By Carter B. Horsley
Life without humor is dismal. Art with humor
is difficult. Much of contemporary art nowadays is pretty dark,
if not depressing. This evening auction of Contemporary Art at
Phillips de Pury May 9, 2006, has several impressive works of
The highlight of the sale is Lot 67, "Marche aux Puces. Mise en Vente
d'Informations d'occasion (Flea market - Sale of Bargain Information,"
by Wang Du (b. 1956). It consists of 11 colored plaster sculptures
and its installation dimensions are 108 1/4 by 354 3/8 by 41 1/4
inches, just about perfect for that adult billionaire's playroom.
It was executed in 1999 and has a conservative estimate of $120,000
to $280,000. It sold for $329,600 including the buyer's premium
as do all results mentioned in this article. The price was broke
the artist's previous auction record of $32,592 set at Christie's
in Paris last April.
The sale was very successful
with 74 of 76 offered lots selling for $29.5 million, well over
the pre-sale high estimate of $27.2 million. The sale set auction
records for 17 artists.
The work, the catalogue maintains,
"is designed as a great merchant's stall where one can find
side by side, in accordance with no other logic than what vulgarity
the spectacular dictate, ultra famous actors and anonymous stars
for a day figuring in 'current' events that are already out of
date. From the trashcans of the mass media, the artist as rag-and-bone
man salvages scraps of images that are the result of an overabundance
in the supply of information."
These realistic dolls, albeit
wooden, beg to be rearranged, placed in nooks and crannies and
regularly dusted. These are monumental movable parts, tangible
bits of civilization, the veritable innards of the world's flea
market of personalities. One could, of course, attempt the same
effect with heavy Roman marble portrait busts and figure sculptures,
or, presumably Barbie dolls, but here the specificity of the personas
adds intriguing political puzzles. While not as stylized as the
wonderful works of Red Grooms, these sculptures are weightier
and therefore beg to be taken seriously.
Lot 9 is a very large, untitled
oil on canvas by Yue Minjun (b. 1962) that is raucous and brash,
but might be a little difficult to live with for a long time.
It consists of five nearly identical figures who appear rather
sun-burnt and shirtless and are wearing party hats and excessive
broad open smiles while standing and gesturing in front of a block
of birds who appear to eye them with puzzlement. It measures 86
3/4 by 78 3/4 inches. Executed in 2005, it has an estimate of
$120,000 to $180,000. It sold for $464,000.
The catalogue entry for the
lot includes the following 2006 statement from the artist:
"I have always found laughter
irresistible - well, at least I don't dislike it. I paint people
laughing, whether it is a big laugh, a restrained laugh, a crazy
laugh, a near laugh or simply laughter about our society: laughter
can be about anything. Laughter is a moment when our mind refuses
to reason. When we are puzzled by certain thngs, our mind simply
doesn't want to struggle, or perhaps we don't know how think,
therefore we just want to forget it. Artists are the kind of people
who always like to reveal to the simple, innocent and humble souls,
the never-ending illusion of our lives."
Another humorous work in the
auction is Lot 17, "If There Were Anywhere But Desert, Thursday,"
by Ugo Rondinone (b. 1963. Made of fiberglass, paint, clothes,
glitter, blankets, it measures 16 1/2 by 25 by 74 inches and depicts
a sleeping, overweight clown. The work was created in 2000. It
has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It sold for $307,200,
eclipsing the artist's former auction record of $273,600 set at
Phillips de Pury May, 2005.
Another humorous work is an untitled piece,
Lot 65, by Juan Munoz (1953-2001). Consisted of four figures,
it is made of cement, glass, metal, wire and machine parts and
measures 57 by 42 1/4 by 17 inches. It wa made in 1993 and has
an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $96,000.
A nice companion piece for Lot 65 is Lot 69,
"Maschine," by Thomas Schutte (b. 1954), a mechanized
platform with four wax figures. Executed in 1993, it has an estimate
of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $307,200, surpassing his
previous auction record of $229,904 set at Christie's in London
Lot 38 is a striking work by
Antony Gormley entitled "Start III." Made of welded
steel, it measures 77 1/2 by 44 by 45 inches and was executed
in 2002. It has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It sold
Lot 34, "Daisy Chain,"
is a strong work by Kiki Smith (b. 1954) composed of steel chain
and five cast bronze elements of body parts. Numbered three in
an edition of three, it was executed in 1992. It has an estimate
of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $90,000.
Lot 11, "Da Xian - The
Doomsday," consists of three large and impressive painted
fiberglass bowls filled with expired food products, two drawings
and three black and white photographs. The work by Huang Yong
Ping (b. 1937) was executed in 1997. It has an estimate of $50,000
to $70,000. It sold for $168,000, more than tripling his previous
auction record of $50,939 set at Christie's Taipei in October,
Lot 27 is a large oil on canvas
by Peter Doig (b. 1959) entitled "Olin MK IV." Executed
in 1995, it measures 98 1/2 by 78 3/4 inches. It has an ambitious
estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold for $1,080,000,
far above his previous auction record of $632,000 set at Christie's
in New York in May, 2005. The catalogue provides the following
"Born in Scotland but
growing up mainly in Canada, Peter Doig was influenced early on
the wilderness of the North that surrounded him, and of man's
relationship to nature in the face of the Canadian landscape painting
tradition. Yet, to a certain extent the artist has always resisted
association with the landscape tradition and his work is not concerned
within the rigid conventions of a genre. The landcapes he presents
are images hovering between memory and imagination, triggered
by photographic or cinematic sources chanced upon during urban
existence, or from the repertoire of personal memories of the
landscapes of his childhood."
Lot 3 is an enormous room installation
by AVAF (Assume Vivid Astro Focus), a New York-based Brazilian
artist who was born in 1968 and chooses to remain anonymous. The
work was exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American art in its
2004 Biennial. It has an estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. It
sold for $45,600. AVAF's previous auction record was $4,800 realized
at Phillips de Pury in March, 2005.
Lot 30 is a Jeff Koons polychromed wood sculpture
of Buster Keaton on a small horse with a bird on his shoulder.
Executed in 1988 in an edition of three plus one artist's proof,
it measures 65 3/4 by 50 by 26 1/2 inches. It has an estimate
of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000. It sold to Aby Rosen for $2,704,000.
Lot 12, "Untitled (Nr. 128), is a large
acrylic on canvas by Thomas Scheibitz (b. 1968). It measures 59
by 106 1/4 inches. Executed in 1997, it has an estimate of $180,000
to $250,000. It sold for $180,000.
Lot 31, "Untitled (We are not made for
each other)," is an excellent work by Barbara Kruger, the
subject of a recent retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American
Art. A photomontage, it measures 73 1/4 by 49 inches and was executed
in 1983. It has a modest estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It
sold for $120,000.
Lot 22 is an enormous digital print with acrylic
on Sintra by John Baldessari (b. 1931) entitled "The Duress
Series: Person Kicking Over Seated Person and Third Person Perhaps
Protesting (In Three Stages)." It measures 60 13/4 by 191
1/2 inches and was executed in 2003. The lively work has a modest
estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It sold for $419,200.
Not 51 is a very good abstraction that conjures
Clyfford Still by Robert Motherwell. Entitled "Dover Beach
No. 111)," it is an acrylic on canvas that measures 77 by
96 inches. Executed in 1974, it has a modest estimate of $250,000
to $350,000. It sold for $307,200.
Lot 72, "Untitled (plane
and bombs), is a large oil on canvas by Wilhelm Sasnal (b. 1972).
This painting of a bomber releasing its bombs on an overcast day
that denies identification of the target is almost subtle, despite
its 56 by 71 inch size. Executed in 2002, it has an estimate of
$100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $204,000. Sasnal's previous
auction record was $120,000, set at Phillips de Pury last November.
Lot 63 is an excellent print by Andreas Gursky
(b. 1955) of the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank. It measures 86 3/4 by
67 inches and is from an edition of five. It was executed in 1994
and has an estimate of $180,000 to $250,000. It sold for $352,000.
Lot 57, "Chair of Concentration,"
by Chen Zhen (1955-2000), is composed of a wooden chair, Chinese
chamber pots, sound system, and wire. It measures 68 5/8 by 43
3/8 inches and was executed in 1999. It has an estimate of $60,000
to $80,000. It sold for $132,000.
Lot 2, "Yes/No,"
a DVD installation by Candice Breitz sold for $24,000 eclipsing
the artist's previous auction record of $3,360 set at Phillips
de Pury in December, 2004.
Lot 4, "Prince Desiree
on a Break from Sleeping Beauty Out at Petrossian," by Karen
Kilimnik sold for $198,000, well over the artist's previous auction
record of $69,600 set at Phillips de Pury in November, 2004.
Lot 14, "For you it
has come to this," by Herman Bas, sold for $90,000 establishing
a new auction record for the artist.
Lot 15, "John 3:16,"
by Paul Pfeiffer, sold for $156,000, nicely over the artist's
previous auction record of $144,000 set at Phillips de Pury last
Lot 16, "Skull,"
a photograph by Piotr Uklanski, sold for $408,000, well over the
artist's previous auction record of $228,000 set at Phillips de
Pury last November.
Lot 39, "100 Works
for Robert Frank," a photograph by Nobuyoshi Araki sold for
$132,000, breaking the artist's previous auction record of $50,400
set at Phillips de Pury in November 2004.
Lot 40, "Time Grid,"
a very handsome 126 LED in red mounted on black panel by Tatsuo
Miyajima, sold for $144,000, breaking the artist's previous auction
record of $65,359 set at Sotheby's in June, 2003.
Lot 44, "Bedroom Painting
#42," by Tom Wesselman, sold for $1,696,000 setting a new
auction record for the artist. His previous record was $944,500
set at Christie's in May, 2002.
Lot 70, an untitled work
byRirkrit Tiravanija with neon tubes, sold for $48,000, just over
the artist's previous auction record of $44,572 set at Christies
in London in February, 2001.
Lot 76, "Gestange II"
by David Schnell sold for $144,000, establishing a new auction
record for the artist.