Carter B. Horsley
was only one truly successful
major art auction in the Fall 2008 season New York, the November 16,
2008 auction of
Sotheby's of African, Ocean and Pre-Columbian Art with
117 of 118 offered works selling for $10,859,944.
The auction was the spectacular
and very important
collection of Frieda and Milton Rosenthal who lived in Westchester
County and bought many masterpieces from Helena Rubenstein, Nelson
Rockefeller John J. Klejman.
The auction was extremely
Lot 94 is a highly stylized and
"magnificent "Rapa Nui" male figure from Easter
Island that is 16 1/2 inches high. It has an estimate of $250,000
to $350,000. It sold for $614,500, including the buyer's premium
as do all results mentioned in this article, an auction record
for an Easter Island sculpture.
The cover illustration of the
Lot 63, a "magnificent and highly important" Senufo
pair of male and female ancestor figures from the Ivory Coast.
The male figure is 45 5/8 inches high. The pair was previously
in the collections of John J. Klejman of New York, Nelson A.
of New York and The Museum of Primitive Art in New York and had
been sold in 1967 at Parke Bernet Galleries in New York. The lot
has been widely published and exhibited and has an estimate of
$3,000,000 to $5,000,000. It sold for $4,002,500, an auction record
for a Senufo sculpture.
cover illustration of the
catalogue for the November
14, 2008 auction of African and Oceanic Art at Christie's from the collection of
Jean Shoenberg is Lot 82, a 58-inch-high wood sculpture of a standing
female holding a flying fish and another fish whose tail joins
the head of the larger fish biting the lower jaw of the figure.
A snake or a fish emanates from the figure's sex and is joined
to the feet and a large shark on the figure's back is joined to
a long slender fish projecting above the head. The head is surmounted
by a hermit crab with spiral shell. The catalogue notes that this
figure is "very similar to, and it is tempting to think it
might be the pair to a male figure in the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum
fur Volkerkunde in Cologne. The lot has a modest estimate of $50,000
to $80,000. It sold for $206,500 including the buyer's premium
as do all results mentioned in this article.
82 lots offered for
sale in this auction, 65 sold for $1,070,875.
Teuten, Christie's specialist
in this department, said after the auction that "In a selective
market, the finest items in this collection attracted very strong
competition notably from European buyers indicating the continuing
strength of the market for fine and rare works."
The second most successful
auction of the Fall
2008 season was the the Antiquities
at Sotheby's December 9, 2008, that sold a respectable 82.8
percent of its offered lots, but even then there were some surprising
was an exquisite and
retal Roman Imperial, Augustan bronze figure of a goddess that
is 7 inches high and is in superb condition except that she is
missing her arms. While her bolt-upright pose may not recall more
sensuous goddesses, but the drapery of her garments and her very
beautiful face are most arresting. She is dated Late 1st Century
B.C./Early 1st Century A.D. She has an estimate of $600,000 to
$900,000. The lot failed to sell.
day at Christie's December 10, 2008 was highlighted by several
works, the foremost being Lot 142 a Roman bronze of Hercules that
is 8 1/2 inches high and is not only perfection in execution but
poetic and inspiring in its very fluid form. It has a modest estimate
of $300,000 to $500,000 and is one of the rare and extraordinary
works that by themselves make a collection important without any
other works. It failed to sell.
Arts and Antiquities
are not the traditional price leaders in the art and auction market
and the traditional "big" fields like Impressionist
Art and Contemporary Art performed very poorly, reflecting the
world-wide financial crisis that began when it was too late to
change the season's catalogues. The crisis, which started in the
mortgage business, spread to just about everything and led to
spectacular swings daily swings in stock markets, mostly drastically
downward. Fortunes were wiped out and at the end the season the
end was no way in sight and the short-term future of the art market
looked not only bleak but desperate.
only 3 of about 5 lots sold, a frightening percentage that is
certain to seriously concern future consignors since a work of
art that is unsold at a major auction is "burnt" and
unlikely to be successfully reoffered publicly for several years.
most of the lots
that did sell sold at the low-end of their estimate, or worse,
much below such estimates as the auction houses tried to convince
consignors to significantly reduce their "reserves,"
the prices below which lots could not be sold.
auction houses got burnt,
in large part because they had fallen in the habit of "guaranteeing"
consignors a level of sales in all-out efforts to get important
consignments. It is probably that few such consignments will be
offered in the future and that they will be quite conservative.
such bad news, the
good news was that there was still money "out there"
for some "expensive" art and that some records were
still being set. While many have argued that the market was becoming
more "selective" and that "quality" counts,
the truth really was that there were no reliable rules and the
market was floundering in uncertainty. "Big-name" artists
saw their estimates move downward by a third or more, back to
likely that the auction
houses will survive but will offer smaller, more selective auctions
with much more conservative estimates, based on natural turnover
works from estates and divorces rather than speculation.
will have to adjust
their prices as well as the public is well aware of auction action,
but their historic roles in offering very high quality will help
the better ones survive assuming they have some "staying"
power to last out the storms.
season got off to a horrible
start, of course, when Sotheby's
held its Impressionist & Modern Art auction November 5, 2008. the results
were very disappointing with only 64.3 percent of the 70 offered
lots selling for a total of $223,812,500. The pre-sale estimates
were $337,800,000 to $475,400,000. Most of the lots that did sell,
sold below their low estimates.
Lot 51. for example, was an
by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) that is an oil on canvas that
measures 29 1/8 by 36 5/8 inches. It was painted in 1873-4 and
was once in the collection of Auguste Pellerin, Sam Salz and William
and Edith Mayer Goetz. It has a modest estimate of $8,000,000
to $12,000,000. It was passed at $7,250,000.
was able to only
sell $145 million of its Impressionist
and Modern Paintings November 6, 2008, way below its pre-sale
estimate of about $250 million.
Only 45 lots of the 81
Lot 53 was a very beautiful
still life by Matisse
that is notable for its strong asymmetrical composition. Entitled
"Anémones et grenades," it is an oil on canvas
that measures 25 3/4 by 32 inches. It was painted in 1946 and
at one time belonged to Alfred M. Frankfurter of New York. It
has an estimate of $4,500,000 to $6,500,000. It was
Contemporary Art evening sale on November 12, 2008 at Christie's
includes two important self-portraits, one by Francis Bacon, and
the other by Jean-Michel Basquiat, who committed suicide, (from
the collection of Lars Ulrich) and an outstanding group of drawings
by Post War artists Barnett Newman, Ashille Gorky and Willem de
Kooning, from the collection of Kathy and Richard Fuld Jr. Other
artists whose work is well represented include Lucio Fontana,
Gerhard Richter, Joan Mitchell, Louise Bourgeois, Agnes Martin,
Brice Marden, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Subodh Gupta, and
many others. The sale is expected to achieve between $227,000,000
to $321,000,000. Including the buyers' premium, the 51 of the
75 offered lots totaled $113,627,500.
A triptych by Francis Bacon set
a world auction
record last year, but a more intimate and unflinchingly introspective
"Study for Self Portrait," Lot 27, a full-length, 1964
self-portrait, was bound to generate enormous interest despite
its hefty price tag of $40,000,000. It was passed at $27,500,000.
At the Sotheby's
November 11, 2008 sale of Post-War
and Contemporary Art,
the sale sold 43 of the
offered 63 lots
for $125,131,500. Tobias Meyer, worldwide head of Contemporary
Art at Sotheby's, said after the auction that "Tonight we
saw a seasoned, smart collecting community responding to great
material at levels that were achievable. The American collecting
community bought works of quality with intelligence, for the right
price." Alex Rotter, the head of the Contemporary Art Department
in New York added that "the market has gone up more than
250 percent in the past two yeas, and the global financial turmoil
obviously has brought a correction. Tonight's sale...brings us
back to the levels of the autumn of 2006, when the evening sale
also brought $125 million."
Lot 17, Roy Lichtenstein's
iconic Pop Art graphic
cropped from a comic book "Half Face with Collar," was
one of three paintings by the artist on offer at this sale. It
has an estimate of $15,000,000 to $20,000,000. It failed to
masterpiece by Rufino
Tamayo (1899-1991) was the highlight of the evening auction of
at Sotheby's November 18, 2008.
it is a vinylite and sand on canvas mural that measures 13 feet
2 inches by 45 feet 10 3/8 inches and was created in 1955 for
the Bank of the Southwest in Houston. The very impressive work
has been widely published and has an estimate of $7,000,000 to
$9,000,000. It sold for $6,802,500 including the buyer's premium
as do all results mentioned in this article and it set a new Sotheby's
record for any work of Latin American art at auction. Artist's
records were also set for Remedios Varos, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Thomas
Jacques Somerscales and Dr. Atl. The pre-sale estimate for the
78 lots in the evening sale was $21,770,000 to $29,235,000. The
evening sale total was $16,797,875, indicating that the auction
seemed to follow the pattern set by the earlier auctions this
season of significantly reduced sales and sales prices but still
indicated that there were significant buyers for some premium
of Sotheby's Latin American department, said after the evening
sale, that she was "delighted with the results...particularly
in light of the economic climate," adding that "the
sale total was comparable to our evening sale in the spring of
2007." "We saw strong interest for a wonderful section
of abstract works from the 1960s and for 19th century landscapes.
night, the Latin American
Art auction at Christie's did not fare better.
The auction was highlighted by
by such important artists by Wilfredo Lam (1902-1982), Rufino
Tamayo (1899-1991), and Matta (1911-2002).
Lot 35, show above, is a large
and very impressive
oil and charcoal painting on burlap by Lam that is entitled "Bonjour
monsieur Lam." Painted in 1959, it measures 29 1/2 by 59
In a catalogue essay for the
Anreus provides the following commentary:
"Throughout most the 1940s
are colorful and lush, after 1947 his palette becomes starker
- browns, blacks and grays are balanced with areas of red, yellow
or blue. His earlier more expressionistic use of line...is replaced
by a precise, elegant drawing endowed with neo-classical rigor.
His canvases of the 1950s possess a grand sobriety, where sharply
defined forms are interlaced within fields of dark blues, olive
greens, brown and blacks. Bonjour monsieur Lam
to this period. A horizontal composition, Bonjour monsieur
Lam contains a winged horse that fills most of the picture
plane; interlaced with it and leaning towards the lower right
is a reclining figure with a horned mask for a face, while in
the background a branch-like form with thorns floats diagonally.
The elongated figures reflect the artist's re-invention of oceanic
sculpture, which he studied and collected with particular focus
during the 1950s. The title evokes self-portraits by both Gustave
Courbet and Paul Gauguin, where the artist is greeted by a patron
or audience. It is possible to read this image as a metaphorical
self-portait (winged horse) where the artist is entangled with
his audience (masked horned figure) in a world of struggle (thorns)."
This painting's composition is
and its horizontal format and large size is unusual for Lam. The
painting was once in the collection of Prince Furstenberg of Vienna
and has been widely exhibited and published. It has an estimate
of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It failed to sell.
Lot 15 was a very vibrantly
and very, very impressive oil on canvas by Matta. Painted in 1948,
it measures 78 by 117 1/2 inches and is entitled "Stop the
Age of Hemmohrr." It has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000.
It failed to sell.
Abby McEwen provides the
commentary on this marvelous and spectacular work in her catalogue
"'If we admit that we are
entering a new
world in which there are laws that we do not understand,' Matta
reasoned mid-career, 'in such a world it is the task of the poet
and the artist to represent this new physics where we must now
live and which is revolutionary.' The experience of the Second
World War was profoundly unsettling for Matta, and to the physic
hemeticism of his early work he began to introduce imagery more
deeply existential and catacylismic in feeling. Influenced by
the wartime exhibition of Picasso's Guernica in the
States and the Mexican muralist movement, whose work Matta saw
during two trips to Mexico in the 1940s, he began to paint on
a far greater scale than his American contemporaries at the time.
A dynamic figure on the New York scene since his emigration from
Paris in 1938, Matta served as a conduit between the European
Surrealists who had gathered in New York, including Breton, Ernst
and Tanguy, and the emerging New York School. The visionary projection
and uncanny originality of his Surrelist paintings, would have
a great impact on the young Pollock, Rothko and Gorky'; and his
monumentally-sized canvases of the mid- to later 1940s anticipated
those of the Abstract Expressionists. In early masterpieces such
as the present Stop the Age of Hemmohrr and Being
(1946), a complex labyrinth people with unnatural humanoid beings
and grotesquely contorted architecture, Matta began to unveil
a new iconography of monstrous anthropomorphic beings that acted
within what he described as a social rather than personal or psychic,
morphology of form. 'To move away from the intimate, imaginary
forms...toward the cultural, totemic expressions of civilizations...the
formation of cultures in confrontation with social landscapes,'
he explained, was to invest his forms with the historical consciousness
of the present reality. 'I want to show the contradictions involved
in realty,' Matta further emphasized to William Rubin. 'It is
the space created by contradictions, the space of that
struggle, which interests me as the best picture of our real condition.
The fault with most pictures today is that they show an a
freedom from which they have eliminated all contradicton, all
resemblance to reality'....Realist in a most desultory, purely
visionary way, the present work is rife with contradictory elements;
the pictorial space warps and expands around the grotesquely outsized
half-human, half-insect creatures that punctuate the gelatinous,
suggestively catalytic background. 'I want to replace perspective,'
Matta explained, 'by a kind of prespecting and simultanously to
replace the space of distance with the space of feeling....All
extremes and everything that is found within them - should be
seen in terms of prospecting and be expressed in a special kind
of space: a space of feeling.' This affective space grounds Matta's
universalism in the anguish of his own experience, lending a compelling
intimacy to painting that became increasingly non-referential....In
Stop the Age of Hemmohrr, the torquing diagonal,
by a strangely attenuated yellow form, connects the jagged, pincer-like
figures at the top to the more aggressive exoskeletal bodies looming
below. Encased within an amber blister at the left sits a sinister
composite form, appedances sharply angular and innards gapingly
exposed. 'They seem monstrous cybernetic embodiments of the hidden
forces that seek to control our lives,' Rubin observed, the signs
of the devastation and catalcylismic shock of a facturerd, post-war
reality experience, by Matta working from New York this time,
At the November 17,
2008 American Paintings auction at Christie's, a great and
large Tonalist masterpiece by George Inness failed to sell.
Lot 83 was a very great oil on
canvas by George
Inness (1825-1894) that is entitled "Tenafly, Autumn."
It measures 30 1/4 by 45 1/2 inches and is dated 1891. It has
a modest estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It has been consigned
by the Corcoran Gallery of Art and had been given to it by Senator
William A. Clark of New York. It failed to sell.
At the same auction, an
exquisite and wonderful
painting by Martin Johnson Heade also failed to interest buyers.
Lot 162 was a wonderful and exquisite Hummingbird painting by
Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904). An oil on canvas, it measures
18 by 24 inches and is entitled "Pink Orchids and Hummingbird
on a Twig." It has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000.
It failed to sell.
The story was not much better
One of the most beautiful works
in the auction
was a small watercolor and gouache on paper by Oscar Bluemner
(1867-1938) entitled "Railroad Tracks (Cityscape with Sun)."
It measures 4 3/4 by 6 1/4 inches and was painted in 1927. It
has a modest estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. It failed to sell.