittery, figural Up, Down, Around (1985-87) (est. $180,000-$250,000) and Ed Ruscha's spooky Homeward Bound (1986) (est. $100,000-$150,000), a silhouette painting of a schooner that was arguably the most challenging picture in the auction.

George Segal's Man on Bench (1985) failed to sell at $65,000 bid (presale est. $120,000-$180,000). Perhaps the mostly white audience blanched at this particular trophy, however beautiful. The work depicts a black man, done in white-painted plaster, sitting on a park bench. On the other hand, two of Joel Shapiro's more abstract bronze figures were snapped up, one going for $211,500 and the other for $266,500.

Finally, the sale contained two works by Eric Fischl -- the only Neo-Expressionist in evidence that evening. His Bermuda Triangle (1985), a not-half-bad picture of a light-dappled nude couple and their backyard pool, went for $123,500 (est. $120,000-$180,000). On the other hand, Tigers of Autumn (1980), a picture of some yard furniture and a row of orangey trees, was passed (est. $100,000-$150,000). No nudes, no bids?

Prices given below include the auction house commission of 15 percent on the first $50,000 and 10 percent on the rest.

Click here to view the illustrated results of this sale.

101. NolandUntitled$40,000-$60,000$96,000
102. AlbersHommage to the Square: Compliant$60,000-$80,000$74,000
103. DubuffetLe Lampeur$180,000-$220,000$134,500
104. HofmannPaling Moon$600,000-$800,000$715,500
105. de KooningUntitled$150,000-$200,000$266,500
106. SmithPuritan Landscape$150,000-$200,000$123,500
107. RothkoUntitled$2 million-$2.5 million$1,872,500
108. GottliebOrange Calligraphy$100,000-$150,000$266,500
109. CalderUntitled$180,000-$250,000$189,500
110. LouisFloral$600,000-$800,000$772,500
111. MotherwellElegy to the Spanish Republic CIII$300,000-$400,000$530,500
112. de KooningTwo Standing Women$3.5 million-$4.5 million$4,182,500
113. ReinhardtBlue Abstract$60,000-$80,000$63,000
114. GorkyStudy for Agony II$200,000-$300,000pass at $160,000
115. CalderWhite Discs$300,000-$400,000$794,500
116. KlineDiamond$1.2 million-$1.8 million$1,102,500
117. TwomblyUntitled$75,000-$100,000$92,700
118. StellaUntitled$150,000-$200,000$217,000
119. JohnsUntitled$180,000-$220,000$222,500
120. LichtensteinExpressionist Head$200,000-$250,000$332,500
121. LichtensteinCubist Still Life$300,000-$400,000$464,500
122. WarholSelf Portrait$600,000-$800,000$1,047,500
123. BourgeoisUntitled$200,000-$300,000$332,500
124. Richter1024 Farben$350,000-$450,000$387,500
125. PolkeIndianer mit Adler$180,000-$220,000$200,500
126. RichterWolken (Fenster)$500,000-$700,000$552,500
127. JuddUntitled (Progression)$60,000-$80,000$134,500
128. ReinhardtAbstract Painting$80,000-$120,000$112,500
129. RothkoUntitled$180,000-$220,000$332,500
130. KlineUntitled$80,000-$100,000$85,000
131. CalderAspen$250,000-$350,000$651,500
132. LouisBeth Shin$150,000-$200,000$123,500
133. MitchellCanada IV$120,000-$180,000$167,500
134. DiebenkornUntitled #8$150,000-$200,000$90,500
135. SegalMan on a Bench$120,000-$180,000pass at $65,000
136. WesselmannStill Life #34$120,000-$180,000$145,500
137. StellaHarran III$200,000-$300,000$112,500
138. ChamberlainUntitled$80,000-$120,000$46,000
139. KellyTwo Panels: Red White$300,000-$350,000pass at $140,000
140. MardenStudy$300,000-$350,000$288,500
141. BaselitzDie Flasche II$100,000-$150,000$90,500
142. BasquiatUntitled (Black Skull)$180,000-$220,000$222,500
143. TwomblyLeda and the Swan$400,000-$500,000$552,500
144. KrasnerCollage 1954$90,000-$120,000$90,500
145. RothkoUntitled$250,000-$300,000$310,500
146. de KooningWoman (Blue Eyes)$800,000-$1.2 million$2,037,500
147. ReinhardtUntitled$150,000-$200,000pass at $110,00
148. CalderLa Vache$150,000-$200,000$156,500
149. de KooningThe Stenographer$200,000-$250,000pass at $140,000
150. AuerbachTo the Studios II$250,000-$300,000$266,500
151. KossoffHere Comes the Diesel (Spring)$200,000-$250,000$167,500
152. DubuffetTéléphoniste$250,000-$350,000$288,500
153. CalderCritter au ventre plié...$250,000-$350,000$266,500
154. FrancisComposition White II 3$700,000-$900,000pass at $600,000
155. ShapiroUntitled$200,000-$300,000$211,500
156. StellaHampton Roads...$200,000-$300,000$277,500
157. LichtensteinStanding Explosion$150,000-$200,000$156,500
158. MardenFirst Window Painting$350,000-$450,000pass at $220,000
159. RothenbergUp, Down, Around$180,000-$250,000pass at $140,000
160. PolkeAudacia$120,000-$180,000$189,500
161. RichterSalt Tower$200,000-$250,000$222,500
162. RuschaHomeward Bound$100,000-$150,000pass at $85,000
163. LichtensteinBonsai Tree$140,000-$180,000$266,500
164. CalderBleu Horizontal$120,000-$180,000$200,500
165. DubuffetPaysage Tricolore...$250,000-$350,000$277,500
166. MitchellChord VII$200,000-$250,000$244,500
167. ShapiroUntitled$150,000-$200,000$266,500
168. FischlBermuda Triangle$120,000-$180,000$123,500
169. LichtensteinStudy for Modern Room$100,000-$150,000$134,500
170. FischlTigers of Autumn$100,000-$150,000pass at $80,000
171. RichterZwei Frauen (Two Women)$250,000-$300,000$310,500
172. WarholDollar Sign$150,000-$200,000$178,500
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of ArtNet Magazine.