By Carter B. Horsley
The contemporary art spring
auction season got off to a rousing start with this evening auction
at Christie's at which 15 auction records for artists were established
and 31 lots sold over their high estimates, 17 fell within the
pre-sale estimates, two fell below and five lots failed to sell,
a 91 percent sell-through rate, a very fine and strong showing
that Christopher Burge, the auctioneer, described as a "triumph"
after the sale. The sale totaled $14.4 million and had a high
estimate of $14.2 million.
There was active bidding both
in the room and on the phone and Mr. Burge noted that while Americans
accounted for 60 percent of the successful bidders and Europeans
30 percent, the bidding was so close that "it could have
gone the other way."
As at the most recent winter
contemporary auction at Christie's, the star lot was a humorous
and striking work by Jeff Koons (b. 1955). Last year, it was "Pink
Panther," which set an auction record of more than $1.8 million
for the artist. This year, Lot 17, "Woman in Tub," soared
above its high estimate of $1.2 million to sell for $1,711,000,
including the buyer's premium as do all sales results in this
article. This work, shown above, depicts a very voluptuous woman
clutching her breasts as she confronts a snorkel that has emerged
from her, small bathtub. Like all of Koons's work, the objects
are rendering very realistically, but this one, which was executed
in 1988, is a bit unusual because the top of her head is sliced
off, leaving part of her long wet hair falling on her shoulders
and her shocked, open mouth. The snorkel is a bright deep blue
and emerges from the porcelain white tub like some large toy periscope.
It is one of an edition of three and one artist's proof. The catalogue
provides the following description of the work by the artist:
"Woman in Bath Tub was based on a postcar. This was part
of my total vocabulary on Banality. It was to show the interface
between the Victim and the Victimizer. There's the snorkel and
somebody is doing something to her under the water because she's
grabbing her breasts for protection. But the viewer also wants
to participate and victimize her."
The large painting in the background
of the above photograph was Lot 32, "Nacktie," a very
handsome painting by Sigmar Polke (b. 1941), that had an estimate
of $600,000 to $800,000 and was passed at $480,000. It is 88 by
118 inches and resin and lacquer on synthetic fabric and was executed
Another life-size, realistic
figure sculpture, Lot 9, shown at the top of this article, also
set a record for the artist, Charles Ray (b. 1953). Entitled "Boy,"
the fiberglass, steel and fabric sculpture of a blond boy in short
blue paints with suspenders had a high estimate of $800,000 and
sold for $886,000 to Larry Gagosian, the dealer. His previous
auction record was $376,500 set a year ago at Christie's.
Lot 20, a large 1992 photograph
of visitors in the Pantheon in Rome by Thomas Struth b. 1954)
set a record for a contemporary photograph of $270,000. It had
a high estimate of only $90,000. His previous auction record was
$178,500 set last November at Christie's.
Another 1992 work by Janine
Antoni (b. 1964), Lot 50, entitled, "Gnaw," consisting
of a two large cubes, one of chocolate and one of lard, and a
couple dozen chocolate candy boxes and a few hundred lipsticks
displayed on glass shelves in a mirrored "room" was
sold for $204,000, a record of the artist and had a high estimate
of only $100,000. Her previous auction record was $85,000 set
last November at Christie's.
One of the sale's highlights
was Lot 21, "Two Women," a "dot" painting
executed in 1968 by Sigmar Polke (b. 1941). It had a high estimate
of $1.5 million, considerably more than the artist's previous
auction record of $882,500 set at Christie's in June, 1998. It
was sold for $1,656,000 and Carol Vogel of The New York Times
reported that the purchaser was Thomas H. Lee, founder of the
Snapple beverage company.
Another highlight was Lot 4,
"Schaedel," a yellow-beige still life of a skull by
Gerhard Richter (b. 1932), that sold for $1,491,000 and had a
high estimate of $600,000. Richter's auction record is $3,688,500.
A large and luscious beach
scene by Eric Fischl (b. 1948), Lot 40, "Noonwatch,"
sold for $996,000 and had a high estimate of $700,000. His previous
auction record was $783,500 set at Sotheby's last November.
A small but strong untitled
work by Eva Hesse 1936-70), Lot 22, sold for $220,500, setting
an auction record for the artist for works on paper. Her previous
such record was $118,000 set at Sotheby's in London in 1996.
Lot 1, "Monogram,"
sold for $56,400, a world auction record for Louise Lawler (b.
1947). Her previous record was $19,550 set at Christie's last
a marvelous stainless steel sofa created in 1985 by Marc Newsom
(b. 1963), Lot 7, sold for $105,000 established an auction record
for the artist.
Lot 34, "Good/Bad,"
a 1995 work by Tony Oursler (b. 1957), sold for $72,850, a world
auction record for the artist. His previous such record was $34,523,
set in Sotheby's last June.
Lot 31, "Grosser Mann
mit Kleinem Mann auf dem Arm," a 1977 wooden sculpture by
Stephan Balkenhol (b. 1957), sold for $121,500, a world auction
record for the artist. His previous auction record was $72,020,
set at Sotheby's in London last June.
Lot 10, "Autumn Lovers,
a 1994 work by John Curren (b. 1962), sold for $149,000, a world
auction record for the artist. His previous auction record was
$130,804, set at Christie's in London last December.
A world auction record of $64,625
was set for Gaetano Pesce (b. 1939), for "Moloch Lamp,"
Lot 19. The work was executed in 1970 and his previous auction
record was $39,577, set in Christie's, South Kensington, in July,
1998. It is illustrated in the above photograph along with another
Pesce work, Lot 18, "Up5 Donna and Up6," a red sofa,
sold below its low estimate for $16,000. In the background on
the left in the same photograph is "Rob and Jack," by
Peter Halley (b. 1953), Lot 45, which had an estimate of $80,000
to $120,000 and was passed at $70,000.
The auction had a few works
by designers. Lot 44, "Golden Eye Table," by Ettore
Sottass (b. 1917), sold for $30,550, a world auction record for
the artist, breaking his previous record of $24,652 set at Christie's
in South Kensington last June.
A 1967 light projection, "Raethro,"
by James Turrell (b. 1943), Lot 23, sold for $116,000, a world
auction record for the artist. His previous auction record was
$10,872 set at Sotheby's London in October, 1997.
Lot 5, "Drops," by
Luc Tuymans (b. 1958) set a world auction record for the artist
of $110,500, almost doubling his previous set at Christie's last
"Angola to Vietnam, Lot
48, a 1989 work by Christopher Williams (b. 1956), sold for $76,375,
setting a world auction record for the artist.0 and was passed
"Bronx Floors," Lot
29, a cutaway of part of a building by Gordon Matta-Clark (1943-1978),
had an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000 and was passed at $160,000.
A very large and dramatic Rorshak-style
painting by Andy Warhol, Lot 54, sold just below its low estimate
for $380,000. One of two "oxidation" paintings by Warhol
in which he used urination to paint was passed, Lot 52, shown
above, which had an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000 and was passed
Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) has had many
works on auction block recently and one of the best is Lot 43,
"Glenn," an acrylic, oilstick and xerox collage on canvas,
100 by 114 inches, executed in 1985. He often used a skull-like
figure of a head as a dominant element in many of his works, rarely
against such a complex background as this work thathas many drawings
of other works and a great deal of texture and energy. It has
an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000 and sold for $732,000.
Lot 8 is a group of five stills from a 40-minute
video shot onthe Isle of Man by Matthew Barney (b.1967). The video
was based on the island's annual motorcycle race. The catalogue
notes that the cremaster is 'a muscle which regulates the sex
organs(more highly developed in men" and acts as an organic
thermostat contracting and releasing the testicles in cold or
heat." The lot had an estimate of $70,000 to $90,000 and
sold for $182,000.
The notorious "Piss Christ" by Andres
Serrano (b. 1950), Lot 51, is a beautiful image of the crucifixion
that seems to float in blood, which caused a great deal of controversy
because the liquid is urine and many people felt the image and
concept was therefore sacrilegious. While the use of urine was
provocative, the resulting image is very powerful and memorable
and fine. This lot is numbered 4 of an edition of 10. It had an
estimate of $30,000 to $40,000 and sold for $105,000.