$68 MILLION AT SOTHEBY'S CONTEMPORARY The frenetic week of spring contemporary art auctions was launched last night, May 10, 2005, at Sotheby's New York with a two-hour-long sale that totaled over $68 million, with buyers snapping up 60 of the 73 lots, or 82 percent. The verdict? Decidedly mixed, with signs pointing neither up nor down. "It wasn't the most electrifying group of works ever assembled," noted dealer Marc Glimcher of PaceWildenstein after the sale, "but that didn't stop it from doing well. Generally speaking, things sold for the right prices."
One right price was the $12,616,000 paid for Andy Warhol's red Liz (1963), consigned by longtime art dealer Irving Blum, who bought it directly from the artist in 1965 and had kept it ever since. The presale estimate was $9,000,000-$12,000,000. Blum sat motionless in the eighth row while a pair of phone bidders fought it out (Swiss dealer Doris Ammann also raised a paddle), and then abruptly left after the work was hammered down. "He's going to call his wife," quipped Artnet art-market correspondent Richard Polsky. After the sale, auctioneer Tobias Meyer announced that the painting had been bought by London jeweler Laurence Graff. Prices given here reflect the auction-house commission of 20 percent on the first $200,000 of the hammer price and 12 percent of the remainder.
The auction also did well by the family of Gianni Versace, which consigned five works by Roy Lichtenstein, one painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat and a mural-sized collaborative painting by Basquiat and Warhol. The Versace total was $11,473,000, above the presale high estimate of $9.5 million. Lichtenstein's Blue Nude (1995), a sexy ben-day blonde that the catalogue happily compared to Agnolo Bronzino's Allegory with Venus and Cupid (ca. 1540-50), was the second most expensive item in the sale, selling to a telephone bidder for $5,280,000 (est. $2,500,000-$3,500,000), an impressive price for a late work by the artist.
The sale set new auction records for six artists: Chuck Close ($4,832,000), Marisol Escobar ($912,000), Robert Gober ($912,000 for the eerie Untitled Leg from 1990), Andreas Gursky ($632,000, for May Day IV, the photograph reproduced on the cover of the catalogue for the 2001 Museum of Modern Art retrospective of his work), Kara Walker ($329,600, for a sprawling, five-part silhouette piece from 1995 titled The Battle of Atlanta: Being the Narrative of a Negress in the Flames of Desire -- A Reconstruction) and Red Grooms ($96,000). The Warhol-Basquiat painting from the Versace collection, which sold for $1,001,600, also set a record for a collaborative work by the artists.
The sale of Chuck Close's early Photo Realist painting John (1971-72), which at $4.8 million was the third priciest lot, was the unspoken scandal of the auction. The consignor was the Sara Lee heir, Beatrice "Buddy" Mayer, who had acquired the work with her late husband for $9,000 in 1972; the painting had hung on loan at the Art Institute of Chicago for years, and many observers thought that it should have stayed there.
In any case, the Close work remains in the public domain: the winning bidder was Joanne Heyler, curator for the Eli Broad Collection, which is slated to go to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (The subsequent lot, a set of five monotone photographs that served as a study for John and that sold for $204,000 -- a new record for a Close print -- had been a gift from the artist to the Meyers, according to insiders.)
Among the passed lots was Jean Dubuffet's Corps de Dame aux Cheveux de Côté, a work from the pioneering series of Art Brut nudes that was exhibited at Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York in 1950 and subsequently sold in 1961 to the present owner and never exhibited again. The Dame was arguably the most historically significant work in the sale, but no one cared. "If the art market is going to ignore the lessons of history," Glimcher said, "it will be forced to relearn them!"
Other passed lots included the Dirk Skreber painting of a skyscraper (est. $150,000-$200,000), Richard Pettibone's conglomeration of replicas of 1960s art classics (est. $400,000-$600,000), Robert Gober's Two Urinals (est. $750,000-$950,000), Andy Warhol's 16-foot-long Camouflage (est. $1,500,000-$2,000,000) and Marlene Dumas' Fishbowl Country ($600,000-$800,000).
From the press corral in the front of Sotheby's crowded auction room, the observant reporter could take pleasure in spotting many art-world stars hard at work. Among the winning bidders were Jonathan O'Hara of O'Hara Gallery in the Fuller Building, who bought both Alexander Calder mobiles in the sale (for $520,000 and $856,000), and SoHo dealer Jeffrey Deitch, who purchased Jeff Koons' painting Cake (1995-97) for a scrumptious $3,040,000.
Charles Cowles won Duane Hanson's Woman Eating (1971) for a healthy $284,800, while Jack Tilton snapped up Martin Kippenberger's curious Badewanne (1990), a 44-inch-long sculpture of the artist giving a "black power" salute -- or is he holding a bar of soap? -- from under the water in a bathtub, for $204,000 (the work is an edition of three). Thea Westreich Art Advisory snagged Donald Judd's untitled horizontal wall progression in copper from 1970 (one of three examples) for $856,000, as well as Ellsworth Kelly's asymmetrical White with Black Triangle painting from 1972 for $856,000.
Private dealer Neal Meltzer won Elmer Bischoff's Two Lamp Posts for $108,000, after the Bay Area painting almost went begging. Collector Adam Lindemann, sitting with Amalia Dayan and Stefania Bortolani, who are partners in a new Chelsea gallery, bought Andy Warhol's Rorschach (1984) for $688,000. Larry Gagosian stepped up to win Glenn Brown's great Salvador Dalí pastiche, You Take My Place in this Showdown (1995) for $352,000, Roy Lichtenstein's Ritual Mask sculpture from 1992 (from an edition of six) for $486,400, as well as Willem de Kooning's untitled orange-toned late painting from 1987 for $1,024,000.
And last but not least, Jane Holzer bought Maurizio Cattelan's too funny pyramid of Flash Art magazines titled Strategies (1990), one of an edition of three, for $84,000. Maybe art criticism can amount to something after all.
$133.7 MILLION AT CHRISTIE'S CONTEMPORARY
The growing giant that is the contemporary art market stretched and flexed its muscles at Christie's New York contemporary auction last night, May 11, 2005, as 65 of 76 lots, or 86 percent, sold for a total of $133,707,200. "Easily an all-time record for a sale of contemporary art," proclaimed auctioneer Christopher Burge at the post-sale press conference.
Burge breathlessly rattled off some impressive numbers: new auction records were set for 14 artists, 96 percent of the sold lots went for within or above their presale estimate, and 35 lots sold for over $1 million, which "must be an all-time record by a mile," Burge said. Presumably adding to the sense of elation was the fact that Christie's total just about doubled that of Sotheby's sale the evening before.
Among the individual artist records was the top lot, Edward Hopper's Chair Car (1965), which went for $14,016,000 to a phone bidder -- though the name of the buyer, Berry-Hill Galleries, was immediately shouted out to the room once the hammer had fallen. The bright idea of putting an American painting into a contemporary art sale, it seems, didn't keep a dealer in American paintings from buying it!
A notable feature of the auction was the incredible group of 13 Abstract Expressionist works (lots 11 to 23) being sold by Barbara and Donald Jonas to benefit the Jewish Communal Fund (two more are slated to go on the block in the May 12 day sale). The series formed the heart of the auction (including major works by Noguchi, Gorky, Rauschenberg, Kline, Cornell, de Kooning and others, about which more below), and was 100 percent sold for a total of $44.2 million, well above the presale high estimate of $40.8 million. It didn't hurt that these works are exempt from sales tax, which is more than eight percent in New York.
Initially the Jonases had sought anonymity, but once the New York Times revealed their identity, they expressed hope that their example would inspire other philanthropists. "Why not have the joys of giving while you are around?" asked Mr. Jonas. "You die poor if you die rich."
One star lot from the JCF group was Robert Rauschenberg's 1959 combine, Bride's Folly -- the work features a waterfall-like white painted bride's veil with a table fork attached in its center -- which sold to London dealer Richard Nagy for $3,040,000, a relative bargain, since the presale low estimate was $3 million. The work has been requested by the Metropolitan Museum for its survey of Raschenberg combine paintings that opens in December. Nagy was also the winning bidder for Richard Diebenkorn's dynamic beach scene, Santa Cruz I (1962), for $3,376,000.
Two other top lots from the Jonas collection were the pair of boxes by Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Medici Princess) (ca. 1952) and Untitled (Pinturicchio Boy) (ca. 1946). The works are something of a matched pair (both carried the same presale estimate, $700,000-$1,000,000), and indeed were won by the same bidder, a man in an electric blue suit, pink shirt and designer sunglasses sitting in the fourth row. Medici Princess brought $2,592,000, a new record for the artist, and Pinturicchio Boy brought $1,584,000. An observer in the room identified the buyer as Jeffrey Gundlach, a West Coast fund manager and new collector.
Larry Gagosian, always someone to watch in the salesroom, was even more active than usual, snagging Arshile Gorky's graphite and wax crayon drawing, Composition II (1943), for $2,760,000 after spirited bidding (dealer Jack Tilton and Museum of Modern Art patron Donald Marron were among those seeking the work, whose presale high estimate was $1,200,000).
Gagosian also won Franz Kline's dramatic black-and-white abstraction Crow Dancer (1958) for $6,400,000, a record for the artist; Jasper Johns' gnomic autobiographical charcoal drawing, Winter (1986), for $2,032,000, as well as the same artist's emblematic sculpture The Critic Sees (1961) for $3,936,000; and Jeff Koons' colorful painting Cut-Out (1999), the first in the artist's "Easyfun" series, for $1,808,000.
Another successful bidder was Thea Westreich Art Advisory, which won Diane Arbus' Boy with a Straw Hat. . . (1967) for $228,000, above the presale high estimate of $150,000; and Koons' dark pink Hippo-shaped mirror from 1999 for $352,000.
Less success greeted Robert Mnuchin, the C&M Arts principal who is also one of the more colorful auction players. A striking figure with white beard, heavy black glasses and bald pate surrounded by a fringe of silvery hair, at one point in the middle of the auction he got up from his seat, walked around to the next aisle and handed his cell phone to Larry Gagosian, who proceeded to have a conversation with the party on the other end of the line while Mnuchin returned to his original chair.
Earlier, Mnuchin had entered the fray for Cornell's Medici Princess box, joining the bidding at $1.7 million and fighting it out for several moments before dropping out at $2.3 million, comically surrendering by waving his cream-colored scarf in the air like a white flag. A few lots later, Mnuchin went up against an anonymous phone bidder in one of the sale's most drawn-out duels, the battle for Willem de Kooning's concise 1949 abstraction, Sail Cloth.
In a game of psychological chicken, the two bidders alternately pushed the price upward in increments of either $100,000 or $200,000, beginning at about $6.5 million and gradually -- oh so gradually -- climbing to a hammer price of $11.7 million ($13,120,000 with premium). After several tense minutes, the painting went to the anonymous bidder, who was on the phone with Christie's new contemporary expert, Laura Paulson. The work was the sale's second-highest-priced lot.
One of the many record-breaking properties was Luc Tuymans' 2000 painting of a sculpture of an African warrior, which sold in spirited bidding for $1,472,000, more than double its $700,000 presale high estimate. (The buyer was Zwirner & Wirth gallery, according to the Baer Faxt.) One underbidder on the lot was Michael McGinnis, the contemporary art specialist for Phillips, de Pury & Co.; McGinnis was also bidding the night before at Sotheby's, winning Robert Gober's Untitled Leg for $923,000.
It may seem strange for an employee of one auction house to be chasing record-setting lots at another. But an art market insider pointed out that Phillips head Simon de Pury has set up several art investment funds, and noted that McGinnis was presumably making acquisitions for them. "It's a smart move on de Pury's part," the insider said. "It gives him a pool of property to work with."
Among the other idle art-market questions raised by the sale is whether the brakes have finally been put on the climb of Maurizio Cattelan's auction prices. The sale featured three Cattelan lots. The first one, Mini-Me (1999), sold for $441,600, in the middle of its presale estimate range, an impressive figure considering that the work is one in a series of ten variants. But the two other Cattelan lots, including Frank and Jamie (2002), the pair of upside-down policemen that was estimated at $1,400,000-$1,800,000, were passed.
Elizabeth Peyton, on the other hand, is hotter than ever, if the result for her painting of John Lennon 1964 (1996) is any indication. Once the flurry of bids died down (underbidders in the room included Jeffrey Deitch and David Zwirner), the tiny picture sold to a phone bidder for $800,000, exactly four times its presale low estimate.
A list of buyers would include Susan Dunn of PaceWildenstein, who won Andy Warhol's large 1965 Flowers for $7,856,000; Daniella Luxembourg, who won Alexander Calder's The Beetle, a stabile from ca. 1948, for $912,000; and Arthur Solway of James Cohan Gallery, who bought Richard Prince's The Wrong Joke (1994) for $800,000, well above the presale high estimate of $500,000 and a new auction record for the artist.
Deitch bought the nondescript if early (1965) "rasterbild" (dot painting) by Sigmar Polke, Bavarian, for $1,696,000, well above the presale high estimate of $1.2 million and an auction record for the artist. Neal Meltzer bought James Rosenquist's straightforward sign painting Be Beautiful (1964) for $1,248,000, also a new auction record for the artist, as well as Roy Lichtenstein's Ceramic Sculpture #9 (1965) for $688,000, almost double the work's $350,000 presale high estimate. The price is almost certainly a new high for a contemporary ceramic!
Roland Augustine bought Rachel Whiteread's striking rubber and fiberglass Untitled (Black Bed) (1991) for $464,000. The work had been purchased by the Weltkunst Foundation for its contemporary sculpture collection from Anthony d'Offay Gallery in London, and put on long-term loan at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin for the past decade, till the time came to cash in.
Other new auction records were set for Philip Guston ($7,296,000), Yayoi Kusama ($1,192,000), Isamu Noguchi ($1,024,000), Peter Doig ($632,000) and Thomas Demand ($180,000).
$23.7 MILLION AT PHILLIPS CONTEMPORARY
The apparently inexorable rise of the contemporary art market continued at Phillips, de Pury & Co. in New York last night, May 12, 2004, as the Chelsea auction house sold 61 of 68 lots offered, or almost 90 percent, for a total of $23,664,000. Phillips' total compares modestly to those of Sotheby's on May 11 ($68 million) and Christie's on May 12 ($133.7 million), though the action at Phillips was even more frenetic than that of its two larger rivals, taking place above a steady hum of conversation, unlike the quiet that characterizes the uptown auction rooms.
Prices given here include the auction house commission of 20 percent of the first $200,000 of the sale price and 12 percent of the remainder.
Phillips specializes in art made since the 1990s, and the sale set new auction records for 12 artists, a list that includes several works made as recently as three years ago. Richard Prince's painting of a romance paperback cover, A Nurse Involved (2002), sold for $1,024,000 (est. $200,000-$300,000), a new record for the artist, to a man sitting in the front row. He was identified by observers in the room as Frankfurt real estate developer Harry Lis.
The spirited bidding included some jocularity from auctioneer Simon de Pury, who urged the Lis to "take the advice of your friends" -- megacollectors Aby Rosen and Alberto Mugrabi, who were sitting directly behind Lis and urging him on. Later in the sale, he also won Prince's Untitled (Fashion) photograph from 1984 (one of an edition of two) for $408,000, well above its presale high estimate of $200,000.
Another top lot was Marlene Dumas' Cracking the Whip (2000), a 90-inch-tall painting of a nude dominatrix seen from the rear, which sold for $1,080,000 (est. $800,000-$1,200,000). The buyer was "cowboy collector" Stefan Edlis, looking tall and western in cowboy boots. A second Dumas painting from the same series, Cleaning the Pole, sold for $912,000 to a phone bidder.
One of the sale's more interesting lots was Chris Ofili's Afrodizzia (1996), a large canvas set on two balls of elephant dung and patterned with a whirlwind of glitter and collaged heads of people in Afros. It sold for $1,001,600 (est. $500,000-$700,000), a new auction record for the artist, to Todd Levin, the young red-headed curator for collector Adam Sender; underbidders included Manhattan dealers John Good and David Zwirner, who now represents Ofili's work. Levin was an active bidder throughout the auction, and also won Richard Prince's Spiritual America (Two) (I1987-88) for $198,000 (est. $80,000-$120,000),
Sellers included Charles Saatchi, who consigned Ron Mueck's Pinocchio (1996), a 33-inch-tall painted fiberglass model of a little boy in his underwear, which sold to a telephone bidder for $531,200. Though the price was near the presale low estimate, it was a new auction record for the artist.
According to New York Times reporter Carol Vogel, Paris dealer Marc Blondeau consigned works by John Currin, Mike Kelley, Charles Ray and Jenny Saville to the sale (the works are rather misleadingly identified in the catalogue as "property from a private European collection"); the Currin painting, The Kennedy's (1996), sold for $486,400 to dealer Larry Gagosian.
Other winners of record-setting lots included Jeffrey Deitch, who won Piotr Uklanski's The Nazis, a set of 41 c-prints of movie Nazis that was part of the controversial "Mirroring Evil" show at the Jewish Museum in 2002, for $168,000; Manhattan dealer Amalia Dayan, who paid $273,600 for Ugo Rondinone's No. 69, a copy of an Old Master landscape in India ink; and Gordon VeneKlasen of Michael Werner Gallery, who bought Jörg Immendorff's painting from his "Café Deutschland" series, Awakening the Cock (The Crowd 1) (1996), for $296,000. Deitch also bought David Salle's phantasmagorical Lampwick's Dilemma (1989) for $441,600.
Auction records were also set for John Bock ($84,000, for a suite of 21 color photos from 2000), Kai Althoff ($180,000, for the 2002 painting and collage Winter), Yoshitomo Nara ($374,400, for his six-foot-tall fiberglass Your Dog, made in 2002 in an edition of six), Martin Kippenberger ($1,024,000); Rosemarie Trockel ($168,000) and Jorge Pardo ($156,000).
The record-setting Bock lot was bought by Thea Westreich Art Advisory, which battled it out with art advisor Kim Heirston to push the suite of photos well above its $30,000 presale high estimate. Westreich also won Ed Ruscha's 1976 word painting, Made in U.S.A., for $240,000. And Heirston won Richard Prince's lovely Untitled (Cowboys) (1997), a Marlboro Man campfire scene, for $352,000.
Other buyers included Jack Tilton, who bought Agnes Martin's watercolor Stars (1963), a blue grid of squares, each with its own centered white dot, for $486,400; Alberto Mugrabi, who paid $363,200 for Andy Warhol's Statue of Liberty (1986); Peter Brant, who won Richard Prince's Untitled (Cowboys) from 1987 (made in an edition of two) for $296,000; private dealer Michael Black, who paid $296,000 for Cindy Sherman's 1984 color self-portrait as a bruised and battered brunette; and Adrian Turner of Matthew Marks Gallery, who snagged the suite of 10 color photos by Peter Fischli and David Weiss for $74,400.
The auction included three lots by Maurizio Cattelan, and all sold well. His pair of miniature "working" elevators, made in 2001 in an edition of 10, sold for $632,000; the Good Versus Evil chess set, featuring characters like Cicciolina and Martin Luther King facing off against Cruella DeVille and Adolph Hitler, made in an edition of seven, sold for $307,200; and Turisti (1997), a suite of 16 stuffed pigeons, sold for $576,000.