By Michele Leight
It was like the clash of the titans standing amidst the highlights of Christie's Post War and Contemporary Art evening sale that took place on November 10, 2010. It was hard to know where to turn first when confronted with Andy Warhol's " "Big Campbell's Soup Can with Can Opener (Vegetable), which leads the sale, Roy Lichtenstein's "Ohhh... Alright..." (formerly in the collection of Steve Martin and Leo Castelli), Jasper John's "0 through 9", Gerhard Richter's "Zwei Kerzen (Two Candles)," Jackson Pollock's first "poured" painting, ""Eyes in the Heat II" (1947), and a late work by Mark Rothko "Untitled (Black on Gray)." Glittering outdoors in Rockefeller Plaza, Jeff Koons jubilant "Baloon Flower (Blue)," from his "Celebration," series was surrounded by an adoring public.
It was a great night for Christie's with many world auction records set, beginning with Roy Lichtenstein's "Ohhh...Alright" taking the top spot selling for $42,642,500, and continuing with records for Alexander Calder, Cy Twombly, Marcel Duchamp, Mark Tansey, Mark Grotjahn, Richard Lindner, Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Morris Louis.
Andy Warhol was 100 % sold, even though there were 16 paintings by him - selling in the millions each - from several collections offered at this sale. An astonishing result. Andy Warhol has dominated the Contemporary Art auction season. Tonight his "Big Campbell's Soup Can with Can Opener (Vegetable)" sold for $23,882,500, taking second place to the Lichtenstein, yet every other painting by Warhol out-stripped its pre-sale estimate. Amy Cappellazzo, Christie's International Co-Head, Deputy Chairman, Contemporary Art said: "The more they see the more the market wants (Warhols). The 'Mona Lisa's' and 'Guns" were doing as well as everything else (by Warhol)."
When asked by a member of the press why Warhol's "Big Campbell's Soup Can with Can Opener (Vegetable)" did not do better, Ms. Cappellazo said it was still a great price, adding with a smile:" I only comment on how well we do, not how we fall short."
Christie's evening sale is estimated to achieve $240 million dollars and includes 76 works of art with highlights from several outstanding collections. At a press preview, Robert Manley, Christie's Head of the Contemporary Art Evening Sale, accurately described this sale as "an embarrasment of riches." Contemporary Art sales have done incredibly well overall, which was confirmed by Mr. Manley:
"Many lots have doubled their high estimate, and the Contemporary Art sale total has quadrupled over the last two years, which is indicative of high quality," he said.
The sale was extremely successful with 93 percent of the 75 offered lots selling for a total of $272,873,000 including the buyer's premiums. The Shapazian Collection and The Dennis Hopper Collection were 100 % sold, and the Max Palevsky Collection was 95% sold - an exceptional result. The buyers were 63 percent American, 20 percent European, 4 percent Asian, and 13 percent "other."
Warhol,'s Lot 8, "Big Campbell's Soup Can with Can Opener (Vegetable)," (estimated at $30-50 million/ Lot 8 sold for $23,882,500 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.), and the Lichtenstein, "Ohhh...Alright" (Lot 5, estimated to achieve in the region of $40 million), are the big ticket items of this sale - with Jasper John's iconic "0-9" also a hot favorite. Lot 5 sold for $42,642,500.
Laura Paulson, Christie's Senior International Director, Deputy Chairman, Americas said: Warhol's "Big Campbell's Soup Can with Can Opener (Vegetable)" is a cultural icon and a pivotal image that changed the face of art history. With its impeccable provenance and freshness to the market, Christie's anticipates the painting to be the most sensational highlight of the season."
The Warhol from The Barney Ebsworth Collection, is being sold to benefit a charitable foundation. It was the first painting by Warhol to be exhibited in a museum - The Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, Connecticut. The subject is an ordinary Campbell's Soup can that the artist raised to star status. Henry Geldzahler said: "The Campbell's Soup Can was the Nude Descending a Staircase of Pop Art. Here was an image that became an overnight rallying point for the sympathetic and the bane of the hostile. Warhol captured the imagination of the media and the public as had no other artist of his generation. Andy was Pop and Pop was Andy" (Christie's catalogue for this sale).
Amy Cappellazo, Christie's International Co-Head, Deputy Chairman, Americas, said she was very excited about Lichtenstein's "Ohhh...Alright," Lot 5, an iconic picture of a woman which she decribed as complicated and sexy: "This is a big season for American Pop. A lot of the collections we landed had a lot of American Pop," she said.
"Ohhh...Alright" depicts a stunning, flame haired beauty lifted straight out of a comic book, painstakingly rendered in Lichtenstein's signature Ben-Day Dots. She is part of the iconic cast of dream girls painted between 1961-1965, that saw the artist attain international prominence as one of America's most exciting and controversial artists. Christie's catalog for this sale notes: "Created in conjunction with his explosive war paintings, these images of love-struck women reflect the artist's formal interest in a generic style of representation, while simultaneously addressing the cultural dichotomy betweek male and female stereotypes." Lot 5 sold for $42,642,500, a world auction record for the artist.
Lot 30, "Zwei Kerzen (Two Candles)," a sublime work by Gerhard Richter, illustrated below, also drew Ms. Cappellazo's admiration: "Richter manages to make a picture that is timeless, poignantly elegant and lyrical," she said. Robert Manley added that it was one of the artist's largest, and most complex compositions. "Zwei Kerzen (Two Candles)" is all these things, and more - an iconic, timeless image with universal appeal. Lot 30 has as estimate of $12,000,000-$16,000,000. It sold for $12,962,500.
Robert Manley referenced several great collections, including property from The Collection of Max Palevsky (including several paintings by Richard Lindner, and other works of art, many illustrated in this story), and The Collection of Dennis Hopper that includes Andy Warhol's sensitive "Portrait of Dennis Hopper," (Lot 66, estimate $800,000-$1.2 million, and Jean-Michel Basquiat's "Untitled," 1987, Lot 67, with an estimate of $5-$7 million.) Warhol photographed his friend, and immortalized him in the same way as his other famous subjects, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor. Dennis Hopper said: "I want to say that the myth that I started out as a photographer and painter before becoming an actor isn't true. I did it all simultaneously" (Christie's catalogue for this sale).Other works of art from both collections will be offered in the day sales. Lot 66 sold for $962,500. Lot 67 sold for $5,794,500.
The Robert Shapazian Collection also has some outstanding works of art - like Marcel Duchamp's "Monte Carlo Bond (No.1)," Lot 9, with an estimate of $400,000-$600,000, and two early works by Andy Warhol silkscreened on linen: "Little Electric Chair" (Lot 20, estimate $2-$3 million), and the portrait of "Marilyn," (Lot 17, estimate $4-6 million), the High Priestess in Andy Warhol's Pantheon of Goddesses, and part of one of his most iconic series. Christie's catalog for this sale notes "Marilyn Monroe was the perfect subject for Warhol who regarded her as a kindred spirit; a fellow artist who was under-appreciated by her peers and whose creative talents were often misunderstood and rearely appreciated for their nuances." There are several more lots from this collection illustrated in this story. Lot 9 sold for $1,082,500. Lot 20 sold for $2,602,500. Lot 17 sold for $4,450,500.
The return of the "discretionary sellers" is largely due to the success of the sale of The Michael Crichton Collection last season, which Mr. Manley said, had inspired confidence:
"One of them is the seller of the Johns. They have owned it since the 60s. After Jasper Johns "Flag" sold so well last season, they decided to sell it. Actually, they got it in a trade for a George Rickey. It is an iconic, signature work by Johns - like the "Flag" - that combines Abstract Expressionist brushstrokes with numbers. There are only five on canvas in this series. You probably won't see another any time soon."
Mr. Manley drew attention to the "snippets" of color samples - or "found color" - Jasper Johns incorporated into the painting, and the optical play this produces. With obvious admiration he added: "You can't tell what is painted and what are pieces of color.
Five years ago a painting like this sold for $10-12 million. We are very optimistic about its prospects."
In the Contemporary Art Evening Sale in May, Jasper Johns "Flag" from The Collection of Michael Crichton had an estimate of $10,000,000 to $15,000,000 and sold for $28,642,500 including the buyer's premium, shattering the previous world auction record for the artist of $17,400,000 set May 16, 2007 at Christie's New York.
Jeff Koons's exuberant outdoor sculpture, "Balloon Flower (Blue)," Lot 23,with estimate of $12-$16 million (it sold for $16,882,500), property from The Daimler Art Collection, and Alexander Calder's fun "Tableau Noir (The Blackboard)," (Lot 51, estimate $2.5-$3.5 million/Lot 51 sold for $2,546,500) from the Max Palevsky Collection, were described as "bookends" of sculpture that will be displayed together. "Balloon Flower" was nestled comfortably in Rockefeller Plaza, a location that has hosted several wonderful sculptures by Jeff Koons over the years. As always, his work has a magnetic effect on the public - there was a crowd of admirers around it, drawn to its joyfulness, and its sense of fun. Jeff Koons says: "The 'Balloon Flower,' it's like spring time: there's a sense of life, an optimism in life, a belief in life that's captured there" (Christie's catalogue for this sale).
Brett Gorvy, Co-Head of American Art and Deputy Chairman, Americas, says: "It is an honor to be entrusted with the sale of this magnificent sculpture for such a worthy institution as The Daimler Art Collection. 'Balloon Flower (Blue)' is one of the most important sculptures by Jeff Koons and it has long been a beloved landmark in Berlin. We look forward to showcasing it for the first time in America in Rockefeller Plaza, where its beauty and perfection will delight the public and make it the most talked about object for sale this season."
In July 2008 Koons’s Balloon Flower (Magenta), 1995-2000, another unique version of this sculpture, broke a world record for the artist at auction, selling at Christie’s London for $25,752,051. There are only five Balloon Flowers in existence, each a different color. Lot 23, "Balloon Flower (Blue)" is from Jeff Koons's "Celebration" series. It is presented in the photograph above by the one and only Gil Perez, Christie's doorman of many years.
There are outstanding Abstract Expressionist paintings in this sale, and others that hover on the blurred boundary line of a movement that was hugely influential, and inspired many off-shoots of itself. Richard Diebenkorn's generation rejected tradition. His interpretation of the emotional pull of landscape was entirely fresh and innovative: "His Abstract Expressionist inclinations demanded that he find a way to invoke a new vision of American topography. His solution came after he flew from Albuquerque to San Francisco in 1951. He stated: 'The aerial view showed me a rich variety of ways of treating a flat plane - like flattened mud or paint. Forms operating in shallow depth reveal a huge range of possibilities for the painter'" (Diebenkorn quoted in G. Norland, tichard Diebenkorn, New York, 2001, p.43, Christie's catalogue for this sale
Robert Manley said a personal favorite in the sale is Lot 61, "Berkeley #39," by Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993), illustrated above, with an estimate of $4-$6 million. It sold for $4,339,500. This beautiful painting is property from two charitable foundations established by the family of Nancy Epstein, a connoisseur of the arts and a philanthropist. She and her husband founded the Stephen David Epstein Memorial Foundation in 1949 in memory of their son, which supported exceptional young artist in the fine arts. All the proceeds of "Berkeley # 39" will be donated to two successor charitable foundations established to continue discovering, nurturing and educating exceptional young artists.
Paintings by two giants of Abstract Expressionism were displayed together in Christie's gallery: the first "poured painting" by Jackson Pollock, "Eye in the Heat II", executed in 1947, (Lot 33, estimate $6-$9 million) and one of the late works of Mark Rothko, Lot 28, "Untitled (Black on Gray)," painted in 1969-1970, that "marks a triumphant, yet poignant, culmination of the artist's career. The deeply emotional combination of monochromatic zones of opposing black and gray is a sublime finale to a lifelong career dedicated to investigating form and color. His Black on Gray paintings are a fitting epitaph for an artist whose creative process defined a generation" (Christie's catalogue). Lot 28, "Black on Gray" has an estimate of $10-$15 million. It passed at $8,500,000. There is another beautiful, somber painting by Mark Rothko, painted in 1958, Lot 37, "No. 18 (Brown and Black on Plum), with an estimate of $9-$12 million. It sold for $9,602,500.
Lot 33, "Eyes of the Heat," (1947), the first "poured painting" by Jackson Pollock, was created before his famous "drip" paintings. It is raw, visceral, a swirling cosmos culled from a private universe so personal and intense, it is unlikely we shall ever encounter it again in art. This painting certainly offers a clue of what was to follow, which changed the art world forever. The sheer "physicality" of this painting is awe inspiring. That this "composition" did not spin out of control is miraculous. "Eyes of the Heat" is universal and timeless, and so incredibly American. Paintings like this are a forcefull reminder of the price exacted by art. No one could sustain this level of intensity without imploding. Pollock's commitment to - and doubts about - his art often overwhelmed him. Art was everything to him, and it was worth every risk. Till the very end he did it his way. Pollock was a meteor in the firmament of art history; he took the world by storm, and never compromised. Paintings of this importance and quality are rare. For those of us who are fortunate to see many great works of art, the "one-of-a-kind" are obvious. It had an estimate of $6,000,000 to $9,000,000. It sold for $6,242,500.
Other beautiful Abstract Expressionist works are illustrated here, unfortunately it is not possible to show them all. Christie's catalog for this sale includes this statement made by Philip Guston in 1962, which relates to the painting illustrated above: "The desire for direct expression finally became so strong that even the interval necessary to reach back to the palette beside me became too long; so one day I put up a large canvas and placed the palette in front of me. Then I forced myself to paint the entire canvas without stepping back to look at it." Lot 63, "Untitled," by Philip Guston, (1913-1980), has an estimate of $1.5-$2 million. It sold for $2,434,500.
Lot 38, "Untitled," by Willem de Kooning, "is a classic example of de Kooning's late paintings, the pure white background set against areas of red, yellow and blue (see The City Review article on de Kooning exhibition). We can see no discernible imagery, except for these languid, sinuous lines. The serpentine curves recall his friend Arshile Gorky's drawing, which in turn emulate natural, organic forms (Christie's catalogue). Lot 38 has an estimate of $5-$7 million. It sold for $4,786,500.
"Abstract Expressionist New York" is currently on view at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, featuring outstanding masterpieces by many of the Abstract Expressionists whose work is featured in this sale, including Pollock, Rothko, de Kooning and many others.
A beautiful "duo" of painting and sculpture by Cy Twombly were displayed together in Christie's galleries. Lot 4, "Untitled," (estimate $1.5-$2 million), is a mysterious painted bronze conceived in 1953, and executed in 1989, shown above in Christie's galleries with Lot 22, "Leda and the Swan," (estimate $1.5-$2.5 million). Lot 4 sold for $2,770,500. Lot 22 sold for $2,322,500.
At the press preview, Robert Manley called Donald Judd's (Lot 57) "Untitled, 1980 (80-19 BERNSTEIN)" from the Collection of Max Palevsky "a great red 'stack.'" It is a sumptuous modernist sculpture that makes its presence felt in a gallery filled with icons of 20th and 21st century Contemporary Art. The shadows add "heft" to its monolithic sense of mystery. Lot 57 has an estimate of $1.8-$2.5 million. Lot 44, Frank Stella's beautiful, uncomplicated "Telluride" is also from The Collection of Max Palevsky, with an estimate of $4-$6 million. Lot 57 sold for $2,434,500. Lot 44 passed at $2,800,000.
There are several fine works of art on offer in the evening sale with reasonable estimates, like Bruce Nauman's superb bronze "Untitled (Hand Circle)," Lot 59, estimate $500,000-$700,000, and Damien Hirst's "Cefoperazone," (Lot 19, estimate $400,000-$600,000). Lot 59 sold for $1,202,500. Lot 19 sold for $902,500.
Pop Art abounds in this sale, from the fun and frolicky, to the deadly serious, the iconic portraits, and the "sexy and complex." Examples of each are illustrated in this story. Illustrated below is a winsome double portrait by Basquiat of his friend Andy Warhol and himself, Lot 41, "Dos Cabezas," with an estimate of $6-$10 million. It has an interesting story attached to it, revealed in Andy Warhol's diary:
"Down to meet Bruno Bischofberger (cab $7.50). He brought Jean-Michel Basquiat with him. He's the kid who used the name 'Samo' when he used to sit on the sidewalk in Greenwich Village and paint T-shirts, and I'd give him $10 here and there and send him up to Serendipity to try to sell the T-shirts there. He was just one of those kids who drove me crazy...And so had lunch for them and then I took a Polaroid and he went home and within two hours a pinting was back, still wet, of him and me together. And I mean just getting to Christie Street must have taken an hour" (A. Warhol, "October 4, 1982," The Andy Warhol Diaries, ed. P. Hackett, New York, 1989, p. 462).
Being an artist is not easy! So buy T-shirts from artists - or whatever they are selling that they have done themselves - because they could be the next Basquiat. And even if they are not, it is an original work of art, and therefore precious. Andy Warhol got that. But he was also smart, and recognized genius when it presented itself.
Lot 41 sold for $7,082,500.
Mark Tansey's fun "On Photography (Homage to Susan Sontag)" Lot 27, is a painterly clip in the contemporary "film noir" style of "L.A. Confidential," if it were rendered in color, that is. Tansey is such a smart, fascinating artist, whose work never ceases to intrigue and entertain. Lot 27 has an estimate of $3-$4 million. It sold for $4,674,500, a world auction record for the artist.
Lot 1, an untitled house paint and wax crayon on paper painted in 1971 by Cy Twombly has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $2,378,500. a world auction record for the artist for a work on paper.
Twombly's untitled painted bronze, Lot 4, has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for $2,770,500, a world auction record for the artist for a sculpture.
Lot 9, "Monte Carlo Bond (No. 1), by Marcel Duchamp, sold for $1,082,500, a world auction record for the artist for a work on paper.
Lot 35, "Untitled (Lavener Butterfly Jacarando over Green," by Mark Grotjahn sold for $1,482,500, a world auction record for the artist.
Lot 46, "West 48th Street," by Richard Lindner, sold for $1,022,500, a world auction record for the artist.
Lot 56, "Girl," by Richard Lindner, sold for $188,500, a world auction record for the artist for a work on paper.
Lot 47, "Red Curlicue," by Alexander Calder, sold for $6,354,500, a world auction record for the artist.
Lot 69, "Untitled (Double Bloodworks)," by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, sold for $722,500, a world auction record for the artist for a work on canvas.
Lot 73, "Saf," by Morris Louis, sold for $2,994,500, a world auction record for the artist.
It is staggering how many works of art this season are being sold to do good things - given voluntarily by individuals of all levels or wealth, exceptional foundations and other entities that have a stake in innovation and improving quality of life. The proceeds of several iconic works of art in this sale will benefit the arts and other worthy causes in America - and beyond these shores. This includes Lot 8, "Big Campbell's Soup Can with Can Opener (Vegetable)," the Warhol that leads this sale , and illustrated at the top of this story, from The Barney Ebsworth Collection, with an estimate of $30-50 million. It is somehow appropriate that it is a Warhol, who was a career populist and believed anyone should be able to partake in The American Dream.The American Dream needs to be kept alive.
It has been an eye-full of wonderful art this season. The icing on the cake is the "giving back" - a feel-good "grand finale" of what promises to be a buoyant art auction season. This should be a really good sale.
The Contemporary Art day sales have outstanding works of art, and are reviewed separately.
See The City Review article on the Carte Blanche auction curated by Philippe Ségalot at Phillips de Pury November 8, 2010
See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction Part I at Phillips de Pury Pury following the Ségalot auction
The City Review article on the Fall 2010 Contemporary Art evening
auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2010 Contemporary Art day auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2010 Contemporary Art day auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2010 Contemporary Art day auction at Phillips de Pury