This evening sale
of Contemporary Art at the recently renovated Chelsea headquarters
in Manhattan of Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg was extremely
successful in terms of the percentage of lots sold. Of 42 lots
offered, 38 were sold, a very healthy 90.47 percent, considerably
better than the results at Christie's (see The
City Review article) and Sotheby's (see The
City Review article) earlier in the week. Phillips de Pury
& Luxembourg had originally planned to hold the auction this
past Monday and be the first of the major houses to have an evening
Contemporary Art auction this season, but subsequently decided
to change the date and be the last. Michael McGinnis, the head
of Contemporary Art at the auction house, said after the auction
that it was a good decision.
Being last enables an auction
house to "read" the market in the results of the other
sales and in some instances to alter or lower reserves on certain
lots and the fact that several of the lots sold were at prices
considerably below their low estimates indicates that reserves
were probably lowered.
Indeed, prices generally
were not high and the sale only realized $11,675,170 against a
pre-sale low estimate of $19,870,000. In comparison, Christie's
evening sale realized about $69 million and Sotheby's about $27
Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg
did set new auction records for Neo Rauch for Lot 5, "Gegenlicht
(Back Light)," and for Jack Pierson (b. 1960) for Lot 42,
"Stardust." The Rauch, a 98 3/8-by-78 3/4-inch oil on
canvas, dated 2000, sold for $196,500 including the buyer's premium
as do all results mentioned in this article. The previous Rauch
record was $134,500 set at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg a
year ago. The Pierson sold for $158,000, breaking the previous
record of $134,500 set at Sotheby's in November, 1999.
Another Rauch, Lot 38, "Lokal,"
a 55-by-39 1/4-inch oil on canvas executed in 1998 sold for $136,000,
almost double its high estimate.
This season Phillips decided
not to hold an Impressionist & Modern Art auction after its
disastrous auction last season (see The City Review article).
Furthermore, it also decided not to hold an American Paintings
auction this season despite the fact that its recent American
Paintings auctions have been very successful. Simon de Pury, the
auctioneer, said in an interview after the Contemporary Art auction,
however, that the auction house will be holding an American Art
auction next season. Mr. de Pury said he was pleased with the
results of the Contemporary Art auction.
The auction season has been
rather weak in the wake of the continued recession in the nation's
economy and collectors' uncertainties about the impact of the
Iraq war. Many of the auctions this season have been much smaller
than in recent years because of the difficulties of obtaining
consignments. Apart from general concerns about the art market,
there has been considerable speculation about the future of Phillips
de Pury & Luxembourg, which had quickly become a major player
with the backing of Bernard Arnault who subsequently sold a large
portion of his holdings in the company prior to its disastrous
Impressionist sale. The company had moved into the limestone building
just to the west of Bergdorf Goodman on 57th Street but several
months ago relocated to 450 West 15th Street, where it has now
Mr. de Pury noted that the
auction house had a very successful photography auction this Spring
of material from the Seagram Collection and on May 13, 2003 had
held a "private" auction of jewelry in Geneva, Switzerland
and that the auction house planned to hold more such "private"
auctions, which he described as sealed bids opened only at the
The Contemporary Art auction
was held in a very large first floor room with a large window
overlooking a car wash and the attendees were quite young and
stylish in keeping with the loud disco/techno music that was playing
in the space until the auction began.
The "star" of
the auction was expected to be Lot 22, "RE21," by Yves
Klein (1928-1962), shown at the top of this article, a 78-by-65-inch,
deep blue monochromatic sponge, stones and deep blue pigment on
board, reportedly being sold by Roland S. Lauder, the chairman
of the Museum of Modern Art. It had an estimate of $6,000,000
to $8,000,000 and failed to sell and was passed at $4,800,000.
Mr. McGinnis suggested after the auction that this disappointment
was probably a reflection of the fact that another very similar
work was sold Wednesday night at Christie's for $5.2 million,
nicely above its high estimate of $4,000,000. The Klein at Christie's
had been consigned by François Pinault, who owns Christie's.
The lavish and large Phillips
catalogue provided the following commentary about its Klein:
"A pioneer of the monochrome,
Yves Klein began making paintings of uniform color in 1955, when
he discovered the incredible vibrancy of freshly ground pigments.
In an effort to preserve this chromatic brilliance, Klein avoided
traditional oil mediums and mixed his powdered pigments with a
special, colorless binding agent. Using paint rollers rather than
brushes, he covered rectangular panels with this unique substance,
creating grainy fields of raw and radiant color. In the summer
of 1956, while spending a long vacation in Nice, Klein decided
to restrict his palette to a deep ultramarine blue that evoked
the Mediterranean coast.As RE21 vividly demonstrates, Klein's
trademark color often transcended the objects that it covered.In
the late 1950s, Klein expanded his artistic repertoire by introducing
natural sea sponges to his work."
After the quite lively auction,
one veteran auction-goer was heard remarking to a colleague that
"this was a good auction except for the Klein, which was
a lousy work and should not have been put up."
A dark but quite nice and
subtle untitled tempera on paper mounted to canvas by Mark Rothko
(1903-1970), Lot 21, sold for $669,500. Its low estimate had been
$800,000. It was executed in 1969.
One of the better works
in the auction was Lot 18, "Soft Light Switches," a
classic orange vinyl sculpture, 41 1/4 by 41 1/4 by 11 inches,
by Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929). Phillips sold it for $574,500 in
May, 2001 setting an auction record for a sculpture by Oldenburg
but this time it only sold for $405,000. The work was executed
The Oldenburg was one of
several works in the auction that had been consigned by the Enron
Corporation, the troubled energy concern. Another Enron work was
Lot 31, "In Attendance," a large 1993 painting by Bridget
Riley (b. 1931). It sold for $130,500, more than double its high
estimate. It measures 65 by 89 inches. After the auction, Mr.
McGinnis was asked at the press conference whether Enron's notoriety
had helped or hurt its consignment. He responded that it probably
did not hurt, but the works in question were of high quality and
would have fared well one way or another.
A pleasant oval painting
with butterflies, Lot 37, by Damien Hirst (b. 1965) sold just
over its low estimate for $207,500.
The auction had two works by Cy Twombly (b. 1928). Lot 13, "Untitled
(Bolsena)," sold for $1,934,500, the highest price of the
sale. It had an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. Executed
in 1969, it was a house paint, oil, crayon and graphite on canvas
that measured 78 3/4 by 98 3/8 inches. Lot 25, "Untitled
(Rome)," a 1961 graphite, oil paint, house paint and crayon
on canvas, 40 3/8 by 58 3/8 inches, failed to sell and was passed
at $1,500,000. It had an estimate of $2,000,000 to $2,500,000.
Lot 2, "Substrat 11,"
an inkjet on paper by Thomas Ruff (b. 1958) mounted with Diasec
face in artist's wooden frame, 94 1/2 by 73 5/8 inches, sold for
$74,090. Its high estimate had been $60,000. It was from an edition
of three with one artist's proof.
The largest work in the
auction was Lot 6, "Magic Ball II (Negative)," by Takashi
Murakami (b. 1962). An acrylic on canvas mounted on board in seven
parts, it measured 94 1/2 by 248 inches. Executed in 1999, it
had an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000 and sold for $295,500.
A huge photograph of a boxing
match by Andreas Gursky (b. 1955), Lot 7 was entitled "Klitschko,"
and illustrated the back cover of the catalogue. One of the artist's
best works, it was executed in 1999 and measures 81 1/2 by 102
3/4 inches. The chromogenic color print was from an edition of
six and had an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $460,500.
A group of eight photographs
of water towers by Bernd & Hilla Becher (b. 1931 and 1934)
sold for $97,990, nicely above the high estimate of $80,000. Each
work measures 23 by 19 3/4 inches and was from an edition of five.
Lot 16, "Vesuv (Vesuvius),"
was an oil on wood, 26 by 37 3/8 inches, by Gerhard Richter (b.
1932). Painted in 1976, the landscape had an estimate of $1,800,000
to $2,500,000 and sold for $1,329,500.
Lot 34, "The Red Band,"
by Alex Katz (b. 1927), failed to sell and was passed for $220,000.
It had an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. An oil on canvas,
it measures 72 by 144 inches and was painted in 1975. It is one
of the artist's finest works and apparently shows two views of
the same woman seated at a table wearing a white wide-brimmed
hat with a large red and white polkadot band. It is quite lyrical
and a very good composition.