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Willem de Kooning
Two Standing Women, 1949
Man on Bench, 1985
pass at $65,000
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.