By Carter B. Horsley
This evening auction of Contemporary
Art at Sotheby's May 10, 2006 is highlighted by an early work
by Roy Lichtenstein, a strong abstraction by Willem de Kooning
(1904-1997), a great Franz Kline (1910-1962) and an enormous sculpture
by Alexander Calder.
In a press release, Tobias
Meyer, worldwide head of Contemporary Art for Sotheby's and the
evening's auctioneer, declared that the "seductive, beautiful"
painting by Lichtenstein, Lot 21, "Sinking Sun," is
"one of the great icons of the 20th Century," adding
that it "captivates the viewer in its image of hope and nostalgia,
and embodies all of the qualities you want in a pristine Pop masterpiece."
"With its immaculate, exquisite finish, Sinking Sun is the
epitome of the artist's painstaking hand-paited process that insistently
removed all expressionist gesture. The highlight of the 1964 Landscapes
exhibition at Leo Castelli Gallery, Sinking Sun was acquired by
Dennis and Brooke Hopper, and for many years graced the walls
of their Los Angles home. For the past 30 years it has been part
of a prominent New York collection of Pop and American Contemporary
Art," the release continued.
The 1964 oil and magna on canvas
that measures 68 by 80 inches has an "estimate on request"
and sold for $15,696,000 including the buyer's premium as do
all results mentioned in this article. It tied for the highest
price of the auction with Willem de Kooning's "Untitled XVI,"
a 1975 oil on canvas. The Lichtenstein was being sold, according
to an article by Carol Vogel in The New York Times by Joseph Hellman,
a New York dealer, who had been given a guarantee by Sotheby's
"that experts say was about $17.5 million." Ms. Vogel
identified the buyer as Dominique Levy, a partner in L & M
The de Kooning had an estimate
of $6,500,000 to $8,500,000 and it was bought by L & M
Arts, of which Robert Mnuchin, who was in the audience bidding
while talking on a cell phone, is a principal.
The catalogue notes that 1975
was "the year when the artist ended a long period of abstinence
from painting and produced twenty large-scale canvases of explosive,
vibrant color executed in lush, sensuous paint strokes, all in
the space of only six months....the physical immediacy of Untitled
XVI is striking. De Kooning emphasizes texture, allowing a
variety of planes of paint to coalesce in and out of each other
across the canvas. Bold, jubilant brushstrokes of white, pink,
yellow and red swell and pucker like undulating flesh, juxtaposed
with quieter passages of blue, green, salmon and maroon that are
scraped and flattened acros the surface with a lage palette knife...."
Another fine but later de Kooning
is Lot 54, "Garden in Delft," an oil on canvas that
measures 80 by 70 inches. Executed in 1987, it has an estimate
of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It sold for $2,816,000. The
catalogue describes it as "a joyously lyrical work."
Lot 25 is a strong double-sided
drawing by de Kooning that measures 22 by 30 inches and was executed
in 1949-50. It originally was a gift from the artist to Harold
Rosenberg, the critic. The lot has an estimate of $1,000,000 to
$1,500,000. It sold for $1,024,000.
Lot 23 is a great oil on canvas
by Franz Kline (1910-1962) entitled "Giselle." It measures
59 1/4 by 49 inches and was executed in 1950. It has an estimate
of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for $1,920,000.
the catalogue observed, "was one of the eleven landmark paintings
included in Franz Kline's first solo exhibition at the Charles
Egan Gallery in New York City in 1950....Kline's work sprang forth
at the turnof the decade ideendent of the influence of Cubism
or Surrealism. He quickly established a signature style marked
by bold black and white brushstrokes, applied with vigor and apparent
spontaneity,....Kline here focused his energy on the meditated
use of line versus negative space. The sharp angles, varying intensity
of his brushstrokes and areas of voided space created a dramatic
effect that is at once striking yet lyrical."
The sale was very successful
with 95.4 percent of the 66 offered lots selling for a total of
$128,752,000, nicely above its pre-sale high estimate of $123,000,000.
The sale set numerous auction records for individual artists and
was the highest total for an evening sale of Contemporary Art
The evening's most spectacular
price, however, was for Lot 31, an untitled and quite beautiful
work by Robert Ryman (b. 1930). The oil and charcoal on canvas
measured 69 1/2 by 68 3/4 inches and was executed in 1962. It
had an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It sold for $9,500,000,
an auction record for the artist. Ryman's previous record was
The catalogue provided the
"In the paintings of the
late 1950s and early 1960s such as Untitled, Ryman reveals
his affection for the impastoed and shimmering abstract expressionist
paintings by Philip Guston of the 1950s. In both artists' work,
the subtlety of color balance is enhanced by the carefully structured
and textured paint application, constructed of short strokes applied
with supple ease and fluidity. Ryman also chooses the material
on which he paints for the properties of the surface - the smoothness,
absorbency, hardness or texture - whether the support is canvas,
wood, cardboard, fiberglass or metal. Often the exposure of the
support and the absense of paint on one or more edge was in Untitled,
served to unify the whole, by emphasizing its construction...."
Lot 26 is a strong, early oil,
enamel and sand on canvas by Jackson Pollock (1912-1956). Entitled
"The White Angel," it measures 43 1/2 by 29 5/8 inches.
Executed in 1946, it has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000.
It sold for $2,144,000.
Lot 58 is a strong and unusually
colorful work by Robert Motherwell (1915-1991), entitled "Red
Cut by Black." An acrylic on canvas, it measures 82 by 114
inches. Executed in 1966-7, it has a modest estimate of $600,000
to $800,000. It sold for $1,024,000.
Lot 38 is a strong portrait
of Nelson Rockefeller, who once owned the work, by Andy Warhol
(1928-1987). An acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, it measures
75 by 56 inches. It was executed in 1967 and has an estimate of
$1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold $1,136,000.
Another good Warhol, Lot 41,
"$," executed in 1981 has an estimate of $3,000,000
to $4,000,000. An acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, it measures
90 by 70 inches. It was passed at $2,400,000.
Lot 35 is a delightful and
fine large work by Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) entitled "Le
Tissu Social." An acrylic and paper collage mounted on canvas
in two parts, it measures 59 by 204 1/2 inches. Executed in 1977,
it has a modest estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000. It sold
Another fine and colorful Dubuffet
is Lot 14, "Trinité-Champs-Elysées," an
oil on canvas that measures 45 3/4 by 35 inches. Dated 1961, it
has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000, it sold for $5,168,000.
Andreas Gursky takes large
photographs of landscapes and museum interiors and, in Lot 8,
99 cents stores. Entitled "99 Cent," this chromogenic
color print, numbered 6 of 6, measures 81 1/2 by 132 inches. Executed
in 1999, it has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It is
one of his most successful works. It sold for $2,256,000, surpassing
the artist's previous auction record of $632,000 and establishing
a new auction record for a contemporary photograph.
Lot 15 is a monumental sheet
metal sculpture by Alexander Calder (1898-1976). Created in 1975,
it measures 360 by 672 by 258 inches. It was consigned by Exxon
Mobil Foundation and has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000.
It sold for $5,616,000.
"A classic example of
Calder's greatest stabiles," the catalogue entry notes, "Flying
Dragon possesses a graceful, curving silhouette that believes
the weight of the material and sheer size of the elements. Similar
to the Flamingo (1873, Federal Center Plaza, Chicago) and
Eagle (1971, Seattle Art Musem), this stabile is semmingly
captured just as the 'dragon' lifts from the ground and reaches
for the sky. The curving planes extend outward and upward, swelling
and undulating in a sweeping gestural form. With all three stabiles,
the electric red paint adds an element of vitality and expectation
as the mythical beast or bird-like forms soar into the air. The
bent forms, pierced wing and dynamic rhythm of steel arcs and
projections in Flying Dragon imply the organic strain in
Calder's work that alludes to nature, but is not overtly literal."
Lot 62 is a very good acrylic
and oil on canvas entitled "Vagrant" by David Salle
(b. 1952). It measures 94 by 136 inches and was painted in 1989.
It has a modest estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold $576,000,
beating the artist's previous auction record of $550,000.
Lot 56 is a very good work
by Robert Rauschenberg (b. 1925) entitled "Stop-Pied (Anagrams
[A Pun])." A vegetable dye transfer on polylaminate, it measures
61 by 59 1/2 inches. Executed in 1998, it has an estimate of $350,000
to $450,000. It sold for $598,400.
Lot 28 is a superb work from
his "Ocean Park" series by Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993).
An oil, acrylic, ink, watercolor, gouache and charcoal on paper,
it mesures 30 by 22 inches. Executed in 1978, it has an estimate
of $900,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $889,600.
Lot 10, "New Hoover Convertibles,
Green, Red, Brown, New Hoover Deluxe Shampoo Polishers Yellow,
Brown Doubledecker," by Jeff Koons (b. 1955), has an estimate
of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. The work consistes of three
vacuum cleaners, two shampoo polishers, Plexiglas, and fluorescent
lights and was executed in 1981-7. It sold for $5,280,000.
Lot 36, "Bojangles," by Mark Di
Suvero (b. 1933), sold for $968,000, more than doubling the artist's
former auction record.
Lot 44, "Komposition Blau-Rot Auf Weiss,"
by Blinky Palermo (1943-1977), sold for $800,000, nicely over
the artist's previous auction record of $669,500.
Lot 67, "Wall of Light Mountain,"
by Sean Scully, the subject of a current major retrospective traveling
exhibition, sold for $912,000, well over the artist's previous
auction record of $689,051.
Lot 11, "In Memory of Camelot,"
by Mike Kelley (b. 1954), sold for $464,000, beating his previous
auction record for a sculpture of $408,000.
Lot 27, "Untitled (Fear)," by
Clyfford Still (1904-1980), sold for $1,080,000, more than tripling
the artist's previous auction record for a work on paper.
Lot 30, "White, Orange and Yellow,"
by Mark Rothko (1903-1970), sold for $4,160,000, considerably
over his previous auction record for a painting on paper mounted
Lot 40, "Gringo Pilot (Anola Gay),"
by Jean-Michel Basquiat (1966-1988), sold for $688,000, well over
the artist's previous auction record for a work on paper mounted
Lot 1, "Stunde," by Neo Rauch
(b. 1969), sold for $531,200. His previous auction record was
Lot 3, "High Society," by Cecily
Brown (b. 1969), sold for $968,000, many notches above her previous
auction record of $110,500.
Lot 4, "Honeymoon," by Lisa Yuskavage
(b. 1962), sold for $1,024,000, almost five times her previous
auction record of $228,000.
Lot 5, "Untitled (P80) Helter Skelter,"
by Christopher Wool (b. 1955), sold for $1,416,000. His previous
auction record was $1,248,000.
Lot 16, "Laro," by John Chamberlain
(b. 1927), sold for $1,024,000, almost double his previous auction