By Carter B. Horsley
of today's most celebrated artists have several different major
styles or themes and this auction is highlighted by several major
works by Gerhard Richter (b. 1932) that show off well his diversity.
which has many top-quality lots, also has good works by Mark Rothko
(1903-1970), Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), Lucio Fontana (1899-1968)
and Andy Warhol (1928-1987).
sales total was $41,239,725, slightly over the pre-sale low estimate
of $40,460,000. The pre-sale high estimate was $56,890,000. Of
the 59 offered lots, 49 sold, or 83 percent. Despite some disappointments,
the sale was generally quite healthy. "It was a thrilling
night," declared Christopher Burge, the auctioner, at his
news conference after the auction, adding that "there were
lots of bidders throughout the sale with strong bidding for all
ranges." Mr. Burge noted that while American buyers officially
constituted 69 percent of the purchasers versus 28 percent for
Europeans, "there was more global interest than suggested"
by the figures.
"Buschdorf," shown above, is one of Richter's best landscapes,
a 40-by-56-inch oil on canvas that was executed in 1985 and has
an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It sold for $2,206,000
including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this
entry for this lot begins with an intriguing quotation from the
course, my landscapes are not only beautiful or nostalgic, with
a Romantic or classical suggestion of lost Paradises, but above
all `untruthful' (even if I did not always find a way of showing
it); and by `untruthful' I mean the glorifying way we look at
Nature Nature, which in all its forms is always against us, because
it knows no meaning, no pity, no sympathy, because it knows nothing
and is absolutely mindless; the total antithesis of ourselves,
absolutely inhuman. Every beauty that we see in landscape every
enchanting colour effect, or tranquil scene, or powerful atmosphere,
every gentle linearity or magnificent spatial depth or whatever
is a our projection; and we can switch it off at a moment's notice,
to reveal only the appalling horror and ugliness. Nature is so
inhuman that it is not even criminal. It is everything that we
must basically overcome and reject because, for all our own superabundant
horrendousness, cruelty and vileness, we are still capable of
producing a spark of hope which we can also call love. Nature
has none of this. Its stupidity is absolute."
recent contemporary art is preoccupied with the ugly, or the grotesque,
or the repulsive and one often senses that many contemporary artists
are preoccupied with shock values rather than aesthetics and are
not really revolting against prior notions of beauty because their
work shows so little sense of composition, proportion, painterliness
and palette, which is to say that it often seems that the sidewalks
of the new paradise are filled with garbage. There are, of course,
a goodly number of talented artists today and Richter certainly
can be counted highly among them. You sense that his works are
serious examinations and investigations of subjects of great interest
to him and that he has applied considerable efforts and brought
deeply felt emotion to his work. His landscapes are overcast with
his concerns and doubts and his visions are troubled and easy
answers are not in sight in his blurred and smudged works.
notes that "nature always remains his bête noir"
and that "Nature is virtually his adversary the landscape
is, arguably, his magnum opus."
quote, made not too long after he executed this painting, is fascinating
because the many of his views of Nature depict man-made, man-cultivated,
man-rearranged landscapes, however bucolic.
and his compositions in works such as this and the somewhat inferior
"Wiesental," which is reproduced in the catalogue and
in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, are
heroic even if the depicted scenes are merely pastoral. These
are not the majestic glories of the spectacular scenes portrayed
by Thomas Cole, or Frederic Church or Albert Bierstadt, nor the
mesmerizing moments of Caspar David Friedrich, and certainly they
are not the riotously luminous impressionistic works of Monet,
nor the poetic tonalism of George Inness. They are heavy and momentous
and fraught with angst. Will the weather clear, will our vision
is, unquestionably, a fine and intriguing landscape with a wonderful
sense of depth and a quite marvelous and unusual feeling of light.
The fallen tree in the center speaks of Nature's cycles while
the tufts of grass are soft and inviting. One wants to walk and
lay down in this rolling field. The horizon fades away in the
misty sky and the nearby trees offer shelter whereas it is not
clear that the distant fence is broachable. There is nearness
"Portrait Wunderlich," is a 1967 Richter oil on canvas,
78 ¾ inches square with an identical estimate as Lot 36.
It failed to sell and was passed at $1,800,000.
provides the following commentary:
Wunderlich ranks as one of Gerhard Richter's finest and most
monumental pictures from the seminal series of black and white
photo-realist paintings that the artist produced during the early
1960s. Exquisitely painted in deliberately blurred gradations
of gray, this impressive canvas explores the ambiguity that exists
between the supposed truthful objectivity of a photograph and
the inevitable artifice of the painting image. Its premise has
its roots in German Pop Art and shows Richter's appropriating
his subject matter from commonplace photographs found in magazines
and gleaned from other people's family photo-albums. `I consider
many amateur photographs better than the best Cézanne')
Richter. 1966 cited in The Daily Practice of Painting,
London, 1995, p. 55). For Richter, photography presented the viewer
9(and the artist) with a ready-made snapshot of reality. In that
single moment of frozen time, life has been captured and framed
for scrutiny. To then paint in oil this specific timeframe of
reality as accurately as the original photograph presents I helps
to deconstruct its artificiality and calls into question the objectivity
of any visual experience. `Being painted, they no longer tell
of a specific situation, and the presentation becomes absurd.
As a painting, it changes both its meaning and its information
content'Richter based the present painting on a photograph of
his friend, the artist Paul Wunderlich. The photohad been taken
by Wunderlich's wife, the acclaimed German photographer Karin
Székessy during a happy day spent together with Richter
in the countryside. The image of the proud hunter carrying his
pathetically small prey is both anecdotal and humorous; yet Richter
has chosen to paint this private moment among friends with the
monumentality normally associated with State Portraiture. The
figure of Wunderlich as hapless hunter mimics the swagger an ambition
found in a Van Dyck or Velasquez portrait and places such timeless
characteristics of human vanity within a modern framework. Portrait
Wunderlich undermines all preconceptions of the traditional
notions of portraiture and figure painting."
"Claudius," is a 124 ½-by-162 ½-inch oil
on linen that Richter painted in 1986. A riotous flurry of color
and bold brushstrokes, it is one of his largest works and has
an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold for $1,876,000.
year he painted "Fisch (1-3) and Schiff (1-3)," two
triptychs, Lot 45, shown above, designed to be shown in tandem
whose six panels each measure 63 by 59 inches. They were created
for the reception area of BOC Group's office complex in Surrey,
England. "Each work," the catalogue noted, "is
a progression of three separate canvases that are interconnected
by two powerful and seemingly continuous triangular forms. These
unite the three canvases and create a rhombic plane at the heart
of the work that suggests an illusionary space. This sense of
receding space is accentuated by a metallic-like shading that
conveys the appearance o light and depth. Such illusionism is
however, simultaneously denied by the emphasis on the surface
of the work that Richter has also generated by splattering and
smearing each canvas with a vibrant scarlet. In addition, a succession
of dramatic and randomly positioned squeegeed brushstrokes further
denies such an illusionistic reading of the work but does not
go so far as to completely obliterate it. This creates an overall
sense of instability and disorientation which s again enhanced
by the basic structure of each triptych being a flipped mirror-image
of the other. This connected but inverted symmetry between the
two weeks dominates the environment in which the paintings are
placed and seems to actively invade and disrupt the real space.
In this way Richter creates `pictorial quality that the intelligence
can't fabricate.' By this he means a beauty that does not adhere
to any aesthetic ideology and yet is still perceivable. It is
his refusal to abide by any aesthetic rules, to deliberately negate
any sense of symmetry, color harmony or constructive unity that
distinguishes Richter's painting and generates the dissonance
that he believes represents the only truth and is the only hope
for finding ay meaning in art. For Richter, his abstract paintings
are beautiful fictions. They are artificial in the same way as
his photographic paintings, but they go beyond these in the fact
that `they make visible a reality that we can neither see nor
describe, but who existence we can postulate.' In creating two
triptychs o separate but seemingly sequential `fictive' mages,
Richter recalls his window-like paintings of clouds and his `Mirrors'
that reflected the artificiality of all imagery and reminded the
viewer that any interpretation made from anything seen was a projection
of his or her own making. Richter's abstract paintings reiterate
this in their deliberate negation of any aesthetic, but in clearly
displaying their paradoxical nature, they also express an awareness
of our inadequacies and our limited and fragmented way of seeing
he world along wit a hope of progressing towards an understanding.
This sense of limitation and fragmentation is particularly acute
in the BOC paintings because of their seeming sequential nature
and because of the way that each triptych is a flipped image of
he other. This conveys a sense of connection between the two works
that hints at the possibility of an unexplained, unknowable, but
nonetheless real truth or meaning."
is heir to Kandinsky's great abstract legacy and is conservatively
estimated at $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold for $1,436,000
to an American dealer.
Richter abstraction in a very different and more mottled style
is Lot 51, "Abstraktes Bild (Flint Tower)," a 1988 oil
on canvas that measures 78 ¾ by 55 1/8 inches. It has an
estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for $644,000.
One of the
most stunning works in the auction is Lot 53, "Coupure,"
a 45 ½-by-35-inch oil on canvas by Lucio Fontana. Executed
in 1961, this lot has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It
sold for $996,000.
emphasis on surface in this work," the catalogue essay maintained,
"represents the bringing to fruition of his experiments with
oil paint during the previous year. In a series of heavily painted
paintings, known simply as the Olii (Oils) Fontana had
experimented with the traditional medium of oil paint as a gesturally
expressive textural and spatial addition to the predominantly
flat surface of his canvases. Using dramatic swirls and indentations
that emphasise the unique material quality and three-dimensional
texture of oil paint, the surface of Fontana's canvases became
enigmatic reliefs that deliberately evoked a shimmering play of
depth, texture and surface tension."
was one of several "highly important works that Fontana executed
while preparing for an exhibition of his Attese paintings
at the 1961 Venice Biennale," the catalogue noted, adding
that the Venezie pictures took the unique light, water
and architecture of the floating city as its central theme and
were intended as a conceptual unit." "Combining the
spatial depth of the cut with the seemingly illusionistic depth
of the oil paint, the repeated series of swirling lines are reminiscent
of the spatial eloquence of Fontana's Neon Light sculptures.
At the same time they clearly mimic the pattern of light as it
reflects in ripples off the golden surface of the Venetian lagoon
at dawn or sunset," the essay remarked.
companion piece for Fontana's golden interpretation of Venice
is Lot 33, "Daddy in the Dark," by John Chamberlain
(b. 1927). This 112 /4-inch-high painted and chrominum-plated
steel sculpture was executed in 1988 and has a conservative estimate
of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $248,000. Metal car
parts are to Chamberlain what a lumber yard is to Louise Nevelson
and this lot is a particularly successful example of how he has
pressed car parts into a very rhythmic sculpture whose essential
white monochrome palette imparts considerable elegance.
"Untitled (Ovum and Sperm), is an amusing and good work by
Kiki Smith (b. 1954), shown above. The ovum of cast aluminum is
a 12-inch-high globular object and it is attacked at its base
by 10 cast bronze sperm. The 1992 work has an estimate of $40,000
to $600,000, but it failed to sell and was passed at $22,000.
"No. 18 (Brown and Black on Plum)," is a 80-by-82-inch
oil on canvas by Mark Rothko (1903-1970). Painted in 1958, it
has an ambitious estimate of $7 million to $10,000,000 and has
been widely exhibited. It failed to sell and was passed at
in the autumn of 1958," the catalogue essay on this lot stated,
"this painting belongs to the period when Rothko's work first
began to adopt the deep somber Dionysian colours that were to
increasingly dominate the artist's palette until his suicide in
1970. Many critics have somewhat misleadingly identified these
darker paintings with Rothko's `dark side' and seen in them a
symbol of the increasing depression of his last ears but this
view is a simplistic categorization give in hindsight that misinterprets
Rothko's original intentions. Rothko aimed in his work to create
an overwhelming presence that through its combination of shimmering
and almost indefinable planes of colour generated an undeniable
emotive energy that resonates in the human psyche. The dark paintings
that begin in 1957 and dominate his oeuvre thereafter do not so
much reflect a `darkening' of Rothko's mood as a deepening of
feeling and a more profound attempt by the artist to wrestle with
what he saw as the essentially tragic nature of humanity and the
wild Dionysian violence that lies at the heart of all life."
colors, nonetheless are certainly somber in comparison with the
pulsating brilliance and saturation of many of his earlier similar
abstractions and a vertical element in the large top band of color
"Untitled III," is one of the late, bright and lyrical
abstractions by Willem de Kooning (1904-1997). Entitled "Untitled
III," the oil on canvas measures 77 by 88 inches and was
painted in 1985 and has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000.
It sold for $1,271,000. It is similar to many that were
included in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1997
City Review article). The catalogue includes a black-and-white
photograph by Edvard Lieber of the artist working in his studio
with this lot in the foreground.
like the late work of Pablo Picasso or Henri Matisse, de Kooning's
paintings contain the sustained energy ad technical finesse of
earlier achievements. However, the content of these paintings
has been radically reduced and simplified, its composition distilled
into pure color and line. This notion is evident in the present
painting, where primary colors of blue, red, and yellow weave,
cut and bridge across a subtly tinted white plane. Its ribbon-like
lines create a tangle of forms that suggest either the traces
of movement of a human body or the living vitality of nature,
such as the ebb and flow of the ocean tide."
notes that de Kooning was much absorbed with Matisse's abstract
cut-outs. These late abstractions are very beautiful.
Lot 5 is
a very good Alexander Calder (1898-1976) sculpture entitled "Constellation
(Easter Hat)." Executed in 1943, it is 16 inches high and
has a conservative estimate of $300,000 to $500,000. It sold
self-standing structure that, like some animated table, supports
a bizarre surrealist landscape of forms standing on a carved wooden
surface, Constellation (Easter Hat) is a perfect example
of Calder's unique blend of abstraction and surrealist association.
The seemingly animated nature of the strange wooden forms of this
sculpture combine with a bizarre logic to form a fantastic molecular
structure that looks as if the work were the result of some mad
chemist's hallucinatory vision. The striking multi-colored form
that anchors this sculpture together at the center of the work
recalls closely the forms of Miró's own Constellation
paintings which were painted between 1940 and 1941. Yet, although
Calder's Constellations clearly echo and indeed have often
been compared to these celebrated paintings by his close friend,
it appears that Calder did not see Miró's Constellations
until after the war. A more certain source of inspiration for
the bizarre cluster of forms that `constellate' together in new
sculptures like Easter Hat is the work of the surrealist
painter Yves Tanguy who along with his wife, the painter, Kay
Sage, had moved into a nearby house in Woodbury, Connecticut."
Lot 6 is
an interesting work by Louise Bourgeois (b. 1911), entitled "Mortise."
Originally conceived in wood in 1950, it is a painted bronze sculpture
60 inches high that was cast in a bronze edition of six later.
It has an estimate of $250,000 to $300,000. It sold for $270,000.
of Modern Art has consigned a classic example by Josef Albers
(1888-1976), Lot 3, to benefit its acquisition fund. The 1959
oil on masonite measures 48 inches square and has a conservative
estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $270,000.
the subject of a few forthcoming exhibitions, has several lots
in the auction.
Lot 4 is
"Campbell's Soup Can (Clam Chowder)," an acrylic on
canvas, 20 by 16 inches. The 1962 painting has an estimate of
$1,200,000 to $1,800,000. It sold for $1,766,000.
Lot 15 is
"Orange Marilyn," a 20-by-16-inch synthetic polymer
and silkscreen inks on canvas that was painted by Warhol in 1962
and has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for
$3,746,000. A larger version has sold for about $17,000,000.
"Large Flowers," is a 82-by-162-inch synthetic polymer
and silkscreen inks on canvas unframed that was painted by Warhol
in 1964 and has an ambitious estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000.
It sold for $8,476,000, the second highest auction price for
Warhol, eliciting the first major sustained outburst of applause
in the major auction houses this season. The painting was
sold at Sotheby's in May, 1989 for about $1,500,000. The work
was once in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Scull of New
York and is one of four executed at this scale. Warhol "appropriated"
the image of the flowers from a color photograph of seven hibiscus
blossoms in a June 1964 issue of a photography magazine and cropped
the photo to remove three of the flowers for a series of "flower"
paintings on a smaller scale and then cropped the image again
to reduce the number of flowers for the large canvases to only
"Self-Portrait (Camouflage)," is a 80-inch square synthetic
polymer and silkscreen inks on canvas unframed that Warhol painted
in 1986. It has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,000,000. It failed
to sell and was passed at $550,000.
"Statue of Liberty," is a 72-inch square synthetic polymer
and silkscreen inks on canvas that as also painted by Warhol in
1986 and has an estimate of $350,000 to $450,000. It sold for