By Michele Leight
Bright galleries and exquisite
lighting set an up-beat mood at Sotheby's for desirable Post War
and Contemporary Art set to go on the block at their Evening Sale
on November 11, 2009 in New York. Illustrated above with Tobias
Meyer, Worldwide Head of Contemporary Art Sotheby's, is Andy Warhol's
seminal "200 One Dollar Bills," of 1962, that has not
been seen in public since Sotheby's sale of the Estate of Robert
C. Scull in 1986.
Hard on the heels of the impressive
result of Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art Sale last week
that realized $181,760,000 (estimate $115,000,000 to $163,000,000),
there is plenty on offer here at tempting prices to entice even
the most standoffish buyers. Artists whose work is represented
in this sale include Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Joan Mitchell,
Alexander Calder, David Hockney, Willem De Kooning, Donald Judd,
among others, and several works by artists working today, including
Damien Hirst, Richard Prince, and two stunning sculptures by Anish
Fifty-eight lots will be offered,
leading with 20 from the Collection of Mary Schiller Myers and
Louis S. Meyers that includes a luscious oil on canvas, "Untitled
XV," Lot 15, (estimate $5,000,000 to $7,000,000), a formidable
bronze "Large Torso," Lot 14, (estimate $4,000,000 to
$6,000,000) both by Willem de Kooning, and Lot 19, an absolutely
sumptuous and rare copper sculpture by Donald Judd, Lot 19,"Untitled,"
with an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000.
Lot 15 sold for $6,130,500
and Lot 14, the de Kooning sculpture, sold for $5,682,500, breaking
the artist's previous auction record of $3,936,000 for a sculpture.
The various owners' section
of the sale includes Lot 29, ""Gray Numbers," (estimate
$5,000,000 to $7,000,000) by Jasper Johns, Lot 25, "California
Art Collector," (estimate $5,000,000 to $7,000,000) by David
Hockney and Andy Warhol's 1962 masterpiece "200 One Dollar
Bills," illustrated above, Lot 22, (estimate $8,000,000 to
$12,000,000), from his first series of silkscreen paintings, featuring
ink drawings on acetate of the front and back of a dollar bill.
It is cited by Sotheby's as one of the most important works by
the artist to ever appear at auction, in the stellar company of
"Orange Marilyn," of 1964 and "Green Car Crash
(Green Burning Car)," which sold in 1997, and 2007 respectively,
the latter in the May evening auction at Christie's for a staggering
$71,720,000, including the buyer's premium. The price tag of "200
One Dollar Bills" appears nothing short of bargain basement
by comparison. Despite the times, however, a work of this caliber
will command a high price.
"200 One Dollar Bills"
sold for $43,762,500 including the buyer's premium, as do all
results mentioned in this article. There were at least 12 bidders
for this painting, encouraged by an enthusiastic Tobias Meyer
who said "It is a masterpiece"when one bidder was deep
in thought about continuing. The atmosphere in the room was electrifying.
The auction was extremely
successful with 52 of 54 offered lots selling for a total of $134,438,000.
This was the best sale of Contemporary Art for Sotheby's since
1990, with the exception of 2004.
"After a year of not
buying things, they are buying things. It (the sale) became about
the paintings - not about the estimates," an elated Tobias
Anthony Grant said: "The
material was excellent." Clearly the buyers agreed.
The auction room was packed,
and highly visible in the front row was Mario Valentino, the designer
- elegant and urbane - attired in a grey flannel suit.
At the press preview Tobias
Meyer, who was appropriately reverential of this painting, said
"No one 'crops' like Andy," and drew our attention to
the meticulous detail that leaves each dollar bill whole, nothing
cut away; nothing is allowed to detract from the purity of the
subject matter. Silkscreens and "series" are synonymous
with the artist:
"Warhol painted what he
loved: Campbell's soup cans - he loved money - and celebrities,
so he painted stars," said Tobias Meyer.
Money is a recurring theme
in Warhol's work, and there is an eerily poignant quality to both
this painting, and the masterfully executed drawing illustrated
here, Lot 23, "Untitled (Roll of Dollar Bills," (estimate
$2,500,000 to $3,500,000) that capitalizes on the artists fascination
with insatiable consumerism, greed and the power of money to establish
status and "worth" in American and international society.
Given all that has happened in the financial markets this past
year, with greed - even gluttony - for money laid bare on a massive
scale, the consumerism portrayed by the king of Pop Art now seems
quaint by comparison. The dollar/money symbol has additional significance
for the artist, as represents his second "series" after
the famous Campbell's soup cans. Lot 23 sold for $4,226,500.
Tobias Meyer focused on meticulous
cropping once again in a Warhol drawing - Lot 23, "Untitled
(Roll of Dollar Bills)," painted in 1962. A stupendous yet
soft drawing, it not only holds its own with his paintings, but
also shows what a superb draughtsman he was despite the production
line of "multiples" churned out in the Factory by assistants
in silk-screen and printing ink, a talent honed during his early
career as an illustrator in the advertising world.
One of the exciting new tools
of the advertising trade at that time was the felt tip marker,
used here with a humble pencil and graphite. The great draughtsmen
of the Renaissance would approve. There is zero margin of error
with a felt tip marker.
(Roll of Dollar Bills)" captures our endless, sometimes flawed,
fixation with money, that absolute necessity of life that Warhol
intuitively and flagrantly exploited and capitalized on - images
of money - making money? Andy Warhol has the last laugh, at our
expense of course. This superb and deliberately ironic work of
art does not come cheap, but should exceed its high estimate.
Tobias Meyer explained that
an unusually buoyant self-portrait by Andy Warhol, Lot 24, illustrated
here had been in a closet for 46 years:
"It is the only major
painting the owner has. We shall work really, really hard to sell
it!" The painting has a modest estimate of $1,000,000
to $1,500,000 and Mr. Meyer was able to sell it for $6,130,500.
Also from the Pop Art contingent
is a strong, early work by Robert Rauschenberg, (1958), "Untitled,"
Lot 21, (estimate $400,000 to $600,000), a wonderful example of
the now signature "transfer" technique used by the artist,
achieved by using turpentine to soak often layered images onto
paper, as earlier Modernists had cobbled together scraps and objects
to form collages. This painting was a gift from the artist to
the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen in 1962, as a thank you for
a musical score he composed for Rauschenberg. It sold for $962,500.
The intricacies of Jasper Johns
"Gray Numbers," Lot 29, a mystical and enigmatic work,
can only be appreciated in person as such works do not reproduce
well. This compelling composition was painted early in the artist's
career in 1957, and included in Leo Castelli's landmark exhibition
of John's work in 1958. Although the all-over signs and symbols
with which we associate Jasper Johns are present, they are encased
in a heavily textured surface that was achieved by mixing wax
with oil paint, laid down on unprimed canvas. For over 40 years
"Gray Numbers" was in the collection of Dorothy Miller,
the Museum of Modern Art's first curator, who was a witness to
and instrumental in Jasper John's rise to prominence in 1958.
Strikingly modern, it also evokes inscriptions on ancient walls
and tombs, and hieroglyphs. It has an estimate of $5,000,000 to
$7,000,000. It sold for $8,706,500.
In a class by itself, and another
gem from the Mary Schiller Myers and Louis Myers Collection is
Donald Judd's incredible copper "Untitled," Lot 19,
(estimate $800,000 to $1,200,000), one of three versions made
in 1970. It sold for $1,650,500.
Also from the minimalist group
is a fantastic flashing neon installation, Bruce Nauman's "Violins,
Violence, Silence," Lot 27, (estimate $2,500,000 to $3,500,000)
shown here with Anthony Grant. It sold for $4,002,500, shatting
the artist's previous world auction record of $2,202,500.
At the press preview Anthony
Grant said of David Hockney's "California Art Collector,"
Lot 25," illustrated above: "In headier times this painting
would go for almost $13-14 million dollars." The painting
has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It sold for $5,458,500.
Anthony Grant enthusiastically described the strong influence
of Piero Della Francesca in "Annunciation," and the
impact that the light of Italy and Egypt had on Hockney's art
before he arrived in America. It was a similar affinity for light
that instantly drew the artist to California's sun-drenched climate
and topography as soon as he arrived there. In the top left hand
corner of "California Art Collector" is a sparkling,
blue California swimming pool, which later became an iconic subject
for Hockney, which helped establish him as a major player in the
contemporary art world. This was the first painting in which he
used acrylic paint.
Several superb works illustrated
here come from the Collection of Mary Schiller Myers and Louis
S. Meyers, including an important early "stabile" sculpture
by Alexander Calder, "Extreme Cantilever," Lot 7, (estimate
$1,000,000 to $1,500,000), William Baziotes's "Jungle Night,"
Lot 8, ($250-350,000), Isamu Noguchi's wonderful "Strange
Bird," Lot 9, (estimate $400,000 to $600,000), Lee Krasner's
sinuous "Twelve Hour Crossing, March Twenty-First,"
Lot 10, (estimate $400,000 to $500,000) and two marvelous compositions
by Wayne Thiebaud: "San Francisco Street," Lot 1, (estimate
$400,000 to $600,000), and "Hillside," Lot 20, (estimate
$650,000 to $850,000) which should appeal to eco-conscious bidders.
Lot 1 sold for $458,500. Lot 7 sold for $842,500. Lot 8
sold for $338,500. Lot 9 was passed at $250,000. Lot 10 was sold
for $722,500. Lot 20 was sold for $962,500.
From the "Various Owners"
section of the sale, Lot 46, "Bathers" (estimate $450,000
$650,000), a steel sculpture by David Smith, was created toward
the end of World War II, illustrated here with Lot 43, "Untitled,"
($1,000,000 to $1,500,000), a widely exhibited, vibrant ink drawing
that shows how central drawing was to Jackson Pollock's creative
process. Sotheby's catalog notes:
"The artist experimented
freely with drawing throughout his career, beginning with his
early psychoanalytical drawings that incorporated Surrealist "automatism.
In the late 1940s Pollock adopted his famous "drip"
technique that revolutionized American art. In pouring or dripping
his medium, Pollock gained the freedom that allowed him to create
the all-over compositions that are the hallmark of his genius.
The support - whether paper, masonite or canvas - was of little
import to Pollock: the technique and process was the point and
he made little distinction between painting and drawing."
Lot 43, the Pollock, sold
for $2,882,500, an auction record for a work on paper by the artist.
Lot 46 sold for $1,426,500.
Holding their own in this legendary
company are exciting paintings and sculpture by artists working
today, like Richard Prince's ""Doctor's Nurse,"
Lot 37, (estimate $1,000,000 to $1,500,000), and Damien Hirst's
beautiful stained glass window that incorporates dazzling blue
butterflies, and richly colored, intricate patterns, against a
dark background, with his signature provocative titles, this called
"The Old Fool's Paradise. Lot 53 has an estimate of $600,000
$800,000. Lot 37 sold for $1,706,500. Lot 53 sold for $1,022,500.
Two outstanding sculptures
by Anish Kapoor, including "Turning the World Upside Down
#4," Lot 36, (estimate $1,200,000 to $1,800,000) from his
first series of large stainless steel globes (circa 1998) offered
viewers great pleasure in Sotheby's galleries, where they could
see themselves morph into various shapes in its highly reflective
surface. Lot 36 sold for $1,874,500.
Much smaller in scale, Lot
55, "Untitled," (estimate $600,000-800,000), is a mysterious,
glowing alabaster form reminiscent of oyster shells, a beautiful
contemporary sculpture created more recently in 2007. It sold
Juan Munoz's (1952-2001), "Five
Seated Figures," Lot 51, (estimate $800,000 $1,200,000),
photographed in Sotheby's galleries, is a scene-stealer, and was
exhibited at The Dia Center for the Arts, "A Place Called
Abroad," in 1997, and at The Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture
Garden, Washington; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The
Art Institute of Chicago and the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston
from October 2001-March 2003. The Munoz sold for $1,202,500,
far above the artist's previous auction record of $689,500.
Turning back the clock again
to artists of the recent past is a wonderful 1961 painting by
Jean Dubuffet in surprisingly sunny colors, Lot 48, "Trinite-Champs-Elysses,"
(estimate $4,000,000 to $6,000,000), that was exhibited in Saint-Paul-de-Vence,
Fondation Maeght, "Jean Dubuffet Retrospective: peintres,
sculptures, dessins," in 1985. It sold for $6,130,500,
setting a world's auction record for the artist.
Two luscious works by Joan
Mitchell, with the artist's signature expressive, thickly applied
paint strokes in different color palettes, recall Claude Monet,
nature and the seasons, and are included in the "various
owners" section of this sale. Illustrated above is Lot 41,
"Untitled," (estimate $2,500,000 to $3,500,000) and
below is Lot 44, "Untitled," with an estimate of $800,000
$1,200,000. Lot 41 sold for $2,546,500. Lot 44 sold
Much has been made of "bargain"
prices this season, and prices do seem reasonable after some of
the inflated, jaw-dropper price tags of the past. However, if
Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art sale last week is anything
to go by, quality still draws buyers willing to go the extra distance,
even in these economic times, so many of the works on offer at
Sotheby's Contemporary art sale will probably exceed their estimates.
It is a good time to be buying
art, and, as is evident in the works of art featured here, the
quality remains extremely strong.