evening auction of Contemporary Art at Sotheby's May 12, 2004
is highlighted by a great and large painting by Clyfford Still
(1904-1980) and a major work by Maurizio Cattelan (b. 1960).
The Still, Lot 20, "1960-F," is an oil on canvas that
measures 112 by 145 ½ inches. Executed in 1960, it has
a conservative estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It was once
in the collection of the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation in
Houston. It sold for $3,144,000 including the buyer's premium
as do all results mentioned in this article. The price set a new
world auction record for Still, which formerly had been $1,911,500.
an extremely successful auction with all 58 offered lots selling
for a total of $65,670,400, just over the pre-sale high estimate
of $64,790,000. Tobias Meyer, the auctioneer, termed it a "white
glove" auction, adding that 22 lots sold for more than $1
to the Still record, 13 other records were set. (The evening before
Christie's sold 90 percent of its lots and set 11 eleven records
City Review article).
The catalogue provides the following commentary about the Still:
"Still's artistic quest culminated in expansive masterpieces
of monumental proportion, nuanced surface and colorful intensity
such as 1960-F. Pollock opened the way with his death-of-easel
painting that produced canvases halfway between the easel and
the wall. By the late 1940s, Still, along with Newman and Rothko,
also began to expand the size of their paintings but with a more
simplified fusion of shape, color and form than other artists
identified as Abstract Expressionists such as Willem de Kooning.
Monumental in scale, the mature paintings of Still, Newman and
Rothko became unfettered fields of color with a holistic imagery
of form and line that aimed at momentous content and sublime beauty.
1960-F is a classic example of the wall-sized expanse that
Still craved, which paralleled the expansion of aesthetic limits
that he sought. The Sublime was to have a character of infinity
limitless space that has the effect on the spectator's mind of
being dominated by an immense object, such as the horizontal expanse
of 1960-F. Still's preference, echoed especially by Rothko,
was to exhibit his works together without the intervention of
other painters' works, thus extending this concept to overwhelm
the spectator in the round. For today's viewers, the experience
of immense and enveloping art is no longer a novelty, so it is
difficult to grasp the radical nature of Still's proportions.
Still's legacy to younger artists from painters as disparate as
Andy Warhol to sculptors such as Richard Serra to Olafur Eliasson's
recent installation The Weather Project at the Tate Modern
has almost inured us from the shock of the spectacle of scale.
By eliminating figuration or narrative intent from his canvases,
Still orchestrated his strokes and surfaces into the setting for
his real subject matter, which is the drama of the interaction
of painted forms. Still's stroke is definite and muscular, a painterly
fracture that is applied with a scraping and cutting palette knife
rather than laid down with a brush. His technique was a physical
presence that intimates rocky slopes, jagged flames and other
rugged natural forms, despite the artist's own insistence that
art did not mimic nature, but was an extension of the artist himself.
In 1960-F, Still's accumulated strokes of color typically
build into crescendos that interweave and masses that overwhelm,
in an organic formulation that fills the canvas and intimates
a continuation beyond the picture plane."
contrast to Still's ragged, infernal abstraction, Lot 12, "The
Ballad of Trotsky," by Maurizio Cattelan is very definitely
a specific, real thing a taxidermed, saddled horse hanging in
air. Created in 1996, it has an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000.
It sold for $2,080,000, shattering the artist's previous auction
record of $886,000.
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"The Ballad of Trotsky is perhaps Cattelan's most
important work that employs taxidermed animals. One is instantly
mesmerized by this large horse, harnessed and suspended in mid-air,
isolated against the large and open empty space of the gallery.
There is something frightening and sad about the horse, forever
immobilized in the air, and yet elegant and awe-inspiring. At
the same time (and in keeping with Cattelan's voice) the image
is completely absurd. Cattelan takes the strength and power of
a horse a beast of burden and transforms it into an image of impotence
that reflects the tragi-comic predicament of the human condition.
The title of the work is also telling: a monument to the paralysis
of a universal utopia and the usurpation of romantic idealism
by the darker side of human nature. This work is a lament for
the death of Trotsky and, more importantly, the failure of the
potential of his ideal and the imperfection of our lives....in
1997, Cattelan would refine The Ballad of Trotsky when
he made Novocento. A similar horse is also suspended in
mid-air, except now its legs are exaggerated, as if emphasizing
the pull of gravity on the horse physically, but also symbolically.
That horse is, literally, caught between two worlds. The present
work powerfully displays what Cattelan has described as 'frozen
energy.' Here, that speaks of a millenial existential plight.
Despite the joviality of his prankster-like reputation, and the
warm humor that is clearly evident in his works, Cattelan reveals
himself here to be a serious `realist,' one who tackles the disillusionment
of a generation."
Titles, of course, do help provide insight into an artist's intentions
but in and of themselves are not art. A taxidermed horse in and
of itself is not art. Hanging it in mid-air iscurious. The horse,
this specific horse, is very handsome, indeed noble, but its closed
mouth and half-opened eyes disclose little emotion. The horse,
perhaps, is puzzled but does not appear to be afraid of what it
is about to be lowered into or lifted onto. It frankly seems apolitical.
Unlike some other artists' interest in dissection, Cattelan's
creation is sympathetic to the animal.
Other auction highlights include a lovely work by Richard Diebenkorn
(1922-1993), an interesting and good work by Damien Hirst (b.
1965), an excellent sculpture by David Smith (1906-1965), good
paintings by Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985), Cy Twombly (b. 1928) and
Andy Warhol (1928-1987), two important paintings by Roy Lichtenstein
(1923-1997), and fine sculptures by Sol Lewitt (b. 1928), Alexander
Calder (1898-1976), Rachel Whiteread (b. 1963), and Duane Hanson
"Untitled (Ocean Park)," is a luscious abstraction by
Richard Diebenkorn (see The City Review article). An acrylic, gouache, oil, crayon
and pencil and cut and pastel paper, it measures 38 by 25 inches.
It was executed in 1987 and has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000.
The catalogue describes this lot as "one of Diebenkorn's
most beautiful works on paper." It sold for $1,408,000,
setting a new auction record for a work on paper by the artist.
The previous record was $173,000.
Lot 40 is
an intriguing work by Damien Hirst entitled "Still Pursuing
Impossible Desires" that has a two-section steel-and-glass
vitrine in which the artist places butterfly pupae that hatched
and grew in one section and flew into the larger section that
has a see-saw composed of a pink canvas and a blue canvas. "At
the end of their lifecycles," the catalogue entry noted,
"the butterflies would drop into one of the two canvases
or to the floor. Despite the extremely ordered structure of the
Minimal steel and glass vitrine in which they lived, the process
by which they find their final resting place into any particular
part of the sculpture was entirely random. Trapped in an urban
environment, the butterflies beautiful yet 'pointless' and controlled
existence provokes contemplation about the quality and purpose
of life in general. Hirst's focus here is, again, on the cycle
of creation and destruction, whether physical biological, intellectual
or aesthetic. At once this installation is a bold, grandiose gesture
that manages to maintain a suitably quiet voice in describing
the transience of life, and the passage from innocence to experience.
Still Pursuing Impossible Desires has its origin as in
a series of Butterfly paintings which emerged from one of Hirst's
most important early installations: In Love & Out of Love,
exhibited at the Woodstock Street Gallery, London, between June
and July, 1991. Two separate floors were transformed into a tropical
rainforest simulation, filled with differently colored monochrome
paintings. Pupae hatched in minimalist boxes and then flew around
the room alighting on the various canvases."
The lot, which measures 87 by 120 by 84 inches, has an estimate
of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for $624,000.
take on life is Duane Hanson's "Executive," Lot 60,
a polyester resin and Fiberglass, polychromed in oil, mixed media,
with accessories sculpture of Melvyn Kaufman, a partner in the
William Kaufman Organization, a major developer of office buildings
in New York City. When I first interview Mr. Kaufman in his office
in the early 1970s when I was a real estate reporter for The
New York Times this sculpture was in his office and he remained
motionless in his chair when I entered. I eventually discovered
the real "Mel" Kaufman, who first owned this work and
was responsible for such intriguing and important New York office
buildings as 747 Third Avenue, 77 Water Street, 127 John Street
and 17 State Street among others, all among the most urbanistic
in the city over the several decades. In describing the 1971 work,
the catalogue maintains that it "embodies allof Hanson's
most recognizable characteristics," adding that "With
his dazed stare and his slouched posture, the viewer feels as
if he is looking directly at not just one man, but a whole world
The real Mr. Kaufman is the most unforgettable and imaginative
and concerned developer I ever met. The lot has an estimate
of $220,000 to $280,000 and sold for $265,600.
Lot 21 is
a fine untitled welded steel sculpture by David Smith. Executed
in 1960, it measures 99 by 34 ½ by 8 ½ inches. The
very graceful, totemic sculpture has an ambitious estimate of
$2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It sold for $3,032,000.
Lot 19, "Vache La Belle Muflée,"
is an excellent "cow" picture by Jean Dubuffet, one
of 13 that he painted. An oil on canvas that measures 45 5/8 by
35 inches, it was executed in 1954 and has an estimate of $2,000,000
to $3,000,000. It sold for $2,136,000. The catalogue entry
for this lot offers a great quotation from Robert Hughes from
Time Magazine July 26, 1993:
"The funniest and most agrestic of all
his paintings were, undoubtedly the cows - a snook cocked at Picasso's
heroic Spanish bulls. Kippered there on the canvas in their dense
yet somehow airy paint, yearning, dumb and absurdly coquettish,
they are among the most memorable animals in modern art. Several
of them, like Vache La Belle Muflée, 1954 also contain
some of the most inspired and wristy drawing of Dubuffet's career,
formed by the brush - or its handle - dragging through the thick
The auction has two major works by Roy Lichtenstein
that have been recently on the auction block.
Lot 43, "Stretcher Frame with Vertical
Bars," an oil and magna on canvas that measures 36 by 68
inches, was sold at Christie's, May 14, 2003 for $1,575,500 including
the buyer's premium. Executed in 1968, it has an estimate this
time of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000, the same it had in 2003. It
sold for $1,352,000. "Stretcher Frame with Vertical
Bars is one of twelve 'Stretcher' paintings that the artist
began making in 1968," the catalogue entry for this lot noted,
adding that "Deliberately engaging the viewer, Lichtenstein
masterfully plays with the line between seriousness and wittiness
in his own updated version of Trompe l'oeil....Lichtenstein
has updated and 'Popified' the ancient technique of fooling the
"Step-on Can with Leg," another Lichtenstein, was sold
at Sotheby's November 12, 2002 for $4,840,500 including the buyer's
premium. Its estimate this time is $4,000,000 to $5,000,000.
It sold for $5,104,000. The oil on canvas is in two parts,
each 31 7/8 by 26 inches. It was executed in 1961.
provides the following commentary:
Can with Leg is a painting that boldly announced the arrival
of Roy Lichtenstein's new Pop style in 1961. A radical break with
his previous work, this germinal example of Lichtenstein's new
aesthetic embodies so many of the tenets of Pop Art, that it must
be seen not only as a crucial example of the artist's revolutionary
visual vocabulary, but of the movement of Pop Art itself."
was the first Lichtenstein sold at the Castelli Gallery and was
purchased by Guy Atkins, a London scholar, for $275. "His
new aesthetic," the catalogue entry continued, "one
which essentially purloined and then amplified...[advertising]
printed images onto canvas in a manner that denied, as much as
possible, any record of the artist, or his artistry, was extraordinary....Step-on
Can with Leg is one of the very first paintings where Lichtenstein
approximated the effect of newspaper printing by treating clearly
demarcated areas as a thin film of rubbed color which would exaggerate
the coarse grain of the canvas, appearing like pixilated dots.
The effect, here clearly evident in the legs and floor of the
work, refers to the properties of printed Benday dots. In the
present work, these 'dots' are all achieved by hand. Later works
would see the artist apply his paint through a screen perforated
with a grid of identical holes, literrally removing his hand from
the canvas and further distancing him from his own work, thereby
exaggerating the sense of mechanical reproduction he so desred."
Lot 15 is
a fined baked enamel on steel sculpture by Sol Lewitt. Entitled
"Serial Project #1 ABCD 6," it measures 19 1/2 by 57
by 57 inches. Executed in 1968, it has a modest estimate of $120,000
to $180,000. It sold for $310,400 breaking the artist's former
world auction record of $243,200.
Lot 18 is
an excellent painted sheet metal and wire sculpture by Alexander
Calder that is notable for its curved main yellow element. The
1942 work measures 41 1/2 by 46 by 15 inches has a modest estimate
of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $792,000.
"Low-pressure Zone," is a fine acrylic, oilstick and
collage on canvas mounted on tied wood supports by Jean-Michel
Basquiat (1960-1988). It mesaures 59 3/8 by 48 inches and was
executed in 1982. It has an estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000.
It sold for $2,136,000.
Lot 30 is
a nice oil on canvas by Gerhard Richter (b. 1932) entitled "Flasche
Mit Apfeln (Bottle with Apple)." It measures 32 by 24 inches
and was executed in 1988. It has an estimate of $1,200,000 to
$1,800,000. It sold for $2,248,000.
work recently on the auction block is Lot 16, "Untitled (Bolsena),"
by Cy Twombly. An oil-pased house paint, wax crayon and lead pencil
on canvas that measures 79 by 94 3/4 inches, it was executed in
1969. It sold for $2,869,500, including the buyer's premium, at
Phillips, de Pury and Luxembourg November 11, 2002 when it had
an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. This time is has an estimate
of $2,200,000 to $2,800,000. It is an excellent Twombly. It
sold for $2,920,000.
Lot 42 is an enormous black-and-white
version of "The Last Supper" with a large blue Wise
potato chip logo obstructing the view of Judas, Peter and John
by Andy Warhol. An acrylic on canvas that measures 118 by 252
inches, it was executed in 1986. It has an estimate of $2,500,000
to $3,500,000. It sold for $2,920,000.
Lot 3, "Flower
Ball (3D)," is a hugh circular acrylic on canvas mounted
on board by Takashi Murakami (b. 1962). The 98 1/2-inch diameter
work was executed in 2002. It has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000.
It sold for $624,000, beating the artist's previous world auction
record by $500. "Flower Ball (3D) is a stunning example
of how skillfully Takashi Murakami, Japan's foremost contemporary
artist, can merge his traditional Japanese training and background
with contemporary culture. The brightly colored flowers smiling
out at the viewer create a visual and cerebral amalgam of High
(fine art) and Low (popular) art."
Lot 39 is a very handsome sculptural group
by Rachel Whiteread. The colored resin pieces have different colors
and were shaped by the spaces beneath chairs, a subject, the catalogue
noted, that Bruce Nauman (b. 1941) had used in a 1965-8 concrete
sculpture. This lot has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000 and
would make a fine living room seating arrangement. It sold
for $478,400, surpassing her previous world auction record of
Lot 1, "The Sweet Smell of Excess,"
by Tim Noble (b. 1966) and Sue Webster (b. 1967), sold for $232,000,
breaking their former world auction record of $218,500.
Lot 2, "Blue Sheep," by Yoshitomo
Nara (b. 1960), sold for $198,400, breaking the artist's former
world auction record of $130,700.
Lot 5, "The Optimist," by John
Currin (b. 1962), sold for $433,600, breaking the world auction
record of $427,500 for the artist who recently had a major show
at theWhitney Museum of American Art.
Lot 7, "Untitled," by Jean-Michel
Basquiat, sold for $568,000, breaking his world auction record
for a work on paper of $458,271.
Lot 14, "Chatham XIII: Yellow Red (EK
464)," by Ellsworth Kelly (b. 1923), sold for $2,920,000,
more than double his previous world auction record of $1,435,750.
Lot 22, "Corpse and Mirror," by
Jasper Johns (b. 1930), sold for $3,144,000, breaking the artist's
world auction record of $2,535,750 for a work on paper.
Lot 33, "Brighter Than The Sun,"
by James Rosenquist (1923-1997), sold for $456,000, slightly over
his previous world auction record of $440,000 and Lot 41, "Air
Hammer," also by Rosenquist, went higher and sold for $512,000.
Lot 34, "Sewing Machine," by Claes
Oldenburg (b. 1929), sold for $1,464,000, more than doubling his
previous world auction record of $691,500.
Lot 45, "34th Street, Manhattan, Looking
East," by Richard Estes (b. 1936), sold for $568,000, just
over his previous world auction record of $550,000.
Lot 47, "Love, Blue Red," by Robert
Indiana (b. 1928), sold for $478,400, breaking his previous world
auction record for a sculpture of $424,000.
Lot 58, "Untitled (People)," by
Keith Haring (1958-1990), sold for $624,000, breaking his previous
world auction record of $402,000.