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Contemporary Art
& 14 Duchamp Readymades
Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg

7PM, Monday, May 13, 2002

3 West 57th Street

Sale NY865

Auction Records set for Donald Judd, Ed Ruscha, William Kentridge, Mariko Mori, Douglas Gordon and Neo Rauch and tied for a Marcel Duchamp "readymade"


By Carter B. Horsley

The announcement earlier this year by Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg that it was canceling its spring Impressionist & Modern Art auction came as a great relief to Sotheby's and Christie's but also raised serious questions about the future of Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg.

The aggressive entry of the Phillips auction house into the big leagues of fine art auctions under the guidance of Bernard Arnault's LVMH conglomerate stole a lot of business away from Sotheby's and Christie's, both of which were under antitrust investigations that created serious financial problems for them and made them appear to be quite vulnerable to new competition.

Even though Phillips was rumored to have lost a great deal of money through its "guarantees" to some consignors, it appeared to have gotten off to a pretty strong start and obtained some very major consignments that normally would have ended up at either Sotheby's or Christie's.

Simon de Pury and Daniella Luxembourg

Simon de Pury and Daniella Luxembourg

The downturn in national and international economies over the last year or so apparently led Mr. Arnault to relinguish part of his ownership of Phillips to a group headed by Simon de Pury and Daniella Luxembourg, well-known and well-established dealers who had been based in Europe.

Without Mr. Arnault's and LVMH's deep pockets, it was not clear how the auction house, renamed Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg, would fare this season and the announcement that it could not gather enough works to hold an Impressionist & Modern Art auction in New York this spring raised further questions about its viability. Sotheby's and Christie's were able to hold quite impressive Impressionist and Modern Art sales this month, achieving some quite impressive prices, and clearly breathing a little easier from the lack of strong competition in this sector from Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg. In addition, John Block, a major executive officer of Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg, announced in May that he would be leaving the concern at the end of this month.

It may well be a bit premature, however, to write off Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg for its Contemporary Art and American Art auctions this month are major events, full of very important works that should do quite well and reaffirm its viability as a "selective," "boutique" auction house without the enormous overheads of its rivals. Furthermore, it has subsequently announced an Impressionist and Modern Art Sale in London June 21 that will feature works from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, an indication that it is not abandoning this important field and still have very impressive contacts. (The June sale in London will be held by de Pury & Luxembourg because of contractual agreements that prevent "Phillips" from holding an auction in England for a period of time that will end in the near future.)

The Duchamp Readymades


This Contemporary Art evening sale is highlighted by the only complete collection in private hands of "readymades" by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) as well as numerous other fine works. The collection has been owned by Arturo Schwarz was almost four decades and is in excellent condition. Mr. Schwarz spoke at a news conference at the Chelsea facility of Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg at 450 West 15th Street a few days before the auction and said that he regarded the readymades as revolutionary masterpieces of 20th Century art.

Arturo Schwarz

Arturo Schwarz discussing Duchamp's "Readymades" at the auction house's facility in Chelsea near the Hudson River

The Duchamp readymades are among the most influential works of art created in the 20th Century and Duchamp's influence as a conceptual artist is without peer.

In the lavish and very large catalogue for this sale, the following 1970 quotation from Duchamp is included:

"A point that I want very much to establish is that the choice of these 'readymades' was never dictated by aesthetic delectation. The choice was based on a reaction of visual indifference with at the same time a total absence of good or bad taste in fact a complete anaesthesia. One important characteristic was the short sentence which I occasionally inscribed on the 'readymade.' That sentence instead of describing the object like a title was meant to carry the mind of the spectator towards other regions more verbal. Sometimes I would add a graphic detail of presentation which, in order to satisfy my craving for alliterations, would be called 'readymade aided.' At another time, wanted to expose the basic anatomy between art and 'readymades,' I imagined a reciprocal readymade: use a Rembrandt as an ironing board! I realized very soon the danger of repeating indiscriminately this form of expression and decided to limit the productions of 'readymades' to a small number yearly. I was aware at that time, that for the spectator even more than for the artist, art is a habit forming drug and I wanted to protect my 'readymades' against such a contamination. Another aspect of the 'readymade' is its lack of uniqueness. The replica of the 'readymade' delivering the same message. In fact nearly every one of the 'readymades' existing today is not original in the conventional sense."

The catalogue also includes the following quotation from Arthur Danto:

"Marcel Duchamp did not invent the term 'readymade,' just as he did not make the objects he began to call readymades after he discovered the term in a New York shop window on his first trip to the United States in 1915. Like such canonical readymades as the snow shovel, titled In Advance of the Broken Arm, or the notorious urinal, which he called Fountain, or the metal grooming comb simple called Comb, all of which pre-existed their elevation by Duchamp to the status of art, readymade was part of the ordinary life before Duchamp appropriated it to designate the commonplace objects that he transfigured into quite extraordinary works of art. The canonical readymades were industrially produced to be part of our modern Lebenswelt, as the philosopher Husserl called the world of everyday life. It is uncertain how many distinct kinds of objects were made into readymades, and for most purposes it does not matter which particular snow shovel or Underwood typewriter cover was the 'original.' Most were in any caste lost - but it was simple enough for
'Duchamp to pick up a 'replica' as needed. In later years he insisted that there was 'no beauty, no ugliness, nothing particularly aesthetic' about the readymades, so whatever the criteria for selection, aesthetic taste was to play no role. Nothing would distinguish a set of canonical readymades from a set of nondescript household objects, set out for purpose of garage sale. Nothing would prompt ordinary persons to think of them as art - which is part of what makes them intoxicating, conceptually speaking, as art. Without references to the readymade, neither the art history of the twentieth century nor contemporary philosophy of art can be grasped. Each of the readymades has generated whole libraries of interpretation. The typewriter cover, for example, introduced the idea of 'soft sculpture,' and the pun that 'Underwood' makes with the French expression sous bois - a traditional genre of landscape - must have been irresistible to Duchamp's spirit of linguistic play. In 1964, editions of replicas of fourteen of his legendary objects - including several of the canonical readymades - were commissioned by the Galeria Schwarz in Milano, and supervised by the artist himself. Duchamp had already made the concept of replica artistically legitimate. The 1964 replicas were of readymades, rather than readymades in their own eight, since 'made to order' to be art. As with everything that came from Duchamp's mind, the 1964 replicas raised fresh possibilities for other artists and fresh problems for philosophers and historians of art. Jeff Koons 'editions' are appropriations of the Duchampian idea of supervised replication. Each edition consists of eight replicas of a given work, usually based on vintage photographs. There were two (or three) replicas outside each edition, one reserved for the artist himself, and subsequently given to the Centre Pompidou and one dedicated to Arturo Schwarz, a major authority on Duchamp's work and thought. This latter is the full set of fourteen replicas, and the only one known to remain in private hands."

Lot 1, "Air de Paris," was based on a glass bottle that Duchamp bought as a souvenir for his friend and patron Walter Arensberg and had filled with "Paris air" and the original is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The 4 15/16-inch-high glass bottle, which has a glass hook, is inscribed and dated 1964 by the artist. It has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $167,600 including the buyer's premium as do all prices mentioned in this article.

Lot 2, "Hat Rack," is a 9 7/8-by-18-by-18-inch wooden hat rack with six curved racks. The original, now lost, was produced in 1917. When the artist was asked why some of his readymades were suspended from ceilings, he said, according to Mr. Schwarz, that "it was to escape from conformity, which demands that works of art be hung on the wall or presented on easels." It has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $288,500.

"Why Not Sneeze Rose Sélavy?" by Marcel Duchamp

Lot 3, "Why Not Sneeze Rose Sélavy?," by Marcel Duchamp, 152 marble cubes, a thermometer and a cuttlebone in a small wood and metal birdcage with artists' wood storage case, 4 3/4 by 8 1/2 by 6 3/8 inches, 1964

Lot 3, "Why Not Sneeze Rose Sélavy?," is one of the more intriguing readymades in which 152 marble cubes, a thermometer and a cuttlebone are enclosed in a small wood and metal birdcage that measures 4 3/4 by 8 1/2 by 6 3/8 inches. The original was produced in 1921 and is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This replica was made in 1964 and has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $299,500.

The catalogue notes that this work was commissioned by Dorothea Dreier in 1921 but turned out to be "not to the liking" of either Dorothea Dreier or her sister Katherine Dreier and was eventually acquired in 1937 by Walter Arensberg for $300.

The catalogue contains a quote from Mr. Schwarz's book, "The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp," which was published in New York in 2000, in which the artist makes the following comments about this work"

"The cage with sugar cubes is called Why Not Sneeze..? and, of course, the title seems weird to you since there really is no connection between the sugar cubes and the sneeze.First of all there is the dissociational gap between the idea of sneezing and the idea ofWhy Not Sneeze? Because, after all, you don't sneeze at will! And then there is the literary side, if I may call it thatbut 'literary' is such a stupid wordIt doesn't mean anythingbut at any rate there is the marble with its coldness, and this means that you can even say you are cold, because of the marble, and all the associations are permissible."

"Bottle Dryer (Bottle Rack)" by Marcel Duchamp

Lot 4, "Bottle Dryer (Bottle Rack)," by Marcel Duchamp, galzanized iron, 24 15/16 inches high, 1964

Lot 4, "Bottle Dryer (Bottle Rack)," is a 24 15/16-inch high galzanized iron bottle rack that originally was created in 1913 but lost and this work was produced under the artist's supervision after a 1936 Man Ray photograph. It has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $500,000.

The catalogue notes that Duchamp had purchased a bottle rack in 1914 at the Bazar de l'hotel de Ville in Paris and wrote his sister-in-law in 1916 to inscribe it but she did not rescue it and he selected another one for her around 1921 but it was neither signed nor inscribed until many years later.

"Bicycle Wheel" by Marcel Duchamp

Lot 6, "Bicycle Wheel," by Marcel Duchamp, bicycle wheel and fork mounted upside down on a kitchel stool painted white, 49 13/16 inches high

The original of Lot 6, "Bicycle Wheel," was created in 1913 by Marcel Duchamp and was lost and this was produced under the artist's supervision after a 1916 photograph. It has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for $1,762,500, matching the auction record for a Duchamp "readymade" that was originally set in 1997 at Sotheby's for the "fountain" readymade, see Lot 9.

"Fountain" by Marcel Duchamp

Lot 9, "Fountain," by Marcel Duchamp, glazed cast ceramic urinal with black paint, 14 1/8 by 18 7/8 by 24 inches

Probably the most famous Duchamp readymade is "Fountain," which is a glazed cast ceramic urinal that the artist originally produced in 1917 and which was lost. This lot was produced under the artist's supervision from the Alfred Stieglitz photograph of the original. It has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for $1,185,000, considerably less than the $1,762,500 paid in 1997 for another example at Sotheby's.

The catalogue remarks that this lot is "by far the most notorious of Duchamp's Readymades" and was submitted to the inaugural exhibition of the New York society of Independent artists in April 1917. "Although billed as an open, non-juried exhibition, several members of the society objected to the highly provocative sculpture, attempted to hide it from public view, and ultimately generated a succes de scandale for the artist."

Other Works



"Less Than Ten Items" by Maurizio Cattelan

Lot 48, "Less Than Ten Items," by Maurizio Cattelan, galzanized steel, metal, plastic and rubber, 83 1/4 inches long, 1997

While not a "readymade," perhaps the lot that best carries forward Duchamp's irreverent and wity conceptualizing is Lot 48, "Less Than Ten Items," by Maurizio Cattelan (b. 1960).

This elongated shopping cart - 83 1/4 inches long - was created in 1997 and has a modest estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $140,000, perhaps reflecting the fact that a major feature story on the artist appeared the morning of the auction in The New York Times.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Maurizio Cattelan's ambivalent association with the art world has been well documented over the years by several memorable projects, some of which, with typical Cattelan humor, draw our attention to the interdependence and parallel strategies of art and commerce. Forever wry and irreverent, in 1992 Cattelan spearheaded a fundraising effort to subsidize market-saturated artists - as long as they agreed to curb their production (Oblomov Foundation), and a year later he sold his exhibition space at the Venice Bienale to an advertising agency that then used the exposure to market a new perfume (Working is a Bad Job, 1993). Similar themes are evident in Less Than Ten Items, 1997, a surreal 'super-sized' grocery cart that was initially exhibited in a museum as a mobile sculpture. The work's sardonic title implores us to be discerning and efficient shoppers by imposing the limit common to grocery store 'express' checkout lines. As participants roll the empty cart between sculptures and past paintings, they come to resemble traditional dazed consumers pacing the aisles. Taking familiar criticisms about the commodification of art to a hilarious extreme, this project enlivens ongoing museological debates about display methodologies that treat ideas as easily as consumable facts, and it asks us difficult questions about the expectations we bring to cultural institutions as viewers. Despite these thoughtful jabs, Cattelan deliberately leaves Less Than Ten Items conceptually open-ended. His ambiguous opinion of the aesthetic experiences with which we are supposed to metaphorically 'fill our trolleys' is here represented by the sculpture's enlarge carriage that suggest both vacuity and overabundance."

While so much of conceptual art consists of often insipid one-liners, this sculpture really drives home the point with considerable and rather memorable impact.

"Slab (Plug)" by Rachel Whiteread

Lot 16, "Slab (Plug)," by Rachel Whiteread, rubber, 78 3/4 inches long, 1994

While much less visually appetizing and intriguing, Lot 16, "Slab (Plug)," by Rachel Whiteread (b. 1963), has considerable fascination because of its texture and its size and its rather mysterious form. It is a rubber sculpture of part of a bathtub, 78 3/4 inches long. It was created in 1994 and the work, which has a wax-like quality, has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $178,500.

Lot 19, "Aqualung," is a bronze sculpture by Jeff Koons (b. 1955) that was executed in 1985 and is from an edition of three and one artist's proof. The 27-inch high sculpture has an ambitious estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for $1,762,500.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"While Koons has described the present work in a very literal fashion, Aqualung, like most of the artist's deceptively deadpan sculpture, also possesses a surprising amount of poetry. When cast into bronze, this banal object functions as a metaphor for human aspirations towards perpetual poise and serenity. Koons seems to suggest that the search for a place of utter equilibrium is unrealistic and futile, as it ignores the ecstatic highs and depressive lows inherent in living one's life to the fullest."

The auction includes three works from the 1960s from the Dakis Joannou Collection: Lot 20, "Untitled ("Monument" for V. Tatlin)," by Dan Flavin (1933-1996), 8 fluorescent lights, executed in 1968, number 2 from an adition of 5, which has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000, which sold for $255,500; Lot 21, "Untitled," by Donald Judd (1928-1994), galzanized steel, 76 1/2 inches long, executed in 1967, which has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000, which sold for $1,322,500, smashing the previous auction record for the artist of $818,750; and Lot 22, "Noise," by Ed Ruscha (b. 1937), a 67-by-72-inch oil on canvas, painted in 1963, which has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000, which sold for $2,532,500, soaring above the artist's previous auction record of $687,750. The Ruscha is the cover illustration of the auction's catalogue.

"Trompeten (Trumpets) 557-2" by Gerhard Richter

Lot 24, "Trompeten (Trumpets) 557-2," by Gerhard Richter, oil on canvas, 41 3/8 by 39 3/8 inches, 1984

Lot 24, "Trompeten (Trumpets) 557-2," is a handsome abstract oil on canvas, 41 3/8 by 39 3/8 inches painted in 1984 by Gerhard Richter (b. 1932). It has an estimate of $250,000 to $300,000. It sold for $508,500.

"Self-Portrait" by Andy Warhol

Lot 25, "Self-Portrait," by Andy Warhol, silkscreen ink and acrylic on linen, 108 inches square, 1986

Lot 25, "Self-Portrait," is a 108-inch square silkscreen ink and acrylic on linen by Andy Warhol (1928-1987). Executed in 1986, it has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It sold for $3,192,500.

"Poison" by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat

Lot 26, "Poison," by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, acrylic and oilsticks on canvas, 76 1/2 by 103 inches, 1984

Lot 26, "Poison," is an acrylic and oilsticks on canvas, 76 1/2 by 103 inches that was executed in 1984 by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988). This quite strong work has a modest estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $420,500, breaking the previous artist record of $398,500 for a collaboration between the two artists. The catalogue notes that the work was started by Warhol and completed by Basquiat.

Lot 28, "Paris la fete," is a strong oil on canvas, 76 3/4 by 59 inches, by Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985). Painted in 1963, it has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,500,00. It failed to sell and was passed at $1,000,000. The catalogue contains the following quotation from the artist: "I want my street to be crazy, my pavements, shops and buildings to join in a mad dance, which is why I deform and denaturalize their contours and colors."

Another excellent Dubuffet is Lot 29, "Le Géologue," a 38-by-51-inch oil on canvas that was executed in 1950. It was once in the collection of Maximillian Schell and has an estimate of $650,000 to $850,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $480,000.

"Study for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes" by Francis Bacon

Lot 30, "Study for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes," by Francis Bacon, oil on canvas, 78 by 58 inches, 1964

One of the auction's highlights is Lot 30, "Study for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes," a 78-by-58-inch oil on canvas by Francis Bacon (1909-1992). A classic and major Bacon, it was painted in 1964 and has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It sold for $6,712,500.

The catalogue notes that Bacon's convoluted reshaping of the human body sometimes conjures chopped-up carcasses and that in this work the woman's body "appears played, and the passages of gray and red pigment suggest bruises and blood respectively." "Yet the morbid suggestion of raw, exposed flesh is countered by an opposing sense of the sitter's vitality. Moraes' voluptuous figure seems to throb and pulsate before one's eyes, as though it were releasing a powerful visceral energy."

"Commanche Dream" by John Chamberlain

Lot 31, "Commanche Dream," by John Chamberlain, painted and chrominium plated steel, 80 1/4 by 68 1/4 by 41 1/4 inches, 1991

John Chamberlin (b. 1927) is an artist noted for his use of crushed automobile parts. Lot 31, "Commanche Dream," is a fine and very robust example of his work. It is a painted and chrominium plated steel sculpture, 80 1/4 by 68 1/4 by 41 1/4 inches and was executed in 1991. It has a modest estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $244,500.

"Red Light" by Mariko Mori

Lot 46, "Red Light," by Mariko Mori, three Fuji super-gloss (duraflex) photographs in artist's wood and pewter frames, 120 by 48 by 2 1/2 inches, 1994

Mariko Mori (b. 1967) is one of the best art-photographers today and Lot 46 is a good example of her glossy and supersaturated vision. Entitled "Red Light," it consists of three Fuji super-gloss (duraflex) photographs in artist's wood and pewter frames and measures 120 by 48 by 2 1/2 inches. Executed in 1994, it is from an edition of three and has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It was sold along with "Time Capsule II," a smaller work by the artist that had been scheduled for the day auction. The estimate remained the same and the combined lot sold for $156,500, breaking the artist's previous auction record of $134,500.

The auction had had a low estimate of $28,495,500 and a high estimate of $40,635,000 and the total sold was $29,686,350, which was very high considering the surprising disappointment of the 14 Duchamp "readymades." Of the 53 lots offered, 86.8 percent sold, a very respectable percentage.

World auction records were also set for William Kentridge, whose "Shadow Procession", Lot 42, sold for $149,000, Neo Rauch, whose "Produktion", Lot 43, sold for $134,500, Douglas Gordon, whose vilm, "Predictable Incident in Unfamiliar Surroundings (Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) Party-Pack Edition," Lot 45, sold for $96,000.

Mr. de Pury remarked after the auction that many of the bidders on the Duchamp "readymades" appeared to be interested not all of them, which is a shame as Mr. Schwarz's entire collection would have made a marvelous addition to any museum given the artist's historical significance. The fact that one of the lots tied the world auction record for "readymades" indicates that the market had not collapsed. Indeed, the very, very strong prices for the Ruscha and the Judd and the Bacon indicated that the art market is not weak.

Mr. de Pury also said that the large format catalogues had been positively received by many regular auction goers and that it also attracted a large number of elegant advertisements that appeared in the back of the catalogue.


See The City Review article on the Post-War & Contemporary Art evening auction at Christie's May 14, 2002

See The City Review article on the Spring 2002 Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2002 Contemporary Art day auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2002 Contemporary Art day auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction in the fall of 2001 at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's that follows this auction November 14, 2001

See The City Review article on the Post-War Art evening auction at Christie's November 13, 2001

See The City Review article on Contemporary Art evening auction at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourgh November 12, 2001

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction in the Spring of 2001

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's May 15, 2001

See The City Review article on the Christie's Post-War Art evening auction May 16, 2001

See The City Review article on the Post-War art day auction at Christie's May 17, 2001

See The City Review article on Post War Art evening auction at Christie's, Nov. 15, 2000

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's, Nov. 14, 2000

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction at Phillips, Nov. 13, 2000

See The City Review article on Contemporary Art Part II auction at Phillips, Nov. 14, 2000

See The City Review Article on the May 18-9 Contemporary Art auctions at Phillips

See The City Review article on the May 16, 2000 evening auction of Contemporary Art at Christie's

See The City Review article on the May 17, 2000 Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall, 1999 auction of Contemporary Art at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Sotheby's Nov. 17, 1999 auction of Contemporary Art

See The City Review article on the auctions of Contemporary Art from a European Private Collection and Contemporary Art, Part 2, at Sotheby's Nov. 18, 1999

See The City Review article on the May 18, 1999 Contemporary Art Auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on Contemporary Art Part 2 auction at Sotheby's May 19, 1999

See The City Review article on the Christie's, May 19, 1999 Contemporary Art auction

See The City Review article on the Christie's, May 20, 1999 Contemporary Art Part 2 auction


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