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Art Market Watch
Nov. 8, 2005 

New York's week of contemporary art auctions got under way last night, Nov. 7, 2005, at Phillips, de Pury & Co. with the sale of art from the collection of Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis, the German aristocrat who Vanity Fair's Bob Colacello called "Princess TNT" in a 1985 article, when she was 24, and who he now describes as "a close friend of Pope Benedict XVI." The "Punk Princess" was not present at the sale, but her two daughters were, Princess Maria Theresa and Princess Elizabeth, with the latter videotaping the action for her absent mother. The auction itself was lively enough, if somewhat sparsely attended -- as one journalist noted, it was really a day sale being held in the evening.

Still, the 50 lots in the auction were 100 percent sold for a total of $7,498,000, with premium, above the presale estimate of $5,010,000-$7,053,000. Top lot was Paul McCarthy's Santa Long Neck (2004, in an edition of three), a nine-foot-tall painted bronze Santa Claus with a butt plug for a neck and a merde-colored face pierced by three lengths of hose. It sold to an unidentified phone bidder for $750,000 at the hammer -- $856,000 with premium -- a new auction record for the artist.

Other top lots included Jeff Koons' polychromed wood sculpture of two cute Yorkshire Terriers (1991, in an edition of three with one artist's proof), which sold for $632,000, at the low end of its presale estimate, and Richard Prince's Untitled (A Man Walked into a Doctor's Office) (1988), a gray and gold "joke" painting that went for $475,200.

Phillips' ebullient auctioneer Simon de Pury took pleasure in reading the joke to the audience: "A man walked into a doctor's office to get a check-up. After the examination the Doctor said, 'I've got good news and I've got bad news. The bad news is that you're going to die in a year and there's nothing that can be done about it. The good news is that I'm having an affair with my new secretary.'"

Among the winning bidders spotted in the audience were Jose Martos, who won Keith Haring's pink and green Self Portrait (1985) for $262,400 (est. $250,000-$350,000), and Jeannie Freilich of the Marian Goodman Gallery, who nabbed John Baldessari's Aerial View (1988) for $96,000 (est. $60,000-$80,000).

The remaining 85 lots of the Princess Gloria collection, which range from works by Walter Dahn and Meyer Vaisman to Damien Hirst and Cindy Sherman, go on sale today at 11 a.m.

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