CLYFFORD STILL (1904-1980)
1949-A-No.1
Signed and dated 'Clyfford 49';
Signed and titled '1949-A' twice on the reverse
Oil on canvas
93 by 79 in. (236.2 by 200.7 cm.)
Executed in 1949
Pre-sale est.: $25,000,000-$35,000,000
Price realized: $61,682,500
SOTHEBY'S, N.Y.: "Contemporary Art Evening Auction," N08791
Nov. 9, 2011
Lot #11
Illustration courtesy SOTHEBY'S IMAGES LTD., 2011

2011 Fall Contemporary Art Auctions in New York

By Brian Appel


Capital preservation is the number one driver for high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) in volatile economic times. More of them—especially the newly minted millionaires and billionaires from China, Russia, the Middle East, India, Latin America and Europe—are competing with seasoned collectors in acquiring marquee name paintings from the likes of Roy Lichtenstein, Gerhard Richter, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol as an attractive place to park their money.
 

Seen as a safe haven for their capital, these “alternative asset allocations” from iconic Ab-Ex and Pop artists led to a robust fall tally of $774.5 million at New York’s three main auction houses. Although high, this total was still $179 million below the stratospheric record set four years ago at the height of the market (pre-Lehman Brothers bankruptcy) when it seemed collectors and dealers would pay any price for rare quality works of art in a market that seemed to be heading to the moon. That said, it was light years away from the serious downturn that bottomed at $331 million along with the loss of confidence in the banking sector, and the thud of falling prices in the housing sector.

But data from tax returns derived by the French economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez reported that the super-rich in the U.S.A. got richer faster than the merely rich. Thirty-seven percent of additional earnings in 2010 went to just the top 0.01 percent, a teaspoon-size collection of about 15,000 households with average incomes of $23.8 million. These fortunate few saw their incomes rise by 21.5 percent. Government has also played a role, particularly the George W. Bush tax cuts, which, among other things, gave the wealthy a 15 percent tax on capital gains and dividends.

All this makes for an environment where more buyers with more money are looking to invest in the very top tier of postwar artists that “shift the paradigm of pictorial possibilities” heating up the auction room and in the process, driving up prices to levels that are twenty to thirty percent higher than in the boom period which peaked in the spring of 2008.

Phillips de Pury & Co.
Since the Russian-owned retail giant Mercury Group bought Phillips de Pury & Company & Co. three years ago, the house’s strategy has been shifting toward acquiring more conservative, classic, top branded artworks that the market seems to crave. Competing with Christie’s and Sotheby’s in the New York auction market however, cannot be done without corralling these preferred ‘safe’ brands from owners with tantalizing offerings. Making available attractive ‘guarantees’ for consignors is one of the ways to bring desirable one-off pieces to this feisty ‘boutique’ house.

In a ‘guarantee,’ the house guarantees the seller a minimum price. The guarantee may be provided by Phillips, by a third party, or jointly by Phillips and a third party. Phillips de Pury & Co. and third parties providing or participating in a ‘guarantee’ may benefit financially if a guaranteed lot is sold successfully, but may incur a loss if the sale is not successful.

Almost half the lots reaching the rostrum during the evening auction at Phillips on Nov. 7th were ‘guaranteed’.

ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
Nine Gold Marilyns (Reversal Series)
Silkscreen and acrylic on canvas
54 1/8 by 41 3/4 in. (137.5 by 106 cm.)
Signed, titled and dated '9 Gold Marilyns, Andy Warhol, 1979/80, Reversal Series' along the overlap
Executed in 1980
Pre-sale est.: $7,000,000-$10,000,000
Price realized: $7,922,500
PHILLIPS de PURY & CO., N..Y.: "Part 1 Contemporary Art," NY010311
Nov. 7, 2011
Lot #8
Illustration courtesy PHILLIPS de PURY & CO. IMAGES LTD., 2011


Although there wasn’t a post-war masterpiece on the level of the $27 million Andy Warhol early “Liz” painting that was bagged last spring from Steven A. Cohen the hedge fund magnate, Phillips did manage to attract “Nine Gold Marilyns (Reversal Series)”, from 1980.

An elegant homage to both Marilyn and Warhol’s own iconographic universe, the black and gold, 54 1/8 by 41 ¾ inch silkscreen and acrylic icon—whose impeccable provenance began at Galerie Bruno Bischofberger in Zurich—garnered $7 million ($7.9 million with buyer’s premium) right at its aggressive pre-sale low estimate.

Taking his cue from the tradition of artists who have adopted, varied and transformed the art of their predecessors like Munch, de Chirico and da Vinci, Warhol, in an act of post-modernist brilliance, expropriated material from his own now infamous repertoire of images, transforming his classic Pop iconography with surprisingly painterly techniques and compositional reconfigurations. Using the strategy of rendering the appropriated paintings so that these purloined works lose their previous identity and context and become new images about previous images through seriality within and outside the picture, Warhol signals a new period of productivity and a new conceptual vigor in his artistic practice.

Art critic David Bourdon explains: “Warhol’s ‘Reversals’ recapitulate his portraits of famous faces… but with the tonal values reversed. As if the spectator were looking at photographic negatives, highlighted faces have gone dark while former shadows now rush forward in electric hues. The reversed Marilyns, especially, have a lurid otherworldly glow, as if illuminated by internal footlights.”

Restrained and elegant, “Nine Gold Marilyns (Reversal Series),” draws upon the color gold that Warhol first utilized in the center of his soup cans. We see a familiar grouping of three identical images laid out in three equal rows, and if one stares at the canvas for thirty or more seconds and quickly looks away onto a white ground, saturation fills the space of the picture’s haunting shadows, and darkness becomes light—the tonal values flip back to the positive. It’s almost as if Warhol takes you back to 1962 and 1964 when the ‘originals’ were executed, recognizing it as a popular phenomenon itself.

In Marilyn, whom he originally painted shortly after her premature death at the height of her celebrity, Warhol found a momento mori which could unite the celebrated (or reviled) obsessions driving his career: glamour, beauty and death; obsessions that would be with him until the end.

CY TWOMBLY (1928-2011)
Untitled
Acrylic on canvas
84 3/4 by 66 in. (216 by 167.8 cm.)
Signed 'CT' upper left
Executed in 2006
Pre-sale est. : $8,000,000-$12,000,000
Price realized: $9,042,500
PHILLIPS de PURY & CO., N.Y.: "Part 1 Contemporary Art," NY010311
Nov. 7, 2011
Lot #20
Illustration courtesy PHILLIPS de PURY & CO. IMAGES LTD., 2011


The top work of the evening however, an aesthetically daring, intellectually invigorating script-like crimson painting on a gentle cream colored backdrop by Cy Twombly, hammered—like Warhol’s “Nine Gold Marilyns (Reversal Series)”—at its optimistic pre-sale low estimate.

Completed in the artist’s hometown of Lexington, Virginia in the fall of 2006, the mesmerizing seven foot tall acrylic on canvas radiates with viscous intensity. Grounded in the tradition of European expressionism, “Untitled,” from 2006 is a bravado artwork combining elements of gestural abstraction, drawing, and writing in a highly idiosyncratic and potent expression. The exuberant work hammered at $8 million (just over $9 million with buyer’s premium).

The artist—vigorous until his death in July at the age of 83—is now recognized as an important figure in the post-Abstract Expressionist art world. Unlike household names like Picasso or Warhol, or the two painters he worked closely with in New York—Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns— Twombly’s deeply influential canvases are still undervalued.

In 2005, Cy Twombly spoke briefly on his sophisticated appreciation of complex compositions: “Every little point sets up a tension with something else. Each mark or shape is in a natural position. I mean, I don’t see anything that looks arbitrary or self-consciously placed. To me, it looks as if it happened naturally, and that’s the point.”

RICHARD PRINCE (b. 1949)
Runaway Nurse
Signed, titled and dated 'Richard Prince, 2006, Runaway Nurse #2' (on the reverse)
Inkjet and acrylic on canvas
80 by 52 in. (203.2 by 132.1 cm.)
Pre-sale est. : $5,000,000-$7,000,000
Price realized: $6,802,500
PHILLIPS de PURY & CO., N.Y.: "Part 1 / Contemporary Art," NY010311
Nov. 7, 2011
Lot #18
Illustration courtesy PHILLIPS de PURY & CO. IMAGES LTD., 2011


“Runaway Nurse”, an acrylic and ink jet on canvas painting from the still controversial ‘appropriation artist’ Richard Prince plays with the same transformative appropriation that the artist has used in his very successful joke paintings and cowboy photographs. This time, however, Prince takes his material from imagery from pulp fiction paperback novels from the ‘50s and ‘60s.

An ardent bibliophile, the artist has amassed an impressive collection of “naughty-nurse” literature and has transferred the book covers onto canvas manipulating them in the process by changing colors or replacing a nurse from one cover with a nurse from another.

The man who is known for his sophisticated critiques of the insidious myths of American culture has focused on the nurse as an ingrained stereotype that keeps on popping up, and here, Prince has isolated the nurse—who in the original book cover is demure and shy in her white uniform and modest posture—has rendered her as a lustful vixen. In Prince’s rendering, the formally attired couple in the paperback’s original background has been removed and the professional nurse’s white uniform has been replaced by a torn-open red blouse revealing her swelling breasts behind a striking black bustier. The nurse‘s hands are no longer modestly situated behind her back but are spread apart on a steel bed frame. The eye focuses either on the surface—the stripped nurse and the bold text, “Runaway Nurse”— or on the eerily obfuscated background of blood-red sweeping brush strokes and the intentional and distinctive paint drips which slows down the ‘reading’ of the work to create two equal and wonderful parallel areas of mise-en-scene in which to experience the painting.

The painting hammered at $6 million ($6.8 million with buyer’s premium) in the middle of the house’s pre-sale high and low estimate. Prince’s nurse painting debuted at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery in 2003 selling for $75,000.

Like a peacock’s tail that signals virility, these museum-ready works attracted other desirable lots—“Trepied”, (1972), a nine-foot tall painted metal mobile by Alexander Calder ($5.7 million), Willem de Kooning’s 1984 six-by-seven foot “Untitled XV111” ($3.4 million) and another two from Warhol: a 22 inch by 22 inch “Fright-Wig Self-Portrait” in purple on a black background ($4 million) and “Knives”, a latently violent blood red depiction of the common kitchen utensil twenty-seven times ($3.4 million). These pieces functioned as an anchor for the house’s evening fall sale which sold 37 out of the 44 lots offered for a total of $71.3 million, just above its low $66.1 million estimate but nowhere close to the house’s own optimistic $97.3 million pre-sale high estimate.

ROY LICHTENSTEIN (1923-1997)
I Can See the Whole Room!... and There's Nobody in it!
Signed 'rfl' (lower right)
Oil and graphite on canvas
48 by 48 in. (121.9 by 121.9 cm.)
Executed in 1961
Pre-sale est. : $35,000,000-$45,000,000
Price realized: $43,202,500
CHRISTIE'S, N.Y.: "Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale," #2480
Nov. 8, 2011
Lot #34
*WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR THE ARTIST
Illustration courtesy CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD.., 2011



Christie’s
Sharing a fascination for the visual languages of printed mass media and consumer culture with his contemporary Andy Warhol in the 1960s, Roy Lichtenstein’s “I Can See the Whole Room! …and There’s Nobody in it!” from 1961, was the catalogue cover shot and the top winner at Christie’s. The image, a picture that teases the viewer who is given the feeling that he is in a dark room being viewed by the square-jawed subject of the painting peaking through a hole in a door, led the way to the house racking up a $247.6 million evening auction total, a whopping $176 million more than what was achieved at the tepid sale at Phillips de Pury & Co. the night before.

Lichtenstein’s Pop painting imagery derived from a 1961 William Overgard drawing for a Steve Roper cartoon story, depicts Roper’s wartime buddy and part-time accomplice in crime solving (Mike Nomad), looking through a peephole directly into the gaze of the viewer.

With the help of a handful of determined international and U.S. bidders on an art-buying binge, Lichtenstein’s pop trophy, complete with his trademark Ben-Day dots, could also be seen as a satirical reference to the bankruptcy of Abstract-Expressionism. It kayoed the artist’s previous world auction record of $42.6 million for “Ohhhh… Alright,” (1964) realizing an impressive $43.2 million. That artist record price keeps this comic-book-sourced icon—along with last year’s trophy—among the top ten artworks of any post-war art auction.

“I Can See the Whole Room!... and There’s Nobody in it!” stands in not only as the poster child of Lichtenstein’s rapidly rising reputation—it sold to Courtney Sale Ross and Steven J. Ross the chief executive at Time Warner for a record $2.9 million in the fall of 1988—it also speaks volumes about the explosive growth of the blue-chip contemporary art market as a whole.

The 48 by 48 inch oil and graphite on canvas that deconstructed the conventions of picture-making and mimicked the commercial printing process of “low” comic art with the “high” art of painting, was originally purchased for $500 shortly after its completion by Emily and Burton Tremaine, prescient collectors of 20th century art whose emphasis was on work done by artists after 1945. Their collection of 400 works by artists such as Lichtenstein, Warhol and other heroes of sublime quality and scope were purchased at a time when either the gestural or the non-gestural abstract color-field painters of the New York School were the agreed-upon art stars of the day. Any “return” to figuration was still widely frowned upon, despite recent developments of such artists as Rauschenberg and Johns. It seems hard to believe, but Lichtenstein’s “I Can See the Whole Room! … and There’s Nobody in it!” was considered blatantly grotesque by the vast majority of the cognoscenti at the time.

MARK ROTHKO (1903-1970)
White Cloud
Signed and dated 'MARK ROTHKO 56' (on the reverse)
Oil on canvas
66 3/8 by 62 7/8 in. (168.9 by 159.7 cm.)
Executed in 1956
Pre-sale est. : $18,000,000-$25,000,000
Price realized: $18,562,500
CHRISTIE'S, N.Y.: "Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale," #NOMAD 2480
Nov. 8, 2011
Lot #71
Illustration courtesy CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD., 2011


Creativity and exclusivity are the lifeblood of the artist’s brand and Mark Rothko’s “White Cloud” filled the bill in spades. The five and one-half foot by five and a quarter foot oil on canvas had the first-rate quality collectors want. Adding icing on the cake is the fact that this “haven asset” had been off the market for thirty-five years when it was acquired in 1976 by a private collector from the Pace Gallery in New York.

The surge in demand for the artist’s larger pictures began in earnest when the Rockefeller Rothko, “White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose)” hit the block at Sotheby’s in May of 2007. It brought $72.8 million. The rich return on that Rothko didn’t miss the attention of the world’s superrich, who have referred to the artist’s mature works as having an “ethereal sense of spirituality.” That sublime quality coupled with the pride that comes with owning what the rich refer to as the “ultimate luxury object” added to its desirability.

Rothko’s pink and lavender under-painting in “White Cloud” is loosely applied in a brushy technique which critics say adds the artist’s signature form of creating rectangles that hover before our very eyes. The soft reds and orange blocks of color and the white cloud-like rendering on the upper quarter of the picture appear to float and oscillate just above the painting’s surface.

Art historians have postulated that Rothko’s subtly shifting colors technique was particularly influenced by J.M.W. Turner’s later work which “pared back” painting until the canvas became almost evocations of light and mood. Both artists—especially late Turner and 1950s Rothko—developed subtle reworkings of breathtaking color forms that are instantly accessible and thought provoking all at once.

Rothko’s feathering technique is said to capture a quality that is spiritual, not merely religious. The discreetly luminous “White Cloud,” whose receding and projecting blocks of color blend energy and a tension that calls to the fore the tragic as well as the uplifting, realized $18.6 million, just at the lower end of its pre-sale estimate.

ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
Silver Liz
Stamped with the Andy Warhol Art Authentification Board, Inc. stamp and Numbered 'A 108.992' (on the overlap)
Acrylic, silkscreen ink and spray enamel on canvas
40 by 40 inches
Executed in 1963
Pre-sale est. : $16,000,000-$19,000,000
Price realized: $16,322,500
CHRISTIE'S, N.Y.: "Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale," #NOMAD-2480
Nov. 8, 2011
Lot #51
Illustration courtesy CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD., 2011


Andy Warhol’s enduring “Silver Liz”—the culmination of a series of portraits of the screen goddess he did in the early ‘60s—was the third highest seller at Christie’s that evening. Earning a buoyant $16.3 million, the 48 inch square silkscreen, acrylic and enamel spray paint on canvas depicting Elizabeth Taylor as the quintessential screen goddess of the second half of the 20th century was de-accessed by the mega-rich newsprint and real estate magnate Peter Brant, an early and strong collector of Andy Warhol masterworks. Laurence Graff, the high profile jewellery entrepreneur and uber-contemporary art collector based out of London, was the lucky purchaser. This is the second “Liz” purchase for the “king of diamonds.” In 2006, Graff acquired his first “Liz” entitled “Red Liz” from a series of 13, each with a different background. Graff had to out bid five other collectors/dealers to grab that key Warhol icon; “Red Liz” was de-accessed by storied L.A. dealer Irving Blum who had owned it for 40 years. That “Liz” cost Graff $12.6 million at the time.

“Silver Liz,” the Medusa-like enduring image that Graff acquired at Christie’s is one of ten that Warhol executed in 1963. The source image—appropriated by Warhol—was a publicity still from the glossy and trashy melodrama “Buffalo-8,” featuring a star performance from Taylor who won her first Best Actress Oscar not for her acting, but for nearly dying of pneumonia in London.

Warhol cropped the image more severely to hone in on the star’s archetypical beauty and chose a silver background, not just for the reference to the silver screen and Hollywood, but for the “Pop” qualities of the color. As Warhol himself said, “Silver was the future, it was scary.” It was also the year Warhol started to wear his silver wig and when his studio became the Silver Factory papered in silver foil.

It is easy to forget that in the beginning of the 1960s much of the art critical writings and curatorial decisions were still revolving around art that investigated its own formal properties and thus kept its distance from narrative and the sensational strategies of cheap magazines, tabloids and Hollywood gossip. The avant-garde was still chiefly about emphasizing the flatness of the canvas with the allover, antihierarchal deployment of pigment.

Interventions in the late 50s from Jasper Johns who called the critic’s restrictions into question by finding flatness in everyday forms like an American flag and Robert Rauschenberg’s connections of gestural brushstrokes and everyday scraps like newspapers paved the way for Warhol to mine images from popular media. This radical re-presentation of mass imagery—a slap in the face to the Ab-Ex establishment—was widely looked upon as “kitsch”. Even as late as the 1980s Warhol’s infatuation with celebrity, beauty and death were still considered the work of someone infatuated with the tawdry, the tasteless and the indiscriminate.

Pre-sale estimates for Christie’s were realistically situated in the middle of its low of 226.5 million and the high of 331.3 million. Of the 91 lots offered—the first 26 lots ($26.8 million) were from the “white glove” sale of “anti-virus” mogul Peter Norton setting the tone for what was to come. Only nine lots throughout the rest of the evening failed to sell.

ANDREAS GURSKY (B. 1955)
Rhein 11
Signed 'Andreas Gursky' (on a paper label affixed to the backing board)
Chromogenic color print face-mounted to Plexiglas
Image: 73 x 143 1/8 in.. (185.4 x 363.5 cm.)
Overall: 81 1/2 x 151 3/4 x 2 1/2 in. (207 x 385.5 x 6.2 cm.)
Executed in 1999 This work is number one from an edition of six.
Pre-sale est. : $2,500,000-$3,500,000
Price realized: $4,338,500
CHRISTIE'S, N.Y.: "Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale," #NOMAD-2480
Nov. 8, 2011
Lot #44
Illustration courtesy CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD., 2012
*WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR THE ARTIST
*WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR ANY PHOTOGRAPH


Thirteen records were broken including Andreas Gursky’s digitally altered chromogenic color print of the Rhein River from 1999, whose use of hard-edged areas of flat color, seen as a precursor to post-painterly abstraction and the minimalist works of such artists as a young Frank Stella, garnered a sky-high $4.3 million. The mammoth six-by-twelve foot photograph reset the world’s auction record ousting Cindy Sherman’s top seeded (since May 8th, 2011), $3.8 million “Untitled #96,” (“Girl in Orange Sweater”) from her storied “fold-out” series of 1980.

Vija Celmins, Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder, and Jean Dubuffet attained their highest Post-War Contemporary prices in the evening sale. De Kooning’s “Untitled X1,” (1975-76), Jeff Koons’s “Baroque Egg and Bow (Orange/Magenta) from 1994-2008, and Paul McCarthy’s “Tomato Head (Green), executed in 1994 rounded out the top ten lots of the sale which provided many once-in-a-lifetime purchases for what Brett Gorvey, chairman and international head of Christie’s modestly called, “sensible”.

CLYFFORD STILL (1904-1980)
1949-A-No.1
Signed and dated 'Clyfford 49';
Signed and titled '1949-A' twice on the reverse
Oil on canvas
93 by 79 in. (236.2 by 200.7 cm.)
Executed in 1949
Pre-sale est. : $25,000,000-$35,000,000
Price realized: $61,682,500
SOTHEBY'S, N.Y.: "Contemporary Art Evening Auction," N08791
Nov. 9, 2011
Lot #11
Illustration courtesy SOTHEBY'S IMAGES LTD., 2011


Sotheby's
Clyfford Still’s rare-to-market masterworks and a handful of highly coveted abstract paintings by Gerhard Richter by London collectors Marc and Victoria Sursock, created a full-speed-ahead buying pattern for collectors who were looking for an investment in two of the most influential artists of the 20th and 21st century.

The four Still paintings offered—bequeathed to the city of Denver by the artist’s second wife Patricia Still for the endowment of the brand new Clyfford Still Museum which opens a week after this sale—encompasses the full spectrum of the artist’s career.

While other Ab-Ex pioneers like Newman and Rothko used fairly flat colors and relatively thin paint, Still’s use of impasto—a building up of irregular tapering shapes with the aid of a palette knife—gives the impression that one layer of color has been “torn” off the painting, revealing the colors underneath.

“1949-A-No.1,” a monumental eight foot by seven foot oil on canvas incorporating the artist’s trademark jagged flashes of color and what the artist believes is his over-riding theme of an existential struggle of the human spirit against the forces of nature, handily beat all expectations. It was the Sotheby’s sale’s highest lot by over $30 million—also a Still. The sublime painting created at the beginning of his mature period realized $61.7 million with buyer’s premium. It was a world record for the artist and the top price paid for the fall contemporary art season in New York.

The works “crag-like shapes” and its “mountain-face forms” of heavily textured fields of black, deep red, white and yellow, in combination with the canvas’s sense of grandeur and awe-inspiring scale, kept Lisa Dennison—a chairwoman at Sotheby’s, bidding on behalf of an unnamed telephone client against Christopher Eykyn, a Manhattan dealer in the salesroom for what seemed an eternity. Adding to this heady mix was the fact that Still’s works are exceedingly rare to the block; only eleven of the artist’s works have come up for auction in the decade prior to this sale. When the hammer finally came down at $55 million (the price of the painting before the buyer’s premium is added) Dennison’s telephone client—possibly the art-world tastemaker, Russian industrialist Roman Abramovich perhaps or Francois Pinault, the French businessman/billionaire who owns a majority share of competing auction house Christie’s or speculatively 27 year-old Sheikha Al Mayassa Bint Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, daughter of the Emir of Qatar—had won the iconic work. The packed salesroom responded instantly, bursting into applause. The visionary work—one of the truly original inventions in contemporary painting—had doubled its $25 million low pre-sale estimate by five million dollars.

Made just two years earlier, Still’s “1947-Y-No.2,” the second of the four Still’s to hit the block, marked the format that he would intensify throughout the rest of his career. The large scale color field work, executed with thickly applied oil paint and pallet knives, was the first to break through to a new and radically abstract style devoid of obvious subject matter. This late 1940s work anticipates and informs both the “zips” of Barnett Newman and the epic horizontal fields of color later evolved by his friend Mark Rothko.

Expected to bring $15 million to $20 million, the six foot by five foot work brought $31.4 million, making it number two for the house and capturing the third highest price of the entire fall season. “PH-1033,” from 1976, brought $19.6 million besting its pre-sale est. by $2.5 million and the final and fourth Still, “PH-351,” the early Surrealist-tinged oil on canvas, sold for a more modest $1.3 million. Totaling $114 million, the Still quartet, all iconic works in a format that everyone instantly recognizes, made a handsome windfall for Sotheby’s, the city of Denver, and its new Clyfford Still Museum.

One could say that Gerhard Richter fever started in earnest in February of 2007 when “Abstraktes Bild,” a sensual, rainbow-hued abstract from 1991 reached a new personal best for the artist at $5.5 million. But by the time of the Sotheby’s auction, Richter achieved no less than five record prices at the hammer, making a steeply escalating tear through the post-Lehman Brothers “Great Depression” that seemed unrivaled by any other artists.

GERHARD RICHTER (b. 1932)
Abstraktes Bild (849-3)
Signed, dated '1997' and numbered '849-3' on the reverse
Oil on canvas
102 3/8 by 133 7/8 in. (260 by 340 cm.)
Pre-sale est. : $9,000,000-$12,000,000
Price realized: $20,802,500
SOTHEBY'S, N.Y.: "Contemporary Art Evening Auction," N08791
Nov. 9, 2011
Lot #33
*WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR THE ARTIST
Illustration courtesy SOTHEBY'S IMAGES LTD., 2011


This overheated demand for Richter’s virtuoso post-painterly Ab-Ex works was perculating at the house where seven of his paintings realized just over $68 million—more than doubling their high pre-sale estimates. Three of these masterworks landed in the house’s top ten with his “Abstrakes Bild (849-3),” a monumental brick red, plum and blue colored oil on canvas setting a new world auction record for the artist when an eager, astronomically wealthy buyer plunked down $20.8 million for the work.

This autumn, on the eve of the artist’s 80th birthday, Richter will be canonized by a major retrospective at the Tate Modern in London with 150 works. This fact, along with the stellar quality of the paintings up for grabs, had dealers and collectors queuing up. You could say this will be the moment that both the market and art history will decide the German artist has reached iconic status along with contemporary superstar art world geniuses like Warhol, Lichtenstein, Pollock, Still, Rothko and Bacon.

The Sotheby’s catalogue describes his abstract oil on canvas working process: “Paint is applied with an arsenal of implements: paintbrushes, scrapers and spatulas layer by layer; already existing layers are over laid or exposed by scraping. By means akin to an archeological effort, sheer beauty is excavated from the depths. The most radical tool employed by Richter is a crafted wood-and-Plexiglas squeegee, which is used to wipe and drag the paint. The effects change depending on where and how he applies pressure with the squeegee, and yet, regardless of how adept he has become at this, there is still an important element of chance.”

Richter’s own description of his post-Ab-Ex painting process—which some critics have opined look like the painterly innovations of George Seurat, in works such as “Sous-Bois a Pontaubert,” 1881-2 is as follows: “At the beginning I feel totally free, and it’s fun, like being a child. The paintings can look good for a day or an hour. Over time they change. In the end, you become like a chess player. It takes me longer than some people to recognize their quality, their situation—to realize when they are finished. Finally, one day I enter the room and say, ‘checkmate.’ Then sometimes I need a break, a quiet job like a landscape. But I always need that pleasure.”

FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992)
Three Studies for a Self-Portrait
Titled and dated '1967' on the reverse of the right panel
Oil on canvas in three parts
Each panel: 14 by 12 in. (36 by 30 cm.)
Executed in 1967
Pre-sale est. : $15,000,000-$20,000,000
Price realized: $19,682,500
SOTHEBY'S, N.Y.: "Contemporary Art Evening Auction," N08791
Nov. 9, 2011
Lot #16
Illustration courtesy SOTHEBY'S IMAGES LTD., 2011


Sotheby’s went on to realize $315.8 million, achieving its second highest total for a contemporary art sale ever. Francis Bacon, Joan Mitchell, Andy Warhol, and, surprisingly, Cady Noland’s “Oozewald,” from 1989—a silkscreen on aluminum depiction of the famous press photograph of Lee Harvey Oswald being shot by Jack Ruby— rounded out the top ten.

Recap
The blue-chip art market remains one of the few flourishing during a difficult economic period. Uncertainty surrounding stock market investment have played a role in driving HNWIs to focus on high-value assets that they can enjoy, look at, and that have been shown to have a reasonable level of protection from downwinds over the medium to long turn.

Since the fall in 2008, buyers have fled to the perceived safety of the masterpiece market, or to branded names in the contemporary sector that have global appeal and provide instant status. The uber-rich collector is buying the expertise, the culture and tradition of artists whose most iconic works are always in demand by a market that can’t seem to get enough.

Thanks go to www.artnet.com for extending its ‘Price database’ to track previous prices of some of the artworks referenced in this article.

RESERVES AND BUY-INS: All lots from all sales are offered subject to a “RESERVE”, which is a confidential minimum price below which the lot will not be sold. The reserve cannot exceed the low estimate printed in the catalog or on-line. If the auctioneer decides that any bid is below the reserve of any article offered, he/she may invent bids up to the reserve of the article offered, after which he/she has to find a real bidder. The auctioneer may reject the same and withdraw the article from sale if the highest bidder is below the reserve of the article offered. The withdrawal is accompanied at the sound of the hammer and the auctioneer saying “PASS” as the hammer goes down on the article. Passed items are also referred to as “BUY-INS” and appear as missing lot numbers on the results page published by the house after the sale.

HAMMER PRICE, BUYER’S PREMIUM AND ESTIMATES: For lots that are sold the last price for the lot as announced by the auctioneer is the “HAMMER PRICE.” Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips de Pury & Co. charge a premium to the buyer on the final bid price on each lot sold. The “BUYER’S PREMIUM” is 25% of the final bid price of any lot up to and including $50,000, 20% of the excess of the hammer price above $50,000 and up to and including $1,000,000. Prices in the “TOP 25” below include the buyer’s premium. “ESTIMATES” of the selling price might reflect vendors’ expectations which might be too high or reflect an auction house’s strategy to publish unrealistically low figures to attract potential buyers. In most cases the estimates reflect buyers’ and sellers’ expectations and/or prices realized from previously recorded transactions. Either way, auction house published low/high estimates should not be relied upon as a statement of the price at which the item will sell, or its value for any other purpose. Auction house “ESTIMATES” do not include the buyer’s premium.



2011 / Fall / Contemporary Art / Auction Totals in New York / $774,463,850 [Spring 2011 $718,451,124]

SOTHEBY’S / $370,123,350 [Spring 2011 - $242,883,374]
“Contemporary Art Evening Auction” / N08791 / $315,837,000 [Spring 2011 - $128,104,500 & Allan Stone Vol 1 & 11 - $54,805,499]
“Contemporary Art Day Auction” / N08792 / $54,286,350 [Spring 2011 - $59,973,375]

CHRISTIE’S / $325,867,200 [Spring 2011 - $367,425,350]
“Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale” / #2480 / $247,597,000 [Spring 2011 - $301,683,000]
“Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Sale: Session 1” / #2482 (Including “Works from the Peter Norton Collection”) / $29,895,950 [Spring 2011 - $31,406,625]
“Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Sale: Session 11” / #2481 / $40,581,875 [Spring 2011 - $34,335,725]
“Selected Works from the Collection of Annick & Anton Herbert” / #2625 / $7,792,375

PHILLIPS de PURY & CO. / $78,473,300 [Spring 2011 - $108,142,400]
“Part 1 Contemporary Art” / NY010311 / $71,292,500 [Spring 2011 - $98,825,500]
“Part 11 Contemporary Art” / NY010411 / $7,180,800 [Spring 2011 - $9,316,900]
“Contemporary Art Benefit Auction for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation” (no premiums added – not included in totals) $2,682,000


Top 25

1) CLYFFORD STILL (American, 1904-1980)
1949-A-No. 1
Signed and titled ‘1949-A’ twice on the reverse
Oil on canvas
93 x 79 in. (236.2 x 200.7 cm.)
Executed in 1949
Pre-sale est.: $25,000,000-$35,000,000
Price realized: $61,682,500
SOTHEBY’S, N.Y.: “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”, N08791
Nov. 9, 2011
Lot #11
*WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR THE ARTIST


2) ROY LICHTENSTEIN (American, 1923-1997)
I Can See the Whole Room… and There’s Nobody in it!
Signed ‘rfl’ (lower right)
Oil and graphite on canvas
48 x 48 in. (121.9 x 121.9 cm.)
Executed in 1961
Pre-sale est.: $35,000,000-$45,000,000
Price realized: $43,202,500
CHRISTIE’S, N.Y.: “Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale”
#2480
Nov. 8, 2011
Lot #34
*WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR THE ARTIST


3) CLYFFORD STILL (American, 1904-1980)
1947-Y-No. 2
Signed, dated ‘1947’, and inscribed ‘#2 San Francisco’ on the reverse
Oil on canvas
69 ½ x 59 in. (176.5 x 149.9 cm.)
Executed in 1947
Pre-sale est.: $15,000,000-$20,000,000
Price realized: $31,442,500
SOTHEBY’S, N.Y.: “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”
N08791
Nov. 9, 2011
Lot #12


4) GERHARD RICHTER (German, B. 1932)
Abstraktes Bild
Signed, dated ‘1997’ and numbered ‘849-3’ on the reverse
Oil on canvas
102 3/8 x 133 7/8 in. (260 x 340 cm.)
Executed in 1997
Pre-sale est.: $9,000,000-$12,000,000
Price realized: $20,802,500
SOTHEBY’S, N.Y.: “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”
N08791
Nov. 9, 2011
Lot #33
*WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR THE ARTIST


2-WAY TIE
5) FRANCIS BACON (English, 1909-1992)
Three Studies for a Self-Portrait
Titled and dated ‘1967’ on the reverse of the right panel
Oil on canvas in three parts
Each panel: 14 x 12 in. (36 x 30 cm.)
Executed in 1967
Pre-sale est.: $15,000,000-$20,000,000
Price realized: $19,682,500
SOTHEBY’S, N.Y.: “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”
N08791
Nov. 9, 2011
Lot #16

CLYFFORD STILL (American, 1904-1980)
PH-1033
Signed and dated ‘Clyfford 11-29-76’; signed on the reverse
Oil on canvas
93 ½ x 83 in. (237.5 x 210.8 cm.)
Executed in 1976
Pre-sale est.: $10,000,000-$15,000,000
Price realized: $19,682,500
SOTHEBY’S, N.Y.: “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”
N08791
Nov. 9, 2011
Lot #13


6) MARK ROTHKO (American, 1903-1970)
White Cloud
Signed and dated ‘MARK ROTHKO 56’ (on the reverse)
Oil on canvas
66 3/8 x 62 7/8 in. (168.9 x 159.7 cm.)
Executed in 1956
Pre-sale est.: $18,000,000-$25,000,000
Price realized: $18,562,500
CHRISTIE’S, N.Y.: “Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale”
#2480
Nov. 8, 2011
Lot #71


7) GERHARD RICHTER (German, B. 1932)
Gudrun
Signed, titled, dated ‘1987’, and numbered ‘633’
Oil on canvas
98 ½ x 98 ½ in. (250 x 250 cm.)
Executed in 1987
Pre-sale est.: $5,500,000-$7,500,000
Price realized: $18,002,500
SOTHEBY’S, N.Y.: “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”
N08791
Nov. 9, 2011
Lot #34


8) ANDY WARHOL (American, 1928-1987)
Silver Liz
Stamped with the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board, Inc. stamp and numbered ‘A 108.992’ (on the overlap)
Acrylic, silkscreen ink and spray enamel on canvas
40 x 40 in. (101.6 x 101.6 cm.)
Executed in 1963
Pre-sale est.: $16,000,000-$19,000,000
Price realized: $16,322,500
CHRISTIE’S, N.Y.: “Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale”
#2480
Nov. 8, 2011
Lot #51


9) GERHARD RICHTER (German, B. 1932)
Abstraktes Bild
Signed, dated ‘1992’ and numbered ‘769-2’ on the reverse
Oil on canvas
78 ¾ x 63 in. (200 x 160 cm.)
Executed in 1992
Pre-sale est.: $5,500,000-$7,500,000
Price realized: $14,082,500
SOTHEBY’S, N.Y.: “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”
N08791
Nov. 9, 2011
Lot #31


10) LOUISE BOURGEOIS (American, 1911-2010)
Spider
Incised with artist’s initials, number and date ‘LB 2/6 97’
(on the interior of the body)
Bronze
133 x 263 x 249 in. (337.8 x 668 x 632.5 cm)
Executed in 1996
This work is number two from an edition of six
Pre-sale est.: $4,000,000-$6,000,000
Price realized: $10,722,500
CHRISTIE’S, N.Y.: “Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale”
#2480
Nov. 8, 2011
Lot #29


11) ANDY WARHOL (American, 1928-1987)
Four Campbell’s Soup Cans
Casein and graphite on canvas
20 x 16 in. (51 x 41 cm.)
Executed in 1962
Pre-sale est.: $7,000,000-$10,000,000
Price realized: $9,826,500
CHRISTIE’S, N.Y.: “Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale”
#2480
Nov. 8, 2011
Lot #36


12) JOAN MITCHELL (American, 1925-1992)
Untitled
Signed
Oil on canvas
95 ½ x 78 ½ in. (242.6 x 199.4 cm.)
Painted c. 1960
Pre-sale est.: $4,000,000-$6,000,000
Price realized: $9,322,500
SOTHEBY’S, N.Y.: “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”
Nov. 9, 2011
Lot #19


13) CY TWOMBLY (American, 1928-2011)
Untitled
Signed ‘CT’ upper left
Acrylic on canvas
84 ¾ x 66 in. (215 x 167.8 cm.)
Executed in 2006
Pre-sale est.: $8,000,000-$12,000,000
Price realized: $9,042,500
PHILLIPS de PURY & CO., N.Y.: “Part 1 Contemporary Art”
NY010311
Nov. 7, 2011
Lot #20


14) ANDY WARHOL (American, 1928-1987)
Nine Gold Marilyns (Reversal Series)
Signed, titled and dated ‘9 Gold Marilyns, Andy Warhol, 1979/80, Reversal Series’
Silkscreen and acrylic on canvas
54 1/8 x 41 ¾ in. (137.5 x 106 cm.)
Executed in 1980
Pre-sale est.: $7,000,000-$10,000,000
Price realized: $7,922,500
PHILLIPS de PURY & CO., N.Y.: “Part 1 Contemporary Art”
NY010311
Lot #8


15) WILLEM de KOONING (American, 1904-1997)
Untitled X1
Signed ‘de Kooning’ (on the reverse)
Oil on canvas
60 ¼ x 54 in. (153 x 137.2 cm.)
Executed in 1975-1976
Pre-sale est.: $7,000,000-$9,000,000
Price realized: $7,362,500
CHRISTIE’S, N.Y.: “Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale”
#2480
Nov. 8, 2011


16) RICHARD PRINCE (American, B. 1949)
Runaway Nurse
Signed, titled and dated ‘Richard Prince, 2006, Runaway Nurse #2’ on the reverse
Inkjet and acrylic on canvas
80 x 52 in. (203.2 x 132.1 cm.)
Executed in 2006
Pre-sale est.: $5,000,000-$7,000,000
Price realized: $6,802,500
PHILLIPS de PURY & CO., N.Y.: “Part 1 Contemporary Art”
NY010311
Nov. 7, 2011
Lot #18


17) CADY NOLAND (American, B. 1956)
Oozewald
Silkscreen ink on aluminum plate and two flags
72 x 36 x 7 in. (182.9 x 91.4 x 17.8 cm.)
Executed in 1989
This work is number one from an edition of four plus one artist’s proof
Pre-sale est.: $2,000,000-$3,000,000
Price realized: $6,578,500
SOTHEBY’S, N.Y.: “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”
N08791
Nov. 9, 2011
Lot #7
*WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR THE ARTIST


18) ANDY WARHOL (American, 1928-1987)
The Last Supper
Stamp signed and inscribed in 1986 on the overlap
Synthetic polymer paint silkscreened on canvas
40 x 40 in. (101.6 x 101.6 cm.)
Executed in 1986, this work is stamped by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and numbered ‘PA70.013’ on the overlap
Pre-sale est.: $5,500,000-$7,500,000
Price realized: $6,522,500
SOTHEBY’S, N.Y.: “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”
N08791
Nov. 9, 2011
Lot #22


2-WAY TIE
19) JEFF KOONS (American, B. 1955)
Baroque Egg with Bow (Orange/Magenta)
High-chromium stainless steel with transparent color coating
83 ½ x 77 ½ x 60 in. (212.1 x 196.9 x 152.4 cm.)
Executed in 1994-2008. This work is one of five versions, each uniquely colored.
Pre-sale est.: $5,500,000-$6,500,000
Price realized: $6,242,500
CHRISTIE’S, N.Y.: “Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale”
#2480
Nov. 8, 2011
Lot #56

GERHARD RICHTER (German, B. 1932)
Mohre
Signed, dated ‘1984’ and numbered ‘558/2’ on the reverse
Oil on canvas
78 ½ x 63 in. (200 x 160 cm.)
Executed in 1984
Pre-sale est.: $2,500,000-$3,500,000
Price realized: $6,242,500
SOTHEBY’S, N.Y.: “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”
N08791
Nov. 9, 2011
Lot #36


2-WAY TIE
20) FRANCIS BACON (English, 1909-1992)
Elephant Fording a River
Oil on canvas
78 x 54 in. (198 x 137 cm.)
Executed in 1952
Pre-sale est.: $4,000,000-$6,000,000
Price realized: $5,682,500
SOTHEBY’S, N.Y.: “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”
N08791
Nov. 9, 2011
Lot #47

ALEXANDER CALDER (American, 1898-1976)
Trepied
Painted metal
112 ¼ x 118 ¼ x 124 in. (285.1 x 300.4 x 315 cm.)
Executed in 1972
Pre-sale estimate: $5,000,000-$7,000,000
Price realized: $5,682,500
PHILLIPS de PURY & CO.: “Part 1 Contemporary Art”
NY010311
Nov. 7, 2011
Lot #25


21) CY TWOMBLY (American, 1928-2011)
Untitled (Lexington, Virginia)
Oil based house paint, lead pencil and colored pencil on canvas
74 ¼ x 98 in. (188.6 x 248.9 cm.)
Executed in 1959
Pre-sale est.: $5,000,000-$7,000,000
Price realized: $5,234,500
CHRISTIE’S, N.Y.: “Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale
#2480
Nov. 8, 2011
Lot #62


22) ALEXANDER CALDER (American, 1898-1976)
Sumac
Signed with initials and dated ‘CA 61’ (on the largest element)
Hanging mobile—painted sheet metal and wire
51 x 107 x 39 in. (129.5 x 271.8 x 99 cm.)
Executed in 1961
Pre-sale est.: $4,000,000-$6,000,000
Price realized: $4,786,500
CHRISTIE’S, N.Y.: “Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening” Sale
#2480
Nov. 8, 2011
Lot #30
*WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR THE ARTIST FOR A MOBILE


2-WAY TIE
23) DONALD JUDD (American, 1928-1994)
Untitled (DSS 155)
Red fluorescent Plexiglas and stainless steel
33 x 68 x 48 in. (84 x 172.7 x 122 cm.)
Executed in 1968, the form of this object was first used in DSS 128.
Pre-sale est.: $5,000,000-$7,000,000
Price realized: $4,674,500
SOTHEBY’S, N.Y.: “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”
N08791
Nov. 9, 2011
Lot #25

GERHARD RICHTER (German, B. 1932)
Abstraktes Bild
Signed, dated ‘1988’ and numbered ‘679-1’ on the reverse
Oil on canvas
48 x 40 in. (122 x 102 cm.)
Pre-sale est.: $1,800,000-$2,500,000
Price realized: $4,674,500
SOTHEBY’S, N.Y.: “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”
#8791
Nov. 9, 2011
Lot #30


3-WAY TIE 24) ALEXANDER CALDER (American, 1898-1976)
Discos Redondos
Signed on the largest element
Painted metal standing mobile
96 x 196 x 42 in. (243.8 x 497.6 x 106.5 cm.)
Executed in 1955, this work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, N.Y. under application #A01783
Pre-sale est.: $3,000,000-$4,000,000
Price realized: $4,562,500
SOTHEBY’S, N.Y.: “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”
#8791
Nov. 9, 2011
Lot #46

ROY LICHTENSTEIN (American, 1923-1997)
Interior with Painting and Still Life
Signed and dated ‘rf Lichtenstein 97’ (on the reverse)
Oil and mineral spirits acrylic on canvas
63 ½ x 56 in. (161.3 x 142.2 cm.)
Executed in 1997
Pre-sale est.: $3,000,000-$4,000,000
Price realized: $4,562,500
CHRISTIE’S, N.Y.: “Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale”
#2480
Nov. 8, 2011
Lot #55

PAUL McCARTHY (American, B. 1945)
Tomato Head (Green)
Fiberglas, urethane, rubber, metal, plastic, fabric and painted metal base
Height: 86 in. (218.4 cm.)
Installation dimensions variable
Executed in 1994. This work is one of three unique variants
(‘Green’ shirt, ‘Black’ shirt, ‘Burgundy’ shirt).
Pre-sale est.: $1,000,000-$1,500,000
Price realized: $4,562,500
CHRISTIE’S, N.Y.: “Works from T he Peter Norton Collection”
#2638
Nov. 8, 2011
Lot #5
*WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR THE ARTIST


25) FRANCIS BACON (English, 1909-1992)
Study for Portrait
Signed, titled and dated ‘1979’ on the reverse
Oil on canvas
14 x 12 in. (35.6 x 30.6 cm.)
Pre-sale est.: $2,500,000-$3,500,000
Price realized: $4,394,500
SOTHEBY’S, N.Y.: “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”
N08791
Nov. 9, 2011
Lot #43

 

Brian Appel 2009 Webdesign by Lovegrove & Repucci