By Carter B. Horsley
After Christie's record-shattering
evening sale last week of Impressionist & Modern Art (see
The City Review
seems rather anti-climatic, but somehow collectors of contemporary
art will rouse themselves for this quite impressive evening auction
of contemporary art at Christie's November 15, 2006.
It boasts great paintings by
Clyfford Still and Anselm Kiefer, very good works by Willem de
Kooning, Mark Rothko and Roy Lichtenstein, two very fine works
by Ad Reinhart, two excellent Robert Motherwell, two Jackson Pollocks,
a superb Franz Kline, and four major paintings by Andy Warhol
(see The City Review
article by Michele Leight).
Like the Impressionist evening sale, this auction is huge with
83 lots being offered.
Works by Clyfford Still (1904-1980)
are very rare and this majestic and rich work is one his very
best. In the past few years, a handful of Stills have come up
at auction and done well, but not as well as they should given
his importance and visual power. Lot 44, "1947-R-No. 1,"
is a spectacular and great masterpiece by the artist. The catalogue
entry for the lot begins with a quotation from Jackson Pollock:
"Still makes the rest of us look academic."
The oil on canvas measures
69 by 65 inches and was executed in 1947. It has a very conservative
estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It sold for $21,296,000
including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this
article. The artist's previous auction record was $3,144,000.
"The forthcoming Clyfford
Still Museum in Denver, which may open as early as 2009, will
be a watershed event in the appreciation of the artist,"
the catalogue entry for this lot noted, adding thta "For
the first time, viewers will be able to see the scope and breadth
of his acievement. The artist's archieves, which are currently
sealed, will eventually be released and provide valuable documents
to help scholars understand the historical period during which
he lived. Nonetheless, what will not change is the total number
of works that Still sold without restriction, which is believed
to be approximately 150."
The sale was very successful.
Christopher Burge, the auctioneer, described it as "extraordinary"
and "fast and furious," noting that its sale total of
$239,704,000 was well above the pre-sale high estimate of $219,300,000
and "smashed" previous contemporary art auction records.
The auction, which sold 89.9 percent of the offered lots, set
19 records for individual artists. Mr. Burge said that there was
"bidding from all over the world and many new buyers"
and many "mature bidders." He said that the market was
"not out of control" and was a "measured market."
He said that 64.8 percent of the buyers were from the United States,
15.5 were European, 9.9 Asian and 9.8 percent "other."
There were 83 lots in the
catalogue and two lots were withdrawn prior to the start of the
auction. In recent years, the major evening sales have usually
had 50 to 60 lots and Mr. Burge said that "83 is about all
this auctioneer can handle," adding that "there are
more discretionary sellers and we're the beneficiary of that."
The second best painting at
the auction was Lot 60, "Balder's Traume," by Anselm
Kiefer (b. 1945). The oil, acrylic, emulsion, straw and mistletoe
work measures 108 by 144 inches and was executed in 1982. It has
a modest estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold for
$1,360,000, slightly over the artist's previous auction record
that was set at Sotheby's in London last June.
The catalogue provides the
"In addressing Germany's
fraught past, no other artist has navigated the difficult terrain
between the possibility of transcendence and the necessity of
remembrance as dramatically and as provocatively as Anselm Kiefer....Kiefer
approaches the horrendous legacy of Nazi imperialism through the
incorporation of myth, literature and art from the Nordic tradition
as well as religion, philosophy, mysticism and the occult. The
present work refers to the myth of Balder - the god of innocence,
beauty, purity and peace - whose death unleashes the ultimate
destruction of the Gods at Ragnorak. Upon dreaming of his own
death, his mother tries to prevent it by making every object on
earth vow never to hurt him. Her plan overlooks the mistletoe,
on account of the weed's unthreatening insignificance, but this
unfortunate misstep is later exploited by the demon Loki, who
masterminds Balder's murder with a magic spear made from the weed.
At the appeal of his grieving mother, Balder is promised release
from the underworld to return to a new, joyful and better world
that will rise upon the demise of Ragnorak, which must be destroyed
in punishment for his death. In this Christ-like resurrection
of a new world order eased of pain and born of the old, Kiefer
wields an apt metaphor for overcoming hs country's burdened past
and proceeding into the future."
Lot 29 is a strong oil on canvas
by Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) that is entitled "Untitled
XXV." It was executed in 1977 and measures 77 by 88 inches.
The catalogue notes that after a period when he primarily did
sculptures, de Kooning returned to painting with great intensity
in the late 1970s and maintained that those works "form the
culmination of much that de Kooning had attempted in the past
but never resolved," adding that "When he first moved
to the Springs on Long Island de Kooning had enjoyed the unique
landscape of the area and this in many ways entered and informed
his work. Now in the mid-70s he became increasingly preoccupied
with his immediate environment, its light and topography as well
as, in particular, the wateriness of the landscape around Louse
Pont out to which he would often cycle....He became captivated
by the shimmering surface of water and its ability to reflect
and merge the imagery of the land, sky, figures and itself in
a constantly shifting abstract surface of color and form."
The painting, which had
an "estimate of request," sold for $27,120,000, a record
for the artist and for any post-war painting.
Lot 24, "Untitled XXIX,"
is a smaller and less successful de Kooning from the same year
as Lot 29. It measures 54 3/4 by 59 inches. While it is certainly
slap-dash, it does not have the cohesive energy and power of his
best abstractions. It has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000.
It sold for $8,080,000.
Lot 67, "Untitled XVII,"
is one of de Kooning's late linear abstractions against white
backgrounds. While it is not as good as many in this series, it
is still an interesting and good work. An oil on canvas, it measures
70 by 80 inches and was executed in 1986. It has a modest estimate
of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for $3,376,000.
Lot 31, "Woman (Seated
Woman)," is an excellent charcoal, oil and graphite drawing
on paper by de Kooning. It measures 11 1/8 by 7 5/8 inches and
was drawn in 1952. It has an estimate of $3,500,000 to $4,500,000.
It sold for $9,648,000!
Lot 58, "Tisch,"
is a very beautiful 1982 abstraction by Gerhard Richter (b. 1932)
(see The City Review
article on a retrospective on the artist at the Museum of Modern
Art). An oil on canvas,
it measures 88 1/2 by 115 3/4 inches and was painted in 1982.
It has an estimate of $2,800,000 to $3,500,000. It sold
for $3,376,000. At the November 9, 2004 auction at Sotheby's New
York, it sold for $2,136,000.
Lot 26, "Untitled,"
by Mark Rothko, is a quite strong and luminous acrylic on paper
mounted on panel by Mark Rothko (1903-1970). It measures 33 1/2
by 25 3/4 inches and was painted in 1968. It has a modest estimate
of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It failed to sell and was passed
Lot 47 is a dark, but subtle
and lovely untitled acrylic on paper laid down on panel by Mark
Rothko. It measures 39 3/8 by 25 3/4 inches and was executed in
1968. It has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold
Lot 28 is an excellent 1946
gouache on masonite by Jackson Pollock (1912-1956). It measures
19 1/8 by 24 inches and has an conservative estimate of $1,500,000
to $2,000,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $950,000.
Lot 40, "Number 21,"
is a drip painting by Pollock that was executed in 1950. An oil
and enamel on masonite, it has an estimate of $7,000,000 to $9,000,000.
It failed to sell and was passed at $5,800,000.
Lot 43 is a large and strong
oil on canvas by Franz Kline (1910-1962). Entitled "Bruho,"
it measures 47 1/2 by 51 1/2 inches and was executed in 1961.
It has a modest estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000. It sold
Lot 50 consists of two quite
abstract compositions painted for Sigmund E. Edelstone in 1971
by Robert Motherwell (1915-1991). "The Edelstone View #1,"
left, "The Edelstone View #2," right, are acrylic on
canvas. The red painting measures 74 1/4 by 55 1/4 inches, and
the blue painting measures 75 1/4 by 56 1/4 inches. The lot has
a modest estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $1,024,000.
The late sculptures of Roy
Lichtenstein are some of the finest works in his oeuvre as Lot
17, "Airplane" exemplifies. A painted and patinated
bronze, it is 108 inches high and was executed in 1990. It is
number six from an edition of six. It has a modest estimate of
$1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for $2,592,000.
Lot 25 is one of Lichtenstein's
early and strong "brushstroke" pictures. Entitled "Yellow
and White Brushstrokes," it is an oil and magna on canvas
that measures 48 by 65 inches. It was painted in 1965 and has
an estimate of $7,000,000 to $9,000,000. It sold for $9,536,000.
Lot 68, "Abstraction with
guitar," is a classic Mondrianesque work by Lichtenstein.
Executed in 1975, it is an oil and magna on canvas that measures
68 by 90 inches. It has a modest estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000.
It sold for $1,808,000.
Lot 38, "Drawing 9/11/53," is a very
good steel with brown patina sculpture by David Smith (1906-1965).
It measures 27 by 39 by 5 3/4 inches and was executed in 1953.
It has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for
Lot 54, "Mont Sainte-Victoire,"
by Mark Tansey (b. 1949), is an oil on canvas that measures 100
by 155 inches and was executed in 1987. It has an estimate of
$2,000,000 to $3,000,000. The painting combines interpretations
of two famous series of paintings by Cézanne, "The
Bathers" and "Mont Sainte-Victoire and renders them
in a monochromatic orange hue that the catalogue states "is
a constant reminder of the essential falsehood of all painting."
The catalogue notes that "among the bathers we are able to
identify philosophers Jean Baudrilliard, Roland Barthes and Jacques
Derrida," and it observes that in the reflection of the water
the men are women, leading the catalogue to suggest that Tansey's
world is "transformed into an abyssal Platonic cave, which
questions the validity of all representation impossibly challenging
us to discern the object from its double." It sold for
$3,040,000, almost three times the artist's previous auction record
set at Sotheby's New York in November, 2004.
Lot 9, "Serial Project
(set B)," is a 1966 painted wood sculpture by Sol Lewitt
(b. 1928) that is one of his more interesting works because it
has an urbanistic rather than purely geometric massing. It measures
14 1/2 by 63 3/4 by 63 3/4 inches. It has an estimate of $300,000
to $400,000. It sold for $374,400.
Lot 80 is a pleasant pair of
polychromed wood cherubs, a 1991 work by Jeff Koons (b. 1955).
The work measures 48 by 43 1/2 by 19 inches overall and is number
three from an edition of three and one artist's proof. It has
an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $856,000.
Lot 64 is an amusing work by
Damien Hirst (b. 1965), entitled "Yes, But How Do You Really
Feel?," a group of six plastic skeletons, each encased in
its own vitrine and all lined up. The 1996 work measurees 79 by
168 by 18 1/4 inches. It has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000.
It sold for $1,472,000.
Lot 6, "Font,"
an acrylic on gelatin silver prints, 72 1/4 by 47 3/4 inches,
1987, by John Baldessari (b. 1931), sold for $800,000, breaking
the previous auction record for the artist of $744,000 set at
Christie's in New York last May. The lot had an estimate of $200,000
Lot 12, "V Series central
diagonal 1 (green)," by Robert Mangold (b. 1937), acrylic
and graphite on masonite, 48 by 72 inches, 1968, sold for $2,032,000,
shattering the artist's previous auction record of $234,000 set
at Phillips de Pury & Company in November, 2005. It had an
estimate of $250,000 to $350,000.
Lot 13, "Aluminum steel
plain," by Carl Andre (b. 1935), aluminum and steel plates,
each 3/8 by 12 by 12 inches, 1969, sold for $2,032,000, soaring
above the artist's previous auction record of $903,500 set at
Christie's in New York in November, 2004. It had an estimate of
$900,000 to $1,200,000.
Lot 41, "Berkeley 53,"
by Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993), oil on canvas, 49 1/2 by 47
1/2 inches, 1955, sold for $6,176,000, way over the artist's previous
auction record of $3,962,500 set at Sotheby's New York November
17, 1998. It had an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000.
Lot 46, "Homage to
the square: Autumn Climax," by Josef Albers (1888-1976),
oil on masonite, 48 1/2 inches square, 1963, sold for $1,136,000,
well above the artist's previous auction record of $822,400 set
at Christie's New York a year ago. It had an estimate of $400,000
Lot 49, "Study for
the Betrothal," by Arshile Gorky (1904-1948), pencil, charcoal,
pastel and wax crayon on burlap paper, 49 3/4 by 40 1/8 inches,
1947, sold for $2,816,000, a little over the artist's previous
auction record set at Christie's New York in May, 2005. It had
an estimate of $1,800,000 to $2,500,000.
Lot 57, "Untitled (interior),"
by Matthias Weischer (b. 1973), oil on canvas, 41 1/8 by 47 inches,
2002, sold for $441,600, nicely over the artist's previous auction
record set at Christie's London last October. It had an estimate
of $200,000 to $300,000.
Lot 59, "Daddy's Girl,"
by Eric Fischl (b. 1948), oil on canvas, 78 by 108 inches, 1984,
sold for $1,920,000, double the artist's previous auction record
set at Christie's New York in May, 2000. It had an estimate of
$600,000 to $800,000.
Lot 63, "Spider,"
by Louise Bourgeois," bronze, 94 by 96 by 84 inches, 1999,
sold for $4,048,000, breaking the artist's previous auction record
of $3,040,000 set at Sotheby's New York, November 9, 2005. It
had an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000.