By Michele Leight
Vibrant contemporary art glowed
on every wall and in the galleries of Christie's New York in anticipation
of their upcoming Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on
November 10. It is an innovative, stunning and thought-provoking
selection, which Robert Manley, Head of Evening Sale at Christie's,
called "tightly edited," and includes masterpieces by
Jean Michel Basquiat, Donald Judd, Jeff Koons, Jasper Johns, Joan
Mitchell, Peter Doig and two important monochromatic paintings
from Andy Warhol's "Death and Disaster" series, among
The evening sale is expected
to achieve between $67 million to $94 million, with prices ranging
from $100,000 for a work on paper by Robert Rauschenberg to an
estimated $9,000,000 to $12,000,000 for Lot 16, "Brother
Sausage," a seminal work by Jean Michel Basquiat that appears
on the cover of his catalogue raisonné, shown above, and
below with Brett Gorvy, International Co-Head and Deputy Chairman
Christie's America. This gorgeous, richly textured and layered
work is typically fraught with passion, angst and hardcore criticism
of racial inequality, prejudice, runaway corporate greed and consumerism
delivered in Basquiat's child like style that is always moving.
It failed to sell and was passed at $7,500,000.
Of the 46 offered lots,
39 sold for a total of $74,151,500, nicely within the pre-sale
Fresh, early works by legendary
deceased artists Alexander Calder, Lot 35, "Constellation
with Red Knife," circa 1943, estimate $1,500,000 to $2,500,000,
shown below, David Smith, Andy Warhol, De Kooning, Donald Judd
and many others feature prominently at this sale, and are contrasted
by the work of young, living artists, including Peter Doig, (B.
1959), Kara Walker, (B. 1969), and Marc Newson, (B. 1963), among
others. Lot 35, the Calder, sold for $2,378,500 including the
buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.
Lot 47, "Pod of Drawers,"
by Marc Newson, (estimate $500,000 to $700,000) straddles the
line between art and design like earlier work by avant-garde artist/designers
of the Bauhaus, and will be included in a catalogue raissoné
of limited editions of his work, "mn-12-pdb-1987" by
Didier Kizentowski of Gallery Kreo, Paris. Lot 47 sold for
458,500. Lot 47 is also shown in Christie's galleries with
Lot 42, "Great America," (estimate $400,000 to $600,000),
by Kerry James Marshall, (born 1955), a beautiful early work by
the artist. Lot 42 was passed at $300,000.
Marc Newson was five years
old when Donald Judd created the gorgeous stainless steel and
amber vintage stack, Lot 22, "Untitled 1968 (DSS120),"
(estimate $2,500,000 to $4,500,000), illustrated here, from his
groundbreaking series of 1965-68. This fabulous sculpture catches
the light, unconstrained by conventional "moorings,"
and appears to float in air in Christie's galleries, like a "stairway
to heaven." Lot 22 sold $4,898,500.
Stunningly modern Lot 23, "White
Black," (estimate $700,000 $1,000,000) was painted in 1961
by Ellsworth Kelly, who was born in 1923 and now in his eighties,
is a superb work by the artist, shown here with Lot 24, Larry
Bell's "L. Bell's House, Part 11," (estimate $300,000
to $500,000), executed 1962-63, that has been requested for inclusion
in the forthcoming exhibition "Pacific Standard Time: Painting
and Sculpture in Los Angeles 1945-1970," organized by The
Getty Research Institute and The J. Paul Getty Museum from October-February
2011. Lot 23 sold for $842,500. Lot 24 passed at $250,000.
Illustrated above is Lot 13,
"Reflection (What Does Your Soul Look Like), " (estimate
$4,000,000 to $6,000,000), a masterpiece by Peter Doig that was
exhibited at his retrospective "Peter Doig," at Tate
Britain, London, Musee d'Art moderne de la ville de Paris, and
Schim Kunsthalle Frankfurt from February 2008 to January 2009.
It is one of the most exciting works of art on view this season.
Lot 13 sold for $10,162,500
The Jasper Johns shown above
with Amy Cappellazzo was a gift from the artist to Merce Cunningham,
and is from the Collection of John Cage and Merce Cunningham (sold
to benefit the Merce Cunningham Trust), one of several distinguished
private collections and estates represented at this sale. Others
include the Collection of Betty Freeman, the Estate of Robert
and Jean Shoenberg and the Estate of Dorothy and Marshall M. Reisman,
sold to benefit the Reisman Charitable Foundation.
Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg
worked with Cage and Cunningham and collaborated with them as
art advisors to the Cunningham Dance Company. Lot 3, "Dancers
on a Plane, Merce Cunningham," (estimate $1,500,000 to $2,000,000)
was not only a gift to Cunningham, but inspired by the dance troupe
and a tribute to the Company. Other highlights of the Collection
of John Cage and Merce Cunningham include Lot 6, "No 1,"
by Robert Rauschenberg, an all black composition painted in 1951,
(estimate $800,000 to $1,200,000, not illustrated here), and Lot
1, "Untitled," (estimate $100,000 to $150,000), a winsome
work illustrated below with many references to time, including
a clock, that Rauschenberg gave a frustrated John Cage as a peace
offering because he was frequently late for rehearsals! Lot
3 sold for $4,338,500 amd Lot 1 sold for $938,500.
The interaction of these four
towering figures of arts and culture are described by Joan Aoacella
in "A Cow in the Concert Hall," in Christie's catalog
for this sale:
"The objects in the present
sale, mainly paintings Rauschenberg and Johns gave to Cunningham
and Cage, is thus a touching collection, a tribute to what was,
in the late twentieth century, probably the most crucial net of
friendships in American art."
Jeff Koons's art draws smiles
and sometimes outrage; but it is impossible to ignore and never
boring. Two early works by the artist are shown at the top of
the story with Amy Cappellazzo, International Co-Head and Deputy
Chairman of Christie's America and again here: Lot 8, "Large
Vase of Flowers" (estimate $4,000,000 to $6,000,000), with
detail (described below) and Lot 41, "Wishing Well,"
(estimate $1,200,000 to $1,800,000), by Jeff Koons, an "over
the top" gilt mirror incorporating enough shimmer and gaudiness
to enthrall several Sun Kings. It positively oozes excess, greed,
and out of control consumerism, which Koons focused on early in
his career, a wonderful tongue in cheek sculpture that seems prophetic
today! Lot 8 sold for $5,682,500 and Lot 41 sold for $1,142,500.
The cover lot, Lot 8, "Large
Vase of Flowers," is a Koons's cartoon caricature of roses,
sunflowers, zinnias and other brightly colored blossoms, meticulously
executed in the age old medium of polychrome - painted wood, as
in religious statues and relics of the Renaissance and Middle
Ages - guaranteed to take the chill out of the coldest winter
day. An important early work by the artist, (1991), this everlasting
bouquet has been exhibited at an impressive number of important
national and international venues.
Changing lanes to far more
tragic subject matter are two important works from Andy Warhol's
"Death and Disaster" series, Lot 19, (estimate $5,500,000
to $6,500,000), "Most Wanted Men No. 3, Ellis Ruiz,"
who was on the NYPD's most wanted list for the brutal murder and
rape of a 14-year-old girl, and Lot 25, "Tunafish Disaster,"
(estimate $6,000,000 to $8,000,000), featuring two ordinary, innocent
Chicago housewives that died after eating a can of contaminated
tuna fish, a mass produced staple of the American diet. Lot
19 was withdrawn from the auction and Lot 25 was passed at $4,700,000.
After the sale, Amy Cappellazzo remarked that it was perhaps too
"intellectual" a work for the current market.
"Most Wanted Men No. 3,
Ellis Ruiz" portrays a very ordinary looking man taken from
a police photograph, not a mug shot, because in this case the
murderer was never caught. The painting caused public outrage
and was taken down and destroyed when it was exhibited at the
Phillip Johnson Pavilion at the 1964 World's Fair in New York
because it was misunderstood as Warhol glorifying criminals. Instead,
he was poking dark, scandalous fun at our fascination with crooks
that achieve celebrity status because we propel them into the
headlines by voraciously tuning into media reports about them
-boosting ratings - and buying their books which become bestsellers.
In this controversial "Death
and Disaster" painting Warhol zeroed in on possibly the worst
end to life - brutal rape and murder of a young person - a crime
that would have been tough for Ruiz to overcome had he wound up
in jail. There is an unspoken rule even among prisoners that rape,
let alone murder of children, is off limits. An unusual number
of incarcerated child rapists and murderers die under "mysterious"
circumstances at the hands of fellow prisoners. No celebrity status
for such men behind bars, just execution by a jury of their peers.
In this painting Warhol captures how ironic it is that we, in
the free world, have a bizarre double standard, treating the same
maniacal individuals like stars.
Not from the "Death and
Disaster" series, illustrated above, the sunny portrait of
Michael Jackson painted in 1984, in youthful, happier times, also
alludes to our obsession with celebrity, and the high price it
requires of a world famous performer, which eventually caught
up with him. Michael Jackson's sad death was caused by a disturbing,
ironic, and increasingly common "disaster" for both
famous and ordinary people - an overdose of "legal"
drugs that he was addicted to, prescribed by his own doctor.
Beautiful, bold and often disturbing,
the silhouettes of Kara Walker (born in 1969) are controversial
to some for their violent depictions - shackles, rape - of the
institution of slavery. Illustrated above in Christies' galleries,
Lot 46, "Picturesque (Panel 1: Vagrant, Panel 11: A Gentle
Reminder, Panel 111: Of Your, Panel 1V: Complicity In, Panel V:
Our Undoing) has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. Lot 46
sold for $458,500.
Three superb works on paper
hold their own among powerful large-scale artworks, and there
is more in the evening and the day sale, unfortunately it is not
possible to show them all here. Illustrated are a sinuous Brice
Marden "Untitled with Green" (Lot 21, estimate $900,000
to $1,200,000), as fine a work on paper by the artist as it is
possible to find. Lot 7, estimate $1,000,000 to $1,500,000, a
moving early graphite (1962) drawing of a "Heinz Tomato Ketchup
with Campbell's Soup Can" by Andy Warhol was originally from
Leo Castelli Gallery, and an animated oilstick and masking tape
on paper, Lot 14, by Jean Michel Basquiat of a figure surrounded
by enigmatic marks reminiscent of ancient hieroglyphs and hand
crafted backdrops in early Hollywood epics. The Basquiat drawing
has an estimate $1,800,000 to $2,800,000. Lot 7 sold for $1,052,500.
Lot 21 sold for $2,042,500, a world auction record for the artist
for a work on paper. Lot 14 sold for $3,106,500.
Outstanding drawings and small
paintings by Post War and Contemporary heavyweights have extraordinary
appeal on two levels: they can become the seeds of new collections,
or they can add to established ones because of their incredible
quality. Shown here with Robert Manley, Head of Evening Sale at
Christie's, is Lot 33, Mark Rothko's energized "Blue, Red,
Black on Red," painted in 1967, with an estimate of $1,500,000
to $2,000,000. It sold for $2,042,500, a world auction record
for the artist for a work on paper. Also illustrated is a
very early (1958) "Composition" (Lot 34) in rich yellows
and blues by Willem De Kooning, with an estimate of $800,000 to
$1,200,000. It sold for $782,500. Similar in size and quality,
they played off each other marvelously in the galleries.
Pint-sized, with tremendous
wall power, painted in 1953, Robert Motherwell's oil on masonite
"Spanish Elegy No. 17" (Lot 38, estimate $300,000 to
$400,000) evokes super-sized musical notes and movement. It
sold for $374,500. Equally small but o so masterful is Willem
De Kooning's "Untitled (Woman)," (Lot 10, estimate $600,000
to $800,000), executed in oil, graphite and charcoal on paper
in 1946. It sold for $992,500. It is from the collection
of the artist Marisol (not illustrated). Also in this sale is
another De Kooning, Lot 39, "Two Women 11," with an
estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000, illustrated below. It
sold for $1,986,500.
Two powerful and expressive
large-scale works by Sam Francis, Lot 36, "Japan Line,"
(estimate $1,500,000 to $2,000,000) and Joan Mitchell, Lot 11,
"Untitled," (estimate $5,000,000 to $7,000,000) - a
passionate early work by the artist - are illustrated below.
Lot 36 sold for $1,762,500 and Lot 11 sold for $5,458,500.
Christie's catalog notes that
even as a young painter Joan Mitchell "...rapidly earned
the admiration of artists such as Hans Hoffmann, Willem de Kooning
and Franz Kline. With the natural athleticism and discipline earned
as a competitive ice skater in her youth, and a fearless use of
unexpected combinations of color, Mitchell created some of the
most potent works of abstract painting of her generation."
Two very different works by
Yayoi Kusama, psychedelic Lot 26, "Valise," influenced
by the flower-printed table cloth in her mother's kitchen, (estimate
$250,000 to $350,000), and subtly and beautifully "scaled"
Lot 28, "NO. A," (estimate $1,000,000 to $1,500,000),
created a few months before she arrived in New York, are shown
here with Robert Smithson's Lot 27, (estimate $350,000 to $450,000),
"Untitled," a luscious pink crystalline wall sculpture
from the mid-sixties. Lot 26 was passed at $190,000. Lot
28 sold for $1,874,500. Lot 27 sold for $902,500.
Aside from historically important,
legendary and seminal works - which are important for art itself
- and of course the blockbuster artworks we just love without
knowing why, the extremely high standard of evident in the evening
sale continues in the day sale, that features many smaller paintings,
works on paper and sculptures by world famous artists, as well
as highly prized gems by artists working today.
Whatever else is going on in
the financial markets, things are still moving in the art market,
although some do not think so, mainly because they expect to see
evidence of the excesses of the past - manifested by inflated
price tags. As if that had anything to do with the quality of
the art anyway. The art remains superb.
Another way of looking at it
is that the present leveling off in prices offers a great opportunity
to begin a collection, or fill the void in existing ones, or indulge
in that dream of owning just one work by a favorite artist. Art
can be both a passion and an investment that can be enjoyed every
day - minus the heartburn imposed by roller-coaster financial