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
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.
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
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."
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
"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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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"
"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.
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
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.