By Carter B. Horsley
This evening Contemporary Art auction features
an excellent Frank Stella, a superb Isamu Noguchi, and a very
good Claes Oldenberg, and good examples of such current "stars"
as Robert Gober, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Mona Hatoum, Rachel
Whiteread, Feliz Gonzalez-Torres and Nan Goldin as well as interesting
works by David Hammons, Shirin Neshat, Mariko Mori, Andy Warhol,
Jean Dubuffet, Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter.
The sale was quite successful with 82 percent
of the offering lots selling for a total of $16,410,950 against
a pre-sale low estimate of $18,835,000 and a pre-sale high estimate
of $26,080,000. Given the fact that a couple of major lots failed
to sell and the rollercoaster record of the Impressionist and
Modern Art auctions last week and the generally astronomic price
levels for a lot of contemporary art, this was a strong showing
evidenced by the fact that world auction records for set for six
artists. The art market, it would appear, is still pretty robust,
albeit a bit unpredictable. Simon de Pury, chairman of Phillips
de Pury & Luxembourg, said after the auction that it was "successful"
and that Europeans were quite active and there was some Asian
participation this week.
The cover illustration of the catalogue, which
has incisive commentary on many of the lots, is a detail of Lot
37, "Kingsbury Run (First Version)," by Frank Stella
(b. 1936). This aluminum oil point on a shaped canvas was painted
in 1960 and measures 69 by 71 3/8 inches and has been exhibited
the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
With its thin yellow strips against a gray
background, this is a very elegant painting of considerable subtlety.
The upper left and lower right corners of the painting are notched
and the stripes shift their alignment to create a diagonal pattern
between the notched corners, a kind of "Man in a Gray Flannel
Suit with Crooked Elbow."
It was executed two years the artist graduated
from Princeton University and a year after he did a series of
Black paintings that, the catalogue entry noted, "effectively
banished illusionistic space with rigorous patterns of repeating
black stripes." "Rejecting all allusions to extra-pictorial
content, Stella presented the painted canvas as a strictly material
object," it continued, adding that the Aluminum series, while
"predicated on his Black paintings,
represent a distinct
and elegant refinement of the artist's initial pictorial concerns
Aluminum series also introduced quick, angular bends to Stella's
.As the present work demonstrates, this device lent
great dynamism to Stella's work, and accelerated the lateral spreading
of his stripes. They now responded like wavelengths to a mysterious
source of internal energy
.By allowing internal patterns
to dictate external shape, Stella further emphasized the radical
materiality of his work."
The lot has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000.
It failed to sell and was passed at $1,500,000.
Lot 46, "Strange Bird (To The Sunflower),"
is a 56 1/2-inch-high bronze sculpture by Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988),
shown above. It is number 8 of an edition of 8 with two artist's
proofs and has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000 and has been
widely exhibited and published. This is a lovely and very fine
Noguchi. It sold for $495,500 including the buyer's premium
as do all the results in this article.
Another excellent sculpture lot is 43, "Softlight
Switches," a 41 1/8-inch square and 11-inch-deep vinyl work
by Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929), shown above. Executed between 1963
and 1969, it has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold
The catalogue notes that the artist's sculptures
are "extreme exaggerations, colossal variants of their natural
scale," adding that "Sewn from canvas or vinyl, these
everyday objects are rendered doubly uncanny, the familiar made
uncompromisingly strange: they are at once enlarged and tactilely
transformed. Remaking the small as large and the rigid as malleable,
Oldenburg embraces giganticism and softness to reimagine our usual
experiences and redirect conventional expectations of monumental
sculpture." This is a particularly successful and happy work.
Robert Gober (b. 1954) is represented by four
Lot 21, "Untitled," is a 3 1/4-by-7
1/4-by-3-inch wax sculpture of a women's shoe with human hair
inside it. It was executed in 1992 in an edition of 15 and has
an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $74,000. The
hair looks as if it is growing inside the shoe and harkens of
course to earlier surrealistic works by other artists such as
Meret Oppenheim's famous Fur-Lined Teacup of 1936 in the
collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Lot 22, "Untitled (Butterchurn),"
is a 59-inch-high bronze sculpture of a butterchurn that was executed
by Gober in 1996-7 in an edition of four and has an estimate of
$80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $118,000.
Lot 23, "Distorted Playpen," is a
25-by-63 3/4-by-32 3/4-inch wooden construction covered with white
enamel paint that is a unique work that was executed in 1988.
It has an estimate of $350,000 to $450,000. It failed to sell
and was passed at $250,000, perhaps a reflection that another
more interesting version, known as "X Crib" was due
to be auctioned at another venue this week.
Lot 24, "Untitled (Broom Sink),"
is a plaster and wire construction covered with semi-gloss enamel
paint. It was executed in 1984 and has an estimate of $500,000
to $700,000. It sold for $464,500.
The catalogue contains a two-page essay on
the artist, who will represent the United States at the Venice
Biennale of 2001, that recalls that he began in 1983 "his
first serial body of sculpture" that would create over 40
variations of a sink until 1992. Unlike Marcel Duchamp's industrial
"ready-mades," Gober's work is not mass produced, but
are finely crafted to mimic manufactured goods. "Despite
its real-world origins, Broom Sink ultimately confounds
the viewer's expectations of a sink. Fixtures and faucets have
been eliminated. Drains have disappeared. External plumbing is
non-existent. Reduced to this strangely dysfunctional state, the
sculpture invites deeper, metaphorical intepretations," the
"In 1986 Gober began to add playpens,
cribs, and beds to his sculptural lexicon. The playpens, in particular,
evoked troubling memories of infancy. Like Broom Sink,
Distorted Playpen produces meanings through a process of
elimination. One notes the lack of padding, cusions, or children's
toys that normally furnish a playpen. Stripped to its essential
components, the sculpture appears uncomfortably bare and cell-like.
This disquieting allusion to incarceration may be noted in all
of Gober's playpen sculptures," the essay continued.
Of the shoe, the essay states that Gober has
transformed "a familiar article of clothing into a powerful
symbol of eroticism," adding that "The artist heightens
its fetishistic potential by literally fusing this shoe with its
absent owner." The essay also comments that Butter Churn
is an "essentially phallic structure" and adds that
it "marked a significant departure for the artist" because
it represented a turn to the "historical past."
Lot 26, "Flowers," is a stainless
steel sculpture by Jeff Koons (b. 1955) that was executed in 1986
in an edition of three plus one artist's proof. The 18-inch-wide
sculpture has an estimate of $250,000 to $300,000. It failed
to sell and was passed at $190,000.
"A Duchampian spirit clearly informs the
present work, which essentially reproduces a garden-variety, decorative
tschatke sold in gift shops worldwide. Often taking the shape
of floral bouquets, and commonly used to decorate domestic interiors,
such mass-produced objects testify to a pervasive humanimpluse
to possess things of beauty. By decontextualizing and isolating
the knick-knack for the viewer's sustained meditation, Koons emphasizes
the festishistic nature of such a desire. For while this object
faithfully replicates the outward appearance of a floral arrangement,
one must ultimately acknowledge its numerous imitative shortcomings.
The roses have been bled of their color. Their scent has been
extinguished. The delicate leaves and petals have become brittle
and concrete. All the unique and pleasurable properties of a bouquet
have been paradoxically eliminated from this deficient copy. Koons
cleverly demonstrates the essential absurdity of such reproductions,
revealing how they sacrifice the authentic, ephemeral beauty of
flowers in order to satisfy a desire for permanent ownership,"
the catalogue notes, adding that Koons has stated that stainless
steel is "fake luxury."
If Koons's stainless-steel bouquet's high reflectivity
is part of its allure, Damien Hirst's transparent jars filled
with the internal organs of cows in Lot 9, "Uncaring Lovers,"
is viscerally very visible. The work, which was created in 1991,
consists of a glass-doored cabinet with six rows of jars with
various organs in formaldehyde. The catalogue notes that despite
the jars' contents, the work is fastidious and tidy, and it includes
a quote from the artist: "Art is about life. It has to be
- there's nothing else." It has an estimate of $250,000 to
$350,000. It sold for $277,500.
One of the artist's "Pharmaceutical Paintings"
is Lot 7, "Calcium Gluconate Injection," a 92-by-108-inch
gloss household paint on canvas, painted in 1992. The painting,
which consists of black, dark gray and light gray dots against
a white background," represents the artist's "scientific"
approach to painting. The catalogue entry contains a quote from
the artist that "Art is like medicine - it can heal,"
but, it continues, "I've always been amazed at how many people
believe in medicine but don't believe in art, without questioning
either." The lot has an estimate of $300,000 to $350,000.
It sold for $332,500.
Lot 6, "Pin Carpet," is a 1995 work
by Mona Hatoum (b. 1952) made up of stainless steel pins, canvas
and glue, and obviously is a fakir's delight as it is a large
and delicate "bed of nails." The 49-by-97-by-1-inch
work is unique and has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It
sold for $129,000. "Initially striking the distant spectator
as a Minimalist exercise in flatness, this simple rectangular
shape hugs the floor like the self-evident squares of a Carl Andre
sculpture. Gaining proximity, one appreciates this sculpture as
a carpet. A distinct texture emerges, inflected with light a,
and creates a plush, luxurious inviting surface. One ultimately
realizes that this rug is fashioned from thousands of stainless
steel pins. Relentlessly pushed through a thin fabric backing,
they expose their tiny shiny points to the unsuspecting viewer.
As do many of Hatoum's works, Pin Carpet comforts the viewer
with familiarity, entrances with beauty, seduces with luxury,
only to reveal itself in the end as a paradox.
The long essay on the work, a detail of which
illustrates the back cover of the catalogue, also notes that "when
viewing Pin Carpet, one strains to grasp the mind-boggling
quantity of pins required for its fabrication." "This
painstaking, hand-wrought construction asserts Hatoum's physical
authorship, while also recalling the ritualistic wrappings and
nailings that accompanied many of Jackie Winsor's early sculptures.
More analogous, perhaps, are the equally obsessive works of Eva
.The present work begs the question of physical labor
in other works as well, especially when viewed from a feminist
standpoint. As a carpet, the sculpture readily alludes to domestic
space and its duties, while the countless dressmaker's pins invoke
the nimble and often tedious processes of sewing. Perhaps, then,
Pin Carpet also bears testament to the lives and labors of
women that too often remain devalued in present society."
Lot 10, "Untitled (Convex)," is a
rubber and high-density foam sculpture in the shape of a mattress
by Rachel Whiteread (b. 1963). The 39 1/2-by-77-by-13-inch work
was executed in 1993 and has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000.
It sold for $365,000, breaking the previous world auction record
for the artist of $220,807 set at Christie's in London December,
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"Over the past fifteen years, Rachel Whiteread
has garnered consistently high acclaim for her ghostly sculptures
of emptiness. Her work is rooted in the domestic realm, where
she tends to cast the negative spaces below, inside, and around
.The resultant sculptures are spare,
elegant forms that invoke the original objects by way of their
absence. In the early 1990s, Whiteread create a discrete series
of works that inverted her typical sculptural strategy. Remaining
committed to the aesthetic vocabulary of the home, she cast a
number of used mattresses in rubber, wax, plaster, and foam. These
sculptures, however, were realized as positive volumes, replicating
the solid mass of the original bedding
as a positive volume, the present work is clearly distinguished
from an actual mattress. The original bed has been displaced in
the casting process, leaving behind an indexical trace of its
shape and surface
.Whiteread emphasizes this distinction
by propping the present work against the wall. This efficient
gesture extracts the sculpture from its own mundane history on
the floor, and repositions it as a work of art
representation origins, Whiteread's sculptures consistently betray
a substantial formal debt to Minimalism
is also freighted with multiple references to the human body.
is a warm yellowish hue that evokes human
flesh. Perhaps the most corporeal details are the puckers and
folds that radiate from the circular depressions and stretch around
the bed's corners. When translated into pliable foam and rubber,
these marks are highly suggestive of wrinkled skin. Far from gruesome,
these details poignantly invoke the distant history of the sculpture
as the former site of both sleep and sexual intimacy. As do most
of Whiteread's mattress sculptures, the present work feels vaguely
haunted, as though permeated with memories of the bodies it once
Lot 18, "Untitled (Legal Size White),"
by Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996) is a 65 1/2-inch-high found
wall-mounted magazine rack and offset prints on white legal paper.
The unique work was executed in 1989 and has an estimate of $40,000
to $60,000. It sold for $40,250.
"The present work," according to
the catalogue, "occupies an important, pivotal position in
the artist's oeuvre. Created in early 1989, Untitled (Legal
Size White) clearly anticipates the appearance of his floor-bound
paper stacks later in the same year. Like these related sculptures,
the present work is indebted to the formal vocabulary of Minimalism.
Yet this sculpture also undermines that tradition in a subtle
fashion, by deliberately ceding its artistic authority tot he
personal reviewers of its viewers." The catalogue entry noted
that the artist's paper stacks "yield to the touch of their
audience" and that "Spectators are e courage to remove
individual sheets of appear from these endlessly replenished sculptures"
and "in so doing, they become active participants in Gonzalez-Torres's
creative enterprise contributing to both the physical (dis)appearance
and metaphorical significant of his work."
Lot 14, "C Putting on her Makeup at Second
Tip, Bangkok, 1992," is a 27 1/2-by-40-inch Cibachrome executed
in 1992 in an edition of 25 by Nan Goldin (b. 1953). Unlike much
of this artist's work, this photograph of a woman in front of
a mirror as seen from the side is well composed and quite beautiful.
It has an estimate of $20,000 to $25,000. It sold for $17,250.
Perhaps the most amusing work in the auction
is Lot 12, "Untitled," by David Hammons (b. 1943), as
it depicts a basketball hoop with a mirror as a backboard that
is festooned with crystal and brass sconces and candle-like lights
and a net of crystal beads. The 54-by-60-by-16-inch work is unique
and was executed in 2000. It has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000.
It sold for $409,500, rather significantly shattering the previous
world auction record for the artist of $18,500 set at Christie's
in London in November, 1999. Michael McGinnis, the head of Phillips's
contemporary art department, said after the auction that the artist's
work is difficult to get. "In this work,," the catalogue
notes, "the basketball hoop was explored as both an icon
of black male street cool, as well as a symbol of disenfranchisement
.The surreal fusion of the athletic, common basketball
hoop and the pristine, chandelier and crystal elements, not only
bring forward the notion of kitsch, but more specifically, make
undeniably obvious two very strong clichés in American
society: the stereotype that basketball is synonymous with African
American males, and the ornate chandelier symbolic of the bourgeoisie
Lot 15, "Speechless," is a stunning
photograph of a women's face overlaid with script and beside the
barrel of a pistol. The 49-by-36-inch pen and ink over gelatin
silver print was executed in 1996 by Shirin Neshat (b. 1957) and
is from an edition of three. It has an estimate of $30,000 to
$40,000. It sold for $70,700 breaking the previous world auction
record of the artist of $50,600 that was set at Phillips last
Another leading woman artist is Mariko Mori
(b. 1967). Lot 11, "Last Departure," a 84-by-144-inch
Fuji, supergloss duraflex print mounted on aluminum in artist's
smoked chrome aluminum frame, was executed by her in 1996 in an
edition of three and has an estimate of $120,000 to $160,000.
It sold for $134,500, breaking the previous world auction record
of $116,734 set at Sotheby's in London last October. Many
of her works, including this, have a soft sci-fi mood of mystery
Lot 41 is a fine portrait of "Mao"
by Andy Warhol (1928-1987). The 50 1/4-by-42 3/4-inch synthetic
polymer paint and silkscreen on canvas was painted in 1973 and
has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $1,157,500.
Its provenance is Ileana Sonnabend Gallery, Leo Castelli Gallery,
Dia Art Foundation, Armand Bartos and Tony Shafrazi Gallery.
Lot 45, "L'Automobile Fleur de l'Industrie,"
by Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985), is a 86 3/4-by-65-inch oil on canvas
that was executed in 1961 and has an ambitious estimate of $2,500,000
to $3,500,000. The painting shows the artist's child-like vision
of a Ford and a Citroen in traffic as seen from above. It sold
Lot 34, "Grobe Tyede-Landschaft (285),"
is a good, 78 1/4-by-118 1/8-inch oil on canvas by Gerhard Richter
(b. 1932). The 1972 work, a landscape derived from a volcanic
region on Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands, has an estimate
of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It failed to sell and was passed
Lot 32, "Untitled," is a 103-by-78
1/2-inch acrylic and synthetic resin on canvas painted by Sigmar
Polke (b. 1941) in 1983. The vibrant abstraction has an estimate
of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $266,500.
Lot 2, "Colin de Land," by Elizabeth
Peyton (b. 1965), a 1994 oil on canvas, 60 by 40 inches, sold
for $77,300, breaking the previous world auction record for the
artist of $70,500 set at Christie's a year ago.
Lot 8, "Foxy Roxy," by Chris Ofili
(b. 1968), an oil, polyester resin, paper collage, glitter and
elephant dung on canvas, sold for $211,500 breaking the artist's
previous world auction record of $136,496 set at Christie's in
London in December, 1999. The painter shows a bare-breasted blonde
but is a rather dark painting for Ofili and not one of his most
Lot 33,"Baum Mit Panzer," a 111-by-82
1/4-inch oil and lead on canvas by Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945) that
was painted in 1977 failed to sell and had been estimated at $200,000