evening auction of Contemporary Art at Christie's May 11, 2004
is strewn with high quality works by some of the most famous artists
of the post-War War II period.
Among the many highlights are works by Richard Diebenkorn, Jean
Dubuffet, Robert Rauschenburg, Philip Guston, Morris Louis, Ellsworth
Kelly, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein,
James Rosenquist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Chuck Close, Jasper Johns,
Donald Judd, Gerhardt Richter and Jeff Koons.
The most beautiful work is Lot 25, "Ocean Park # 73,"
a large oil on canvas by Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) (see The City Review
article on Diebenkorn). The work measures 81 by 63 inches and was
painted in 1974. It has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000.
It sold for $2,135,500 including the buyer's premium as do
all results mentioned in this article.
a very successful sale with 90 percent of the 67 offered lots
selling for $102,111,650 just below the pre-sale high estimate
of $104,500,000. Christopher Burge, the auctioneer, said "it's
an incredibly strong market," adding that "it was a
wonderful sale and the response was electric with frenzied bidding."
Nine world auction records for individual artists were set and
78 percent of the buyers were from the United States.
Diebenkorn started his famous "Ocean Park" series in
1967 and continued on it for two decades. The catalogue provides
the following commentary:
"Named after a community in Santa Monica, the Ocean Park
paintings are essentially abstract paintings infused with a profound
sense of light and landscape. Fascinated by aerial views of the
landscape, particularly the deserts of New Mexico the flat colors
and strong geometry of the Ocean Park paintings owe much to the
artist's landscape. Much of the impetus for the Ocean Park paintings
came from the work of Henri Matisse. Diebenkorn's adoption of
geometric forms and straight ruled lines to some extent reflects
the artist's understanding and love of the works of Mondrian.
At the same time however, Diebenkorn was anxious to allow the
process of creation to be visible. The constant sense of construction,
implicit within the geometry of his colored forms is compounded
by the artist's deliberate and often painstaking corrections which
combine in these works to create a variegated surface."
of Modern Art has consigned two excellent paintings by Jean Dubuffet
(1901-1985), Lots 20 and 29, both of which were at one time in
the collection of Gordon Bunshaft, the architect.
The former is entitled "Ancien Combattant" and is an
oil on canvas that measures 32 by 26 inches. Painted in 1945,
it has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for
provides the following commentary:
"The manic energy of the character and the painting of Ancien
Combattant fills the viewer with Dubuffet's own enthusiasm.
The distinct rawness that marks this work shows the increasing
confidence and assurance with which Dubuffet was painting, at
one of the most crucial periods of his artistic development. This
character, with his grin and his pride, is a perfect addition
to Dubuffet's portrait pantheon. Many of these pictures, showed
everyday people and everyday life, were exhibited at the Galerie
René Drouin in 1946. It was in this group of works that
Dubuffet began truly exploring a darker and more earthy palette
while focusing on a more domestic level of subject matter, finally
consolidating the style and idiom that would mark his most influential
and successful paintings. Instead of outdoor scenes from the countryside,
he now painted people close up, filling the canvas with life.
This was in part a legacy of Dubuffet's return to Paris, to the
energetic world that was celebrating and reconstructing itself
in the wake of the Second World War. In Ancien Combattant,
the immediacy of Dubuffet's portrayal is wholly aimed at pleasing
the viewer. There is no sense of cosmetic gloss, no sense of any
academic training impeding on our vision of the veteran, but instead
an exuberant face painted in an eager manner, bursting from a
frame that does not even contain his whole head."
Lot 29 is
entitled "Vache tachetée," and is an oil on canvas
that measures 35 by 45 ¾ inches. It was executed in 1954
and has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It sold for
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"The exuberant Vache tachetée is one of the
earliest and most iconic pictures in Dubuffet's Cow series. It
is filled with energy, with the pulse of life itself, and shows
Dubuffet's amused fascination with the heavy, ponderous nature
of the bovine form. [It] has a very different character from many
of the later paintings of cows which are often more garish and
had an increasingly cartoon-like appearance. Dubuffet has harnessed
the actual countryside, as he has painted not with oils, but with
the very stuff of nature.Vache tachetée is a monumental
presence on the canvas."
MOMA consignment is Lot 17, "Number 12, 1949," by Jackson
Pollock (1912-1956)(See The City Review article on Pollock.) An oil on paper
laid down on masonite that measures 31 by 22 ½ inches,
it was executed in the artist's famous "drip" style
in 1949. It has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It
sold for $11,655,500, just over the previous auction record for
the artist of $11,550,000 set at Sotheby's New York May 7, 1990.
The record was all the more remarkable because this was a medium
size work on paper rather than one of the artist's huge canvases.
The work was included in the November 1949 show at the Betty Parsons
Gallery that, according to the catalogue, "effectively launched
the artist's now legendary status." It was also part "of
a select group of Pollock's paintings chosen for the United States
Pavilion at the 1950 Venice Biennale an exhibition that was to
have a radical and transforming effect on the development of much
avant-garde European art in the early 1950s," the catalogue
continued, describing this work as "one of the most intense
and complete statements in the artist's oeuvre." Pollock
had developed his "drip" technique two years earlier
but employed larger canvases. "Since first developing the
drip technique in 1947, Pollock had refined the technique and
developed it to such a degree of mastery that he now claimed to
know exactly where the drips would fall even after the wildest
of gestural splashes," the catalogue entry noted. This work
was once in the collection of Edgar Kaufman Jr., a curator in
the Department of Industrial Design at MOMA and a famous scholar
on Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect.
"Monk," is an important early "combine" by
Robert Rauschenberg (b. 1925). Only 14 by 12 inches, it consists
of oil, printed paper collage, wood, fabric, postage stamp, feather
and vinyl on linen. The 1955 work has an estimate of $2,000,000
to $3,000,000. It sold for $2,919,500.
"Dating from 1954-1955, the pinnacle of Raushenberg's aesthetic
achievement, the first series of Combines is a small but seminal
body of work that are without exaggeration, some of the most important
works of the 20th Century. They include large-scale examples,
such as Bed, 1955 (Museum of Modern Art), Rebus,
1955 (Private Collection), and Charlene, 1954 (Stedelijk
Museum). What they all share is an explosive visual impact and
a provocative range of subject matter that are brought together
by the artist's unerring feel for composition and eye for poetry
in found materials. As the subject matter, Thelonious Monk is
significant. Rauschenberg had already developed an understanding
of modern composition through John Cage, whom he had met at the
Black Mountain artist community, where Cage was investigating
the creation of chance sound in performances. Shortly thereafter
in New York, the two collaborated to make Automobile Tire Print
(1951), a scroll-like assemblage of paper sheets (like Kerourac's)
over which Cage literally drove a car inked with paint. During
this same period, Thelonious was busy uptown producing the body
of work for which he is now most acclaimed. Leaning towards 'free
jazz,' his compositions shared similarity with Cage's. Monk
can be considered a combination of Thelonious' choice and Cage's
chance. Rauschenberg has composed a musical montage, but not necessarily
with the intention of offering an explicit melody. In this sense,
he employs the Duchampian idea of art being completed by the viewer
who makes his own associations and weaves his own narrative."
The catalogue notes that the upper right quadrant of the work
has a map fragment of North Carolina, the state where Monk was
born and home to the Black Mountain School, the bottom of the
work has "a rhythm section of sorts a filmstrip at the base
repeating Charlie Chaplin's most memorable image as `the tramp'
pantomiming a dance with found objects," another quadrant
has a postage stamp depicting Patrick Henry and the center has
"the actual physical fragment of Thelonious Monk's sound
recording of 'Round About Midnight."
At the other
end of the scale in terms of size but just as potent as "Monk,"
is "Waking Up," Lot 19, a huge oil on canvas by Philip
Guston (1913-1980). The 67-by-129-inch work was executed in 1975
and has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold for
$1,183,500. In this work, Guston, the subject of a recent
major retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, painted
himself in bed.
The catalogue provides the following commentary about the painting:
"Itis a pictorial metaphor for the struggle each artist faces
inspiration and its realization. The image of the recumbent artist
emerges from the raw unpainted areas at the bottom, becoming more
painterly and lush as the eyes move upward, much like sculpture
emerging from an unformed stone, or a person waking from a dream.
Floating above the figure of the artist is a red sea, which is
itself topped off with a dark collection of shoe-clad feet and
heads, suggesting the lingering afterimage of a dream or perhaps
the waking artist's thoughts.The painting shows the artist not
at work, but rather sweating it out, waiting for inspiration to
strike. Guston is painting his own anguish (and perhaps his own
discomfort at being haunted by such a strange image), but he also
might be caricaturing the mythical Abstract Expressionist brooding
before his blank or unfinished canvas."
Guston had been an abstract artist but eventually felt unsatisfied
and turned to figurative works. "His new muse," the
catalogue continued, "came at a heavy price the first New
York show of his new figurative work was excoriated in the press.
Virtually overnight, Guston went from one of the most respected
contemporary artists to a pariah." His late works would eventually
be "valued, both art historically and in the marketplace,
as highly as his classic Abstract Expressionist works of the 1950s,"
the entry maintained.
This Guston is certainly one of the artist's finest figurative
of Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) could almost be seen as a
kindred spirit to Guston's late works in their almost child-like
and primitive cartoon-like quality, their sale and their limited
palette. Lot 49, "Peel Quickly," is a good acrylic and
oil sticks on canvas by Basquiat. Executed in 1984, it measures
76 by 52 inches and has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It
sold for $847,500.
A more interesting
Basquiat is Lot 62, which is untitled. An acrylic, oil paintstick,
spray paint and color photocopy paper on canvas that measures
60 by 70 inches, it was executed in 1982. It has an estimate of
$450,000 to $650,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $380,000.
The lower half of this work consists of color photocopies
of the artist's drawing of a naked American Indian and the top
half hs expressive strokes of black, blue, red and gold and a
crown, which is one of the artist's frequently used symbols.
major large work is Lot 15, "Saf," by Morris Louis (1912-1962).
The lovely 98 ½-by-141-inch magna on canvas was executed
in 1959 and has a modest estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It
sold for $847,500. It is, according to the catalogue, "an
extraordinary Veil painting by Morris Louis, the main practitioner
of the movement that has come to be known as Color Field painting.
Championed by influential art critic Clement Greenberg, Color
Field rose to prominence in the late 1950s and its primary characteristics
were color, often in waves of unmodulated fields, and most importantly,
a feeling for flatness and preservation of the picture plane as
a two-dimensional surface. Saf is from the last group of
Veil paintings executed by the artist and they include
some of his most daring works.The overwhelming sensation is one
smaller than the Louis and executed one year earlier is Lot 21,
"No. 15," by Mark Rothko (1903-1970). An oil on canvas
that measures 92 3/8 by 83 3/8 inches, it was painted in 1958
and has an ambitious estimate of $8,000,000 to $12,000,000. It
sold for $8,967,500.
A classic, but somber Rothko composition of three rectangles floating
against a monochrome background, "No. 15," is, according
to the catalogue "a bold work that is characterised by an
imposing grandeur typical of this mature period." "Contrasting
a deep ultramarine with a rich orange-red, this almost violent
clash of opposites is separated by a thin strip of gray-blue that
seems to labor under the strain of the opposition of its two imposing
neighbors," the catalogue entry maintained
Lot 37 is
a great work by Ellsworth Kelly (b. 1923) entitled "White
Black." The work measures 103 by 147 ¾ inches overall
and consists of two attached panels, one black and one white.
It was executed in 1988 and has a modest estimate of $600,000
to $800,000. It sold for $903,500.
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"Central to Kelly's work and especially evident in White
Black is a vigorous self-constraint. He allows himself a limited
palette and two geometric shapes to evoke this monumental composition
of striking proportion, activated by the tension between two planes.
Here Kelly investigates the possibilities of pictorial space,
spatial breadth, and the space outside of the composition and
the engagement of the viewer. One can only fully appreciate the
composition by considering its context on the wall and in the
room. Art historically, figure-ground relationships existed strictly
within the pictorial space. But Kelly has expanded that notion
to include real space. Now, White Black itself is the figure.
And the wall on which hangs, the room we share with it, and the
space between us becomes the ground. In this expansive context,
White Black suddenly evokes myriad references. A building
and its shadow, the roof of a barn, sun through a windowpane,
a glimpse of a mountainside, a skyline, even the space between
Lot 38 is
a fine late abstraction by Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) (see
City Review article). Painted in 1985, it is entitled "Untitled
XXI" and measures 70 by 80 inches and its sinuous lines swirl
through a creamy white space with great lyricism. It has an estimate
of $1,500,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for $1,687,500.
by Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) are often more interesting and
beautiful than his paintings. Lot 64, "Woman Contemplating
a Yellow Cup," is a 1995 work that is from an edition of
six. A machined aluminum, paint and wax work, it measures 71 ¾
by 84 ½ inches and has an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000.
It failed to sell and was passed at $600,000. In the 1990s,
the catalogue maintained, the artist returned "to the advertising
imagery of his iconic works of the 1960s, most notably in his
Interior paintings," adding that there are three known sculptures,
including this lot, that were "developed from this body of
work." "It is the only work from the sculpture group
that hangs on the wall as a shallow relief. It is also the most
colorful and complex. The viewer encounters the back of the head
of a female figure viewing a segment of a modern interior space
decorated with a version of the artist's Surrealist pictures and
streamlined furniture. It is a witty take on the notion of the
"Things on the Wall," Lot 12, is a good oil and magna
on canvas that references the trompe l'oeil paintings of such
19th Century American painters as John Haberle and John F. Peto.
It measures 60 by 73 ¾ inches and was executed in 1973.
It has an estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,600,000. It failed to
sell and was passed at $850,000.
"In Honor and Memory of Robert F. Kennedy from the Friends
of Eugene McCarthy," by James Rosenquist, is an oil on canvas
with Plexiglas and painted mylar construction, 50 by 50 by 5 inches.
The lot was executed in 1968 and has an estimate of $400,000 to
$600,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $280,000.
"By depicting an empty gray chair on the mylar," the
catalogue entry observed, "Rosenquist alludes to the death
of Kennedy and the loss of his presence from the American psyche.
The mylar image hangs over a brilliant canvas filled with colored
ribbons which acts as the backdrop. The scene depicted appears
like the aftermath of an election rally, with colored confetti
and ribbons piled behind a metallic gray chair. A theatrical sense
of space contributes to the dramatic overtones of this work."
Lot 16 is
a nice small painted steel sculpture by David Smith (1906-1965).
It measures 18 by 20 ½ by 4 ¼ inches and was executed
in 1959-60. It has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000 and was
once in the collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
in Washington, D.C. It is the smallest of a series of 14 sculptures
in the artist's Albany series. It sold for $903,500.
(1928-1987) has three works in the auction, Lots 11, 31 and 46.
Lot 11 is a 72-inch-square self-portrait. The synthetic polymer,
silkscreen inks and graphite on canvas was executed in 1967 and
has an ambitious estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000. It sold
for $6,951,500. Lot 31, "Large Flowers," is a 1964
synthetic polymer and silkscreen inks on canvas. It measures 82
by 162 inches and has an ambitious estimate of $6,500,000 to $8,500,000.
It sold for $6,727,500. Lot 46, "Single Elvis (Ferus
Type)," is a 1963 silkscreen ink and acrylic on canvas. It
measures 82 by 39 inches and has an estimate of $2,500,000 to
$3,500,000. It sold for $3,367,500.
Lot 50 is
a very colorful and fine painted steel sculpture by John Chamberlain
(b. 1927). Entitled "Mysting Tonatta," it measures 87
by 64 by 63 inches. It was executed in 1990 and has a modest estimate
of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $343,500.
"Jim Beam J. B. Turner Train," is a stainless steel
and bourbon work by Jeff Koons (b. 1945) that is number one of
an edition of three plus one artist's proof. The 11-by-114-by-6
1/2-inch sculpture was executed in 1986. It has an ambitious estimate
of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for $5,495,500, just under
the world auction record of $5,615,750 set at Sotheby's New York,
May 15, 2001.
"Saint Benedict," an oil on canvas by Koons sold for
$1,687,500 more than three times the previous world auction record
for a painting by Koons set at Christie's London February 5, 2003.
"Map," is a graphite and graphite wash on paper by Jasper
Johns (b. 1930). It measures 19 1/2 by 224 1/2 inches. It was
executed in 1971 and has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000.
It sold for $1,071,500.
"Dégel," a lovely oil on canvas by Joan Mitchell
(1926-1992), sold for $1,463,500, far above her previous world
auction record of $903,500 set at Christie's New York, November
"Standing Figure," a huge bronze sculpture by Willem
de Kooning sold for $3,479,500 shattering the previous world auction
record for a sculpture by the artist of $660,000 set at Christie's
New York May 7, 1990.
"Alternate diagonals of March 2, 1964 (to Donald Judd),"
a sculpture by Dan Flavin (1933-1996), sold for $679,500 breaking
the previous world auction record for the artist of $405,500 set
at Christie's New York, November 13, 2002.
"Gywnne," a large oil on canvas by Chuck Close (b. 1940),
sold for $2,807,500, almost double the artist's previous world
auction record set at Christie's New York May 14, 2003.
"Damage," an oil on canvas by Ed Ruscha (b. 1937), sold
for $3,591,500 just over the artist's previous world auction record
set at Christie's May 14, 2002.
"Teddy's Drawing," a work on paper by Brice Marden (b.
1938), sold for $1,295,500, wildly over the artist's previous
world auction record for a work on paper of $88,000 set at Christie's
November 8, 1990.
"The Dance," a large oil on canvas by Marlène
Dumas (b. 1953), sold for $624,700, almost double the artist's
previous world auction record set at Christie's New York November