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ART MARKET WATCH
Sept. 22, 2008 

The contemporary art market is not, as one might have thought last week, all about Damien Hirst. Several other contemporary auctions took place in New York in September 2008. A brief report follows.

Christie’s "First Open" sale in its Rockefeller Center salesroom featured 229 lots, of which 169 found buyers, or 74 percent, for a total of $6,507,800, just at the presale low estimate $6 million. The top lot, Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Still #13 (1978), a black-and-white photo of a buxom blonde reaching for a library book, sold for $902,500, almost double its presale high estimate of $500,000. Among the top ten, works by Jeff Koons and Robert Cottingham surpassed their high estimates. 

Several other works soared above their presale estimates, including a largish (19 x 21 in.) drawing of Jackie Robinson from 1991 by Raymond Pettibon that sold for $37,500 (est. $12,000-$18,000). How did our picks do [see Art Market Watch, Sept. 9, 2008]? Well, Richard Prince’s cast flip flops, modestly estimated at $25,000 or more, failed to sell, as did Andy Warhol’s model for his BMW Art Car, at $250,000-$350,000.

But Tony Feher’s sculpture of four jars with red tops sold for $18,750, rather more than the presale high estimate of $6,000, and Sharon Core’s 2003 color photograph of a coconut cake surrounded by eight cake slices -- an homage to a similar painting by Wayne Thiebaud -- went for $15,000, almost three times the presale high estimate of $6,000. The sale represented a debut at auction for Core, and is of course a new auction record for her work.

Sotheby’s New York’s "midseason" sale of contemporary art on Sept. 10, 2008, which carried a overall presale estimate of $9.8 million-$14 million, totaled $10,556,939, with 285 of 412 lots finding buyers, or just over 69 percent. Works by Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Indiana, Adolph Gottlieb and Josef Albers were top sellers. Paintings by members of the Bay Area Figurative movement also did well, with Elmer Bischoff’s Rooftops and Bay (1961) going for $134,500, above its presale high estimate of $120,000, and David Park’s small watercolor Four Nudes from 1960 going for $104,000, more than triple the presale low estimate of $30,000.   

Good prices were also paid for works by Chantal Joffe, whose ten-foot-tall Long Haired Brunette with White Wallpaper sold for $68,500, more than double the presale high estimate of $30,000, and a 1994 mixed media painting by Ouattara Watts, Gindo Voodoo, sold for $34,375, over a presale estimate of $6,000-$8,000. Both prices are new auction records for the artists.

What’s more, Christie’s held its first contemporary design sale on Sept. 8, 2008, a relatively low-key event that totaled $1,161,500, with 21 of 30 lots finding buyers, or 70 percent. The overall presale estimate was $1.2 million-$1.7 million. Christie’s specialist Carina Villinger called the results "promising" and noted "enthusiastic global interest indicating a sold and evolving contemporary design market."

Most of the top prices came in at the lower end of their presale estimates, though the sums were substantial all the same. A Ron Arad mirror-polished, stainless steel D sofa designed in 1995 went for $206,500 (est. $200,000-$300,000), while a Shiro Kuramata acrylic and aluminum stool with feathers designed in 1990 sold for $86,500 (est. $80,000-$100,000).

Then there were the Asian Art Week sales, during the third week in September, a bit overshadowed by Hirst-mania, not to mention the Wall Street turmoil. With both Chinese and Indian contemporary art, top-level buyers are increasingly native, rather than from the U.S. or Europe. This market dynamic is reflected by the decision of both houses to move their Asian contemporary sales to Hong Kong, where they are initiating evening sales of Asian art in October. Christie’s skipped holding a sale of contemporary Asian art in New York this week, and the sale at Sotheby’s on Sept. 17, 2008, was the last such dedicated sale in the city, at least for the time being.

Still, Christie’s New York held eight separate sales for Asia week, Sept. 15-18, 2008, totaling $51.1 million overall, which the firm called its second-highest total for the category of sales in New York. Christie’s South Asian modern and contemporary art sale on Sept. 16, 2008, totaled $12,634,375, with 84 of 126 lots selling, or 67 percent.

The artist Subodh Gupta (b. 1964), who makes both paintings and sculpture, is the shining light of the Indian contemporary market, with a Pop consumerist esthetic that has been compared to that of Jeff Koons, as well as a recent auction record, set in June 2008, of $1.18 million. At Christie’s, his works took three of the four top spots. Steal 2 (2007), a 66 x 90 in. oil on canvas reproducing a detail of one of his famous accumulation sculptures of stainless steel cooking utensils, sold for $1,166,500, just above the presale high estimate of $1,000,000

Gupta’s Miter (2007), an actual collection of such utensils -- installed in a corner in the shape of a Valentine’s Day heart -- sold for $1,022,500; it is one of an edition of three. The third Gupta work was an untitled 2005 painting from his migration series, showing luggage on a wheeled cart at an airport. It sold for $962,500 (est. $600,000-$800,000). 

As for Sotheby’s, its New York series of four Asian art sales, Sept. 16-19, 2008, totaled $26,008,097 overall, falling just short of the presale low estimate of $27.9 million. The sale of Asian contemporary art from China, Korea and Japan on Sept. 17, 2008, totaled $8,513,288, with 137 of 211 lots selling, or almost 65 percent.

Of the top nine lots, seven were snapped up by Asian buyers, according to Sotheby’s. The top lot was a relatively small (39 x 32 in.) 1997 work from Zeng Fanzhi’s Mask Series, an auction-room favorite, here showing a suavely suited Chinese businessman with a Boston terrier on a beach, that went for $1,082,500 (est. $900,000-$1,200,000). The artist, whose auction record is $9.7 million, is having a show at Acquavella Galleries in New York this fall.

Soaring past their presale estimates were a 1957 Braque-inspired work by Kim Whanki, Flying Birds ($434,500) and a version of Zhang Huan’s emblematic suite of nine photographic self-portraits with his face progressively obscured by Chinese brush calligraphy, Family Tree ($386,500), a new high for a work from this series.

Other top prices were brought for an exploded gunpowder drawing of two eagles by Cai Guo-Qiang ($422,500), a storybook-style painting of a boy with a giant red fish by Liu Ye ($362,000), a Socialist Realist satire by Wang Guangyi ($314,500), and a hyper-keyed image of a glamour girl by Feng Zhengjie ($242,500).

Sotheby’s sale of modern and contemporary art from India and Pakistan the following day, Sept. 18, 2008, totaled $7,845,500, with 82 of 126 lots selling, or just over 55 percent. Once again Subodh Gupta was the contemporary star, with his One Cow  (2003), a 66 x 90 in. painting of a bicycle with several milk pails, selling for $866,500, just above the presale high estimate of $800,000.

Another high-priced contemporary lot included Thukral and Tagra’s "superflat"-styled Metropolis 1 dyptich from 2007, which sold for $182,500. The work was originally purchased by the seller in the same year it was made from Nature Morte in New Delhi. The artist’s action record, set in 2007 in Hong Kong, is $463,474.

For complete, illustrated results, see Artnet’s signature Fine Art Auctions Report.


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