evening sale of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie's May
14, 2003 is highlighted by major works by Mark Rothko, Franz Kline,
Arshile Gorky, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Joseph
Cornell, Frank Stella and Larry Rivers.
"No. 9 (White and Black on Wine)," is a very large,
horizontal oil on canvas by Mark Rothko (1903-1970) (see The City Review
article on a Rothko exhibition). Painted in 1958, it measures
105 by 166 inches and was once in the collection of Ben Heller
of New York. It has an estimate of $8,000,000 to $12,000,000.
It sold for $16,359,500 including the buyer's premium as do
all results mentioned in this article. The sales price broke the
former world auction record for Rothko of $14,305,750 for "Yellow
over Purple," sold at Sotheby's New York May 17, 2000. In
1983, "No. 9 (White and Black on Wine)" sold for $1,800,000,
setting an auction record for the artist at the time.
9 (White and Black on Wine) was been consigned by François
Pinault. In an article in the April 30, 2003 edition of The
New York Times, Carol vogel wrote that "This year Mr.
Pinault bought a group of important Rothkos that were on loan
to the National Gallery in Washington from Bunny Mellon, the widow
of Paul Mellon, whose father, Andrew W. Mellon, helped found the
National Gallery of Art in Washington. The reason Mr. Pinault
is selling this one, experts say, is that he does not believe
it is as good as the ones from Mrs. Mellon."
According to the catalogue, this is "the only work by the
artist to have been identified as belonging to the first series
of mural paintings that Rothko made for the Four Seasons Restaurant
on the ground floor of the prestigious Seagram building in Manhattan"
City Review article on the Seagram Building). "The story of Rothko's Seagram
murals is one of the central legends of his career," the
catalogue continued, "and has become the kind of fable that
impregnates and often threatens to dominate the history of any
great artist's life. It is however nonetheless a remarkable and
particularly pertinent story because the Seagram commission and
the unfolding drama that surrounded Rothko's eventual rejection
of it - after having worked on the project for nearly two years
- encapsulates and reveals two important parameters of Rothko's
character and artistic temperament. The Seagram commission threw
Rothko's long held personal keenness to create a complete painterly
environment into direct conflict with his deep-rooted socialist
principles. Ultimately, the overt luxury of the Four Seasons restaurant
proved too offensive to Rothko's conscience and this, alongside
the fact that he feared that the solemn paintings that [he] had
devised for it would come to be seen as mere decoration, led to
his pulling out of the project. Rothko had mad around forty panels
as a part of this project.In all there had been what Rothko described
as 'three sets of panels,' but as his assistant Dan Rice has pointed
out, in addition to these, there had also been 'a lot of individual
paintings that were done almost in exact terms' and 'it would
be very difficult to say that one was intended as part of the
murals and one was not.'"
When Rothko withdrew from the Seagram commission, he returned
the money and the murals were eventually acquired by others including
the Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art in Japan, the National Gallery
of Art in Washington and the Tate Gallery in London.
The commission had its origins in the acquisition of another painting
in this auction, Lot 35, shown at the top of this article, "Brown
and Blacks in Reds," by Phyllis Lambert, an architect and
member of the Bronfman family that was the majority owner of Joseph
E. Seagram & Sons. She bought it from the Sidney Janis Gallery
in 1958 and since then, according to the catalogue, "it has
formed the centerpiece of this remarkable collection hanging in
the executive reception area on the fifth floor of Mies van der
Rohe and Philip Johnson's celebrated masterpiece of modern architecture."
"When Phyllis Lambert bought Brown and Blacks in Reds she
was seeking to assemble a collection of the finest contemporary
art in the world to adorn what many people were saying was the
most beautiful building in the world. It was her intention that
the Seagram building should come to be regarded as a cultural
institution with its collections, exhibitions, and its program
of public art reflecting what she has described as the company's
'sense of responsibility to the public in New York and the rest
of the world.' Lambert had known Rothko's work since 1954 and,
thrilled with her purchase of Brown and Blacks in Reds,
she conceived a major commission for the artist. In the early
part of 1958, along with Philip Johnson, who had recently been
told by Alfred Barr that Rothko was 'the greatest living painter,'
Lambert commissioned Rothko to produce a series of paintings for
the smaller of two planned dining rooms at the Four Seasons Restaurant."
"Brown and Blacks In Reds" is an oil on canvas measures
90 by 60 inches and was painted in 1957. It has an estimate of
$6,000,000 to $8,000,000. It sold for $6,727,500.
Lot 21 is
an important work by Franz Kline (1910-1962). An oil on canvas,
it measures 92 1/2 by 67 3/4 inches and was executed in 1961.
It has an estimate of $1,800,000 to $2,400,000. It failed to
sell and was passed at $1,700,000. The painting, according
to the catalogue "is marked by the brawn and power of his
best work, bursting with painterly passages that appear to continue
outside the edges of the canvas." The artist sometimes painted
studies on pages of telephone books and such a study for this
"Year after Year," is a 1947 work by Arshile Gorky (1904-1948).
The 34 5/8-by-40 7/8-inch oil on canvas has an "estimate
on request." The painting was sold 10 years ago at Christie's
for about $3.8 million and it has been reported by Carol Vogel
in The New York Times that its asking price is now $13,000,000
to $15,000,000. Bidding started at $10,000,000 but the lot
failed to sell and it was passed at $13,000,000.
the disappointment of the Gorky, the sale was relatively successful
with 72 percent of the lots selling for $69,788,625. Christopher
Burge, the auctioneer, said it was "a pretty, exciting night,
a very exciting night with lots of activity," adding that
"for the most part there was strong bidding, in some cases
furious bidding." There were 17 lots that sold for more than
$1 million and 19 lots exceeded their high estimate while only
5 were under their low estimates, indicating, Mr. Burge said,
"a very strong market."
"Marlon," is a 1966 silkscreen ink linen by Andy Warhol
(1928-1987). It measures 41 by 46 1/4 inches and was executed
in 1966. It has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000 and depicts
Marlon Brando, the actor, in his role in 1953 movies "The
Wild Ones." The catalogue notes that the artist did a "silver"
version of Marlon three years earlier and that there were about
half a dozen images executed in 1966. It sold for $5,047,500.
The estate of Burton Tremaine Jr., has consigned "Campbell's
Soup Can (Pepper Pot)," by Warhol, a 20-by-16-inch casein
and graphite on canvas. Lot 5, it was painted in 1962 and has
an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for $2,415,500.
"Bethlehem's Hospital," is a large enamel paint on canvas
executed by Frank Stella (b . 1936) in 1959. The 84-by-132-inch
work has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It sold for
$4,375,500. Part of the artist's "Black Paintings" series,
the title of this work refers to the famous London asylum known
Lot 57 is
a very fine concentric square painting by Frank Stella entitled
"Sacramento No. 6." The 103-inch square acrylic on line
was painted in 1978 and has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000.
It failed to sell and was passed at $320,000.
"Reflections: Mystical Painting," is a strong oil and
magna on canvas, 56 by 75 inches, by Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997).
Executed in 1989, it has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000.
It sold for $1,183,500.
Another good Lichtenstein is Lot 14, "Stretcher
Frame with Vertical Bars," an oil and magna on canvas that
measures 36 by 68 inches. Created in 1968, it has an estimate
of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for $1,575,500.
(1903-1973) is represented in the auction by two excellent examples
of his "box constructions," Lots 7 and 40. The former
is entitled "M'lle Faretti," and measures 11 by 8 by
2 inches. It has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold
for $343,500. The catalogue notes that this work has been
in the same private collection since its creation and is one of
the artist's earliest extant boxes. It was executed one year after
his public debut with some collages in a group exhibition on Surrealism
at the Julian Levy Gallery. Cornell did not consider himself a
Surrealist and is quoted in the catalogue as not sharing "in
the subconscious and dream theories of the Surrealists,"
adding that "While fervently admiring much of their work,
I have never been an official surrealist, and I believe that surrealism
has healthier possibilities than have been developed. Cornell
was friendly with some dancers and made a number of works in homage
to them. This work consists of a photograph of the ballerina Faretti
behind a "curtain" of string and beneath a shelf of
"bouquets." The work, according to the catalogue "has
all of the magic and innocence of Cornell's best work, and is
imbued with an indescribable nostalgia."
"Untitled (For Mylène Demongeot)," is one of
Cornell's aviaries that features a parrot, one of his favorite
subjects. The wood box construction, which has a drawer, was created
circa 1954-5 and measures 17 3/4 by 11 by 4 1/2 inches. It has
an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $343,500.
Mylène Demongeot is the name of a movie actress who appeared
in "It's a Wonderful World" (1956).
Collection has consigned Lot 41, "The Accident," by
Larry Rivers (1923-2002), a very impressive oil on canvas that
measures 82 by 90 1/2 inches. Painted in 1957, it has a conservative
estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $410,700.
The catalogue provides the following quotation about this work
by Sam Hunter in his 1989 book on the artist: "'Nothing in
River's work before 1960 looks more contemporary even today than
The Accident of 1957 for it presents a fresh vision of
the agitated mosaic of urban life that has continued to stimulate
our consciousness. The episodic and filmic action revolves around
successive scenes of an auto accident on the New York street;
an injured victim is helped onto a stretcher and placed in an
ambulance, detectives take notes, the life of the city goes on.
Competitive with the depicted action are an intruding, lively
jumble of realistic references to locale, printed legends in diminutive
scale and fully painted passages in juicy impasto. The colliding
realities of art and life coexist.'"
Rivers, the catalogue, observed, "has long been viewed as
one of the key bridges between Abstract Expressionism and Pop
Art. The Accident perfectly illustrates this reputation.
Rivers employed both painterly surfaces as well as an explosion
of quotidian references to convey the experience of The Accident.
His painterly interest, best demonstrated in the lush surface
of The Accident, and his fracturing of its images evoke
the heroic gesture of Abstract Expressionism. What Franz Kline
or Jackson Pollock sought to convey through an art of raw emotion
and abstract works, Rivers conveys by not letting the narrative
unravel in a single coherent picture but instead in emotional
vignettes. Rivers incorporated signage and contemporary society,
two hallmarks of Pop Art, into his paintings. Rivers' assemblage
of disparate approaches to art production gives The Accident
a completeness and truer sense of life than either Abstract Expressionism
or Pop Art can offer individually."
Richter (b. 1932) (see The City Review article on a recent exhibition
of his work at the Museum of Modern Art) is represented by several good
works. Lot 53, "Seestuck mit Vogel," is a quite lyrical
cloud picture with a bird in flight. The 67-inch-square oil on
canvas was painted in 1970 and has an estimate of $800,000 to
$1,200,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $650,000.
Lot 44, "Abstrakes Bild," is a very intense and colorful
abstraction that Richter painted in 1987. The 98 3/8-by-157 1/2-inch
oil on canvas has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It
sold for $3,367,500.
Lot 9 is
one of Richter's better blurry landscapes. Entitled "Laacher
Wiese (Laacher Meadow), the oil on canvas measures 34 1/4 by 48
inches and was painted in 1987. It has an estimate of $2,500,000
to $3,000,000. It sold for $2,359,500.
Lot 4, "Miss
ko2," is a 74-inch-high painted fiberglass sculpture by Takashi
Murakami (b. 1962). It was executed in 1996 and is number one
of an edition of three with two artist's proofs. It has an estimate
of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $567,500 establishing
a new auction record for the artist. The previous record of $427,500
was set at Christie's New York May 15, 2002 and tied at Christie's
New York Nov. 13, 2002.
auction record was also set for Chuck Close (b. 1940) for his
large portrait of photographer Cindy Sherman, Lot 15, entitled
"Cindy II," which was executed in 1988. It sold for
$1,463,500, eclipsing the previous record of $1,212,400 for the
same work set at Christie's New York Nov. 16, 1999.
auction record was also set for Duane Hanson (b. 1925) for his
"Housewife (Homemaker)," Lot 22. It sold for $343,500,
breaking the artist's previous record of $314,000 set at Christie's
New York Nov. 15, 2001.
"Achrome," by Piero Manzoni (1933-1963), sold for $1,015,500,
breaking the artist's previous auction record when the same monochrome
work of kaolin on burlap was sold for $914,442 at Sotheby's London
Dec. 9, 1998.
record was also set for Phillip Taafe (b. 1955) whose "Adam,
Eve," a linoprint collage and acrylic on paper diptych, Lot
58, sold for $175,000, considering above the previous record of
$146,040 set at Sotheby's London June 29, 2000.
sponge work entitled "RE2" by Yves Klein (1928-1962),
Lot 39, sold for $5,271,500.