evening Contemporary Art auction this fall was strong on Abstract
Expressionism, this evening Post-War & Contemporary Art auction
is strong on Pop Art.
Both auctions were highlighted
by a solid group of works from one collection, Thomas Weisel's
at Sotheby's, and the Israel Phoenix Insurance Company's at Christie's.
The Israel Phoenix group includes works by Jasper Johns (b. 1930),
Barnett Newman (1905-1970), Robert Rauschenberg (b. 1925), Mark
Rothko (1903-1970), Eva Hesse (1936-1970), Agnes Martin (b. 1912),
Robert Ryman (b. 1930) and Gerhard Richter (b. 1932). The company's
art collection was conceived in the early 1980s by Joseph Hackmey,
the company's managing director, and son of David Hackmey, the
company's chairman who founded it in 1949. Accoprding to the catalogue,
the collection "comprises one of the world's most comprehensive
grouping [s] of Israeli art. The company was sold in 2002 and
the new management decided to sell the works in this auction.
Lot 44, "O Through
9," is an excellent oil on canvas, 54 by 41 ½ inches
by Jasper Johns that was executed in 1961. It is a grayish version
of a series of five similar paintings that superimpose the ten
Arabic numbers. According to the catalogue, "this version
is the most painterly version of the series" and one in the
Hirschhorn Museum is highlighted with color, one in the Whitney
Museum of American Art is highlighted with muted colors, one in
the Tate Gallery is vibrantly colored and another in a private
collection "highlights the use of color through painted versions
of the color's names."
This painting was once in the collections of S. I. Newhouse and
Graham Gund and has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000. It
sold for $9,909,500 including the buyer's premium as do all results
mentioned in this article.
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"Johns's use of conventional things such as flags or targets
and his use of non-hierarchical systems such as the alphabet or
numbers formed the basic subject matter of his art during the
1950s. By superimposing each number on top of the other in 0
Through 9 however, Johns has developed his painterly subversion
of these progressive systems further and to the point where the
logical progression of the numbers 0 to 9 becomes self-defeating.
At the same time, the logical sequence of numbers one on top of
the other has become a visual as well as an historical record
of Johns's painterly process. Beginning with the number `0' and
working through the sequence to the point where the painting of
number `9' completes the painting, this process allows Johns to
build up the painting through a series of progressive and pre-determined
stages. At each stage, Johns is forced to make a certain number
of additions and yet at the same time is free - due to the increasing
abstraction of the image to make a number of aesthetic decisions
of his own. The process of painting has become an interactive
game between the artist and his subject, and in the end, it is
the nature of the game and of the process of painting that the
finished work emphasizes rather than its systematic structure
or beginnings. Through the process of being made the painting
becomes something more than the sum of its parts. It becomes not
only a visual record of its own creation but also an enigma, a
manifestation of the mystery of art and the act of creation. Johns
has createdan image that shimmers with life, with contradiction
and with inconsistency. Its myriad of forms and shapes seemingly
pointing to the infinite variety of possibility within even the
most mundane of things that we take for granted."
The sale total was $66,921,785,
nicely above the pre-sale low estimate of $60 million. The pre-sale
high estimate was $105 million. Of the 75 offered lots, 62 sold,
or 83 percent, a good ratio that was higher than Sotheby's the
night before but a bit lower than that achieved by Phillips de
Pury & Luxembourg earlier in the week.
After the long sale,
Christopher Burge, the auctioneer described himself as "exhausted
but happy" and said "it was a fantastic evening."
He noted that while most of the buyers were private and 63 percent
were American, 19 percent were European, 16 percent were Asian
and 2 percent were 'other,' a strong Asian showing."
Another star of the Israel
Phoenix group is Lot 14, "White Fire I," a 47 7/8-by-59
¾-inch oil on canvas by Barnett Newman (1905-1970). Executed
in 1954, this painting has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000.
It sold for $3,859,500, breaking the artist's former auction
record of $3,027,500.
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"White Fire I is the first of four paintings with
the title White Fire which Newman painted at different
points in his career. Although these four works share the same
title this does not presuppose any formal similarity. Each is
very different from the other. The title White Fire is
a mystical term that relates directly to the Torah. As such it
clearly invokes a profound sense of the spiritual that Newman
sought to instill in the viewers of his paintings. This is not
to say that Newman's was a religious art.Newman remained at heart
an atheist whose existentialist view of life was permeated with
a deeply spiritual sense of the uniqueness of man. He sought an
art that invoked a sense of the sublime miracle of existence.
As he had co-written with fellow artists Adolph Gottlieb and Mark
Rothko in a letter to the New York Times in 1943, `There
is no such thing as good painting about nothing. We assert that
the subject is crucial and only that subject-matter is valid which
is tragic and timeless.' Through the precise and exact painterly
science that Newman mastered in which the flat color of the surface
of his paintings is formed in direct proportion to the impressive
scale of his works, Newman forged a visual language that aimed
to provoke an existential sense of awe and wonderment in the viewer.
Because of the exact nature of this science, a Newman painting
can never be understood in reproduction. Its scale in relation
to the viewer is crucial and the work has to be experienced at
first hand. Despite their imposing scale Newman wished the viewers
of his paintings to view his work from close to immerse themselves
in the field of his color so that their vertical physical presence
found an echo in the formal properties of the painting. Towards
this end the `zip' the vertical strip of color that divides and
yet at the same time makes sense of the work's field of color,
was all-important. The `zip' is a singular vertical form that
permeates the void suggested by the color field and asserts a
striking dynamic presence that the viewer is unable to ignore.
Essentially a line of vitality and energy that seems to assert
the mystery of existence and the dynamism of life, its unassailable
verticality in the midst of vast field of color often sparks a
mystical connection with the verticality of viewer standing in
front of the painting. In White Fire I Newman manages to
attain a translucent sense of brightness."
Gerhard Richter is represented
in the Israel Phoenix group by Lot 59, "Abstraktes Bild,"
a 69 by 98 ½ inch oil on canvas. Executed in 1992, this
extremely fine abstraction of great depth and sensuous dark tones
has an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000. It sold for $1,054,500.
This auction also has a group of works from the Rita and Toby
Schreiber collection including a fine Morris Louis (1912-1962),
a good Donald Judd (1928-1994) and a great Alexander Calder.
large oil on canvas by Morris Louis, Lot 21, has an estimate of
$700,000 to $900,000 and sold for $1,659,500, breaking the
artist's former auction record of $1,045,000. The 99-by-141
1/2-inch acrylic on canvas was executed in 1959-1960.
Lot 9, "Untitled,"
is a handsome Donald Judd sculpture composed of ten copper units,
each 6 by 27 by 24 inches, stacked vertically with 6 inch spaces
between them. Executed in 1969, it has an estimate of $900,000
to $1,200,000. It sold for $1,439,500.
Lot 19, "S-Shaped Vine,"
is a magnificent black mobile by Alexander Calder that is 98 1/2
by 69 inches and was executed in 1946. It has an estimate of $1,200,000
to $1,600,000 and sold for $2,594,500.
Other auction highlights
include works by Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), Andy Warhol (1928-1987),
Ed Ruscha (b. 1937), Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), Jean Dubuffet
(1901-1985) and David Hockney (b. 1937).
"Happy Tears," is a 38-inch-square magna on canvas by
Roy Lichtenstein. The cover illustration of the auction's catalogue,
it was executed in 1964, it has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000.
It sold for $7,159,500, breaking for the artist's former auction
record of $6,050,000.
its relative success, this auction, like Sotheby's the night before,
had its inconsistencies. Lot 49, "Woman Reading," was
a large, handsome and very strong painting by Lichtenstein. It
had an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000 and failed to sell
and was passed at $950,000. The catalogue reproduced a fine study
drawing for this painting that indicated that the original composition
did not cut off the ends of her foot and hand.
Andy Warhol's "Big Electric Chair,"
Lot 28, shown above, has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000
and sold for $4,959,500. Lot 8, "Self-Portrait,"
a 1964 double portrait of the artist, has an estimate of $2,500,000
to $3,500,000 and sold for $2,869,500.
works have soared recently and Lot 29 is a particularly bright
work in which the artist painted the word "desire" in
champagne color with trompe l'oeil caviar. It had an estimate
of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000 and sold for $1,769,500.
"Stroll," by Jean-Michel Basquiat, an acrylic and oilstick
on canvas mounted on tied wood supports, has an estimate of $500,000
to $700,000. It sold for $$779,500.
"Mademoiselle Néon," by Jean Dubuffet, is a very
vibrant and colorful oil and sand on canvas that was executed
in 1948. It has an estimate of $900,000 to $1,200,000 and sold
"Portrait of Nick Wilder," by David Hockey, a 72-inch-square
acrylic on canvas, has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000.
It was painted in 1966. It sold for $2,869,500, breaking the
artist's former auction record of $2,200,000.
Lot 46, "Calliope (muse
of epic poetry)," by Hans Hofmann (1880-1966), is a very
bold, 72-by-60-inch oil on canvas, Executed in 1963, it has an
estimate of $300,000 to $400,000 and sold for $570,000.
Lot 60, "Nettle,"
is a 1960 "combine" painting by Robert Rauschenberg
(b. 1925). It has an estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000. It
sold for $1,109,500.
Lot 15, "No. 18," is a 55 ½-by-47 7/8-inch oil
on canvas by Mark Rothko (1903-1970) that was executed in 1948.
It has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold for
$1,219,500. Unlike his classic canvases of a few horizontal
bands of color this dark red work has many shapes and forms.
Lot 41 is an untitled work by Eva Hesse (1935-1970). The 8-inch-square
sculpt-metal over steel washers and wood was executed in 1967
and has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $405,000.
Lot 52 is a subtle and large work by Agnes Martin (b. 1912). Entitled
"Untitled #14," is a 72-inch-square acrylic and graphite
on canvas. Painted in 1980, it has an estimate of $700,000 to
$800,000. It sold for $1,054,500.
Lot 53 is a very handsome untitled work by Robert Ryman (b. 1930).
The 10 ¼-inch-square oil on linen was painted in 1965 and
has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $383,500.