It was just another record-breaking auction at Sotheby's New York on the evening of Nov. 14, 2006. In the first sale in a week of contemporary art sales, Sotheby's totaled $125,132,800, with 76 of 83 lots finding buyers, or almost 91 percent. By comparison, the Sotheby's sale of a year ago totaled $114.5 million on 48 of 54 lots, and in fall 2004 the house did $92 million on a sale of 62 lots.
The Nov. 14 sale opened with 27 lots from the extensive contemporary art holdings of the late Belgian collector Roger Vanthournout and his wife Josette, which was 100 percent sold for a total of $42.1 million. Prices given here include the auction house premium of 20 percent on the first $200,000 and 12 percent on the rest.
The sale's star lot, Francis Bacon's Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe (1968), sold for $15,024,000 to an anonymous collector, well above the presale high estimate of $12,000,000 and a new auction record for the artist. The extensive catalogue entry imaginatively compared the painting to Henry Fuseli's 1781 The Nightmare and Bernini's marble Ecstasy of St. Theresa.
The sale's other eight-figure lot was Willem de Kooning's Untitled XXX (1977), a pink and blue "seascape" that was last sold by Matthew Marks Gallery in 1998. This time around it went to a telephone bidder for $10,656,000, just above its presale high estimate of $9,500,000.
The sale set 15 new artists' records in all: Josef Albers ($912,000), Niki de Saint Phalle ($1,136,000), Enrico Castellani ($352,000), Piero Manzoni ($2,592,000), Carl Andre ($912,000), Robert Mangold ($430,400), Anish Kapoor ($2,256,000), Isamu Noguchi ($1,248,000), Dan Flavin ($744,000), Barnaby Furnas ($520,000), Jenny Saville ($1,024,000), Glenn Brown ($688,000), Martin Eder ($520,000) and Jonathan Meese ($251,200).
As Sotheby's expert Anthony Grant noted at the post-auction wrap-up, "This was a broad sale that really tested the market, with two or three works each from disparate schools -- there was something for everybody."
One buyer spotted by observers in the room was Alberto Mugrabi, who won Andy Warhol's iconic Self-portrait from 1964 -- the image featured on the U.S. postage stamp, and the cover of the second catalogue in the two-catalogue sale -- for $3,712,000 (est. $3,500,000-$4,500,000). Mugrabi's competition for the painting was megacollector Peter Brant, who was sitting in the front row with his wife Stephanie Seymour and bidding with almost-imperceptible nods of his head.
A bit of light comedy was provided when Jeff Koons' stainless steel Cape Codder Troll (1986) sold for $352,000 (est. $250,000-$350,000). The bidder was a curly-haired boy of about ten years -- sitting between psychiatrist Samantha Boardman and her husband, real estate mogul Aby Rosen, who provided the actual paddle number.
Other buyers included Chelsea dealer Lawrence Luhring, who purchased Robert Ryman's small (10.5 x 10.5 in.) untitled white painting on board for $688,000; Chelsea dealer Matthew Marks, who won a 1989 hollow aluminum cube (sunk into the floor, for an illusionistic effect) by Charles Ray for $744,000 (est. $400,000-$600,000); Chelsea dealer David Zwirner, who bought Chuck Close's 1983 portrait of composer Philip Glass done in wet paper pulp on canvas for $3,208,000 (est. $3,000,000-$4,000,000); and Kim Heirston, who snagged Lisa Yuskavage's 1994 painting, Conversation (est. $650,000-$850,000) for $520,000.
The bidder who won Gerhard Richter's 1983 abstraction Maria (est. $2,500,000-$3,500,000) for $2,368,000 was Los Angeles dealer Anthony Meier -- who had sold the painting to the Vanthournouts in the first place, according to the provenance listed in the catalogue.
Among the passed lots were Andy Warhol's 1962 Avanti Cars (est. $1,800,000-$2,500,000) and his oversized 1984 portrait of Dolly Parton (est. $1,000,000-$1,500,000), Brice Marden's 1969 double monochrome diptych Au Centre (est. $3,800,000-$4,500,000) and Roy Lichtenstein's Head -- Yellow and Black from 1962 (est. $8,000,000-$10,000,000). The buy-ins may have cost the auction house some money, at least in the short term, as all were "guaranteed" by Sotheby's to sell for an (undisclosed) minimum price.
Sellers included Hollywood macher Michael Ovitz, who sold the Barnaby Furnas work, and New York dealer James Goodman, who consigned the unsold 1962 Lichtenstein, according to Carol Vogel in the New York Times.
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