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Apr. 23, 2010 

Say one thing for the art collecting community, with a few high-profile exceptions, it has weathered the global economic recession with aplomb. Good thing, too, since rich (and generous) buyers are essential to the success of the many benefit art auctions coming down the pike.

A stellar example is Christie’s New York inaugural "Green Auction: A Bid to Save the Earth," which raised $1,387,000 through the sale of 11 donated lots at the Rockefeller Center salesrooms on Apr. 22, 2010. Accompanied by a fairly high-end and totally charming promotional video, the celebrity-studded event -- Kelly Cutrone was there -- raised $80,000 by selling "a day of golf with President Clinton" and $92,000 with the sale of a brand new Damien Hirst green heart-shaped butterfly painting on paper, titled All You Need Is Jealousy, as if the artist weren’t quite clear on the meaning of the "green" theme.

The auction continues online at, closing May 6, 2010, where the lots include a 2010 Lexus Hybrid (est. $40,000, current bid $32,500), a behind-the-scenes preview with Simon Doonan of Barney’s holiday windows (est. $8,000, current bid $37,500), lunch with David Duchovny on the set of Californication (est. $5,000, current bid $1,505), and a rather astonishing array of many more artworks, luxury items and celebrity tête-á-têtes.

Financial gurus have been talking for years about BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) as a developing nation "package" that investors should look at, and Philips de Pury & Company actually put together an auction on the theme, accompanied by a lush catalogue filled with guest essays, which went off in London on the evening of Apr. 23, 2010 (with day sales to follow on Apr. 24).

The evening sale totaled £4,135,150 ($6,351,590), results the firm called "thrilling," and set new auction records for Komar & Melamid ($1,009,536 -- congrats for breaking the $1,000,000 barrier, guys), Lygia Clark ($564,096) and Os Gêmeos. The last two artists are categorized as Brazilian, in case there are any doubts about the South-American presence in the contemporary market.

Another BRIC player in the top ten is Jitish Kallat (b. 1974), an Indian Pop artist who shows at Haunch of Venison and who has 80 works in the Artnet price database, topping out at $386,000. His work in the sale, a zany 16-foot-wide painting of four laughing boys called Untitled (Eclipse) (2007), sold for $259,968, just above its presale high estimate.

Another winning Indian artist is T.V. Santhosh (b. 1968), whose large, super-colored photo-based paintings were recently shown in New York at Jack Shainman Gallery. His intense painting of a soldier with his prisoner, hands bound by plastic ties, sold for $250,752, also just above the presale high estimate.

Sotheby’s Russian, Turkish
The April art market is nothing if not global. Sotheby’s New York sales of Russian art earlier this week totaled $13,572,252, with almost 70 percent of the 249 lots finding buyers, and included a new auction record for Pavel Tchelitchew, whose Hide-and-Seek (1940-42) at the Museum of Modern Art was an obligatory stop for tripping art-lovers in the late 1960s, despite the fact that his work had fallen out of favor during the abstract era.

At Sotheby’s his 1937 Portrait of Ruth Ford -- the sale featured lots from the holdings of her and her brother, the legendary modernist Charles Henri Ford -- sold for $986,500, almost five times the presale high estimate. The painting is a realistic and psychologically intense rendering of the 26-year-old actress (later to marry Zachary Scott) without allegorical high-jinks, save for a wreath of hands surrounding the subject like a halo, spelling her name in sign language.

Earlier in the month, on Apr. 15, 2010, Sotheby’s London held its second contemporary Turkish art sale (dubbed Contemporary Art: Turkish, for some reason), totaling £2,436,850 ($3,779,067), and setting no less than 16 new auction records. According to the firm, 32 percent of the successful bidders were new faces. Who knew?

The top lots included an Untitled pictographic abstraction from 1954 by the Istanbul-born artist Fahrelnissa Zeid (1900-91), who married the brother of Jordan’s King Faisal I in 1933 and had her first New York exhibition at the Hugo Gallery in 1950. It sold for $1,019,263.

A dramatic photorealist painting by Taner Ceylan (b. 1967) of an ominous-looking (faux?) official with a cigar, titled 1881, sold for about $188,000. Ceylan’s paintings were exhibited in New York last year at I-20. Both prices are new auction records for the artists.

A decorative acrylic-on-wood abstraction by Haluk Akakçe, titled Incubation -- Isolation -- Transmission (2009), sold for $67,072, also a new auction record for a work by the artist.

Photos in NYC
The New York auction houses held their spring photo sales in mid-April. Christie’s two-day-long, three-part photo auctions on Apr. 14-15 totaled $9.2 million, including a special collection of 70 lots by Irving Penn -- a sure winner -- from the collection of Patricia McCabe, Penn’s longtime personal assistant, which was 100 percent sold at $3,851,250.

Another highlight for Christie’s came from the Baio Collection of Photography, which featured photos of children (and has nothing to do with Scott Baio, as far as could be ascertained). It was 71 percent sold. A gelatin silver chloride print of Eugène Atget’s famous Joueur d’Orgue (ca. 1989-99), a candid of a Paris organ grinder and his cheerful child assistant, sold for $686,500, rather more than the presale high estimate of $150,000 and a new auction record for the artist.

Sotheby’s photo auction on Apr. 13 totaled $5,081,265, with almost 82 percent of the 240 lots selling. Top lots included Edward Weston’s Nautilus (1927), which went for $1,082,500, about double its high presale estimate, to a "California-based collector" and a László Moholy-Nagy photogram from the early 1920s that sold for $290,500, perhaps to the same "California-based collector."

Collectors Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg snagged Westons Civilian Defense (1942) for $152,500, also double the presale high estimate, and Pace-MacGill Gallery won Robert Frank’s decidedly nonrural photograph of Butte, Montana (1956) from "The Americans" for $146,500, over a presale estimate of $30,000-$40,000.

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