By Carter B. Horsley
Day sales in auction departments that have
evening auctions usually are a bit lackluster and overstuffed
with works that are not of the highest quality.
The day sales at Christie's of Post-War and
Contemporary Art Nov. 12, 2003, were therefore unusually successful
as more than 80 percent of the offered lots sold for a total of
more than $23 million with many lots exceeding their high estimates.
Lot 397, "La Lune," by Nike de Saint
Phalle (1930-2002), for example, sold for $365,000 including the
buyer's premium, a bit more than double its pre-sale low estimate.
The glass tile, mirror tile and painted polyester sculpture was
exhibited in the lobby at Christie's. It is 118 inches high and
both charming and dazzling. It is one of a series of three unique
works of which it was the only mirrored version. One of the others
is at the Tarot Garden in Garaviccio, Italy, and the third is
in the Musée d'Art et d'Historie in Fribourg, Switzerland.
Lot 396, "Six Random Lines
Eccentric II," a kinetic stainless steel sculpture by George
Rickey (1907-2002), stood outside the auction house during the
Contemporary Art exhibitions. The 170-inch-high sculpture was
executed in 1992 and is one of an edition of three. It sold for
$209,100 and had had a low pre-sale estimate of $180,000. While
not one of Rickey's masterpieces, his work is always delightful
and fascinating and it was easy to imagine a small forest of these
Another sculpture that did
very well was Lot 410, "Murmurous Moto, Maestro," by
John Chamberlain (b. 1927). The 73 1/8-inch high painted and chromium
plated steel sculpture was exhibited in the auction house's rotunda
during the exhibitions. It had a pre-sale high estimate of $200,000
and sold for $567,000. While many of Chamberlain's works are made
from different colored automobile parts, this handsome work was
all black. It was made in 1991. A more colorful and more asymmetrical
Chamberlain sculpture, Lot 380, "Gangster of Love,"
also did well, selling for $365,000, way above its pre-sale high
estimate of $200,000. The 90-inch work was created in 1985.
Another sculpture that did
spectacularly was Lot 412, "Does the Whale Diminish,"
a 144-inch-wide oil, oilstick and enamel on aluminum sculpture
by Frank Stella (b. 1936). The work was executed in 1988 and had
a pre-sale high estimate of $150,000. It sold for $612,300! Another
Stella sculpture, however, Lot 364, "Jarama 2X," a 136-inch-wide
wall relief on corrugated aluminum and metal that was created
in 1981, had a low estimate of $150,000 and failed to sell despite
its quite rhythmic composition.
A very good sculpture by Louise
Nevelson (1900-1988), Lot 408, "Maquette for Monumental Sculpture
XIV, also exceeded its high estimate. It sold for $31,070, nicely
over its $25,000 high estimate. The 25-inch-high black painted
wood sculpture was one of Nevelson's better creations.
Lot 358, "Woman in Blue
(After Matisse)," a 1985 synthetic polymer and silkscreen
inks on canvas by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) soared above its $500,000
pre-sale high estimate to sell for $746,700. The 52-by-42-inch
work was painted in 1985 and was the black cover illustration
of the morning catalogue. One of Warhol's terribly ubiquitous
"Flowers," Lot 336, a 1964 synthetic polymer and silkscreen
inks on canvas, 24 inches square, failed to sell. It had an estimate
of $350,000 to $450,000.
The red, white, blue and black sculptures and
paintings and drawings by Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) are, along
with most of Alexander Calder's creations except for his clunky
large metal outdoor sculptures, some of the most happy creations
of the 20th Century. Lot 346, "Polymorphic X," a market
on paper laid down on board, sold for $71,700, more than twice
its pre-sale high estimate. Created in 1971, it measures 15 1/4
by 26 1/4 inches. Dubuffet, of course, had a dark, or more earthy,
side as well in contrast with the eternally optimistic oeuvre
Lot 349, "Untitled (Dragon Rouge et Papillon),"
for example shows a not a very terrifying red dragon focused on
a butterfly. Painted by Alexander Calder (1898-1976), the 32-by-39
1/8-inch oil on canvas was executed in 1950 and sold within its
pre-sale estimate for $65,725. Lot 342, "White Petals and
Black on Red Stabile," a 19-inch-high standing Calder mobile,
almost doubled its pre-sale low estimate and sold for $298,700.
Lot 326, "Five Eating Figures," a
10-by-14-inch oil on canvas by Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920), sold
for $410,700, well over its pre-sale high estimate of $320,000.
The 1963 work was included in the 2000-1 Thiebaud exhibition that
was shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Phillips
Collection in Washington, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth,
and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco California Palace of
the Legion of Honor.
Lot 317, "Waterscape," is an impressive
oil on canvas by Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974) that measures 36
3/8 by 48 inches. Executed in 1952, it sold for $399,500, almost
double its $200,000 pre-sale high estimate. Surprisingly, Lot
311, "Signs for Divination," a 32-by-25-inch oil on
canvas by Gottlieb failed to sell. The handsome 1946 work had
an estimate of $90,000 to $140,000.
Lot 310, "Study for Agony," a strong
although small oil on canvas by Arshile Gorky (1904-1948), sold
for $113,525, far above its pre-sale high estimate of $60,000.
Executed in 1947, it measures 5 by 14 inches.
Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) was an extremely influential
abstract painter well-known for his painterliness. Lot 306, "Landscape,"
is a very lovely oil on panel by Hofmann that measures 30 by 35
inches. Painted in 1952, it is a strikingly well-organized composition
with a brilliant bright palette. It sold for $105,160, just over
its pre-sale high estimate of $100,000.
One of the more attractive works in the afternoon
session is Lot 506, "Hause (Nr. 159)," by Thomas Scheibitz
(b. 1968). The 59-by-106 1/4-inch oil on canvas was painted in
1998 and had a high estimate of $15,000. Although it depicts a
low-rise architectural environement, it skyrocketed to $59,750.
It was consigned by Kenneth L. Freed.
Another Freed consignment was Lot 507, "Trembling
& Joy, a metal chain installation by Jim Hodges (b. 1957)
resembling spider webs that was executed in 1994. It had a pre-sale
high estimate of $45,000 and sold for $192,300.
Lot 521 is an untitled Cibachrome print by
Maurizio Cattelan (b. 1960). The 72-by-90-inch print was executed
in 1999 in an edition of ten. It had a pre-sale high estimate
of $80,000 and sold for $185,700. It depicts a three-dimensional
head of a Picassoesque man against a Roy Licthenstein-like interior.
Lot 524, "Untitled (Cowboy)," is
a 92-by-209 1/2-inch digital print on canvas by Richard Prince
(b. 1949). It depicts a cowboy on his horse pursuing a calf in
a snow-covered forest. It had a high estimate of $120,000 and
sold for $332,300! According to the catalogue, the unique print,
which calls to mind Marlboro cigarette ads, was made in 2000.
Mariko Mori (b. 1967) is one of the most important
and dazzling of the contemporary artists in Japan. Lot 558 is
a huge and very impressive curved Fuji super gloss (duraflex)
print of Times Square, entitled "Beginning of the End."
It measures 39 1/2 by 148 by 26 1/2 inches and was created in
1986 in an edition of three. It sold for $59,750 and had a pre-sale
high estimate of $35,000.
Takashi Murakami (b. 1962) is another Japanese
artist who has become very popular for his very cute, cartoon-like
paintings. Lot 561, "Forest of DOB," is one of his less
dense works and in fact has only one of his fun and colorful figures
as opposed to many of his works that have dozens. The acrylic
on canvas mounted on panel measures 39 3/8 inches square. Executed
in 1995, it sold for $242,700, much above its pre-sale high estimate
Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945) is one of the world's
most serious and important contemporary artists. Lot 558, "Katarina,"
is a very interesting construction of steel, plaster, fabric,
terracotta, shellac and pigment. It measures 59 by 81 by 68 inches
and was executed in 1999. It sold for $119,500, just below its
$120,000 pre-sale low estimate.