YVES KLEIN
Archisponge (RE11), 1960
natural sponges, pebbles and dry blue pigment in synthetic resin on panel
78 3/4 by 65 inches
est.: around $25,000,000
realized: $21,362,500
SOTHEBY'S, "Contemporary Art Evening Auction", N08489
Nov. 11, 2008
lot #12
Illustration: SOTHEBY'S IMAGES LTD., 2008

Boom To Gloom:  2008 Fall Contemporary Art Auctions in New York
By Brian Appel


NEW YORK: It’s astonishing how quickly buyers moved from the flash and fame and bidding wars of last season—stoked by the influx of money from emerging economies and the heat of speculation—to the search for some deeper connection and the push for aggressive discounting this fall.

Post-War & Contemporary Art auction house totals in New York—which were edging up to the one billion dollar mark just last spring—have fallen back to 2004-2005 levels or just $331 million at the big three.

The irrecoverable nature of the emotional impact and appeal of last May’s bull art market with artists like Francis Bacon, Richard Prince and Takashi Murakami—who reached price points that had quadrupled since 2003—have vanished into thin air.

All three houses spent the last few weeks before the November sales persuading consigners to lower their expectations (and their secret minimums) in hopes of righting what some have referred to as the ‘old’ prices which were set way back in July and August when the bulk of consignments were committed. And on those works that the auction houses had given a guarantee—an undisclosed sum promised to a seller regardless of a sale’s outcome—they were poised to sell and lose money rather than risk having to sell it later.

Sotheby’s
Last spring’s $470 million evening and day sale totals at Sotheby’s took a precipitous fall to $161 million this November in a meltdown that mirrored other asset class prices.

A regular who’s who of blue-chip artists—with works that some critics have identified as less than stellar—failed to make their bloated minimums.

John Chamberlain, Agnes Martin, Frank Stella, James Rosenquist, Andy Warhol, Lucien Freud, Willem de Kooning, Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami fell victim to the over-heated art market bubble.

Twenty lots out of the 63 offered—including Roy Lichtenstein’s marquee cover lot, “Half Face with Collar” from 1963—failed at the rostrum. It was the house’s worst selling rate (32 percent passed) for an evening auction since the mid-1990s. The sale yielded just $125.1 million.

JOHN CURRIN
Nice N' Easy, 1999
oil on canvas
44 by 34 inches
est.: $3,500,000-$4,500,000
realized: $5,458,500
SOTHEBY'S, "Contemporary Art Evening Auction", N08489
Nov. 11, 2008
lot #4
Illustration: SOTHEBY'S IMAGES LTD., 2008
*WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR THE ARTIST


John Currin’s “Nice ‘N Easy” from 1999, a hyper-realist depiction of Renaissance inspired nudes posed against a black, shallow background and Alexander Calder’s painted metal and wire hanging mobile “Deux Dates” from 1964-1969 were the only works in the evening sale able to topple their pre-sale high estimates.

“Nice ‘N Easy”—the appropriated title from a famous 1960 Frank Sinatra tune about ‘taking your time’ along the smoothly paved road to romance—came with what even the artist thought was a very aggressive estimate of $3.5 million to $4.5 million.

Described by Tobias Meyer, the urbane world-wide head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s and the house’s chief auctioneer, as “… very rare from a famous body of work unobtainable on the market”, the double nude (both female) oil on canvas obliterated the artist’s previous auction record of $850,000 set four years ago of a painting of two men eating pasta. It reached $4.8 million (almost $5.5 million with buyer’s premium) making it the 4th highest lot of the evening.

Best known as the inventor of the mobile and his use of irregular, biomorphic forms, Alexander Calder’s “Deux Dates” could do no wrong. The 43 by 109 by 55 inch painted metal and wire hanging mobile that recalls the influence of Miro, Surrealism and Dada, came with a pre-sale estimate of $1.2 million to $1.8 million. It hammered at $2.2 million ($2.5 million with premium).

Yves Klein, the enfant terrible of the 1960s Paris art scene—whose burnished gold leaf on panel monochrome from last spring set a world-wide record for the artist at $23.6 million—provided the top lot at Sotheby’s this November, as well as the #1 artwork of the entire fall 2008 contemporary art season in New York.

“Archisponge (RE11)”, a rare, ravishingly sensual pebble and pigment in synthetic resin work in the artist’s signature International Klein Blue was the closest one could get to a quasi-metaphysical experience at the auction previews this fall.

To the powdery velvet monochromatic surface, the artist had affixed the textural addition of thirteen natural sponges to create an undulating riot of depth and mood according to the play of light across the sculptural quality of the object. It was as if the work were channeling the strange landscape of a foreign planet or the undulating organic surface of an ocean bed.

Acquired by the owner, Magnus Lindholm, from the legendary New York collector Francois de Menil in 1983, the painting had all the attributes of a first class winner—sheer presence, superb provenance and condition, exceptional quality and rarity with a premier exhibition history.

The painting hammered at a staggering $19 million ($21.4 million with premium) just short of the unpublished $20 million to $25 million pre-sale estimate, but in an economy where people have lost a lot of money and are careful about how they spend it, what’s great still sells.

Jeff Koons—another artist whose prices exploded at the beginning of the century—sold two works at price points below their low minimums but above their secret reserves.

JEFF KOONS
Cheeky, 2000
oil on canvas
108 by 79 1/2 inches
est.: $4,000,000-$6,000,000
realized: $4,002,500
SOTHEBY'S, "Contemporary Art Evening Auction", N08489
Nov. 11, 2008
lot #22
Illustration: SOTHEBY'S IMAGES LTD., 2008


“Cheeky”, (2000), a seductively bizarre oil on canvas incorporating photorealistic perfection, kitsch, and the everyday—from the seminal series “Easy Fun-Ethereal”—garnered $3.5 million at the hammer or $4 million with premium. The pre-sale estimate was $4 million to $6 million.

The nine by six ½ foot work, which references James Rosenquist’s 1960s signature billboard advertising style with its hallucinatory shifts in scale and odd juxtapositions invoking luscious sexuality was a relative bargain for the seasoned collector looking to jump back into the fray after the explosion of prices since 2005.

“Wishing Well”, a neo-Baroque-styled mirror with an over-the-top, asymmetrical gilded wood frame garnered a lot of attention. The colossal tchotchke—from an edition of three plus one AP—came with a $2.5 million minimum. $1.9 million ($2.2 million with buyer’s premium) took it home. Eli Broad, the billionaire philanthropist—on a spending spree after not buying for a handful of seasons—was reported to have landed it.

ANDY WARHOL
Dollar Sign, 1981

acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
90 by 70 inches
est.: $2,500,000-$3,500,000
realized: $2,098,500
SOTHEBY'S, "Contemporary Art Evening Auction", N08489
Nov. 11, 2008
lot #23
Illustration: SOTHEBY'S IMAGES LTD., 2008


Money as subject matter first caught Andy Warhol’s attention in the early 1960s when he began drawing crumpled up bills stuffed into soup cans. In the present work, Warhol returns to the subject he had investigated almost 20 years before shifting his focus from the bill as object, to isolating the symbol denoting “dollars”—the “Dollar Sign”.

In contrast to the earlier work which used as the starting point an appropriated photographic image—whether a publicity still or Warhol’s own Polaroids—the two superimposed, off-registered blue/green silkscreens of the “$” motif are derived from the “originals” of his own Dollar Sign drawings.

By focusing on the unabashed icon of “$”, whose saturated layers of pure color pulsate against the flatness of the blood-orange red of his acrylic undercoat, Warhol hones in on his lifelong fascination with consumerism and the totemic status of one of the most recognizable brand logos in the world.

Executed in 1981, the 90 by 70 inch “Dollar Sign” did not reach its bloated $2.5 million pre-meltdown low estimate, but did ride above the vendor’s secret minimum for a bargain of just over $2 million (buyer’s premium included).

RICHARD PRINCE
Untitled (with de Kooning), 2006
acrylic, crayon,graphite and printed paper collage on paper
30 by 43 1/4 inches
est.: $300,000-$400,000
realized: $338,500
SOTHEBY'S, "Contemporary Art Evening Auction", N08489
Nov. 11, 2008
lot #56
Illustration: SOTHEBY'S IMAGES LTD., 2008
*WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR A WORK ON PAPER


In 1977, Richard Prince’s deceptively simple act of re-photographing advertising images and presenting them as his own ushered in a new, critical approach to making art—one that questioned notions of originality and authorship and called into play the role of mass-cultural imagery created to satisfy the perceived needs of the American consumer.

More recently (2006-2008), Prince’s strategy of borrowing from sub-cultures that have none of the sensibilities of the traditional “high concept” gallery has shifted. The artist has moved from the pulp and pop of commercial imagery to “collaborations” with the dead, non-consenting master of Abstract Expressionism, Mr. Willem de Kooning.

In “Untitled (with de Kooning)”, from 2006, Prince appropriates figures from De Kooning’s canonic “Women” series and montages them with his own flirtatious renderings. Using an inspired bricolage of printed paper collage (from porno magazines) with crayon, graphite and acrylic that seem to exaggerate the appendages of the figures in a style that is a bald rip-off of painting styles from Picasso, Prince re-interprets the Ab-Ex superstar, and to a significant degree succeeds in reinventing himself.

Representing a transgression of boundaries that adds yet another chapter to the hallmark that is Richard Prince’s body of work, “Untitled (with de Kooning)” combines a nude male figure (wearing transparent underwear) cut from a magazine pin-up with the recycled upper torso and head of one of de Kooning’s most famous “Women” drawings of the 1950s. The carefully staged spectacle of confused sexual identity echos the artist’s elaborately constructed shifts in form that simultaneously deconstruct and celebrate his connoisseurship of both “high” modernism and the “low” underbelly of porn.

Prince’s multi-layered hybrid hit $280,000 at the hammer ($338,500 with buyer’s premium), shattering the artist’s previous work on paper record of $181,000.

PHILIP GUSTON
Beggar's Joys, 1954-1955
oil on canvas
71 1/8 by 68 1/8 inches
est.: around $15,000,000
realized: $10,162,500
SOTHEBY'S, "Contemporary Art Evening Auction", N08489
Nov. 11, 2008
lot #30
Illustration: SOTHEBY'S IMAGES LTD., 2008
*WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR THE ARTIST


Philip Guston was in the artistic vanguard at two critical junctures in 20th century American art: the abstract expressionist movement of the late 1940s and 1950s, and the renaissance of figuration in the “New Image” painting of the late 1970s and the early 1980s.

“Beggar’s Joys” from 1954-1955 is a masterwork from his first major innovative transition in which he moved away from the figurative painting of Social Realism of the 1930s toward his unique brand of abstraction in the early 1950s. The lush reds, warm whites and pearly greys enlivened by subtle hints of green and orange project an intensity and energy that encapsulates the best of his work in this, arguably the finest example of his non-objective artistic journey.

The oil on canvas set a $1.6 million world auction record the last time it came to the rostrum at Christie’s in 1996. “Beggar’s Joys” did it again, this season, re-setting the artist’s personal best with a $9 million hammer ($10.2 million with premium).

An unpublished pre-sale estimate in the region of $15 million went unheeded with Sotheby’s losing large on a reported guarantee of around $18 million to the seller, Donald L. Bryant Jr., a New York collector.

San Francisco art advisor Mary Zlot was the reported sole bidder for the work.

ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG
Bantam, 1955
combine painting; oil, paper, printed reproductions, cardboard, fabric and pencil on canvas
11 5/8 by 14 5/8 inches
est.: $3,000,000-$4,000,000
realized: $2,602,500
SOTHEBY'S, "Contemporary Art Evening Auction", N08489
Nov. 11, 2008
lot #39
Illustration: SOTHEBY'S IMAGES LTD., 2008


Robert Rauschenberg is perhaps most famous for his “Combines” of the 1950s, in which non-traditional materials and objects were employed in innovative combinations.

Emerging in the transition from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art, “Bantam” integrates traces of found objects including printed reproductions, oil paint, cardboard, fabric and pencil into assemblages that point a finger towards both art history and the artist’s own autobiographical poem.

Juxtaposing the youthful portrait of Judy Garland taken just a year after one of her greatest performances in the 1954 musical, “A Star is Born”, with a reproduction of an odalisque painting and a team photograph of the 1955 New York Yankees, Rauschenberg exploits the psychological and formal dimensionality of collage while tapping into the narrative theme of identity and gender.

With a $3 million to $4 million pre-sale estimate, Eli Broad was reported to snap up “Bantam” at the discounted price of $2 ¼ million or $2.6 million with premium.

CECILY BROWN
Kiss Me Stupid, 1999
oil on canvas
60 by 75 inches
est.: $800,000-$1,000,000
realized: $842,500
SOTHEBY'S, "Contemporary Art Evening Auction", N08489
Nov. 11, 2008
lot #57
Illustration: SOTHEBY'S IMAGES LTD., 2008


Cecily Brown’s vigorous and tactile oil paintings evoke the breath of human experience, particularly the emotions associated with touch, pleasure and passion.

“Kiss Me Stupid”, a bravura 5 foot by 6 ¼ foot large–scale work, with abstract and figurative elements cohabiting in a roiling sea of paint, has some critics gushing that she had reclaimed stale, male, old-guard Abstract-Expressionism for women.

The virtuosic canvas equates love making with the touchable act of painting, but the strokes, tweaks and scrapes of paint are often more engrossing than the images themselves.

“Kiss Me Stupid” hammered at $700,000, a full $100,000 short of the low pre-sale estimate. With buyer’s premium, Brown’s erotically charged oil on canvas reached $842,500.

ANDY WARHOL
Camouflage, 1986
synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on canvas
116 by 420 inches
est.: $3,000,000-$5,000,000
realized: $2,658,500
SOTHEBY'S, "Contemporary Art Evening Auction", N08489
Nov. 11, 2008
lot #52
Illustration: SOTHEBY'S IMAGES LTD., 2008


When we think of Andy Warhol we immediately think of images appropriated from the tabloid front pages: celebrity headshots, American consumer culture, or pictures of death and disaster. But Andy was simultaneously preoccupied in a career-long quest to come up with an abstract art that would make the “..anti-pop mandarins of the New York art world” look at his work in a more favorable light.

Despite the camouflage motif’s unavoidable associations with militarism and aggression, or because of it—we shouldn’t forget the cold war was still being fought with the break down of talks between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev—the “Camouflage” offered as lot #52 is a powerfully elegiac painting.

Warhol screened off and photographed a 40 inch by 40 inch section of four-color camouflage netting purchased at an army-navy store and began a meticulous creation of masking overlays so that each color-form of the camouflage motif could be isolated for photography and the production of silk screens.

Canvases ranging in size from nine inches by nine inches up to the present work at nine and a half foot by thirty-five foot were purchased pre-primed and then brush painted in acrylic with the ground Warhol specified. The paintings were then sent to Rupert Smith’s silk screening studios with Warhol typically giving advance instructions and then discussing in-progress details mostly by telephone.

Warhol’s obsession with perpetuating the notion that everything he did was machine-made was in fact a ruse. The artist made sure that every painting from the smallest (where a detail of the larger canvas produced ‘Arp-like’ exaggerations) to the largest (where Warhol is suggesting that the image continues ad infinitum by implication) was in fact ‘unique’.

Ubber-Warhol collector Jose Mugrabi is said to have made the $2.3 million bargain basement purchase—$2.7 million with the premium. One of the last of the artist’s late great paintings, “Camouflage” came with a $3 million to $5 million pre-sale estimate.

At the Sotheby’s day sale, 223 out of the 421 lots offered were sold for a total of $35.8 million. Only three lots broke seven figures as compared to 34 at the evening auction. Per lot averages at the day sale totaled $161,000. The previous evening’s per lot average hit $2.9 million.

Gerhard Richter, Andy Warhol, and Edward Ruscha were the top performers in the morning with Jean-Michel Basquiat, Zhang Xiaogang and Damien Hirst in the afternoon.

Christie’s
Bargain hunting and steep declines at Sotheby’s were mirrored at Christie’s—their $414 million combined evening and day sales total from just last spring shrank to $153 million this November. 52% of the evening sale’s lots sold below their pre-sale estimate minimums and almost a third of the lots passed without finding buyers. Contributing to the deflation of prices was the scarcity of the newly minted rich from Asia, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union where appetites for snapping up seven and eight figure art in seasons past has vanished.

YAYOI KUSAMA
No. 2, 1959
oil on canvas
71 3/4 by 108 inches
est.: $2,500,000-$3,500,000
realized: $5,794,500
CHRISTIE'S, "Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale", #2048
Nov. 12, 2008
lot #20
Illustration: CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD., 2008
*WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR THE ARTIST


One of the evening’s brightest moments came when Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama’s shimmering 6 by 12 ½ foot oil on canvas, “No. 2” hit the rostrum.

An extremely rare to market painting of pure white and gold tones, the work encapsulates the seed of Kusama’s signature style while anticipating crucial elements of the influential Minimalist movement—the 1959 painting was once owned by friend and supporter Donald Judd.

The work created an almost irrational exuberance when it brought two seasoned New York players into a bidding war for the meditative work. Wall Street trader-turned-art dealer Robert Mnuchin, a principle from L&M Arts and mega-art advisor/dealer Philippe Segalot from GPS Partners pushed the bidding well past its $3.5 million high pre-sale estimate to its $5.1 million hammer ($5.8 million with premium). Segalot was the last man standing.

“No. 2” was one of only six lots (15.7%) to bring prices that exceeded their pre-sale high estimates: Tom Wesselmann’s “Study for Great American Nude #20” (a new world auction record for the artist for a work on paper cherry-picked by New York dealer/collector Jose Mugrabi), Gerhard Richter’s “Abstraktes Bild” (the top lot of the evening sale), Joseph Cornell’s “Pharmacy” (a new world auction record for the artist), Alexander Calder’s mobile “Ostrich” and Agnes Martin’s “Untitled” (a new world auction record for a work on paper by the artist) brought prices that surprised even Christie’s executives.

“No. 2’s” success at the block not only shattered Kusama’s previous world auction record of $1.6 million, the Christie’s sale propelled her past Louise Bourgeois into the #2 spot for living female artist in the world.  The #1 spot is still held by Marlene Dumas whose "The Visitor", a 1995 oil on canvas, sold in London at Sotheby's on July 1st, 2008 for $6.3 million.

GERHARD RICHTER
Abstraktes Bild (710), 1989
oil on canvas
102 1/2 by 78 3/4 inches
est.: around $10,000,000
realized: $14,866,500
CHRISTIE'S, "Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale", #2048
Nov. 12, 2008
lot #9
Illustration: CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD., 2008

 

The #1 lot of the evening, Gerhard Richter’s soaring, swirling, kaleidoscope of color, “Abstraktes Bild (710)” could arguably be seen as the personification of the genre of contemporary abstract painting. Grounded on an investigation of figure-ground oppositions and relations, Richter’s oeuvre is an essay on pure process, distilled and honed, portraying a reality which we can neither see nor describe but which we may nevertheless conclude exists.

Richter, quoting the composer John Cage, has said, “I have nothing to say and I am saying it.”

The present work from 1989, an almost iridescent, 8 ½ foot by 6 ½ foot canvas with blue oil paint smeared over a palimpsestic range of marbled hues was fought over by three bidders. One of the few lots to receive spontaneous applause at the hammer, its $14.9 million take home handily beat its unpublished pre-sale estimate of $10 million to $13 million. Works of similar scale, quality, and highly planned kind of spontaneity were selling in the region of $3 million to $4 million just five years ago.

RICHARD PRINCE
Lake Resort Nurse, 2003
ink-jet print and acrylic on canvas
70 by 48 inches
est.: $5,000,000-$7,000,000
realized: $3,330,500
CHRISTIE'S, "Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale", #2048
Nov. 12, 2008
lot #10
Illustration: CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD., 2008


Richard Prince’s “nurse” paintings have garnered a tremendous amount of attention since 2005 when “A Nurse Involved”—executed by the artist in 2002—broke the one million dollar mark at Phillips de Pury & Co.’s spring contemporary art auction in New York. Selling for $100,000 just three years prior at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York, the ink-jet print and acrylic on canvas became the poster child for the surge in prices of contemporary art in the handful of years leading up to the art market’s peak last summer.

Just sixteen months later, in November of 2006, Prince’s “Tender Nurse”, (2002), sold for $2.3 million (also at Phillips de Pury & Co.) in New York. One year after that, almost to the day, “Piney Woods Nurse”, (2002), broke out with a $6.1 million payday at Christie’s in Rockefeller Plaza. “Man-Crazy Nurse #2”, (2002), followed in the spring of 2008 at the Plaza again with a $7.4 million payday. The peak reached its summit on July 1st when “Overseas Nurse” hit $8.5 million in London just before the financial markets and the real estate bubble began to implode and the line of willing buyers to overpay evaporated.

As the fall of 2008 came to a close, Prince’s “nurse” paintings came back down from heaven to price levels attained in 2007; “Everglade Nurse”, (2003), sold for $3.4 million at Sotheby’s, N.Y. on the 11th of November and “Lake Resort Nurse”, (2003), purchased by Giancarlo Giametti—Valentino’s business partner—hit $3.3 million at the Rock on the 12th.

Both buyers this season got great half-off deals; “Everglade Nurse” at Sotheby’s had a $4 million to $6 million presale estimate and “Lake Resort Nurse” had Christie’s place it in the $5 million to $7 million ballpark.

Prince’s melding of the flotsam and jetsam of our modern, media-saturated age—in this case the fetishised and sexualized exploits of nurses from the covers of pulp fiction paperbacks with the flickering touches and visual language of the conspicuously gestural style of the Abstract Expressionists—certainly represents a post-war triumph.

ARSHILE GORKY
Study for Agony 1, 1946-1947
graphite, crayon and ink wash on paper
22 by 30 inches
est.: $2,200,000-$2,800,000
realized: $2,210,500
CHRISTIE'S, "Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale", #2048
Nov. 12, 2008
lot #46
Illustration: CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD., 2008


MoMA trustee Kathleen Fuld and her husband, Richard S. Fuld Jr., the disgraced former chairman and chief executive of the failed investment bank Lehman Brothers, quietly consigned 16 abstract and minimalist examples from the mid-century New York School into the evening sale.

The works were purchased in the glory days of the investment house before the financial markets burst and Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Christie’s had reportedly offered the Fulds a $15 million to $20 million guarantee—an undisclosed sum promised to a seller regardless of a sale’s outcome—in the hopes of attracting old-time collectors who had bowed out of the market when it became overheated.

Much lower in price than paintings by these modern masters, they are recognized by the art cognoscenti as seminal images of the highest quality that only occasionally come to the market.

Arshile Gorky’s graphite, crayon and ink wash on paper “Study for Agony I”, was among the best.

Executed a year before the artist’s suicide in 1948 (when he was only 44), the work’s mysterious ability of a line “… to perform as both a mark, a register of impulse, and as a contour that animates them” provides the viewer with a dashing show of confidence that belies the artist’s truly overwhelming circumstances at the end of his life.

Purchased by Mrs. Fuld in November of 1996 at Christie’s, N.Y. for $370,000, the 22 by 30 inch work on paper came with a $2.2 million to $2.8 million pre-sale estimate. It brought $1.9 million at the hammer ($2.2 million with premium).

The pre-sale low estimates on all 16 works on paper—including four works from Agnes Martin, five from Barnett Newman, three from Willem de Kooning and four from Gorky—was set at $14.8 million. With buyer’s premium included, the sale realized a total of $13.6 million.

AGNES MARTIN
Untitled #1, 1989
acrylic and graphite on canvas
72 by 72 inches
est.: $2,500,000-$3,500,000
realized: $1,762,500
CHRISTIE'S, "Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale", #2048
Nov. 12, 2008
lot #13
Illustration: CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD., 2008


Developing out of the age of Abstract Expressionism and also reflecting the ideals of Minimalism, Agnes Martin defies discrete categorization with her delicate and cool canvases.

“Untitled #1”, (1989), a sublimely subtle acrylic and graphite on canvas work—executed on her trademark large, square canvases of lines and grids—came with an aggressive $2.5 million to $3.5 million pre-sale estimate that reflected the high water mark of her best work from the mid-sixties.

One of the first canvases to bring to the fore her radically simplified compositions, “The Desert” (1965) sold at Christie’s in the spring of 2007 for $4.7 million, establishing the artist’s world auction record and set an unrealistically high yardstick for works to follow.

“Untitled #1” hammered at a very respectable $1.5 million ($1.8 million with premium), $1 million below its low estimate but close to levels established on numerous occasions in 2006 and 2005.

With Martin, like most blue-chip artists in the fall of 2008, a new reference point—a more realistic price touchstone—will be configured as we move ahead to next season.

JEFF KOONS
Buster Keaton, 1988
polychromed wood (Artist Proof outside of an edition of three)
66 by 51 by 27 inches
est.: $5,000,000-$7,000,000
realized: $4,338,500
Christie's, "Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale", #2048
Nov. 12, 2008
lot #68
Illustration: CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD., 2008


In 1988, Jeff Koons’ innovative and powerful “Banality” series breathed new life into the concept of the readymade. Like Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol before him, Koons based these sculptures on mass-produced goods that exist in the everyday world. Unlike his predecessors however, Koons replicated objects that already functioned as art for countless middle-class Americans.

“Buster Keaton” a 5 ½ foot high polychromed wood monument of the pioneering silent film comedian posing comically, saluting nobly, astride a miniature horse, draws inspiration (as all of the works in “Banality”) from the painted wooden and porcelain knick-knacks that are sold in every shopping center and tourist trap throughout America.

Brilliantly blurring the boundary between valuable sculpture and cheap kitsch, Koons challenges the arbitrary distinctions that create such categories, asking why one type of object may be a sign of prestige, and the other a source of potential embarrassment.

The 1988 sculpture—from an edition of three with one artist’s proof—sold for $3.8 million at the hammer ($4.4 million with premium), $1.2 million below its pre-sale low estimate but $1.6 million more than the last time it found its way to the gavel in New York at Phillips de Pury & Co. in May of 2006.

At that time, it sold for $2.7 million (including premium), seven times its 1999 price of $409,500 established at Christie’s in New York.

JOSEPH CORNELL
Pharmacy, 1943
wood box construction--printed paper, colored sand, colored foil, sulfur, feathers, seashells, butterfly, aluminum foil, wood shavings, copper wire, fruit pits, water, gold paint, cork, dried leaves and found objects
15 14 by 12 by 3 1/8 inches
est.: $1,500,0000-$2,000,000
realized: $3,778,500
CHRISTIE'S, "Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale", #2048
Nov. 12, 2008
lot #18
Illustration: CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD., 2008
*WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR THE ARTIST


Joseph Cornell’s “Pharmacy”, a rare and historically important cabinet sculpture purchased originally by famed dealer Pierre Matisse (son of Henri), easily surpassed its high pre-sale estimate of $2 million landing at a robust $3.3 million—$3.8 million with premium. It established a new world auction record for the artist.

The 1943 sculpture found its way into the collection of Alexina (Teeny) Duchamp following her divorce with Marcel Duchamp.

Containing poetically juxtaposed shells, seeds, butterfly wings and powders alongside swizzle sticks, marbles and printed images in 20 vials, the work calls attention to the everyday of contemporary existence with an atmosphere of longing, of nostalgia, perhaps even of loss.

The cabinet could also be looked upon as containing some form of healing materials, a notion the title emphasizes. Some have suggested that Cornell’s “Pharmacy” was clearly a predecessor for Damien Hirst’s room-sized installation representing a ‘real’ pharmacy complete with cabinets containing packages of prescription drugs.

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT
Untitled (Boxer), 1982
acrylic and oil paintstick on linen
76 by 94 inches
est.: $12,000,000-$16,000,000
realized: $13,522,500
CHRISTIE'S, "Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale", #2048
Nov. 12, 2008
lot #19
Illustration: CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD., 2008


Landing in second place—between Christie’s most expensive artwork, Gerhard Richter’s “Abstraktes Bild (710)” and Yayoi Kusama’s “No. 2”—a master work by the then twenty-two year old Jean-Michel Basquiat, “Untitled (Boxer)”, fetched $13.5 million.

Matching the work’s unpublished pre-sale low estimate, the painting, with its dense, muscular strokes of black, red and blue, laid over an activated ground of cream, gold, green and orange, managed to come within a million dollars of the artist’s world wide auction record set at Sotheby’s on May 15th, 2007.

Executed in 1982, at the height of Basquiat’s creative development and fame, the acrylic and oil paintstick on linen combines the raw primitivism of urban graffiti with the formal components of classical portraiture.

Consigned by Metallica co-founder and drummer Lars Ulrich, “Untitled (Boxer)” features an exhilarating depiction of a black heavy-weight pugilist seen by some as the metaphorical self-portrait of Basquiat as both triumphant fighter and crucified victim.

Blurring autobiography with references to popular culture and black history, the work represents the artist at his most ambitious.

Billed as a highlight of Christie’s contemporary art auction in New York, Francis Bacon’s “Study for Self-Portrait” from 1964 was estimated to take in around $45 million. One of only four full figure studies made by the artist in the 1950s and 1960s, the 60 by 55 inch oil on canvas tour-de-force failed to find a buyer.

The painting’s startling facial convolutions—one of the artist’s most important signatures—couldn’t breath any energy in the room and when the hammer fell at the $27 million mark with the word “pass”, a chorus of gasps was heard as the bubble of the post-war art market burst.

Just last May, a monumental Bacon triptych from 1976 went under the hammer in New York at Sotheby’s gobbling up $86.2 million—a record not only for the British painter but for the contemporary art market as well—it was expected that the self-portrait would do similarly well.

The Bacon buy-in was the 800-pound gorilla in the room and cued the end to the huge expansion in the contemporary art market in New York.

The evening sale total of $113.6 million was supplemented by a $39.1 million infusion of cash at the Christie’s day sale. Only 226 out of the 373 lots offered or about 62% were sold. Per lot averages at the day sale totaled $170,000 as compared to the evening’s $2.2 million.

Willem de Kooning, Robert Indiana and Wayne Thiebaud were the top performers in the $25.4 million morning session with Damien Hirst, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Sherrie Levine in the $13.7 million afternoon.

Phillips de Pury & Co.
The stunning fall-off affecting both Sotheby’s and Christie’s this season left no auction house immune—Phillips de Pury & Co. may have taken the greatest hit from the overall worsening economy.

Totals for the combined evening and day sales plummeted to pre-2004 levels from $70,892,400 last spring to a crushing $17,201,625 this fall. Only 59% of the house’s evening lots found buyers compared to approximately 68% at both Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

DONALD JUDD
Untitled (77/23-Bernstein), 1977
stainless steel and blue Plexiglas in 10 parts
each: 114 by 27 by 24 inches
est.: $4,000,000-$6,000,000
realized: $3,218,500
PHILLIPS de PURY & CO., "Part 1-Contemporary Art", NY010508
Nov. 13, 2008
lot #15
Illustration: PHILLIPS de PURY & CO. IMAGES LTD., 2008


Donald Judd’s “Untitled (77-23 Bernstein)”, from 1977, a stunningly beautiful “stack” sculpture of ten identical stainless steel and blue Plexiglas boxes was the evening’s star. The only artwork to sell for seven figures, the work drew a $2.8 million hammer ($3.2 million with buyer’s premium).

“(77-23 Bernstein)” refers to the fabrication purchase order issued by Judd and identifies the fabricator, Bernstein Bros. The first number references the year the order was placed; the second tracks the number of orders placed that year. “Untitled (77-23 Bernstein)” was ordered in 1977, and it was the 23rd order placed that year.

The cool, minimalist boxes seem to magically glow from within as if the light source was internal. The inward ethereal and radiant quality contrasts with the outwardly strict and austere box shapes. Pre-sale estimates were aggressive: $4 million-$6 million.

ANISH KAPOOR
Untitled (Mirror), 2003
stainless steel
49 1/2 by 34 by 10 5/8 inches
est.: $500,000-$700,000
realized: $782,500
PHILLIPS de PURY & CO., "Part 1-Contemporary Art", NY010508
Nov. 13, 2008
lot #14
Illustration: PHILLIPS de PURY & CO. IMAGES LTD., 2008


Anish Kapoor’s bright blue lozenge-shaped “Untitled (Mirror)”, from 2003 cooked up some heated interest. It was one of the few works which sold within their pre-sale estimates.

Stylistically an exercise in understatement, Kapoor’s “Mirror” is a prime example of his signature concerns which are near-universally recognizable for their saturated and organic colors and sensually refined surfaces.

The artist’s work, which plays with the viewer’s sense of space, time and physical reality was operating fully at the sale: it attracted a final bid of $782,500 with a pre-sale estimate of $500,000-$700,000.

The Phillips day sale had an optimistic low/high estimate of $12.2 million to $17.2 million. Final sales including the house’s buyer’s premium was a much more modest $7.6 million.

Of the 349 lots offered, 183 lots or 52.4% sold. Per lot averages were $41,500. The previous evening’s average hit $320,000.

Re-cap
Leslie Prouty, Senior VP Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s is quoted as saying that for a long time it’s been a matter of getting buyers to meet sellers expectations and that’s one kind of market. “This is a different kind of market— of getting sellers on the same plane with buyers’ expectations—because you always want to get those two elements thinking the same thing”.

Tobias Meyer’s comment on the house’s post sale podcast: “Despite a worsening economic climate, if the right object comes to market there is an enormous amount of cash around to buy that object. But it has to be rare, it has to be great, and it has to be fresh.”
 

 

PLEASE NOTE:
THANK YOU to www.artnet.com for extending their Price Database to track previous prices on some of the works of art referenced in this article.

RESERVES and BUY-INS: All lots from all sales are offered subject to a reserve, which is the confidential minimum price below which the lot will not be sold. The reserve cannot exceed the low estimate printed in the catalogue. If the auctioneer decides that any bid is below the reserve of the article offered, he may invent bids up to the reserve, after which he has to find a real bidder. The auctioneer may reject the same and withdraw the article from sale if the highest bid is below the reserve of the article offered. The withdrawal is accompanied by the sound of the gavel 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. Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips de Pury & Co. charge a premium to the buyer on the final bid price of each lot sold. The buyer’s premium is 25% of the hammer price up to and including $50,000, 20% of any amount in excess of $50,000 up to and including $1,000,000, and 12% of any amount in excess of $1,000,000. Prices in the “TOP 25” below include the buyer’s premium. Estimates do not reflect 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.

 


Top 25
Contemporary Art - Fall / New York / 2008

1) YVES KLEIN
Archisponge (RE11), 1960
natural sponges, pebbles and dry blue pigment in synthetic resin on panel
78 ¾ by 65 in.
pre-sale est.: around $25,000,000
realized: $21,362,500
SOTHEBY’S, “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”, N08489, Nov. 11, 2008
Lot #12

2) GERHARD RICHTER
Abstraktes Bild (710), 1989
oil on canvas
102 ½ by 78 ¾ in.
pre-sale est.: around $10,000,000
realized: $14,866,500
CHRISTIE’S, “Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale”, #2048, Nov. 12, 2008
Lot #9

3) JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT
Untitled (Boxer), 1982
acrylic and oil paint stick on linen
76 by 94 in.
pre-sale est.: $12,000,000-$16,000,000
realized: $13,522,500
CHRISTIE’S, “Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale”, #2048, Nov. 12, 2008
Lot #19

4) PHILIP GUSTON
Beggar’s Joys, 1954-1955
oil on canvas, 71 1/8 by 68 1/8 in.
pre-sale est.: around $15,000,000
realized: $10,162,500
SOTHEBY’S, “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”, N08489, Nov. 11, 2008
Lot #30
WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR THE ARTIST

5) ROY LICHTENSTEIN
Interior with Red Wall, 1991
oil and magna on canvas
118 by 134 in.
pre-sale est.: $8,000,000-$10,000,000
realized: $7,026,500
SOTHEBY’S, “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”, N08489, Nov. 11, 2008
Lot #47

6) YAYOI KUSAMA
No. 2, 1959
oil on canvas
71 ¾ by 108 in.
pre-sale est.: $2,500,000-$3,500,000
realized: $5,794,500
CHRISTIE’S, “Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale”, #2048, Nov. 12, 2008
Lot #20
WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR THE ARTIST

7) JOHN CURRIN
Nice ‘N Easy, 1999
oil on canvas
44 by 34 in.
pre-sale est.: $3,500,000-$4,500,000
realized: $5,458,500
SOTHEBY’S, “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”, N08489, Nov. 11, 2008
Lot #4
WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR THE ARTIST

8) RICHARD DIEBENKORN
Ocean Park No. 44, 1971
oil on canvas
100 by 81 in.
pre-sale est.: $6,000,000-$8,000,000
realized: $5,234,000
SOTHEBY’S, “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”, N08489, Nov. 11, 2008
Lot #28

9) FRANZ KLINE
Mars Black + White, 1959
oil on canvas
82 by 55 in.
pre-sale est.: $4,000,000-$6,000,000
realized: $5,122,500
CHRISTIE’S, “Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale”, #2048, Nov. 12, 2008
Lot #37

10) CY TWOMBLY
Untitled (A Painting in Two Parts) (Bassano in Teverina), 1986
Top Panel: oil and wax crayon on canvas, 47 ½ by 39 ½ in.
Bottom Panel: oil on canvas, 15 ¾ by 19 ¾ in.
pre-sale est.: $4,000,000-$6,000,000
realized: $4,786,500
SOTHEBY’S, “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”, N08489, Nov. 11, 2008
Lot #11

11) WILLEM de KOONING
Untitled V1, 1985
oil on canvas
77 by 88 in.
pre-sale est.: $5,000,000-$7,000,000
realized: $4,562,500
SOTHEBY’S, “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”, N08489, Nov. 11, 2008
Lot #35

12) JEFF KOONS
Buster Keaton, 1988
polychromed wood
66 by 51 by 27 in.
pre-sale est.: $5,000,000-$7,000,000
realized: $4,338,500
CHRISTIE’S, “Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale”, #2048, Nov. 12, 2008
Lot #68

13) MARK ROTHKO
Untitled (Red/Black), 1958
oil on paper mounted on canvas
29 by 22 in.
pre-sale est.: $4,000,000-$6,000,000
realized: $4,170,500
SOTHEBY’S, “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”, N08489, Nov. 11, 2008
Lot #33

14) TOM WESSELMANN
Great American Nude #21, 1961
oil and collage on board
60 by 48 in.
pre-sale est.; $6,000,000-$8,000,000
realized: $4,114,500
SOTHEBY’S, “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”, N08489, Nov. 11, 2008
Lot #19

15) JEFF KOONS
Cheeky, 2000
oil on canvas
108 by 79 ½ in.
pre-sale est.: $4,000,000-$6,000,000
realized: $4,002,500
SOTHEBY’S, “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”, N08489, Nov. 11, 2008
Lot #22

16) ROY LICHTENSTEIN
Study for New York State Mural (Town and Country), 1968
oil and magna on canvas
82 ½ by 58 ½ in.
pre-sale est.: $4,000,000-$6,000,000
realized: $3,890,500
SOTHEBY’S, “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”, N08489, Nov. 11, 2008
Lot #9

17) MARK ROTHKO
Composition, 1958
oil on paper laid down on board
29 ¾ by 22 ½ in.
pre-sale est.: $4,000,000-$6,000,000
realized: $3,666,500
CHRISTIE’S, “Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale”, #2048, Nov. 12, 2008
Lot #3
WORLD AUCTION RECORD FOR A WORK ON PAPER

3-WAY TIE
18) LOUISE BOURGEOIS
Clamart, 1968
marble and wood
47 by 29 by 30 in.
pre-sale est.: $3,500,000-$4,500,000
realized: $3,442,500
SOTHEBY’S, “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”, N08489, Nov. 11, 2008
Lot #34

18) TAKASHI MURAKAMI
Dob in the Strange Forest (Red Dob), 1999
fiber-reinforced plastic, resin, fiberglass, acrylic and iron
60 by 120 by 120 in.
pre-sale est.: $5,000,000-$7,000,000
realized: $3,442,500
CHRISTIE’S, “Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale”, #2048, Nov. 12, 2008
Lot #7

18) RICHARD PRINCE
Everglade Nurse, 2003
ink-jet print and acrylic on canvas
64 by 42 in.
pre-sale est.: $4,000,000-$6,000,000
realized: $3,442,500
SOTHEBY’S, “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”, N08489, Nov. 11, 2008
Lot #24

2-WAY TIE
19) LOUISE BOURGEOIS
Foret (Night Garden), 1953
painted wood
37 by 18 7/8 by 14 ¾ in.
pre-sale est.: $3,000,000-$4,000,000
realized: $3,330,500
SOTHEBY’S, “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”, N08489, Nov. 11, 2008
Lot #31

19) RICHARD PRINCE
Lake Resort Nurse, 2003
ink-jet print and acrylic on canvas
70 by 48 in.
pre-sale est.: $5,000,000-$7,000,000
realized: $3,330,500
CHRISTIE’S, “Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale”, #2048, Nov. 12, 2008
Lot #10

2-WAY TIE
20) DONALD JUDD
Untitled (77/23-Bernstein), 1977
stainless steel and blue Plexiglas in 10 parts
each: 6 by 27 by 24 in.
pre-sale est.: $4,000,000-$6,000,000
realized: $3,218,500
PHILLIPS de PURY & CO., “Contemporary Art – Part 1”, #NY010508, Nov. 13, 2008
Lot #15

20) TOM WESSELMANN
Bedroom Painting #37, 1977
oil on canvas
70 by 68 in.
pre-sale est.: $2,800,000-$3,500,000
realized: $3,218,500
CHRISTIE’S, “Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale”, #2048, Nov. 12, 2008
Lot #29

21) BARNETT NEWMAN
Untitled, 1946
ink on paper
24 by 18 in.
pre-sale est.: $2,000,000-$3,000,000
realized: $2,994,500
CHRISTIE’S, “Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale”, #2048, Nov. 12, 2008
Lot #51

22) WILLEM de KOONING
Woman, 1951
graphite, charcoal, pastel and oil on paper
21 ½ by 16 ½ in.
pre-sale est.: $3,000,000-$4,000,000
realized: $2,770,500
CHRISTIE’S, “Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale”, #2048, Nov. 12, 2008
Lot #49

3-WAY TIE
23) ROY LICHTENSTEIN
Self-Portrait, 1976
oil and magna on canvas
42 by 36 in.
pre-sale est.: $3,000,000-$4,000,000
realized: $2,658,500
CHRISTIE’S, “Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale”, #2048, Nov. 12, 2008
Lot #4

23) ROBERT MOTHERWELL
Elegy to the Spanish Republic (Basque Elegy), 1967
oil on canvas
82 ¼ by 138 in.
pre-sale est.: $2,500,000-$3,500,000;
realized: $2,658,500
CHRISTIE’S, “Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale”, #2048, Nov. 12, 2008
Lot #39

23) ANDY WARHOL
Camouflage, 1986
synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on canvas
116 by 420 in.
pre-sale est.: $3,000,000-$5,000,000
realized: $2,658,500
SOTHEBY’S, “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”, N08489, Nov. 11, 2008
Lot #52

24) ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG
Bantam, (Combine Painting), 1955
oil, paper, printed reproductions, cardboard, fabric and pencil on canvas
11 5/8 by 14 5/8 in.
pre-sale est.: $3,000,000-$4,000,000
realized: $2,602,500
SOTHEBY’S, “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”, N08489, Nov. 11, 2008,
lot #39

25) ALEXANDER CALDER
Deux Dates, 1964-1969
painted metal and wire hanging mobile
43 by 109 by 55 in.
pre-sale est.: $1,200,000-$1,800,000
realized: $2,490,500
SOTHEBY’S, “Contemporary Art Evening Auction”, N08489, Nov. 11, 2008,
lot #15


Post-War & Contemporary Art Totals In New York

Fall 2004 through Fall 2008 [evening & day sales combined]


Fall 2008: $330,886,275

Christie’s / $152,712,050
Sotheby’s / $160,972,600
Phillips de Pury & Co. / $17,201,625


Spring 2008: $954,712,125

Christie’s / $414,011,950
Sotheby’s / $469,807,775
Phillips de Pury & Co. / $70,892,400


Fall 2007: $895,673,750

Christie’s / $418,078,650
Sotheby’s / $418,317,000
Phillips de Pury & Co. / $59,278,100


Spring 2007: $870,609,080

Christie’s / $477,751,600
Sotheby’s / $344,572,000
Phillips de Pury & Co. / $48,285,480


Fall 2006: $536,613,180

Christie’s / $315,994,000
Sotheby’s / $179,424,000
Phillips de Pury & Co. $41,195,180


Spring 2006: $432,080,560

Christie’s / $205,784,440
Sotheby’s / $185,100,200
Phillips de Pury & Co. / $41,195,920


Fall 2005: $396,037,040

Christie’s / $212,091,200
Sotheby’s / $141,597,000
Phillips de Pury & Co. / $42,348,840


Spring 2005: $300,187,160

Christie’s / $170,955,400
Sotheby’s / $94,024,400
Phillips de Pury & Co. / $35,207,360


Fall 2004: $278,199,100

Christie’s / $124,728,240
Sotheby’s / $121,063,100
Phillips de Pury & Co. / $32,407,760


Top 15 Artists
[Fall 2008 / Evening Post-War & Contemporary Sales]

1) Yves Klein
2) Gerhard Richter
3) Jean-Michel Basquiat
4) Roy Lichtenstein
5) Andy Warhol
6) Willem de Kooning
7) Tom Wesselman
8) Philip Guston
9) Jeff Koons
10) Louise Bourgeois
11) Alexander Calder
12) Richard Prince
13) Richard Diebenkorn
14) Mark Rothko
15) Donald Judd

 

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