Art/Auctions logo

Contemporary Art

Sotheby's

7PM, November 9, 2005

Sale 8129

David Smith sculpture sells for $23 million, record for work of contemporary art

Three studies for self-portrait by Bacon

Lot 16, "Three Studies for Self-Portrait," by Francis Bacon, oil on canvas in three parts, each 14 by 12 inches, 1976

By Carter B. Horsley

This evening auction of Contemporary Art at Sotheby's November 9, 2005 is highlighted by three studies for a self-portrait by Francis Bacon (1909-1992), a fine Franz Kline (1910-1962), several Andy Warhols, a good Chris Ofili (b. 1968) several good sculptures and a remarkable series of photographs by Hiroshi Sugimoto (b. 1948).

Lot 16, "Three Studies for Self-Portrait," is a great work by Francis Bacon. An oil on canvas in three parts, each 14 by 12 inches, it was painted in 1976. It has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It sold for $5,158,000 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Capturing so concisely his distinctive lick of hair and moonlike face, Three Studies for Self-Portrait belies a masochistic pleasure and fascination with tracing his own features, and cooroborates Bacon's view that, 'one always has a greater involvement with oneself than with anybody else.'...Throughout his career, Bacon returned to the portrait format steadfast in his belief that abstraction was merely aesthetic, and that art devoid of human content lacked emotional resonance. Along with the meticulously scrutinised faces of a handful of close friends, lovers and aquaintances during the 1970s, it was Bacon's own visage that became the arena for his most ferocious and original investigations into pictorial representation. Combining the sinuous paint handling, visceral intensity and psychological depth of his mature oeuvre, the ey-catching immediacy of this powerful triptych assaults the viewer with mesmerizing force. Executed at the zenith of Bacon's mature career, Three Studies for Self-Portrait is arguably one of the most psychologically compelling and physically engaging works of Bacon's career; an iconic image of the artist who himself an icon of his age....Bacon's obsession with portraiture stemmed from his desire to penetrate the innermost nature of human behaviour, to lay bare the human psyche and expose our inner core. Resolutely unmoved by the new forms of abstraction that were emanating from America, it was paradoxically within the narrowly circumscribed paramenters of portraiture that Bacon found the most freedom to explore his creative voice to charter a wholly original direction for painting....Charged with solitary reflection and existentialist angst following the demise of his lover and muse George Dyer, the hidden depths of Bacon's self are exposed. expressed in three brutally human images through a syntax of violently flayed anatomical forms that leap from the canvas and assault the spectator the flurry of robust flesh-tones smeared onto the canvas are more akin to meat in a butcher's shop than human flesh. Bacon's distorted features here eschew physiognomic interpretation - not the autobiographical co-ordinates of an individual's life but the physical sensation of living that life in all its 'joyous despair.'...The physical communication of life's flux is dynamically multiplied in the present work by the triptych format which Bacon liked for its filmic, sequential quality, and the sense of narrative and movement it gave his work. As each panel of the present work illustrates, Bacon's ability to condense multiple viewpoints and expressions into a single image is an improvised fusion of Futurist and Cubist dynamism that animates the emotional complexity and inner vitality of the artist's self. The superimposed layering of distorted images maps the changing face of the artist, as if captured on a long exposure film...."

The sale was very successful with 88.9 percent of the 54 offered lots selling for $114,494,400. The pre-sale estimate was $78,630,000 to $108,350,000. After the auction, Tobias Meyer, the auctioner, said that it was Sotheby's most successful contemporary art sale ever.

"Harley Red" by Kline

Lot 25, "Harley Red," by Franz Kline, oil on canvas, 82 by 67 inches, 1959-1960

Lot 25 is a very fine, large abstraction by Franz Kline. An oil on canvas, it measures 82 by 67 inches and was executed in 1959-1960. It has a conservative estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It sold for $3,488,000. The catalogue observes that "when they shared a house in Bridgehampton in 1954, Kline's use of large, broad brushes and muscular compositions clearly influenced the work of de Kooning in the late 1950s, when both artists were painting monumental and colorful abstracted landscapes. The elegant and confident dynamism of Harley Red was a quality de Kooning greatly admired in Kline's work, as he unerringly alternated contasting colors and opposing forms to achieve a taut, unifed composition, improvised through a strong instinct for equivalent paint areas."

"Lot 21, "Untitled (Rome)," by Cy Twombly, oil paint, wax crayon and graphite on canvas, 51 1/4 by 59 1/4 inches, 1961

Lot 21, "Untitled (Rome), is an oil paint, wax crayon and graphite on canvas by Cy Twombly (b. 1928) that looks...very messy.

It measures 51 1/4 by 59 1/4 inches and was executed in 1961. It has a very ambitious estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000. It sold for $7,968,000, eclipsing the artist's previous auction record of $5,619,500.

The catalogue entry for this lot argues that "Fluctuating between the corporeal and the ethereal, Twombly's expressive syntax of broken forms, scraps of words and elusive metaphorical signs amounts to a semiotic avowal of the soul." "Nowhere is this better expressed than in the series of Untitled compositions executed during the summer of 1961 which mark the creative zenith of Twombly's early career."

And the nadir of art criticism.

"In the present work," the entry continued, "the ravishing pantheon of erotic rose and carmine hues stimulated by blazing highlights of maroon, scarlet, blue and white intimate episodes of violent and tragic love. The immediacy of the fleshtones smeared into action assails the viewer's creative unconscious, throbbing with a culminating sensuality as forms advance and recede into the mythical depths of the composition like a Dionysian aftermath. As colour and brushstroke become one, the radical expressiveness of Twombly's fluid gestures liberate colour from its bondage to form, enriching the entire canvas with a deep understanding of the physicality of painting. Dense veils of sumtpuous paint overwhelm shattered graphic shards of elucidatory script; scant 'architectural' traces fleetingly perceived in a bounteous exchange of creative impulses."

Maybe this could find a place in a CSI bathroom. Again, the entry: "The rough scramble of fleshy paint violently overpowers the canvas with unprecendented fore as the pictorial space is seized by an orgiastic apotheosis of frenzied passion."

"Untitled (New York City)" by Twombly

Lot 29, "Untitled (New York City)," by Cy Twombly, oil based house paint and wax crayon on canvas, 68 by 85 inches, 1968

Lest, surfers think this observer is completely insensitive to the talents of Cy Twombly, Lot 29, "Untitled (New York City)," is a certainly the best Twombly work to come up at auction in New York in recent years and is not at all unpalatable. It, in fact, graces the catalogue's cover. An oil based house paint and wax crayon on canvas, it measures 68 by 85 inches and was executed in 1968. Its estimate is justifiable higher than Lot 21's, albeit still pretty damn high - $8,000,000 to $10,000,000. It sold for $8,696,000, eclipsing the record set by Lot 21.

"Following a brief period of creative drought in the mid 1960s, 1966 saw Cy Twombly abandon the emotive use of color to embark upon a cycle of matte grey canvases in search of a leaner, altogether more expressive clarity," the entry for this lot noted. "Extraneous literary and historical concerns were cast aside as Twombly sought to channel the vitality of his wrist towards exploring the expressive possiblities of automonous rhythmic repetitions," it added. Thank goodness.

"Spider" by Bourgeois

Lot 28, "Spider," by Louise Bourgeois, bronze, 94 by 96 by 84 inches, 1997, number one of anedition of six withone artist's proof.

Lot 28 is an impressive "Spider' bronze sculpture by Louise Bourgeois (b. 1911). It measures 94 by 96 by 84 inches and is niumber one of an edition of six with one artist's proof and the catalogue notes that there is also a unique stainless steel version. The lot has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for $3,040,000, breaking the artist's former auction of $1,439,500.

"Aux Shahn" by Calder

Lot 18, "Aux Shahn," by Alexander Calder, painted metal hanging mobile, 33 1/2 by 74 by 46 inches, 1967

Lot 18 is a very good painted metal hanging mobile by Alexander Calder (1898-1976). It measures 33 1/2 by 74 by 46 inches and was executed in 1967. It was once in the collection of Ben Shahn, the artist. It has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $1,248,000.

"Cubi XXVIII" by David Smith

Lot 23, "Cubi XXVIII," by David Smith, stainless steel, 108 by 110 by 45 inches, 1965, inscribed gate 3

Lot 23 is a large stainless steel sculpture by David Smith (1906-1965) that is entitled "CUBI XXVII." Executed in 1965, it is 108 by 110 by 45 inches. It has an ambitious estimate of $8,000,000 to $12,000,000. It sold for $23,816,000, shattering the artist's previous auction of $4,944,000 and setting a record for a work of contemporary art.

It was once in the collection of Norton Simon Inc. Museum of Art, Fullerton and Pasadena. "The Cubi series," the catalogue notes, "is the culmination of Smith's sculptural alchemy, in which welded metal becomes a composition of elegant yet weighty and volumetric presence, created around open spaces rather than carve from solid form like traditional stone or wood sculpture. Smith's genius for balancing void and solid, form and content, crude material and poetic spirit is the hallmark of his Cubi masterpieces. Created from 1961 until his untimely death in1965, Smith's Cubi sculptures are a cohesive group- of which Cubi XXVIII was the last - whose sleek geometry of boxes and columns allowed Smith to experiment with real rather than implied volume, exploring all its permutations. This spectacular group of sculptures is not only the culmination of Smith's illustrious career; they are acknowledged masterpieces of American art that constitute one of the most radical developments in modern sculpture. The importance of the Cubis is confirmed by the fact that twenty-one of the Cubis have entered museum collections, many within just a few years of the artist's death.

Lot 31, "Jackie Frieze," by Andy Warhol, acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas in thirteen parts, each 20 by 16 inches, overall 20 by 208 inches, 1964

Lot 31, "Jackie Frieze," is a large acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas in thirteen parts by Andy Warhol that was executed in 1964. It measures 20 by 208 inches and has an ambitious estimate of $8,000,000 to $10,000,000. It sold for $9,200,000. It consists of reproductions of a photograph of Jaqueline Kennedy at the time of President Kennedy's funeral in 1963. "The tragic events of 1963 transformed her into a symbol of national mourning, and the young widow became a subject in which Warhol's fascination with death and disaster is intermingled with his fascination for celebrity more proundly than anywhere else in Warhol's oeuvre," the catalogue entry for this lot maintained. Another Jackie Frieze, consisting of eight canvases of gold and silver backgrounds is a promised gift to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the catalogue entry noted.

"The thirteen images," the entry continued, "unspool before us, as if they are frames from a documentary film, arrayed in a single row as if to imply that the image will continue into infinity. This open-ended infinity would seem to be Warhol's ultimate statement that serialized compositions can de-sensitize the viwer to the innate humanity of the image. But Warhol took great care that Art, in the end, mutes the vulgar sensationalism of the source or the numbing quality of multipe images. Color, placement of the screen on each canvas, and the degree of registration in the act of screening are conscious choices by Warhol in Jackie Frieze. Furthermore. Warhol chose to reverse the image on three of the panels, creating pairs of canvases in which Jackie and the bystander in the background become mirror images at intervals throughout the frieze."

"Nine Blue Marilyn (Reversal Series)" by Warhol

Lot 41, "Nine Blue Marilyn (Reversal Series)," by Andy Warhol, acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, 54 by 41 3/4 inches, 1979

Lot 41 is a more painterly Warhol entitled "Nine Blue Marilyn (Reversal Series)." An acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas that measures 54 by 41 3/4 inches, it consists of nine images of Marilyn Monroe, the actress. It was executed in 1979 and has a modest estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for $2,480,000. In 1962, Warhol had painted "Twenty-Five Colored Marilyns," a work that is now in the Fort Worth Art Museum.

"Flowers"  by Warhol, above, and "Lifeboat" by Koons, below

Lot 20, "Flowers," by Andy Warhol, acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, 82 inches square, 1964, above; Lot 40, "Lifeboat," by Jeff Koons, bronze, 12 by 80 by 60 inches, 1985, number 1 from an edition of 3 with one artist's proof

Lot 20, "Flowers," is an 82-inch-square acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas by Andy Warhol. Executed in 1964, it has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It sold for $6,736,000. "One of the indelible images of twentieth-century art, Flowers is one of only three canvases of this image in the 82-inch format exhbiited at Andy Warhol's first sell-out show at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York in 1964. The image was "appropriated," the catalogue noted, "from a colour photograph of seven hibiscus blossoms printed as a fold-out in the June 1964 issue of Modern Photography."

Lot 35, "Set of Five Boxes: Brillo Soap Pads; Campbell's Tomato Juice; Del Monte Peach Halves; Heinz Tomato Ketchup; Kellogg's Corn Flakes," by Andy Warhol, sold for $1,248,000, breaking the artist's previous auction record for a sculpture of $864,818.

Lot 40 is a bronze "Lifeboat" by Jeff Koons that measures 12 by 80 by 60 inches. Executed in 1985, it is number 1 of an edition of 3 with one artist's proof. It has an ambitious estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It sold for $3,376,000. It was included in the artist's first solo show, Equilibrium, at New York's International with Monument Gallery in November, 1985.

Lot 6, "Strange Eyes," by Chris Ofili, oil paint, polyester resin, elephant dung, map pins and glitter on canvas, 76 3/4 by 48 by 10 1/4 inches, 2001

Lot 6 is an appealing work of considerable charm by Chris Ofili that is entitled "Strange Eyes." Executed in 2001, it is a 76 3/4-by-48-by-10 1/4-inch composition of oil paint, polyester resin, elephant dung, map pins and glitter on canvas. It has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,000,000. It was passed at $650,000. The work, according to the catalogue, "offers the viewer an exuberant and glorious rendering of an African woman whose individual beauty resonates beyond the humorous caricature that lies within most of Ofili's large-scale painted portraits....Strange Eyes epitomizes Ofili's layered absorption of cultural and historical influences. The female's psychedelic backdrop, unassigned 'ethnic' clothing, and mesmerizing multilayered gaze come together to form a stunning re-mix of the artist's inspiration that carries a beat of its own. She is a diva who should be seen, but also heard."

"Henry VIII" by Hiroshi Sugimoto

Lot 8, "Henry VIII, left, one of seven silver-gelatin prints in artist's frames, each 58 3/4 by 47 inches, by Hiroshi Sugimoto, 1999, number 5 of an edition of 5

Lot 8 consists of silver-gelatin "portraits" of Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr by Hiroshi Sugimoto. The seven prints are number 5 of an edition of 5 and each measures 58 3/4 by 47 inches and were created in 1999. The lot has an estimate of $350,000 to $450,000. It sold for $744,000, significantly higher than the artist's previous auction record of $209,100.

The photographs are of wax effigies at Madame Tussaud's was musum in London.

"Ironically," the catalogue entry for this lot observes, "the elegant black and white images appear more life-like than the wax effiges themselves, as the artist uses his dexterity behind the lens to even out any hint of artifice, playing on the widespread by fallacious perception that photography is a truthful medium. Sugimoto photographically resusitates these wax corprses, breathing life into figures from bygone centuries....Here, Sugimoto adapts his mechanical and technical processes in order to approximate as closely as posible the painterly technique of Holbein....For the first time in Sugimoto's oeuvre, each figure is depicted life-size, enabled by the artists's skilled technical facility with the enlargement process. Each is dramatically lit and reproduced in high contrast to emulate the chiaroscuro of portrait painting in the grand tradition. The relentless sharpness of focus captures every minutiae of detail in their costumes and adornments, producing in lyrical tonal contrasts the subtle differentiations in texture of the fabrics and the glinting lustre of precious stones and metals." The pictures are remarkably beautiful.

"The Most Beautiful Thing in the World" by Hirst

Lot 9, "The Most Beautiful Thing in the World," by Damien Hirst, household gloss paint with butterfly wings, 84 inches in diameter, 2003

Lot 9 is a 84-inch diameter collection of butterfly wings by Damien Hirst (b. 1965) entitled "The Most Beautiful Thing in the World." It was created in 2003 and has an estimate of $950,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $1,304,000, breaking the artist's previous auction record for a painting of $854,744.

Lot 1, "El Soplon (The Prompter)," by Francis Alys sold for $632,000, breaking the artist's previous auction record of $188,700.

Lot 11, "Pan," by Vija Celmins sold for $576,000, just over the artist's previous auction record of $545,600.

See The City Review article on the Fall 2005 Post-War and Contemporary Art evening auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2005 Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2005 Contemporary Art evening auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2004 Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2004 Contemporary Art evening auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2004 Contemporary Art evening auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the May 12, 2004 morning session Contemporary Art auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the May 12 Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the May 13 Contemporary Art morning auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2003 Contemporary Art evening auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's Fall 2003

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction at Christie's Spring 2003

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's Spring 2003

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction at Christie's Fall 2002

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's Fall 2002

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art day auction at Christie's in Spring 2002

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's May 15, 2002

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art day auction at Sotheby's May 16, 2002

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction in the fall of 2001 at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's that follows this auction November 14, 2001

See The City Review article on the Post-War Art evening auction at Christie's November 13, 2001

See The City Review article on Contemporary Art evening auction at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourgh November 12, 2001

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

Use the Search Box below to quickly look up articles at this site on specific artists, architects, authors, buildings and other subjects
 

 

Home Page of The City Review