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Apr. 2, 2008 

The collectors and art dealers flooded into New York for an exhausting round of art fairs, events and parties during what we’ve been calling Armory Show Week, Mar. 27-30, 2008. With all the hullabaloo, would art buyers have the time or energy for additional contemporary art auctions as well? "I’m not sure who had the idea to put auctions right between the Armory Show and tax time," emailed one contemporary dealer. "Not smart."

Still, Phillips, de Pury and Co. totaled $5,219,450 for its "Under the Influence" sale on Mar. 31, 2008, Christie’s New York brought in $10,051,525 for its "First Open" sale on Apr. 1, 2008, and Sotheby’s New York totaled $12,580,667 in its untitled contemporary art sale on Apr. 2, 2008. All three houses had notable numbers of unsold lots -- about 35 percent at Phillips, 20 percent at Christie’s and 24 percent at Sotheby’s -- suggesting, according to our disgruntled dealer, above, that speculators are putting too-high reserves on the works they hope to sell. "The greed of a few collectors ends up hurting everyone," he said. "We should have fewer auctions, and then art buyers would have to go to the galleries, and buy in a way that helps artists instead of making rich collectors richer."

Spoken like a true partisan. In any case, the sales were relatively modest in size, with no lots going for more than $500,000. Prices given here include the auction house premium of 25 percent on the first $20,000, 20 percent on anything up to $500,000 and 12 percent on the remainder.

The Phillips "Under the Influence" sale offered 354 lots, and 229 found buyers. The top price came for George Condo’s attractive, Joan Miró-like Memories of Spain (1991), which measures around 7 ft. square and was originally shown at Simon Lee Gallery in London. It sold for $241,000, in the middle of its $200,000-$300,000 presale estimate.

More notable, perhaps, was the sale of two paintings by the East Village appropriationist Mike Bidlo -- an artist who once reigned as an ersatz Andy Warhol over a recreation of the Factory out at P.S 1 -- for prices well above their estimates. Auction prices for Bidlo’s "not-Pollock" paintings have been soaring of late -- the record stands at $420,000, set in May 2007, and now the boom has extended to his "not-Picasso" production as well.

At Phillips, Bidlo’s neo-Neo-Classical-period Not Picasso --Three Women at the Spring, 1921 (1987), sold for $103,000, more than double the presale high estimate of $40,000. And Bidlo’s Not Picasso -- Large Nude in a Red Chair, 1929 (1987), sold for $67,000, above a presale high estimate of $40,000. After 20 years or so, it looks as if a painting by Bidlo is now an acceptable substitute, at least as a collectible, for the original masters.

The Phillips sale was also notable for two classic works from the 1980s by Julian Schnabel, both painted on velvet, ehivh carried relatively low estimates and went for bargain prices. Schnabel’s Untitled -- Lola (1983), a 5 x 9 ft. painted drawing on black velvet of several figures, presumably including the artist’s daughter Lola, sold for $37,000 (est. $25,000-$35,000), while a smaller aquatint drawing on dark lavender velvet from an edition of five went for $21,250 (est. $5,000-$7,000). Schnabel’s auction record, for a large 1980 plate painting, is $822,400.

Phillips boasted of new auction records for no less than 44 artists, including beach photographer Massimo Vitali ($151,000) and English super-designer Liam Gillick ($49,000). Almost 30 of the new records, however, were set for artists whose work was going on the block for the first time, a statistic that would seem to reflect an aggressive effort to extend an already overheated contemporary art market. This group includes Adam McEwan ($9,375), Adam Cvijanovic ($7,500), Matthew Brannon ($2,250) and Lothar Hempel ($1,500).

At Christie’s New York on Apr. 1, 2008, the "First Open" sale sold 220 lots of 275 offered, or 80 percent, for a total of $10,051,525. The high price was paid for Sean Scully’s 36 x 26 in. asymmetrical stripe abstraction from 1985, Hiddensee, which sold for $457,000 (est. $250,000-$350,000).

A new auction record was set for Shahzia Sikander, whose large (66 x 289 in.) acrylic-on-canvas triptych, Veil ‘n Trail (1997), sold for $325,000, a huge jump above the presale estimate of $15,000-$20,000. Sikander’s previous auction record, $30,000, was set in 2006.

The rising tide also lifted Mike Kelley, whose They See God (Stained Glass Mattress) (1989), a mattress painted with a colorful geometric design, sold for $229,000, well above the presale high estimate of $120,000. Other artists whose prices substantially exceeded the presale estimate included Laylah Ali, Harry Bertoia, Nicole Eisenman, Robert Gober, Keith Haring, Jim Lambie, Sherrie Levine, Sol LeWitt, Vic Muniz, Cady Noland and Robert Smithson.

Sotheby’s New York sale of contemporary art on Apr.  2, 2008, was the biggest of them all, with 459 lots. Just 350 of them sold, for a total of $12,580,667, or just over 76 percent. "Nine of the ten top lots were purchased by private collectors," said Sotheby’s specialist Jennifer Roth in a statement, indicating "a diverse client base from all over the world."

Sotheby’s two top lots were by Andy Warhol, both of which sold for considerably more than their presale estimates. Warhol’s 1984 40 x 32 in. replica of Edvard Munch’s famous 1903 image of Eva Mudocci (as Salomé) sold for $313,000 (est. $150,000-$200,000), while a 30 x 40 in. Hammer and Sickle went for $277,000 (est. $80,000-$120,000).

Another top lot was a charming heart-shaped drawing on foamcore of dancing figures (each marked with a red "x") by Keith Haring, which sold for $217,000 (est. $60,000-$80,000). The auction also set new records for the South American geometric abstractionist Luis Tomasello ($169,000), Polish Color Field painter Wojciech Fangor ($157,000) and Photo Realist Robert Cottingham ($109,000).

But the most interesting results came early in the sale and at its low end, relatively speaking. The sale got off to a good start when an 11 x 10 in. Hernan Bas gouache of a shirtless young Giant sold for $25,000 (est. $10,000-$15,000).

The young Texas painter Rosson Crow, whose works have recently gained an avid following, saw a small (24 x 24 in.) spray paint and enamel canvas sell for $15,000, at the low end of the presale estimate range.

A signature painting by the late Pop artist Allan D’Arcangelo (1930-1998) of a road stretching out to the horizon, called Aspen (1967), sold for $85,000, well above its presale high estimate of $25,000. D’Arcangelo’s auction record jumped dramatically last September to $289,000 from $19,800.

And a Polaroid self-portrait by Andy Warhol went for $17,500, at the high end of the presale estimate. During his lifetime, Warhol rarely if ever sold any of his photos, and after he died in 1987, his estate said that his photographs had zero value for tax purposes.

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