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Art Market Watch
Nov. 11, 2005 

Auctioneer Simon de Pury was in fine form at the Phillips de Pury & Co. evening sale of contemporary art on Nov. 10, 2005, cajoling, coaxing and unashamedly begging a total of $22,882,800 out of a noisy crowd, with 69 of 73 lots offered finding buyers, or a high 94.5 percent. Prices given here include the auction house premium of 20 percent on the first $200,000 and 12 percent on the remainder.

As is often the case at Phillips, the audience seemed positively intoxicated, with the free bottles of designer water -- a new brand from Japan that comes in plastic flasks -- giving the impression that the crowd was ready to cast off its inhibitions.

The auction lurched to a start like a car going down a mountain, with some of the most exciting bidding coming right at the beginning. Lot 2, Tom Friedman's crazy-quilt color drawing of madly overlapping images of Mickey Mouse, sold for $318,400, reportedly to Larry Gagosian, seated in his usual position on the aisle. The Friedman more than sextupled its presale high estimate of $60,000, with the bidding ping-ponging wildly through the muttering crowd. Among the throng of underbidders, according to the Baer Faxt, were Nick Acquavella, Jeffrey Deitch, Max Davidson, Glenn Fuhrmann, Dominique Levy and Stavros Merjos.

That was about as exciting as it got. Top lot of the sale was Andy Warhol's 1979 Black on Black Retrospective, a ca. 30 x 74 in. career-summarizing silkscreen featuring a panorama of Maos, Marilyns, Cambell's soup cans and an electric chair, displayed to the left of the auctioneer's podium. The work fetched $2,088,000, at the low end of its $2 million-$3 million estimate. Bidding started in the millions, and ended quickly.

The next two most expensive lots, curiously, both incorporated mirrors. Roy Lichtenstein's 1989 Reflections on Crash, a large comic book image of a fighter pilot split by brightly reflective, mirror-like lightning bolts, went for $1,248,000 (est. $1,200,000-1,800,000), and a gaudy faux-baroque Jeff Koons mirror sold for $1,024,000 (est. $1,000,000-$1,500,000). Agnes Martin's soft pink and blue painting from 1995 was the forth most expensive lot, selling for $912,000 (est. $800,000-$1,200,000).

The iconic lot of this sale, however, was Damien Hirst's Love Lost, a large, dramatic fish tank containing a deserted gynecologist's chair, live fish and several tons of water, which gurgled contentedly at the back of the room throughout the proceedings. According to a report in the New York Times the day of the auction, the tank must be scrubbed out by a scuba diver every month. Perhaps the maintenance requirements gave prospective buyers pause; the work sold for a "mere" $800,000.

Rounding out the top ten were Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Nets (White), bringing $766,400 (est. $200,000-$300,000), Hirst's After Stubbs for $654,400 ($600,000-$800,000), Richard Prince's He Ain't Here Yet for $587,200 (est. $250,000-$350,000), Lichtenstein's Entablature for $553,600 (est. $700,000-$900,000) and Martin Kippenberger's portraits of "four German-speaking female art dealers" for $531,200 (est. $500,000-$700,000).

Certainly, the weirdest bit of theater at the auction and the most emblematic of the event's erratic and exuberant feel came when Rosemarie Trockel's brown-on-brown woven wool tapestry hit the block. It was bid up to $160,000, when suddenly de Pury got a signal from the phone bank of some mistake. The bidding then went briefly in reverse, passing $155,000 to start again at $150,000. The work eventually found a buyer, back at $155,000.

When the dust had settled and the auction floor had been cleared, amid champagne and back-slapping, it was learned that records had been set for a fittingly eclectic list of ten artists: Mike Kelley ($452,800), Neo Rauch ($452,800), Robert Mangold ($234,000), Piotr Uklanski ($228,000), Jack Pierson ($216,000), Paul Pfeifer ($144,000), Wilhelm Sasnal ($120,000), Francesco Vezzoli ($43,200), Erik Parker ($42,000) and Eija Lisa Ahtila ($33,600).

Though most of the attention, and the highest prices, go to the evening sales, the day sales of contemporary art had plenty of fireworks.

The morning session at Christie's New York on Nov. 9, 2005, totaled $37,647,600, with 150 of 174 lots finding buyers, or 86 percent. The top lots included works by Sigmar Polke, whose Neo-Expressionist Haute Couture ist viel zu tür (1986-88) sold for $968,000, well over its presale high estimate of $450,000, and Bay Area figurative painter David Park, whose Red Bather sold for $934,400, well above the presale high estimate of $600,000 and a new auction record for the artist.

Christie's afternoon session totaled $17,002,000, with 169 of 195 lots selling, or 87 percent. Top lots included works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Damien Hirst and Doris Salcedo, whose Untitled (1995), a wood and glass cabinet -- filled with cement -- sold for $475,200, more than double its presale high estimate and a new auction record for the artist.

The afternoon session set new records for 13 artists, including Matthew Ritchie ($204,000), John Wesley ($150,000), John McCracken ($114,000), Ana Mendieta ($102,000), Jim Shaw ($36,000), James Casebere ($33,600), Lisa Ruyter ($33,600) and Tim Hawkinson ($21,600).

Christie's proudly announced a post-war and contemporary sale total of $212 million, which it says is the highest total ever. Its two weeks of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art sales totaled $409,389,800.

At Sotheby's New York day sale on Nov. 10, 2005, the total was $27,103,000, well above the presale high estimate of $23.6 million, with 278 of 326 lots finding buyers, or 85 percent. Sotheby's two-day total was $141,597,400 [see "Art Market Watch," Nov. 10, 2005]. Among the top lots were Alexander Calder's Yellow Spike (ca. 1946), which sold for $800,000 (est. $250,000-$300,000); Wayne Thiebaud's Ties (1970), which went for $716,000 (est. $300,000-$400,000); and Tom Wesselmann's Great American Nude #94½, which was purchased for $548,000 (est. $400,000-$600,000).

Sotheby's day sale also included a trove of works from the estate of Gianni Versace by three hot 1980s artists, Phillip Taaffe, David Salle and Julian Schnabel. How'd they do? David Salle's grim Ship in a Bottle diptych from 1996 brought $240,000, twice its presale high estimate, while Philip Taaffe's intensely decorative Ginostra Flowers (1993) sold for $216,000, more than double its presale high estimate. Julian Schnabel's plate-encrusted portrait of a matador sold for $204,000, above its presale high estimate of $150,000.

For complete, illustrated results, see Artnet's signature Fine Art Auction Report.

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