Though Christie’s "First Open" sale of contemporary art may have a better marketing hook, Sotheby’s "Contemporary Art Mid-Season" sale in New York on Sept. 12, 2007, was larger, had a higher sell-through percentage and a higher total: 381 of 469 lots sold, or more than 81 percent, for a total of $13,080,208 (with premium). For data on Christie’s First Open, see Art Market Watch, Sept. 11, 2007.
A year ago, Sotheby’s contemporary art sale on Oct. 11, 2007, totaled $8,424,400, with 304 of 381 lots selling, or almost 80 percent. Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s show the same impressive one-year increase in business in the contemporary sector in these tune-up sales.
At Sotheby’s, the top lots reflect growing market enthusiasm for works by the artists concerned. The top lot was the late Steven Parrino’s Scab Noggin (1988), a six-foot-square example of his emblematic monochromes "slouching" off the stretcher bars. It sold for $433,000, well above the presale high estimate of $80,000 and a new auction record for the artist. The buyer, according to the Baer Faxt, was Chelsea dealer Stellan Holm. Parrino worked with Team Gallery when he was alive; his heirs have moved the estate to Gagosian Gallery, which plans an exhibition at its fifth-floor 980 Madison Avenue space, Sept. 25-Nov. 3, 2007.
Another comer seems to be Allen D’Arcangelo (1930-1998) whose 1963 Smoke Dream, a small (30 x 28 in.) painting of a blonde with a cigarette looming on the horizon down a distant highway sold rather late in the sale for $289,000 (est. $8,000-$12,000), a record for the artist at auction. The former record for the long-neglected second-tier Pop artist had been $19,800, set in 1990. The buyer this time around was an unidentified European private collector. The painting had been the property of Charles Henri Ford, the legendary poet, artist and writer who was the companion of Pavel Tchelitchew.
Both the Parrino and the D’Arcangelo were reproduced on the auction catalogue cover.
The third highest lot was Sol LeWitt’s Seven Stars (in Seven Parts) (1983), which went for $252,000 (est. $30,000-$50,000). Done in red, yellow and blue and showing stars with three to nine points, the work is a new auction record for a work on paper by the artist. Major new works by the much-loved Conceptual-Minimal artist, who died in April at age 78, are currently on view at the 52nd Venice Biennale and at Paula Cooper Gallery in Chelsea.
Another top lot was Robert Longo’s Corporate Wars: Walls of Influence (1982), which sold for $205,000 (est. $70,000-$90,000), a new record for the artist. A large (84 x 36 x 16 in.) and melodramatic cast-aluminum relief of an imagined boardroom battle scene, the work was exhibited at Documenta 7 in 1982. It sold at Christie’s New York in 1999 for $6,000.
Other interesting lots in the sale included a "blue dog" painting by George Rodrigue, which went for $115,000, above a presale high estimate of $80,000, an auction record for the artist, a kind of populist cult favorite. Keith Haring’s spray-painted "Radiant Child" drawing on a handkerchief, dated to 1984, sold for $43,000 (est. $20,000-$30,000). An embroidered fantasia of a shitting butterfly by Angelo Filomeno sold for $43,000 (est. $18,000-$25,000), a new record for the artist.
And a light-boxed color photo self-portrait of the irresistibly freaky Mariko Mori, Head in the Clouds (1996), from an edition of five, sold for $40,000, double its presale high estimate.