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Contemporary Art

Sotheby's

Wednesday, November 14, 2001, immediately following the 7 PM auction of Contemporary Art from the Douglas S. Cramer Collection

Sale 7727

"Athanor" by Anselm Kiefer
Lot 32, "Athanor," by Anselm Kiefer, oil, sand, ash, gold leaf and lead foil on canvas, 111 by 150 1/4 inches, 1991

By Carter B. Horsley

This auction, which follows the 7 PM auction of Contemporary Art from the Douglas S. Cramer Collection, has important works by Anselm Kiefer and Maurizio Cattelan and good examples by Gerhard Richter and Jeff Koons.

The Kiefer, shown above, Lot 14, "Athanor," is an enormous, imposing and impressive work. It is oil, sand, ash, gold leaf and lead foil on canvas that measures 111 by 150 1/4 inches. It was completed in 1991 and was consigned by the Collection of Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch of Berlin. It has a conservative estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $1,160,750 including the buyer's premium as do all prices mentioned in this article.

Kiefer has made other works with the same title. A 1983-4 version shows the courtyard Albert Speer designed for the Chancellery in Berlin, the same setting the artist used in "To the Unknown Painter" in which a palette stands where the ceremonial sculptures may have stood, according to the catalogue.

This work exemplifies Kiefer's exploration of Germany's past and is one of his most ambitious works.

"The reason for the charring is explained by the painting's title. Athanor was a large furnace use by alchemists who transmuted lead...into gold," the catalogue observes, adding that "the fire which the alchemist tames is...not one of destruction but of purification." In this work, Speer's courtyard has been replaced with the Reichstag. "Its emptiness, as well as the ravaged ground and pregnant sky, add a curious serenity to the scene. It also adds a grandeur, as Kiefer here creates a building reminiscent of the Ancient temples of Greece and Rome. Kiefer's Athanor has now became a Parthenon for the Twentieth Century, and he himself a Delphis Oracle for Germany's past," the catalogue maintained.

This was a fairly successful sale with 23 of the 30 offered lots selling for a total of $24,057,000. It followed the extremely successful sale of the Douglas S. Cramer Collection the same night in which all 30 lots were sold.

"The First, They Said, Should Be Sweet Like Love..." by Maurizio Cattelan

Lot 39, "The First, They Said, Should Be Sweet Like Love, The Second Bitter, Like Life, And The Third Soft, Like Death," by Maurizio Cattelan, taxidermied donkey, dog, cat and bird, 65 by 47 1/2 by 15 3/4 inches, 1998

Lot 39, "The First, They Said, Should Be Sweet Like Love, The Second Bitter, Like Life, And The Third Soft, Like Death," is a work by Maurizio Cattelan (b. 1960) that consists of taxidermied donkey, dog, cat and bird. It measures 65 by 47 1/2 by 15 3/4 inches and was executed in 1998. It was one of three related works and one of the others was offered this week at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg where it had an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000 and sold for $442,500 (see The City Review article). This lot has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $610,750.

Describing Cattelan as "the enfant terrible of the art world," the catalogue notes there are three works of stacked animals in his oeuvre: Love Saves Life (1995), Love Lasts Forever (1997) and the present work." "Seen together," it continued, "they may been to represent the three ages of man: the present work sees the animals older and maturer; Love Saves Life sees the animals older and maturer; Love Lasts Forever, of course, sees the animals now dead, merely their bones left for inspection like some archaeological discovery. It is worth nothing that Cattelan constructed the 'younger' version last, as if to complete the cycle he had begun in1995, lending a special significance to the present work."

The catalogue notes that "in terms of its form, one finds a synergy with Jeff Koons' Stacked (1988). But where Koons makes transparent the fact he has brought to life, through the use of master crafstmen, the banality of a Post-modern community saturated by an influx of media, be it magazines, cartoons, High and Low cultures, Cattellan's 'involvement' with his object is even further removed. He has simply asked a taxidermist to prepare and preserve a donkey, dog, cat and bird and to fix them together like a pyramid. They are presented as such: no environment adds context or informs this work. It stands in the gallery like an almost Surrealist structure, strange and estranged, but simultaneously wonderfully compelling."

"Ushering in Banality" by Jeff Koons

Lot 40, "Ushering in Banality," by Jeff Koons, polychromed wood sculpture, 38 by 62 by 30 inches, 1988

Lot 40, "Ushering in Banality," shown above, is a 38-by-62-by-30-inch polychromed wood sculpture by Jeff Koons (b. 1956) that was executed in 1988 and is number two of an edition of three and one artist's proof. It is part of the artist's "Banality" series and the only work in that series with "Banality" in the title. This lot has an ambitious estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for $1,875,750.

"It is a bizarre tableau: a collage of kitsch and the veryday with a certain rococo energy that lifts it to another level of experience. It has a distinctly eighteenth-century Bavarian charm and feel, which may be found in the exaggeration of motif; in the seductive surface and bright colors; in the ideogrammatic faces and heightened expressions of the children. Koons' own version of rococo has, of course, here arrived via the discourse of Ducahmp's Readymade," the catalogue's entry asserts.

"Italian Woman" by Jeff Koons

Lot 45, "Italian Woman," by Jeff Koons, stainless steel, 30 by 18 by 11 inches, 1985, with works in the background by Arshile Gorky, Alexander Calder and Malcolm Morley

Koons commissioned artisans to execute such works as this and also Lot 45, shown above, "Italian Woman," a 30-by-18-by-11-inch stainless steel sculpture that was executed in 1985 and is number one in an edition of three and an artist's proof. It has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It failed to sell and was "passed" at $750,000.

Koons did, or rather commissioned from artisans, a series of eleven stainless steel works known as "Statuary," which are dazzling and a far cry from the deliberately "low-brow" wood sculptures such as Lot 40, above that are hard for some to take very seriously.

"...the candid, glistening beauty of Italian Woman cannot fail to seduce....Her name is Lucia Mondella, and the original sculpture was probably created in the Nineteenth Century in respone to one of the most infamous books of the period, Allesandro Manzoni's The Betrothed from 1834. As a Romantic historical novel of life in Milan in the Seventeenth Century, the book was shocking in its time, for its use of the leading lady of Lucia Mondella as an object of desire....Koons has turned this sculpture into a newly invigorated art object with a Neo-Geo twist. The stainless steel seems to have somehow sapped all of her original character: she is no longer a unique individual but exists as a stereotype of style. Koons has underlined this fact by withdrawing her name from the title and giving her a more generic name, Italian Woman. The references to her origins are still there, her name on the base, the book on which she stands, the style of her hair, the typical jewelry and dress, but these are only present as devices of taste....We immediately attach a high-class status to an object such as this, with such jewel-like power."

A work such as Italian Woman can easily be appreciated without a great deal of artistic theory and sermonizing, which is something that a great deal of contemporary art cannot be.

Lot 42, "Volker Bradke," is the cover illustration of the catalogue and is a 59-by-78-inch oil on canvas by Gerhard Richter (b. 1932) that was executed in 1966 and has a very ambitious estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $2,200,000. The catalogue devotes several pages to this work explaining that it was part of an exhibition at the Galerie Schmela in Dusseldorf in 1966 in which the subject of the painting was supposed to be an anonymous revolutionary art figure and the painting was accompanied in the exhibition by a short film, photos and banners. The painting is based on a photograph taken by the artist of Volker Bradke, who was one of his friends and assistants. Richter is without question a very interesting and important artist who has worked in several different styles, one of which has involved create large-scale works that resemble blurred photographs, such as this. Although this work is described in the catalogue as "one of his seminal, total works," it is not a great work of art, but an indulgent exercise in blandness and ordinariness.

While this was a difficult work, Lot 31, "Abstraktes Bilder (809-1; 809-2; 809-4)," three abstract and very colorful oils on canvas, each 88 1/2 by 78 3/4 inches and executed in 1994, sold for $3,415,750, more than twice its high estimate.

Lot 44, "Little Electric Chair," by Andy Warhol (1928-1967) is one of 40 versions of the subject that the artist did in 1963 and 1964. The 22-by-28-inch acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas has an estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000 and is one of the best in the series because of its bright yellow color, which makes the image particularly startling. It sold for $2,315,750.

Lot 46, "Colored Liz," by Warhol, is one of thirteen in a series that he made in 1963. The 40-inch square acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas has an ambitious estimate of $4,000,000 to $5,000,000. It sold for $3,580,750.

"Man Ray" by Andy Warhol

Lot 60, "Man Ray," by Andy Warhol, acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, 40 inches square, 1974

Despite the celebrity of Elizabeth Taylor, Lot 60 is a more painterly and more interesting Warhol. It is a portrait of the artist Man Ray and was painted in 1974. It is also a 40-inch square acrylic and silkscreen on canvas and has a modest estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $203,750.

Warhol's works have fared well in recent seasons but even his works can falter. Lot 52, "Ethel Scull Triptych,"was estimated at $300,000 to $400,000 and failed to sell and was "passed" at $250,000.

Lot 51, "Christoforo Colombo," a large realistic painting of an oceanliner by Malcolm Morley (b. 1931), had an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000 and failed to sell and was passed at $320,000.

"Composition with Head" by Arshile Gorky

Lot 48, "Composition with Head," by Arshile Gorky, oil on canvas, 76 1/2 by 60 1/2 inches, 1936-7

Lot 48, "Composition with Head," shown above, by Arshile Gorky (1904-1948), is a 76 1/2-by-50 1/2-inch oil on canvas that was executed in 1936-7 and has a rather ambitious estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It failed to sell and was "passed" at $1,800,000. Gorky is a fine artist who is best known for his "biomorphic" work. Here he pays very fine homage to Picasso and Cubism in a very painterly work.

Other major works in the auction include Lot 41, "Ball of Twine," by Roy Lichtensein (1923-1997), a simple, 40-by-36-inch magna on canvas that has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000, which sold for the very impressive price of $4,075,750; Lot 50, "Janey Waney," a 25 1/2-foot-high sculpture by Alexander Calder (1898-1976) that has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000, which sold for $1,765,750; and Lot 58, "It Happens in the Frictions of the Bodies," by Ernesto Neto (b. 1964), a 393 3/4-by-196 1/4-inch spices in polymade fabric that has a conservative estimate of $50,000 to $70,000 and sold for $52,500.

Tobias Meyer, the auctioner, described the auction after the sale as "incredibly lively and very strong," adding that it is "a no-nonsense market" in which buyers are asking themselves if they "cannot find another one." He described the price of Lichtenstein's "Ball of Twine" as "extraordinary" for "a black-and-white picture."

This and other recent sales seemed to indicate that older American artists are now faring a bit better than younger European artists. Roy Lichtenstein certainly was popular. Lot37, "George Washington," a graphite and frottage on paper, 18 1/2 by 14 1/2 inches, executed in 1982, sold for the astounding price of $940,750, more than three times its high estimate.

See The City Review article on the evening auction November 14, 2001 of Contemporary Art from the Douglas S. Cramer Collection

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction in the Spring of 2001

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's May 15, 2001

See The City Review article on the Christie's Post-War Art evening auction May 16, 2001

See The City Review article on the Post-War art day auction at Christie's May 17, 2001

See The City Review article on Post War Art evening auction at Christie's, Nov. 15, 2000

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's, Nov. 14, 2000

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction at Phillips, Nov. 13, 2000

See The City Review article on Contemporary Art Part II auction at Phillips, Nov. 14, 2000

See The City Review Article on the May 18-9 Contemporary Art auctions at Phillips

See The City Review article on the May 16, 2000 evening auction of Contemporary Art at Christie's

See The City Review article on the May 17, 2000 Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall, 1999 auction of Contemporary Art at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Sotheby's Nov. 17, 1999 auction of Contemporary Art

See The City Review article on the auctions of Contemporary Art from a European Private Collection and Contemporary Art, Part 2, at Sotheby's Nov. 18, 1999

See The City Review article on the May 18, 1999 Contemporary Art Auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on Contemporary Art Part 2 auction at Sotheby's May 19, 1999

See The City Review article on the Christie's, May 19, 1999 Contemporary Art auction

See The City Review article on the Christie's, May 20, 1999 Contemporary Art Part 2 auction

 

 

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