By Michele Leight
This review has been delayed because I have tried unsuccessfully to petition my editor to leave out the prices and grand totals achieved for three prestigious contemporary art auctions that took place last week. These are tough times for many people, and seeing prices like this might make them resentful. He said "no, I am sticking to the style of reporting I have always had." Eventually, I agreed, because I too believe in telling the truth, no matter what. The press are free to report the truth here, without reprisals. Therefore the press are honor bound to share information honestly. All the auction houses have been totally transparent about the results of these sales. That means they want to share the information with the public.
For me art is priceless, If a work of an artist sells for a huge price, most often it is a seminal work by the artist - and important. Great. I want as many works of art as possible to go to museums or galleries - because then I know for sure I will get to see them again. There is nothing more saddening that thinking of a wonderful work of art languishing in a vault, shut off from the world, and us. That is not why they were created.
Some of the greatest artists in the world never knew success in their life time - like Van Gogh. For him it was all about making art. He was willing to starve to make art, as many artists still do today. but look at the crowds that gather around "The Starry Night" at the Museum of Modern Art today! Van Gogh has achieved rock star art status. He did not get to see this, and he could never have imagined that his work could be so valued that it fetched (whatever price it did) when he made that beautiful painting. Van Gogh had his brother Theo to support him, or we would not be so fortunate to see his art at all, Artists need to sell their work to survive, and to gain exposure, and auction houses provide a venue to view art, purchase it and sell it, All this is lifeblood for the artis. If you are interested, you will find that most auction houses are totally accessible if you should ever want to view works of art in their pre-sale exhibitions. Just visit their web sites for dates and times. They are user friendly. Do not be intimidated by fancy lobbies and staggering prices achieved for works of art you read about in the papers or on internet sites like this - but we must report it. We are the press. It is a compliment to a work of art if it sells for a great price, especially if it sells to a museum, gallery, foundation or collection that will share it. The greatest collections in the world have been accumulated by extremely wealthy people who have given all or part of it away, or housed it in their own museums for the public to enjoy. They bequeath and loan art to museums, Read the names of the little plaques beside the works of art you love most in a museum or gallery or a reproduction that you see in a book. Patronage of the arts has sustained artists since art began, It helps drive the machine that makes the arts flourish so that we get to see it. That is their goal. Corporate and business sponsorship of the arts have made the finest exhibitions possible. Make sure you remember that.
Andy Warhol believed that art is for everyone, and no one would laugh more loudly at the prices his works fetch at auction today than he would. But buyers have their rights too, and if they want to keep bidding against each other (some say like jackasses - "Jackass" is a fun movie) for a work of art they love, or that they think is important, this land of freedom allows them to do that. It is far better than spending it on other things that are far less important. And, many people that bid on these works of art and attain them do amazing philanthropic work as well as spend a lot on works of art for themselves. The art entitles them to buy what brings them joy. Art brings them joy.. Many people benefit from the spending power of the rich. They create businesses and jobs. And, the auction houses host many charitable events that do untold good for people that have no voice and no chance of ever seeing works of art like this. They sometimes waive their fees. Artists donate works, auctions houses and galleries provide a venue to see them and sell them, and sales teams and the auctioneers often give their time free. It is incredible how many worthy causes benefit from this team effort. I am enormously grateful to them.
Lot 85, "Self Portrait," by Andy Warhol, illustrated below, has an estimate of $2,800,000 to $3,800,000. It sold for $3,106,500.
I should entitle this review "Where Do I Begin?" With "Works from the Peter Norton Collection" leading this incredible evening sale, the stunning Warhol portrait of beautiful Liz Taylor, at the top of this story, who passed away this year, (still wowing the crowds as "The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor" tours the globe) - and Lichtenstein's very important (and fun) "I Can See The Whole Room!...And There's Nobody In It!" depicting a guy peeking through a very large keyhole from The Emily and Burton Tremaine Collection, and works from a Distinguished West Coast Collection, it was difficult to know where to turn in Christie's galleries during the pre-sale exhibitions that now include new 20th floor galleries at 20 Rockefeller Plaza. These can be accessed via Christie's Rockefeller Plaza galleries through one of the most gorgeous lobbies in the world. The art would have been enough - but it turned into a transcendental experience to see such views of New York City as well. Some may recognize the space from The Haunch of Venison, which has moved downtown.
Lot 34, "I Can See the Whole Room…and There's Nobody in It!" by Roy Lichtenstein, 1961, graphite and oil on canvas, 48 inches square, from The Emily and Burton Tremaine Collection
Illustrated above are two fantastic Pop Art masterpieces - by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein - that reflect the high caliber of the Post War and Contemporary Art evening sale. Lot 34, "I Can See the Whole Room…and There's Nobody in It!" is a dramatic, important early work by the artist from The Emily and Burton Tremaine Collection. The catalogue for this sale includes a list of venues where it has been exhibited - and publications in which it has appeared - that is so impressive it is impossible to list them all here. It will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonne being prepared by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation. There is a wonderful photograph of the painting as it was displayed in the Tremaine home in Christie's catalogue for this sale.
Lot 34 has an estimate of $35,000,000 to $45,000,000. It sold for $43,202,500, a world auction record for the artist.
Lot 51, "Silver Liz," the portrait of Liz Taylor by Warhol that leads the story - beautifully lit in Christie's gallery that made her look like the icon she is - is a fine tribute to a woman who really made a difference. Liz's appeal is universal, and her life was an affirmation that film and the arts do not have barricades that shut anyone out. Liz had such heart. She will be sorely missed.
Visitors to Christie's galleries savor a beautiful installation in pre-sale exhibitions that are open to the public: Left: Lot 3: "Untitled," (When I hear the word culture I take out my checkbook) by Barbara Kruger; Center: Lot 22, "Untitled (Expulsion)," by Fred Tomaselli; Right: "Untitled (Stranger in the Village #17). They will be offered in Works From The Peter Norton Collection at 6.30 pm on November 8 (Lots 1-26 ), and continues in the day sale on November 9, that begins at 9:30 A.M..
The dedicated sale of Works From The Peter Norton Collection pays tribute to artists of this generation that are instruments of change. The issues some of them raised at a time when it was taboo to even tackle such subject matter - let alone render it in 3D - are extremely important, and many more will be included in a dedicated review. It must be said that every single one of these trailblazing artists deserves a mention because they are extraordinary human beings.
Like the works of art in the evening sale, "Works from the Collection of Peter Norton" were also beautifully lit and displayed. For those that think the arts should be more accessible to the public, the title of Lot 3, "When I hear the word culture I take out my checkbook," might offer hope for more easily viewable art! Lot 3 has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $902, 500. The purchaser clearly likes the way Barbara Kruger thinks. The price was a world auction record for the artist. It's not about the money.
One of my favorite artworks of the season, Lot 13, "Prison Window," by Robert Gober, is an important installation, (box construction), incorporating plywood, forged iron, plaster, latex paint, incandescent and fluorescent and electrical hardware. There is much more to this innocent looking light-box than meets the eye. That is what contemporary art is all about. Lot 13 has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $3,386,500.
Mystical Lot 22, "Untitled (Expulsion)," by Fred Tomaselli (utterly gorgeous) has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $1,650,500. Heavily layered and impastoed Lot 10, "(Untitled) Stranger in the Village #17," by Glen Ligon has an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000. It sold for $1,178,500, a world auction record for the artist.
In 2009, President Barack Obama added Ligon's seminal work from 1992 "Black Like Me No. 2," (on loan from the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden) to the White House collection.
Part I of The Peter Norton Collection was 100 percent sold: a huge vote of confidence in the artists and the collection. At the press conference, Brett Gorvy said 10 museums and one gallery bought works from The Peter Norton Collection, as well as newer collectors.
Part I of Works From The Peter Norton Collection realized $26.8 million, an extraordinary result for the work of artists of this generation. The grand total for the evening sale (including lots 1-26, Works from the Collection of Peter Norton) was $247, 597,000, an outstanding result.
"This is an extremely strong sale result, with great depth of bidding across multiple genres and periods, from the great giants of Pop Art to the strongest artists of the 1900s and the 2000s," said Brett Gorvy, Chairman and International Head of Post War and Contemporary Art at Christie's. "The world's top ten collectors were present in the room tonight, and a global community of collectors was bidding aggressively on pre-eminent artists in this category."
There was a noticeable demand for works by women artists and the sale garnered a dozen new records for many well-deserving artists. Lot 44, "Rhein II," by Andreas Gursky, that sold for $4,338,500, set a world auction record for any photograph sold at auction.
At the press preview Brett Gorvy, Christie's Chairman and International Head, Post War and Contemporary Art said:
"Pre-sale exhibitions are open to the public, all are welcome." When I returned to view the art later that hectic week, the joy of being surrounded by art was enhanced by the comments of two beautiful children that were visiting the galleries with their parents. One little girl asked me if there was a doll hidden inside Cattelan's tiny elevators (also from Works From The Peter Norton Collection). I did my best to answer this brilliant question and said maybe there was a doll somewhere inside the elevator because the artist did things like that all the time - and he usually made the doll look like himself. She smiled, nodded. She got it. Kids are smarter than adults will ever be. The other child said "this is fun" as she skipped past me on her own "viewing" adventure with her mother.
Two fathers pushed their infants in strollers peacefully through the galleries, enjoying the art. The photographs speak for themselves.
Illustrated above is Lot 9, "Dogs From Your Childhood," by Yoshitomo Nara, (estimate $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $422,500)
Maurizio Cattelan's adorable Lot 8, "Untitled," looks like a pair of custom-made elevators for aspiring "mini-me's." I am grateful to Cattelan for giving most of his works no titles, because it is far more fun to imagine ones own. The little girl's query about whether there was a doll in the elevators is especially poignant when viewing the scale of the artwork, illustrated above, that was displayed to perfection with Jean Dubuffet's sublime Lot 60, "Le Montreur d'agate." I was totally captivated by the tiny elevators. I spent a great deal of time that should have been allocated to other things waiting for one - or the other - elevator door to open. There is much more to those tiny elevators, of course. There are more Cattelans on view currently at the show at the Guggenheim, which is thought provoking. Stay tuned for a review.
Lot 8, "Untitled," has an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for $1,022,500.
How I love Dubuffet - all that impasto and detritis - and this Dubuffet is as fine as it gets. Its provenance includes Pierre Matisse Gallery. Dubuffet influenced so many artists, including Jean-Michel Basquiat. Christie's catalogue for this sale has this great quote by the artist:
"Art must make you laugh a little and make you a little afraid. Anything as long as it doesn't bore" - Jean Dubuffet.
Lot 60, "Le Montreur d'agate," painted in 1952, has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $1,370,500.
And now for a change in scale!
Lot 29, "Spider," by Louise Bourgeois, is a gorgeous specimen, illustrated above, that brought back memories of the wonderful show at The Tate in London, with "Maman" installed in Turbine Hall. Lot 29 has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It sold for $10,722,500. Please note how often museums are cited as an inspiration for the artists. I cannot imagine life without them.
There is a portrait of lovely Liza Minelli by Warhol in the evening sale, illustrated here. What a talented family. They have given us movies like "Meet Me In St. Louis" (Vincent Minelli), "Cabaret" (Liza) and "The Wizard of Oz" (Judy Garland), among other universally beloved classics. Lot 83, "Liza," was a gift of the artist and has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $902,500.
The magical duo illustrated above are Lot 5, "Tomato Head (Green)," by Paul McCarthy, that Brett Gorvy described as an early version of Mr. Potato Head. Jim Hodges beautiful Lot 12, "Folding (into a greater world), executed in 1998, is shown with it, and will be illustrated again on its own in a dedicated review of Works From The Peter Norton Collection. It is such a beautiful work, loaded with meaning.
Lot 5, "Tomato Head" has an estimate of $ 1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold for $4,562,500. a world auction record for the artist.
Lot 12, "Folding into a Greater World," has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $782,000.
What can one say about a visionary like Peter Norton that "gets" how important it is to invest in the young artists of his community because they are the seeds of innovation and change that will hopefully flourish and spread out into society in the years ahead. Artists of all ages are an endangered species that must somehow hold on to their vision and dreams when the practical realities of life are increasingly harsh. The artists whose work is represented in this collection were unknown - or just emerging - when Peter Norton began collecting their work. These artists have brought the most critical issues that confront our times to the forefront of public awareness. Brett Gorvy described Norton as an "artist's advocate" and said he was a major force in California in the late 80s and early 90s, and created this extraordinary collection in the early 90s. Peter Norton is an entrepreneur and an innovator who made his fortune in computer software, including Norton Anti-Virus that protects millions of computers. Norton entrusted the acquisition of many works in his collection to Tom Solomon, who gives an interview about this experience in a wonderful short film about the collection, together with Laura Paulson, Brett Gorvy and Agnes Gund. Please visit Christie's website to find out more.
Children and adults enjoy the exhibits, while one enthusist reads a reference copy of the exhibit.
The beautiful Rothko illustrated above was painted in oil (on canvas) in 1956. It measures 66 3/8 by 62 7/8 inches. Lot 71, "White Cloud," by Mark Rothko, (1903 to 1970), has an estimate of $18,000,000 to $25,000,000. It sold for $18,562,500.
Lot 90, "Urd, Werdandi, Skuld," by Anselm Kiefer, oil, emulsion, shellac, lead, wire, clay dust and oil stick on canvas, 76 by 131 by 2 1/2 inches, 2004
Lot 90 is a very impressive work by Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945) that is entitled "Urd, Werdandi, Skuld." It measures 76 by 131 by 2 1/2 inches and was created in 2004. It has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $1,258,500.
Christie's is bracing for the same sell out crowds that have attended the exhibition in other cities around the globe that will soon fill their galleries to view "The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor" that opens on December 3-12, 2011. Tickets to this highly anticipated event went on sale at www.christies.com/elizabethtaylorviews, on Monday October 31, 2011, at noon EST. The ticket fee per person is $30.