at tune-up auctions,
adaa art show
by Judd Tully
Topped by Blonde Vivienne, Tom Wesselmann's
tondo-shaped oil painting on cut-out aluminum
from 1988, the contemporary art
market woke up from its winter snooze at
Christie's New York on February 22. The
Wesselmann hit a lusty $111,400 (est. $70,000-
$90,000) and coupled with 119 other sold lots,
turned in a workman-like $2.46 million
performance (vs. pre-sale est. $2.6 million-
Even with the two pricey buy-ins of Morris
Louis' Number 43 that fizzled at $65,000
and Helen Frankenthaler's pink Crete that
died at $48,000 (both carried $80,000-$100,000
estimates), the sale still made an impressive
83% by dollar value (77% by lot). "Things
were selling at the top end of the estimates
or above," commented Christie's expert Alison
Buscher, "and we haven't seen that for a
couple of years."
Traditionally, the February sales are
tune-ups for the major spring auctions,
which begin at Christie's on the evening of
May 7. During the market gloom of the early
`90's these appetizer sales were cancelled
as descretionary selling virtually ceased
and buyers vanished.
This round, anyway, the market perked up
with works such as Concomitances, Jean
Dubuffet's late acrylic and paper collage
which brought $110,300 (est. $40,000-
$60,000) and Andy Warhol's 1964 Black
Flowers, realizing $54,050 (est.
Of special interest was Willem de Kooning's
Untitled, 1977, an oil on newspaper abstraction
deaccessioned by the Denver Art Museum (for
future acquisitions). It fetched $47,150
A snappy twine-tied Christo object,
Wrapped Magazines, dated 1966 and sold
from the collection of Christo chronicler
David Bourdon, brought $21,850 (est.
The market was decidedly more picky and
downbeat the next day at Sotheby's second
multi-discipline contemporary sale of
paintings, photographs, prints and multiples.
Only 118 of the 204 lots found buyers (58%
sold by lot and 61% by dollar value) for a
$585,557 tally (vs. est. $477,300-$672,500).
"I think it's a good idea to enter into the
21st century," said Sotheby's specialist
Tracy Williams, referring to the more
cutting-edge content of their sale and
attempt to reach new collectors, "but I
don't know if people are ready for it yet."
Sotheby's debut of its three-department
collaborative format made a more impressive
$1.08 million in October 1993. Now it makes
more sense why they waited so long.
Doors II, a conservatively estimated
Richard Artschwager from 1973 and framed
in six parts, made the top lot at $51,750
Barbara Kruger's screaming monkey and text
in photographic silkscreen from 1987,
Untitled (Worth Every Penny), sold for
$28,750 (est. $15,000-$20,000). The low
estimates made the results look rosier than
The best example of low-ball estimates was
Cindy Sherman's Untitled #66 C-print from
1980 that brought $19,550 (est. $5,000-
$7,000). The recent buzz from MoMA's
important seven-figure acquisition of
Sherman's "film-stills" series no doubt
sparked additional interest. Sherman is
sold in both the Contemporary Part II
and Photographic auction arenas.
Even so, European and American private
buyers dominated, much like the buying
pattern at Christie's. An exception was the
strong price realized for Andy Warhol's
circa 1969 Untitled (Daisy) color
photograph that went to an otherwise
unidentified Asian private collector for
$9,200 (est. $5,000-$7,000).
An unusual offering of "Portfolio, For
Joseph Beuys," comprised of 29 prints by
artists ranging from Arakawa to Warhol and
published by Bernd Klüser and Editions
Schellmann, hit $20,700 (est. $20,000-
THE ART SHOW
An even richer assortment of contemporary
and modern works were on view and primed
for sale from February 22-26 at "The Art
Show," the annual market fest presented by
The Art Dealers Association of America at
the Seventh Regiment Armory. Now in its
eighth year, "The Art Show" was first hatched
during the booming `80's and timed to
coincide with the February auctions. The
hope then was to transfer auction fever
to the high-wattage booths at the Armory.
Unlike the auction houses where prices and
percentages from sales are tallied and
published for public record, the Art Show
results are a different matter and much
harder to measure. Chicago dealer Richard
Gray, whose handsome booth was singled out
in a New York Times piece on the fair,
scored in both modern and contemporary
offerings, selling "almost a million,"
according to Paul Gray, director of the
gallery. He declined to be more specific.
Their top contemporary work was a large and
late Willem de Kooning. More importantly,
though, Gray said, "last year we didn't make
In a casual sales survey of participating
dealers, Galerie St. Etienne said it had
sold Seated Woman, a Gustav Klimt charcoal
drawing from 1897-98, for $50,000 and a
striking Egon Schiele etching from 1914,
Squatting Woman, for $6,000. It was
published posthumously in 1990 from an
edition of 100. "We've made a profit already,"
said Jane Kallir, co-director of the gallery,
"but buyers can take a long time to make
up their minds so it will be three or four
months until we really know how well
Veteran dealer and raconteur, Allan Stone
bristled at the sales query: "The trouble
with the art world," said Stone, "it's all
deteriorated into a big bottom line." Even
so, he couldn't help adding, "Business is
at the top-end and they're not buying much
stuff out in meatloaf land."
The atmosphere was buoyant at Susan Sheehan
Gallery after twin opening night sales of
Andy Warhol's Blue Airmail Stamps from
1962 in the $200,000 range and a 24 x 24
inch Flowers painting at "just over
$100,000," according to Sheehan. "I could
have sold both of them five times over,"
Photography was of unusual interest this
time around as evidenced by strong sales at
San Francisco's Fraenkel Gallery. Edward
Weston's vintage 1925 Nude (Anita Brenner)
and Imogen Cunningham's famous still life,
Magnolia Blossom, from the same year, both
sold for six figures, according to Jeffrey
At Mary-Anne Martin Fine Art, a modest oil
and tempera landscape by Frida Kahlo with a
decidedly Marxist title, dated from 1952,
Peace Congress for the People, sold for
The overall mood was summed up by Joe
Helman after reporting serial sales of
gallery artists Joe Andoe and Jose Sicilia.
"If this is reality, I'm thrilled."
JUDD TULLY lives and works in New York.