By Carter B. Horsley
The second part of Sotheby's Contemporary Art
fall 1999 auction is preceded by a sale, with a separate catalogue,
of 41 contemporary works from a European Private Collector including
several works by Sandro Chia, Enzio Cucchi, Jean-Michel Basquiat,
Julian Schnabel and Francisco Clemente.
Lot 87, shown above, is a strong work by Sandro
Chia (b. 1946), who is perhaps best known for his ravishing and
stunning murals at the bar of the Palio Restaurant in the Equitable
Center Building on Seventh Avenue between 51st and 52nd Streets
in New York.
Entitled "Man In Blue," this 77 1/8-by-791/8-inch
oil on canvas was executed in 1982 and has a conservative high
estimate of $80,000. It sold for $101,500, including the buyer's
premium as do all sales prices in this article.
Another very fine Chia is Lot 109, "La
Doccia," a 62 7/8-by 82 ¾-inch oil on canvas that
was executed in 1980 and is reminiscent of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's
1915 painting of military men in a shower owned by the Solomon
R. Guggenheim Foundation. It has a high estimate of only $70,000.
It sold for $68,500.
Perhaps the best work in this collection is
Lot 106, an untitled piece dated 1887-8 by Enzo Cucchi (b. 1949)
that is made of oil, iron and resin on cement, 106 ¼ by
154 inches. The cream-colored surface of the work has several
very intriguing circular bas-reliefs as well as a boldly painted
diagonal element in the center the top of which intersects with
a row of gray dots that escalate slightly in size and parallel
a large iron rod whose curved tone, like a cane handle, rises
above the top of the four large panels. This is a very tactile,
monumental work whose small bas-reliefs are full of mystery and
romance. Is this the eroded section of a small great lost Renaissance
mural pried from its surround by a giant crowbar? Spartan and
very powerful, this work has a very conservative high estimate
of $60,000 and conjures the poetry of Scarpa. It sold for only
Also monumental, but not so mysterious is Lot
86, also an untitled Cucchi work that is 110 ¼ by 116 inches,
an oil and collage on canvas that depicts a huge ancient ship
in a storm-tossed very red sea. The catalogue clearly rides its
"This muscular image gains grace from
the artist's sense of poetic urgency, expressing the passions
of a medieval epoch as well as the powers of a primordial state.
The vessel he depicts is as much a vehicle of myth as it is of
action, so that Cucchi here combines a sense of mythic ritual
with the vitality of a life force. This momentous voyage, fraught
with danger, can therefore be seen as an odyssey from he legends
of the past to the questions for the future."
The painting was exhibited in the Cucchi retrospective
at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1986 and has
a conservative high estimate of $120,000. It sold for $90,500.
Lot 118, "Untitled (Rue Rimbaud),"
is yet another interesting Cucchi work in a very different style.
Painting mostly with yellows, browns and whites and blacks in
oil and metal on a 110 ¼-by 154 1/8-inch canvas, it conjures
mud-strewn, war-ruined cities but it is more luminous than ominous
and has a conservative high estimate of $40,000. It sold for
Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) is represented
by a strong four-panel work, Lot 95, "Blue Heads," 72
by 92 inches, acrylic and oilstick on hinged canvas, dated 1983.
This lot has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for
There are two "plate" paintings by
Julian Schnabel (b. 1951) in this auction, Lots 92 and 103. The
former, "Portrait of a Girl," is 96 by 84 by 6 inches
and was executed in 1980. The image shows a young Indian girl
with her head lowered in contemplation and this is one of the
artist's best "plate" paintings that cover much of the
surface with pieces of broken dishes. The lot has an estimate
of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $360,000. The latter
is much less attractive and smaller and has an estimate of $80,000
to $120,000. Entitled "Martine," it is 73 by 60 7/8
inches, oil, crockery with epoxy and bondo on wood. It sold
Francisco Clemente (b. 1952), who is currently
being given a retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
in New York, has several works in this private collector auction,
the best of which is Lot 91, "Experience of Love," a
48 4/4-by-52-inch oil and pigment on canvas, mostly in whites,
blacks and grays, that shows a woman balanced on the head of a
man. Painted in 1991, it is a strong design and displays the artist's
usual fine painterliness. It has an estimate of $70,000 to $90,000.
It sold for $310,500! Lot 85 is a suite of 16 watercolors,
each 15 by 11 inches, that with a face and then has fragments
of a sexual encounter and ends with a foot. It has a conservative
high estimate of $70,000. It sold for $140,000. Lots 107
and 108 are large paintings dealing with voyeurism, sex and violence
by Clemente, each with high estimates of $60,0000. Lot 107
sold for $79,500 and Lot 108 sold for $40,250. Far more colorful
is a large Clemente watercolor, "Obedience," Lot 111,
which has an estimate of $35,000 to $45,000. It sold for $123,500.
Only 1 of the 40 lots in this part of the
auction was bought in, Lot 117, an untitled work by Julian Schnabel
that had a low estimate of $40,000.
Part 2 of the Contemporary Art auction is rich
in content. Too much perhaps as only 191 of 245 lots offered
sold and many of the passes were "big" names and many
of the prices that sold were not excessive.
Lot 182, "Studio Studios" is a large,
bright red painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat that is themed around
movie studios and their logos and has a high estimate of $225,000,
and sold for $250,000.
One of the most interesting works is Lot 200,
shown above, "Study for Amerika X," by Tim Rollins and
K.O.S. (b. 1955), dated 87/88, a watercolor and charcoal on book
pages mounted on linen, 24 ½ by 42 inches. It has a high
estimate of $12,000. It was withdrawn. A similar work by
the same artist is Lot 212, "The Nature Theater of Oklahoma
XV," almost the identical size, and it has a high estimate
of $7,000. It sold for $4,600. Both are very striking and
interesting works and similar to one included in the current exhibition
at the Whitney Museum of American Art, "The American Century,
Sylvester Stallone, the actor, consigned a
pair of bronze columns, Lot 226, by Robert Graham (b. 1938) that
are excellent with many bas-reliefs and surmounted by female figures
in dance poses. The columns are 93 inches tall and are number
3 from an edition of seven and have an estimate of $60,000 to
$80,000. They are quite wonderful. They sold for $96,000.
Gerhard Richter (b. 1932) is represented by
a very strong and colorful work, Lot 233, "Fuji (No. 839-33),"
an 11 ½-by-14 ½-inch oil on aluminum, executed in
1996. It has an estimate of $15,000 to $20,000. It sold for
"Aaron's Rod Turning Into A Snake,"
Lot 234, by Anselm Kiefer, is a 25 by 33 inch oil, lacquer and
photographic collage on paper, executed circa 1984 as part of
the artist's Departure from Egypt series. A solid work, it has
an estimate of $18,000 to $25,000. It was withdrawn.
The most delightful work being offered is Lot
238, a painting of a paint-smeared putti flying in the clouds
on his palette, entitled "Protector Noster Aspice,"
38 ½ by 28 inches, oil on paper mounted on canvas, executed
in 1984 by Sandro Chia. It has a very conservative high estimate
of $22,000. It sold for $21,850.
Agnes Martin has two small, elegant works on
paper, Lots 246 and 247. The former is the cover illustration
of the Part 2 catalogue and is untitled and consists of horizontal
ink lines that form the shape of an egg. The 9-inch square work,
executed in 1963, has a high estimate of $20,000. It sold for
$76,750. The latter, entitled "Starlight," is a
black ink graph on blue watercolor, 8 inches square, executed
the same year. It has a high estimate of $50,000. It sold for
Some small things are expensive. Lot 247A,
"Oak Armed Exercise," is a radial-arm saw carved block
of wood with four pairs of lugs projecting, one pair from each
face of a square along a horizontal shaft. The piece is by Carl
Andre (b. 1935) and was done in 1959 and is 4 7/8 by 12 ¼
by 5 inches and has an ambitious estimate of $90,000 to $120,000.
It was passed at $85,000.
While some works by Cy Twombly (b. 1928) now
are priced in seven figures, Lot 258 is one of the rare examples
of his art that is rather pretty. Untitled, the 30-by-39 ¾-inch
oil and crayon on paper has his trademark wavy, uneven white and
gray lines streaking across a dark bluish-gray background. This
work is dated 1969, has a high estimate of $150,000 and works
because it is not as messy as most of his other works and the
angled lines are almost parallel and their dynamics are effective.
This is a somewhat more reasonable price range for this rather
overrated artist. It sp;d fpr $123,500.
Andy Warhol (1928-1987) has several works in
the auction including Lot 273, shown above, "Still Life in
Gold and Pink," a quite delicate and good work in gold leaf
and ink on paper. Executed circa 1957, it has an estimate of $40,000
to $60,000. It was passed at $37,500. Less attractive and
interesting but more famous is his Lot 290, "Four Multicolored
Marilyns," dated 79/86, synthetic polymer and silkscreen
ink on canvas, 36 ¼ by 27 ¾ inches, has an estimate
of $250,000 to $350,000. It was passed at $240,000.
Much better, however is Lot 316, a 72-inch-square
in similar materials that depicts the Statue of Liberty in blue
and gray camouflage. It has an estimate of $350,000 to $450,000.
It sold for $453,500.
Lots 322 and 323 are Warhol portraits of Sigmund
Freud and Kafka, both 40 inches square and both with high estimates
of $150,000. The former is more complex, appropriately, and is
better. The former sold for $118,000 and the latter for $129,000.
Lot 303, "Motorcycle Accident," is
one of Duane Hanson's remarkable lifelike sculptures, this time
of a young man who has fallen off his (real) motorcycle. The 1967
work has an estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. It sold for $96,000.
A very strong work on pressed paper pulp, 50
by 33 ½ inches, by David Hockney (b. 1937), shown above,
is a fine amalgam of Matisse and Diebenkorn. This 1978 work, Lot
311, "Steps with Shadow/Paper Pool # 2J," is conservatively
estimated at $45,000 to $65,000. It sold for $101,500.
For many years, a pylon atop the low-rise building
on the northwest corner of 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue was
decorated with several female faces by Alex Katz (b. 1927). For
those who had to work in the area, the bland, unattractive, empty
and repetitive faces of the Katz women made the area more dreary
than the prostitutes, pimps and drug dealers that considered it
their turf. The faces were finally removed, fortunately, but unfortunately
the pylon and low-rise building are now being replaced by a new
skyscraper for Reuters.
Katz, however, has not gone away and Lot 313,
"Dark Glasses," is, surprise, a fine work by him that
actually has an excellent composition and some interest. While
one is tempted to suggest that this Katz is good because the woman's
vacuous eyes are covered with the beautiful dark glasses and her
tubular fingers cover part of her face, it is probably because
her blue-black-gray hair is the same color as the background with
which it is at an angle and that the strong cast of her lit face
against the dark background and the asymmetric composition. It
was executed in 1989 and has an estimate of $50,000 to $70,000.
It sold for $85,000.
One of the delights of looking at a lot of
art is the discovery that some artists are not as bad as previously
thought and that one has to change one's opinion. The Katz and
Twombly, for example, are quite respectable works.
Robert Rauschenberg (b. 1925) has a very large
work, Lot 325, entitled "Stage Coach (Shiner)," that
is a 96-by-120-inch, acrylic and metal propeller on stainless
steel. The work was executed in 1986 and stainless steel is always
nicer than canvas, right. This is a good, impressive work and
has a conservative estimate of $90,000 to $120,000. It sold
When it comes to hard things, however, Rauschenberg
is outdone by Arnaldo Pomodoro (b. 1926), the sculptor who has
the centerpiece in the plaza of the World Trade Center in Lower
Manhattan and two fine lots in this auction. Lot 363 is untitled
work with an inverted bronze cone impaled through a bright helical
base. Number 4 of 9 and executed in 1987, this 29 ½-inch
high sculpture is superb and has a conservative estimate of $22,000
to $28,000. It sold for $25,300.
The other Pomodoro sculpture is Lot 373, shown
above, "Radar #2," 48 inches in diameter, a convex,
circular bronze sculpture that has a high estimate of $55,000.
It sold for $74,000.
Lot 148, "Lust," by Jack Pierson
(b. 1960), a metal, painted metal, plastic and neon work executed
in 1996 had a high estimate of $35,000 and sold for $134,500.
Lot 153, "Newspaper, 1992," a
tied stack of newspapers, by Robert Gober (b. 1954), had a high
estimate of $25,000 and was passed at $19,000.
A large Cindy Sherman color photograph of
herself with a fake nose and a wig, Lot 163, sold for $46,000,
while two large color photographs by her of large dolls, Lots
166 and 167, were passed.
A large sculpture by Nancy Graves (1940-1995),
Lot 194, "Diagonals Migrated," had a low estimate of
$80,000 and was passed at $65,000.
Lot 293, which consisted of four works by
Malcolm Morley (b. 1931) had a low estimate of $80,000 and was
passed at $65,000.
Lot 294, a colorful and large work by Jim
Dine, had a low estimate of $150,000 and was passed at $150,000.
Two works by Romaire Bearden (1914-1988),
Lots 326 and 327, both sold at slightly over their high estimates.
A very good acrylic on canvas by Sam Francis
(1923-1994) had a high estimate of $35,000 and was passed at $22,500.