By Carter B. Horsley
Phillips de Pury has carved
a nice niche for itself in recent years with its modestly priced
Contemporary Art auctions and its Design auctions, all with large
and lavish catalogues.
This season it has launched
another series and it has struck on a very good and natural idea
of "theme auctions."
On December 12, 2009, it will
hold its first "New York" auction featuring editions,
contemporary art, photographs and design that are related to New
York City. Earlier in the season, it held a "music"
theme auction in London and future themes include Sex next March
in London, Africa next March in London, Film next April in New
York, Italy next June in London, the 80s next June in New York,
Latin America next October in New York, Japan next November in
London, Music next November in New York, and Black & White
next December in London.
Sotheby's and Christie's, the
other major auction houses, have their glossies, but with Phillips
de Pury the whole affairm, in this auction matte, is often considerably
greater than the parts as it has "the knack," "a
flair," and Simon de Pury's infectious enthusiasm.
In the catalogue, Simon de
Pury, the chairman of Phillips de Pury & Company, recalls
that when he arrived at JFK in the 1960s on his first visit to
New York City, he was "mesmerized" by what he saw: Queuing
for hours to get tickets to the musical 'Hair,' the beauty of
Times Square at night, visiting artists in the slightly dangerous
Greenwich Village, was all part of the experience. When I sit
today at my Vito Acconci desk looking across 14th Street, now
a chic fashion street rivaling Madison Avenue, watching the thousands
of people strolling on the High Line, I am witness to the continous
morphing of this unique city. The one thing that has never changed,
however, is the shot of energy that you get when you arrive in
New York and that feeling of slight melancholy you feel when heading
back to JFK and leaving the metropolis behind you. It is this
energy that has enticed greatness in every imaginable area, and
in none so much as in the world of art. For artists from Duchamp
to Warhol to Koons, New York has been unlimited source of energy
The New York catalogue is unusual
in that it contains several major articles including lengthy and
very good interviews with collector Agnes Gund and artist Alex
Katz, a feature on "exciting new art spaces in town,"
and an essay by Philip Gefter on the city's history in photographs
in which he observed that "Two cities may lay claim to the
birth of photography - London and Paris - but throughout the Twentieth
Century the world of New York was clearly photography's oyster."
In addition, the catalogue
includes an "interview" with Gigi Gaston by Karen Wright.
Gigi Gaston is a fictional character created by Josh Gosfield,
formerly an art director for New York magazine, and was
the subject of a recent exhibition at Steven Kasher Gallery in
Chelsea. The subhead on the article declared that "Gigi Gaston
was born in Bulgaria in 1943. Her mother was shot dead while Gigi
was still a child, leaving her an orphan. At an early age, Gigi
moved to Paris and rocketed to fame as a pop-star. In 1964, on
his way to her concert at the Olympia, Paris, Gigi's lover died.
She married Giorgio Fortuna in 1967, and later killed him in a
'crime of passion.' She has been hiding since." Mr. Gosfield
meticulously created bogus magazine covers featured Gigi. Ms.
Wright concludes her article on Gosfield and Gaston by admitting
her part "in one of the most notorious art farces - Nat Tate,
by British writer William Boyd." "I conspired with William
to construct a character from photographs that he had found in
a flea market. We launched the book with a reading by David Bowie
at a party in Jeff Koons' studio in 1998."
Probably the most quintessential
New York artist is Red Grooms (b. 1937) whose realistic but highly
inebriated and full-tilt works are classic cartoons of this crazy
city. Perhaps the most humorous and memorable art exhibit in the
city in the past few decades was "Ruckus Manhattan"
in which the Whitney Museum of American Art let Grooms's creations
run riot with walk-through subway cars and towering bridges. Lot
7, "Ruckus Tugboat" captures much of that raucous and
celebratory spirit very nicely. What is remarkable about his "constructions"
is the complexity of their intricate and marvelous design. This
work is dated 2006 and numbered 32/45. It as a modest estimate
of $3,000 to $4,000. It sold for $4,375 including the buyer's
premium as do all results mentioned in this article.
If Grooms is the New York artist
(closely followed of course by George Luks and Andy Warhol), Richard
Estes (b. 1932) is its photorealist and Lot 20,
"Holland Hotel," is a fine example of his fabulous compositional
skills and great sense of the real city as opposed to the glamorized
fantasies of fashion and real estate. It is a screenprint in colors
on Rives paper that measures 44 4/8 by 71 3/8 inches and was created
in 1984. It is a proof apartt from the numbered edition of 100
and 15 artist's proofs. It has an estimate of $20,000 to $25,000.
It failed to sell.
Merce Cunningham, who died
this year, was one of the world's great modern dancers and a collaborator
with John Cage, one of the world's most influential musicians.
Lot 47 is a 30-by-20-inch screenpoint on white paper of Cunningham
by Andy Warhol (1928-1987). It was created in 1974 aside from
the edition of 100 and 30 artist's proofs on Japanese gift wrapping
paper and 4 trial proofs on various colored Cockerell papers and
was published by Castelli Graphics of New York for the portfolio
Cunningham 1 to raise runds for the Merce Cunningham Dance
Company, New York, with the Estate of Andy Warhol inkstamps and
initiated in pencil by the estate on the reverse. It has an estimate
of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $25,000. The portrait
very nicely captures Cunningham's dance style of sudden snappiness
and unexpected shifts that epitomized his collaborator's preoccupation
and heavy emphasis on chance and Warhol, Cunningham and Cage are
New York chance personified.
Lot 53 is a bold and very fine
untitled head that the catalogue states is "after Jean-Michel
Basquiat" (1960-1988). A screenpoint in colors on Museum
board, it is 40 inches square and is numbered 13/85 in pencil
with the estate stamp and signed and dated by the executor Gerard
Basquiat on the reverse, published by DeSanctis Carr Fine Art,
Los Angeles with the accompanying Basquiat Editions catalogue,
1983-2001. It has an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000. It sold
Lot 105 is a great dye transfer
print by Ernst Haas (1921-1986) that is entitled "Billboard
Painter, Broadway NYC." It was taken in 1952 and printed
1992. It measures 17 5/8 by 26 5/8 inches and is number 5/30 by
Alexander Haas, the photographer's son, in pencil, and Ernst Haas
copyright credit stamp on the verso. It has an estimate of $6,000
to $8,000. It failed to sell.
Lot 120 is a magnificent photograph
of the Ninth Avenue El Train by Andreas Feininger (1906-1999).
It was taken in 1940 and printed in the 1970s. It is a gelatin
silver print that measures 9 1/2 by 7 5/8 inches and is signed
in ink and credit stamp on verson. It has an estimate of $3,000
to $5,000. It failed to sell.
Lot 136 is a very great photograph
by Inge Morath (1923-2002) entitled "Window Washers, 48th
Street, New York." It was taken in 1958 and printed later.
A gelatin silver print, it measures 19 by 13 inches and is signed
in pencil on the verso. It has a modest estimate of $3,000 to
$5,000. It failed to sell.
Her entry at wikipedia.com
provides the following commentary:
"Her first assignments
for Magnum were stories that were of no interest to "the
big boys." One of her earliest assignments took her to London
for a story about the inhabitants Soho and Mayfair. Morath's portrait
of Mrs. Evelyn Nash, from that assignment, is among her best known
photographs. In 1953-54, at Capa's suggestion, Morath worked with
Cartier-Bresson as a researcher and assistant, and in 1955 she
was invited to become a full member of Magnum Photos. During the
late 1950s Morath traveled widely, covering stories in Europe,
the Middle East, Africa, the United States, and South America
for such publications as Holiday, Paris Match, and Vogue.
She published Guerre à la Tristesse, photographs
of Spain, with Robert Delpire in 1955, followed by De la Perse
à l'Iran, photographs of Iran, in 1958. Morath published
more than thirty monographs during her lifetime.
Like many Magnum members, Morath
worked as a still photographer on numerous motion picture sets.
Having met director John Huston while she was living in London,
Morath worked on several of his films. Huston's Moulin Rouge
(1952) was one of Morath's earliest assignments as a photographer,
and her first time working in a film studio. When Morath confessed
to Huston that she had only one roll of color film to work with
and asked for his help, Huston obtained three more rolls for her,
and occasionally waved to her to indicate the right moments to
step in with her camera....Huston later wrote of Morath that she
"is a high priestess of photography. She has the rare ability
to penetrate beyond surfaces and reveal what makes her subject
In 1960, while photographing
the making of The Unforgiven, starring Audrey Hepburn,
Burt Lancaster, and Audie Murphy, Morath accompanied Huston and
his friends duck hunting on a mountain lake outside Durango, Mexico.
Photographing the excursion, Morath saw through her telephoto
lens that Murphy and his companion had capsized their boat 350
feet from shore, and that Murphy, stunned, was near to drowning.
A skilled swimmer, Morath stripped to her underwear and hauled
the two men ashore by her bra strap while the hunt continued uninterrupted....
Marilyn Monroe, dancing with
Eli Wallach, and Clark Gable, rehearsing a scene during the filming
of The Misfits, 1960. Morath worked again with Huston in
1960 on the set of The Misfits, a blockbuster film featuring
Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, and Montgomery Clift, with a screenplay
by Arthur Miller. Magnum Photos had been given exclusive rights
to photograph the making of the movie, and Morath and Cartier-Bresson
were the first of nine photographers to work on location, outside
Reno, Nevada, during its filming....Morath met Miller while working
on The Misfits, and - following Miller's divorce from Monroe -
they were married on February 17, 1962."
Lot 235 is an impressive sideboard
known as "Argente" by Paul Evans (1931-1987). It was
created in 1968 and is made of welded, painted, sculpted and polished
aluminum, slate, painted wood, welded and patinated steel. It
measures 32 1/4 by 84 1/4 by 21 inches. It has an estimate of
$30,000 to $50,000. It sold for $37,500.
Lot 249 is a marvelous diamond
pendant necklace in the form of the top of the Chrysler Building.
The pendant is 4 1/2 inches long and the chain length is 20 inches.
It has an estimate of $10,000 to $12,000. It sold for $12,500.
Lot 207 is a large and excellent
work in cast resin by Erwin Wurm (b. 1954) that is entitled "Guggenheim
(Melting). It was created in 2005 and measures 18 by 33 3/4 by
54 3/8 inches. It is from an edition of 12. It has an estimate
of $35,000 to $40,000. It failed to sell.