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.
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.)
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.
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
"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.
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."
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.
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.
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."
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.
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
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," 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," 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
"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
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
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."
(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.
(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.
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
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
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.
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.