unquestioned star of this Contemporary Art auction is "Michael
Jackson and Bubbles," a sparkling homage by Jeff Koons to
the famous pop singer and his pet monkey, shown above.
ceramic sculpture is numbered 3/3 from an edition of 2 plus an
artist's proof. The other sculptures are in the Dakis Joannou
Collection Foundation in Athens, the San Francisco Museum of Modern
Art and the Broad Art Foundation in Santa Monica, California.
past few seasons, Koons's art has been escalating in value at
auction and this lot has an ambitious estimate of $3,000,000 to
$4,000,000. It sold for $5,615,750 including the buyer's premium
as do all results mentioned in this article. The astronomical
price easily shattered the artist's previous world auction record
of $1,817,500 to an anonymous buyer.
sales total was $45,312,400 and 75.71 percent of the 70 offered
lots sold. While the buy-in rate was a bit high, the prices for
many works were strong and Tobias Meyer, the auctioneer noted
after the sale that the auction room was lively. There was considerable
bidding in the room and a strong European presence.
proven to be an exceedingly versatile artist who has had an uncanny
ability to pick subjects of great charm and humor such as his
shiny and reflective, balloon-like "Rabbit," or his
Pink Panther and Friend porcelain or his huge botanical "Puppy,"
as well as less-family-oriented subjects such as a large painting
of himself engaged in a sex act. Apart from his mirthfulness,
Koons's kitsch subjects straddle the line between low- and high-brow
as well as Andy Warhol's soup can paintings and some will probably
hope he will decide to make movies too as they probably anticipate
that his glossed-finishedness will be equally dazzling, or awesome,
or jaw-dropping, or whatever. It is very hard not to like much
of Koons's work even if one is not certain it is great art. He
is a slick showman with a fine "eye," a grand "Me
Generation" popularizer, and "art," especially
"contemporary" art, however disturbing or raw, is not
Koons lot is the obvious attention-grabber in this auction, it
is not likely that Lot 26, a fine example of the "Ocean Park"
series of paintings by Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) will be
overlooked as it is one of the best works being offered in the
Contemporary/Post War round of auctions this season by Sotheby's,
Christie's and Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg. "Entitled
"Ocean Park No. 67," it is an exquisite oil on canvas
that measures 100 by 81 inches and was painted in 1973. Formerly
in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Donald B. Marron of New York
and Steve Martin of Los Angeles, it has a conservative estimate
of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It sold for $3,525,750.
City Review article on the Diebenkorn exhibition at the Whitney
Museum of American Art) began his "Ocean Park" series
in 1967. The catalogue describes the series as "monumental,
airy, almost geometric abstractions" and notes that "Because
of their delicate transparency, the colors are seen more in terms
of process than result." Discussing his redrawing of lines
and layering of colors, the catalogue's essay on the lot states
that "Diebenkorn shifts them as he constructs the composition,
leaving ghost marks, pentimenti, to make the canvas a record of
old ideas, of grand schemes hatched and forgotten, of hints of
what might have been; and yet the final, last solution, the topmost
layer, lays claim to a restful, seemingly inevitable solution."
Christie's has several very good works in different styles by
Gerhard Richter (b. 1932) in its Post-War auction this week (see
City Review article on the Post-War evening auction May 16, 2001
this auction offers yet another dimension to his oeuvre with Lot
32, "Drei Kerzen," a 49 ¼-by-59 ½-inch
oil on canvas that was executed in 1982. The painting of three
lit candles against a dark background has been consigned from
the Collection of Camille Oliver-Hoffmann and has an ambitious
estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It sold $5,395,750, breaking
the previous world auction record for Richter of $4,956,000.
provides the following commentary on this lot:
more than any other artist, Richter has developed the art of painting;
blurring the boundaries between form and content, between Sign
and Signifier on the canvas. Richter's concern was not so much
how to make marks, but why one should develop such marks in the
context of an antagonism between representation and re-presentation.
The only reality was not the image, but the process. For Richter,
painting became an ethereal exploration, with the canvas as the
laboratory; his tools thus became the means to conjure some of
the most magical images of this period.The dialogue between painterly
abstraction and romanticized realism related to photography is
best exemplified in the series of 32 works depicting skulls and
candles, executed by Richter between 1982 and 1983. Drei Kerzen,
the largest of these examples and the only canvas to depict three
candles, must be seen as a seminal work in Richter's oeuvre. Like
Rembrandt's famous etching of the three trees, the candles, combined
with Richter's delicious interplay of light and shade, is reminiscent
of the Crucifixion scene. This sense of fate links the Candle
paintings to the Romantic overtones first expressed in Richter's
Nature paintings at the end of the1960s.Richter's Drei Kerzen,
cannot therefore be read literally as a Still Life. The image
becomes the vehicle for a more interesting investigation into
the veracity of `realistic images', and an exploration into the
role of light in painting.the present work is a masterpiece of
tonal interplay. The fluid, liquid brushwork, so tightly controlled
by Richter, is mesmerizing. This wonderfully poised and precise
canvas, executed with a stunning refinement of technique and a
rare impact of vision, stands out as a masterpiece."
is also highlighted by good works by Warhol (1928-1987), Mark
Rothko (1903-1970), Franz Kline (1910-1962), Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974),
Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) and Isamu
"Black and Red on Red," is a nice, relatively small-size
Rothko, oil on paper, 29 5/8 by 21 5/8 inches, that is dated 1962
and has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold for
"Group of Five Campbell's Soup Cans," is a 16-by-20-inch
synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas, shown above, that
is dated 1962 and has an ambitious estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000.
It sold for $3,745,750. It was formerly in the collections
of Leon Mnuchin of New York and Karl Ströher of Darmstadt.
The catalogue maintains that the artist, who eat soup for lunch
for 20 years, used "an opaque projector to trace his images
during this time, and this was the case" with this work.
"This process of hand-tracing a projected image would lead
directly to Warhol's first photo-silkscreens of late 1962 and
for years to follow. Thus, Group of Five Campbell's Soup Cans
stands as a pivotal piece in Warhol's body of work.
"Liz as Cleopatra," is a 31-by-18 1/8-inch synthetic
polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas that is dated 1962 and has
an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for $665,750.
"Untitled," is an excellent oil on canvas, 54 by 28
inches, by Kline that was painted in 1953. This bold black and
white abstraction has a modest estimate of $600,000 to $800,000.
It sold for $775,750.
"Low Land," is an unusual and striking work by Gottlieb.
The 48-by-90-inch oil on canvas was executed in 1971 and has a
conservative estimate of $120,000 to $180,000. It sold for
$104,250. Whereas most of his major works are vertical, and
have white backgrounds and centered compositions, this painting
is horizontal and has a light blue-green background and confines
most of its composition to the lower half of the painting. It
is lovely, subtle and striking.
"Black and White/Number 6, 1951," is a 56 1/8-by-45
¼-inch enamel on canvas by Pollock (see The City Review article
on a recent Pollock exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in
that has an ambitious estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000. It
sold for $7,980,750.
extraordinary in the series of black paintingswas the re-emergence
of figuration. Pollock refused to subscribe to abstraction as
a dogmatic imperative, as many critics of the time did. Instead,
he sought a space between figuration and literal abstraction in
order to advance his work. Of all the black paintings, this is
perhaps one of the richest and darkest, filled with repeated passages
of enamel, pooled to form deep blacks, and then dragged and scratched
to create dry half-tones. Luxurious textures permeate these passages
of the upper right of the canvas, while a wet arabesque pours
out in a finely controlled line twisting in upon itself in the
lower left. One can't help but imagine the lines as the contours
of organic forms heads, fingers, legs, or arms.Cy Twombly's dried
lines, both abstract and figurative, scratched across the canvas
seem indebted to these black paintings. Brice Marden's calligraphic
lines and even Frank Stella's black paintings, can be said to
approach Pollock through these late works."
"Untitled," is a nice, small work by Cornell that is
a 12 ¾-by-9-by-4 ¾-inch mixed media box construction
with stuffed bird and electric light. Executed circa 1955, it
has an estimate of $200,000 to $250,000. It failed to sell
and was passed at $150,000.
"Avatar," is a lovely and great, surrealistic, 78-inch-high
bronze sculpture by Isamu Noguchi that was originally conceived
in 1947 and executed in pink Georgia marble in the Kröller-Muller
Museum in Otterlo and then cast in an edition of 8 in bronze between
1979 and 1986. This one was cast in 1986. It has a modest estimate
of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for $610,750.
"Mortality," is another fine, 75-inch-high bronze sculpture
by Noguchi that was once in the Lambert Collection in Belgium.
It is number two of six casts executed from 1961 to 1988 and has
an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $313,750.
"X Crib," is a painted wood sculpture, shown above,
by Robert Gober (b. 1954) that is 44-by-50 ½-by-33 ¼
inches and was executed in 1987. Gober has taken the traditional
rectangular baby's crib and constructed one that consists of two
triangular sections facing each other. The lot has an estimate
of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $423,750.
traces of its manual production, traces of physical contact and
bathed in the `timeless' warm white patina that often accompanies
objects of comfort," the catalogued observed, "X
Crib takes the Minimalist form and lends it an uncanny terror
which silently penetrates the viewer's subconscious. Playing with
the received perception of the ideal crib as the harmonious bodily
comfort zone and the secure locus of unity, Gober's twisted, tortured
childhood cage articulates a physical and emotional confinement
which somehow hints at an innocence lost and lends a sculpture
form to the world of lived experience. This mute object, this
silent thing has suddenly become a replica of a specific feeling,
a testimony to a domestic tragedy."
the most controversial lot in the auction is 5, "No,"
a self-portrait color photograph, 38 by 20 inches, by Charles
Ray (b. 1953), number two of an edition of four, shown in the
photograph above at left, as it has a very ambitious estimate
of $400,000 to $600,000 and is the illustration of the catalogue's
back cover. It failed to sell and was passed at $350,000.
"Ray's image in No is a realistic fiberglass mold of his
head and hands, painted in lifelike tones," the catalogue