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May 17, 2010 

With The Real Housewives of New York City now in its third season on the Bravo cable network, the foibles of the rich hardly need further airing. Still, the case of CNET-founder Halsey Minor, a dotcom entrepreneur, real estate speculator and art collector, is especially notable. Usually artworks are draped in esthetic raiment, even at auction, but with Minor, a little skin has shown through.

Besieged by creditors, Minor was forced to sell a collection of 33 contemporary artworks at Phillips de Pury & Co. on May 13-14, 2010. The lucrative collection -- it has netted a total of $24 million, with more to come -- went to Phillips when Minor was banned from both Sotheby’s and Christie’s after earlier disputes with those two firms. In fact, according to Bloomberg, both Merrill Lynch and Sotheby’s have a judgment lien on sales proceeds.

Phillips total for its two-day sale was $45,674,125 (with premium), with 69 percent of the lots finding buyers. Rogue that he may be, Minor had some great stuff: a Richard Prince Nurse ($6,466,500) and an Ed Ruscha “bird” painting from 1965 ($3,218,500) were the two top lots.

Other Minor lots set new auction records: Marc Newson ($2,098,500, for a Lockheed Lounge prototype; Mark Grotjahn ($1,426,500, for a silky White Butterfly from 2001); Walton Ford ($1,022,500, for a three-panel painting of a rhinoceros).

In the rest of the sale, records were also set for Urs Fischer, whose cast-aluminum and wax sculpture of grappling hands sold for $902,500, and  Mark Bradford, whose All I Need Is One More Chance (2002), a gritty throwback to ‘30s neoplasticism, sold for a record $542,400. The sale set new records too for Donald Moffett ($52,500), and Bosco Sodi ($45,000), a Spanish artist whose monochromes done on a roiling surface of sawdust and glue are a favorite of Barcelona art patron Jose Mestre (who has just established Mestre Projects in Manhattan).

Even Mr. Brainwash got in there, with a collage painting of Charlie Chaplin as a street artist -- painting a big pink heart on a graffiti-splattered wall -- that sold for $122,500, almost double the presale high estimate. People say that Banksy’s graffiti-art documentary, Exit through the Gift Shop, provides altogether too much of Mr. Brainwash -- but when it comes to the art market, apparently too much is never enough.

Phillips’ total is edging up on the day-sale totals at Sotheby’s ($53,417,050) and Christie’s ($60,156,675), which is progress of a sort. The top seller at Christie’s day sale on May 12, 2010, was Roy Lichtenstein’s Two Apples (1972), which sold for $2,210,500 -- a price that casts an interesting light on the show at Gagosian Gallery’s huge West 24th Street space, which is filled with similar paintings in “Roy Lichtenstein Still Lifes,” May 8-July 30, 2010.

The Christie’s auction also set new highs for a couple of Photo Realist painters: Ralph Goings, whose Still Life with Peppers (1981), sold for $698,500, and Robert Bechtle, whose S.F. Cadillac (1975) sold for $482,500.

The heightened regard for works by Christopher Wool, whose auction record had more than doubled the night before (from $1,874,500 to $5,010,500, for the sale of Fool) carried over into the day sale as well, with his Lazy and Stupid (1992) selling for $782,500, rather more than the $150,000 presale high estimate.  Do you think the buyers like what the works have to say?

During the week, seven works came to the block by Anselm Reyle (b. 1970), the young German artist with an affinity for colored foil stripes, who was given his first big New York exhibition earlier this season at Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea. Can any trend be ascertained from this sudden rush to market? The results are ambiguous. Three of the lots passed, three sold at the top end of their presale estimates, and one sold right in the middle of its estimate. 

Among the other amusing lots in the day sale were Tom SachsChanel Guillotine (2000), from an edition of three, which brought $134,500 (est. $60,000-$80,000). It’s all about the brand.

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

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