This evening sale
of contemporary art is highlighted by a fine and bold painting
by Philip Guston (1912-1980), some good paintings by Jean Dubuffet
(1901-1985) and Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), an amusing work
by Jeff Koons (b. 1945), an interesting work by Charles Ray, a
very large painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) and a
good Jasper Johns (b. 1930).
The auction was extremely
successful with almost 84 percent of the 67 offered lots selling
for almost $47 million, extremely close to the pre-sale high estimate.
Twenty-eight of the lots exceeded their high estimate and auction
records were set for 15 artists and the jam-packed auction room
burst into applause several times and at the end of the sale.
Describing himself as
"one exhausted auctioneer," Christopher Burge, the auctioneer
described the sale afterwards as "triumphantly successful"
and "just amazing."
The highest price of
the evening was for Lot 34, "Profit I," by Jean-Michel
Basquiat. It sold for $5,509,500, including the buyer's premium
as do all prices mentioning in this article, shattering the artist's
previous auction record of $3,302,500 set at Christie's Nov. 12,
Another Basquiat, Lot
63, "Gravestone," failed to sell and was passed at $380,000,
just short of its $400,000 low estimate, a good indication of
the market's often quixotic disparity of values.
"Profit I," is a large acrylic and spray paint on canvas
by Jean-Michel Basquiat that was executed in 1982. It has an ambitious
estimate of $3,000,000 to $5,000,000 and is one of several works
consigned in this auction Lars Ulrich, a founding member of the
Metallica band. It measures 86 1/2 by 157 1/2 inches.
states flatly that this lot "is considered to be Basquiat's
greatest masterpiece." "Executed in Italy in 1982 at
the height of his creative development and fame," it continued,
"this epic canvas can be seen both in its scale and ambition
to be his equivalent of Picasso's Guernica. Here Basquiat
shows his understanding of the expressionist brushwork of de Kooning
and Kline, and the frenetic graphic languarge of Cy Twombly. He
mixes art historical precdent wih the raw primitivism of urban
graffiti to paint an image of a black crucified hero, that is
partly a self -ortrait and partly African warrior and Voodoo shaman."
it is a very large and strong work, the lower left corner is a
bit unresolved and the black is not as rich as in some of his
other works, but the writing and diagrams are nice.
Records were also set
for Donald Judd (1928-1994) and Ed Ruscha (b. 1937), breaking
records set just the night before at the Contemporary Art evening
auction at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg (see The
City Review article.)
"Untitled," is a large sculpture by Donald Judd that
was consigned by Irving Blum. Conceived in 1966 and executed the
following year, it consists of six stainless steel and yellow
plexiglass 36-inch cubes. It has an ambitious estimate of $3,000,000
to $4,000,000. It sold for $4,629,500 eclipsing by far the
record of $1,322,500 set May 13 of this year at Phillips de Pury
& Luxembourg. This was a much larger work.
Lot 7, "Talk About Space," by
Ed Rusha sold for $3,529,500, smashing the previous night's record
at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg of $2,532,500. The 71 1/4-by-66
7/8-inch oil on canvas was executed in 1963 and has the word "Space"
at the top of a blue background and a thin pencil is painted in
the middle of the bottom with its eraser pointed upwards. It had
an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It was the back-cover
illustration of this auction's catalogue whereas the painting
at Phillips, "Noise," painted the same year and about
the same size, was the front-cover illustration of that catalogue.
Both paintings were big, bold and rather "Pop."
Other new auction records were Lot 28, "Blind
Man's Bluff," a sensual sculpture by Louise Bourgeois (b.
1911), which sold for $1,439,500; Lot 10, "The American Sweetheart,"
a good work by Robert Indiana (b. 1928), which sold for $614,500;
Lot 8, "Great American Nude #44," by Tom Wesselmann
(b. 1931), which sold for $944,500; Lot 35, "In the Beginning
Was The Image," a colorful and chaotic work by Asger Jorn
(1914-1973), which sold for $2,099,500; Lot 46, "The Beach
Series," photographs of skinny young people of no particular
distinction by Rineke Dijkstra (b. 1959), which sold for $405,000;
Lot 40, "Figure 11.23," a rather bloody looking work
by Jenny Saville (b. 1970), which sold for $537,500; Lot 42, "Mailander
Dom (Fassade)," a handsome church facade photograph by Thomas
Struth (b. 1954), which sold for $317,500; Lot 45, "Wand
(Mural)," by Thomas Demand (b. 1964), which sold for $141,500;
Lot 48, "Thanksgiving," a group of 149 photographs by
Nan Goldin (b. 1953), which sold for $284,500; Lot 64, "Adieu
Batista," by Julian Schnabel (b. 1951), which sold for $361,500;
Lot 68, "A Certain Lunar-Eclipse (Project for Humankind No.
2)," by Cai Guo-Qiang (b. 1957), which sold for $229,500;
and Lot 24, "Untitled (Fragments)," by Toba Khedoori
(b. 1964), which sold for $65,725.
"The Wall II," shown at the top of this article, is
a very strong and classic work by Philip Guston (1912-1980). The
oil on canvas measures 60 by 88 1/2 inches and was executed in
1975. It has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold
for $1,054,500. Late in his career, Guston changed his artistic
course from abstraction back to realism.
provides the following commentary:
new-found obsession with the mysterious unreality of the physical
world developed in him an existential awareness that began to
be manifested in increasingly strong and ugly paintings. He gan
to depict the wolrd as a smauel Beckett-like landscape of the
everyday and the absurd. Concentrating on discarded objects, as
if such flotsam was the foundation of some future post-apocalyptic
world, Guston's objects began to merge into bizarrre whole landscapes
or body-like forms. His books and shoes and bricks and ottles
merge together in bizarre forms that trouble the mind and ultimately
defy definition. In The Wall II, a Stonehenge-like collation of
these objects huddle together on the horizon line of a red-brick
wall like a strange forest or city skyline - a landscape in which
the clumsy bug that crawls in the foreground, can, and indeed
"Untitled (Glass Chair)," is a very good work by Charles
Ray (b. 1953) that was executed in 1976. It has an somewhat ambitious
estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for $669,500.
"Paris Montparnasse," is a very good work by Jean Dubuffet.
An oil on canvas that measures 65 by 86 1/2 inches, it was executed
in 1961 and is one of several works consigned by Lars Ulrich,
a musician with Metallica band. This work has a rather ambitious
estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000, but the catalogue notes
that it is "the last true monumental Paris Circus painting
to remain in private hands," adding that it is one of the
five largest of this series by the artist. The Museum of Modern
Art has one of the others and another is in the Detroit Institute.
It sold for $4,739,500.
Dubuffet returned to Paris in 1961 and found it bustling and decided
to abandon his former explorations of nature and concentrate on
city life on a monumental scale. "The picture buzzes with
life and movement, the chaos of the vehicles perfectly distilled
into the work. Each car appears to be a little world unto itself,
and yet almost all of the characters face the viewer creating
a strange and striking interaction. While this is in part reminiscent
of children's art, as is the strange, squat-map bird's-eye angle
from which he has depicted the street, Dubuffet was in fact trying
less to imitate the art of children than to reclaim the raw and
unfettered vision that the psychotic manage to condense onto paper
and canvas in their art.the density of detail and activity is
itself incredible. Each character tells a tale, is involved in
his or her own arcane and hieratic act. Where Dubuffet had recently
been using such textures to instill a sense of soil and nature,
here he has scratched and sculpted his paint to form the figures
and details of the Paris street. The dense mix of almost dirty
colors in Paris Montarnasse is peculiarly suited to the subject
matter - the grays and browns recall the exhaust fumes and pollution
of the city, adding an ungarnished air of subjective reality to
"Riant été," would be a truly great Cy
Twombly only it is instead an excellent Jean Dubuffet. Executed
in 1954, it is a 35-by-45 3/4-inch oil on canvas, It has a modest
estimate of $400,000 to $600,000 and was once in the collection
of William Inge of Los Angeles. Despite its enormous squggly
energy, it failed to sell and was passed at $350,000.
has several good works in this auction, the best of which is Lot
56, "Imperfect Painting," which is a powerful abstraction.
An oil and magna on two joined canvases, it measures 111 3/4 by
168 inches and was executed in 1986. It has an estimate of $700,000
to $900,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $600,000.
Lot 12 is a quite strong painting by Roy Lichtenstein. Entitled
"Red Barn 1," it is a 29 7/8-by-44 1/8-inch oil and
magna on canvas and it was painted in 1969. It has an estimate
of $1,400,000 to $1,800,000. It sold for $2,429,500.
"Surrealist Head II," is a 34 1/2-inch-high painted
bronze with black patina sculpture by Lichtenstein that is one
from an ediiton of six. It has an estimate of $180,000 to $220,000.
It sold for $339,500.
Lot 5, "Cherubs,"
is a good work by Jeff Koons and consists of two cherubs in polychromed
wood. Executed in 1991, the work is number three from an edition
of three and an artist's proof. It has an estimate of $900,000
to $1,200,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $850,000.
One of the cherubs is a boy and the other is a girl and she holds
a white teddy bear.
Lot 2, "Summer,"
shown above, is a very good watercolor and crayon over lithograph
and etching by Jasper Johns. Executed between 1985 and 1990, this
9 1/2-by-12 1/2-inch work is unique and has a modest estimate
of $250,000 to $300,000. It sold for $339,500. It is a
version of the first of the artist's cycle of paintings of the
seasons that he started in 1984. The work includes images of the
American flag and the Mona Lisa and the artist's shadow. It is
quite colorful and vibrant. Another Johns, however, Lot 14,
"Alphabet," failed to reach its low estimate and was
passed at $500,000. It was quite dark and dense.
"Spirit," is a very good oil on canvas by Richard Estes
(b. 1939) that depicts a view up Broadway from 70th Street. The
38-by-65-inch painting was executed in 1995-6 and has an estimate
of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $361,500. Another
excellent painting by Estes is Lot 37 that is entitled "Times
Square at 3:53 P.M., Winter." It is a 19-by-27-inch oil on
canvas that was executed in 1985. It has an estimate of $300,000
to $400,000. It sold for $339,500.
"Old Couple on a Bench," is an excellent sculpture of
two life-size people on a bench by Duane Hanson (1925-1996). Executed
in 1994, it has a modest estimate of $200,000 to $300,000.
It sold for $229,500.
Burge was in his usual fine form. During bidding on Lot 36, "January
IV," by Alex Katz, he said gleefully after a pause in the
bidding "I heard a whistle," only to quickly add as
he scrutinized the room for more bids "Sitting on the paddle,
that's a bad sign!" The lot sold for $240,000 just below
its low estimate of $250,00.