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Art Market Watch
May 8, 2006 

The schedule of spring auctions in New York City is so packed full that Christie’s scheduled the evening sale of the Refco Collection of Contemporary Photography at 5 pm on Friday, May 5, 2006. The 41 lots sold for a total of $5.37 million with 98 percent finding buyers, doubling presale expectations. Top lot was John Baldessari’s Beach Scene / Nuns / Nurse (with Choices) (1991), a group of five framed color photos -- including two praying nuns, a Red Cross nurse, and a some body builders (could that be Arnold Schwarzenegger?), all with Baldessari’s trademark circles of color blotting out their faces -- that sold for $744,000 (est. $150,000-$200,000), a new record for the artist. The buyer was L&M Arts, according to the Baer Faxt.

Lots frequently soared above their presale estimates. A suite of Ed Ruscha photos of 10 gasoline stations, a 1962 work that was republished in 1989 in an edition of 25, sold for $192,000, well above the presale high estimate of $80,000. A group of 10 photos by the political artist Martha Rosler, titled "Bringing the War Home" -- another early work reissued later, this time in an edition of 10 -- sold for $156,000 (est. $35,000-$45,000). And Sigmar Polke’s Interior (1984), a photo of a studio corner with considerable stencil and hand-colored additions by the artist, sold for $464,000, triple the presale high estimate of $120,000. According to the Baer Faxt, the buyer of the Polke was Stefano Basilico.

The Refco Collection is being sold by order of U.S. Bankruptcy Court. The first installment went on the block on Apr. 25 and totaled $1.93 million. The remaining 100 Refco lots are incorporated into Christie’s day sale on May 10 -- and carry no reserves. The total for the entire collection is expected to be $4.5 million-$6.42 million.  

The identity of the mystery bidder who snagged Pablo Picasso’s Dora Maar au chat (1941) for $95.2 million at Sotheby’s New York Impressionist and modern art auction on May 3, 2006, may remain unkonown, but that hasn’t stopped the speculation about whom he might be. The day after the sale, the New York Post reported that the buyer was Roustam Tariko, 44, a Moscow-based banker and luxury vodka purveyor. Most art-world insiders are dismissing the tabloid report, since Tariko is not known to be an art collector. With a fortune put at $1 billion, it seems unlikely as well that he would spend one-tenth of it on a single artwork.

Another Russian entrepreneur identified by the Post as a possible buyer of the painting, steel executive Alexander Abramov, denied that he was the purchaser. In addition, some observers wonder whether the buyer, supposedly unknown to the auction house, can actually pay for the picture.

Meanwhile, veteran art-market journalist Georgina Adam has reported that underbidders for the painting included 1980s mass-market retailing genius Leslie Wexner, Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who recently installed a selection of his art collection at his Experience Music Project in Seattle.

The two major New York auction houses have reported their totals for their spring Impressionist and modern art sales. Sotheby’s came out ahead, with a total of $248,296,800 for the week. The evening sale at Sotheby’s on May 3 totaled $207,564,800, and the day sale on May 4 came to $40,732,000.

At Christie’s, the overall total for Impressionist and modern art was $208,708,600. The evening sale on May 2 totaled $180,280,000, while the day sale on May 3 totaled $19,528,600 for Impressionist and modern art and another $8,900,000 for Impressionist and modern works on paper.

RM Auctions, a purveyor of collectible cars that has offices in California, Florida, Michigan and Canada, launches a new "pop culture division" with a massive sale of more than 500 lots of "Kustom Kulture" artwork and other collectibles by Von Dutch (1929-92), Robert Williams (b. 1943), Ed "Big Daddy" Roth (1932-2001) and many others, slated to be held at the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles on May 13, 2006. The works come from the collection of Jim and Danny Brucker, who founded the MovieWorld museum of custom cars in 1970 in Buena Park, Ca.

Among the lots are Von Dutch’s own screwdriver, engraved with his name (est. $150-$250), a Von Dutch hand-painted metal sign bearing the slogan, "Originator of Modern ‘Pin’ Striping," and his iconic flying eyeball (est. $8,000-$16,000), and a painting titled The Square Rainbow (1966), a plaid 24 x 30 in. composition made during "taping off" for other jobs (est. $25,000-$50,000).

The sale also features two early paintings by Robert Williams: his 1972 The Armageddon Force Field (Magnetosphere) (est. $100,00-$150,000), a work inspired by Albert Einstein’s unified field theory; and In the Land of Retinal Delights (est. $250,000-$300,000), a 1968 painting done to commemorate the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. The auction includes as well a large selection of collectible cars, hand-painted metal signs, movie posters and props, toy cars and other items.

All lots are offered without reserve. For details, see

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