By Michele Leight
Christie's pre-sale estimate of $225- $300
million for the upcoming Post War and Contemporary Art evening
sale on May 16, 2007 is predicted to rival and possibly out perform
last fall's record-breaking evening sale which totaled $239,704,000.
Many beautiful and important works of art are on offer, including
Andy Warhol's seminal "Green Car Crash, (Green Burning Car
I)" from the artist's "Death and Disaster Series,"
estimated at $25-$35 million, the most valuable Warhol ever offered
at auction. Another exceptional artwork is Willem de Kooning's
"Untitled," estimated at $20 million, and there are
It was a stupendous auction with 95 percent
of the 78 offered lots selling for a total of $384,654,400, the
highest total ever for a Contemporary Art auction, and the second
highest total for an art auction ever, the highest being for Christies
November 2006 evening sale which realized $491 million, and which
featured the famous restituted Klimpts. After the auction Christopher
Burge, the auctioneer, said he was "stunned, exhausted and
thrilled" at the "incredibly deep" bidding in a
market he described as "hungry and ravenous." The auction
set 26 artists' auction records and 65 lots sold for more than
$1 million and 74 percent of the lots sold above their high estimate,
Mr. Burge said, adding that 47 percent of the buyers were American,
19 percent European, 18 percent Asian and 16 percent "other."
Lot 15, Warhol's "Green Car Crash (Green
Burning Car)," sold for $71,720,000 including the buyer's
premium as do all results mentioned in this article, shattering
the artist's previous auction record of $17,360,000. It sold to
a telephone bidder and Larry Gagosian was the underbidder. The
price was only slightly lower than the record price for a work of Contemporary art set the
night before at Sotheby's with the sale of Mark Rothko's "White
Center, (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose," for $72,840,000.
Sotheby's sale total was $254,874,000.
"Lemon Marilyn" - from Warhol's "flavor"
series - leads the evening sale which is well stocked with top
tier Abstract Expressionist, Minimalist, Pop and Contemporary
Art, including two highly covetable Rothkos, a luscious Jasper
Johns work on paper and Damien Hirst's extraordinary "Lullaby
Warhol prices have soared in recent months
culminating last season when Christie's sold 8 Warhol paintings
for $59 million, including "Mao," (1972), which set
a new world auction record for the artist at $17,400,000. This
firmly established Warhol as the most ascendant star in a sizzling
Contemporary Art market, a phenomenon no one would enjoy as much
as the artist himself.
Ten works by Warhol (1928-1987) will be offered
at Christies evening sale alone, with a pre-sale estimate in excess
of $65 million combined. This estimate will most likely be outrun
by buyers that appear to have no reservations about plunking down
big bucks for an artist who worked in a dizzying, "the more
the merrier," production line of multiples derived from a
single image - and he certainly knew how to pick his subjects.
Marilyn Monroe, who dazzled buyers at the last
sale as "Orange Marilyn," continues to lead the all-star
cast in Warhol's pantheon of celebrities. Warhol seized on star
power, giving it back to the masses in silk-screened imagery that
was unpretentious and exciting. He believed implicitly in art
for everyone, and the mind boggles at what he would have done
with his own page on MySpace and access to You-Tube.
In these days of easily attainable digital
images, "Lemon Marilyn" rendered in acrylic paint with
silkscreen detailing seems almost quaint, especially when compared
with current celebrity iconographic standards. Warhol's "Marilyn"
has become mythologized, even historic. Nostalgia for those halcyon
days when icons still had some privacy becomes even more compelling
when compared with today's 24/7 celebrity-mania that borders on
the absurd, drawing us into every detail of stars' lives whether
we like it or not. This dulls the mystery and the magic.
An energizing Pop Art portrait of "Miriam
Davidson," Lot 53, painted in 1965, (estimated at $4,000,000
to $6,000,000), is unceremoniously "repeated" 20 times
like any other commodity on a supermarket shelf - Coca Cola bottles,
soup cans, brillo boxes - despite her obvious glamour and '60s
"with-it-ness." It sold for $6,312,000. Warhol's
photo-booth aesthetic appealed to those who were not famous, but
wanted to have their portrait painted by him, and had the money
to commission one. Warhol happily obliged.
Warhol had celebrity culture pegged, and he
gambled successfully on our fascination with it. He also knew
the dark side of that culture, and the fragility of life's seemingly
"perfect" outward manifestations, represented by his
"Death and Disaster Series, which many believe to be his
most important. Warhol was preoccupied with his own mortality.
He knew his art would out last him, and that is where he invested
Marilyn Monroe, gorgeous, famous, yet endearingly
vulnerable in "Lemon Marilyn" (estimated at $18,000,000)
had dark clouds looming over her glittering Hollywood aura, threatening
to destabilize her from the day she stepped into the limelight
of the celebrity fishbowl as a timid Norma Jean Baker. Sadly,
the darkness overtook her in her tragic suicide, which undoubtedly
influenced Warhol's choice of her as a subject. In Marilyn's day,
however, the media had a frenzy limit. Warhol accurately predicted
the escalation of celebrity obsession in his crystal ball, while
he opportunistically mined its possibilities for his own art.
"Lemon Marilyn" sold for $28,040,000. Larry Gagosian
was the underbidder and actually made another bid only to tell
Mr. Burge to "take the bid back."
Even Warhol's flower paintings symbolize the
exact opposite of the innocence they represent as he gives us
the dangerous, destructive side of the flower power movement:
the intravenous drugs, hard drinking, wild partying that resulted
in a legacy no one could have predicted in those heady, fun times
- but Warhol prophetically saw it coming.
"Four-Foot Flowers," Lot 24, is a
48-inch-square synthetic polymer, acrylic and silkscreeninks on
canvas that Warhol painted in 1964. It features 4 diversely hued
silk-screened blossoms on their familiar grassy background and
has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It sold for $7,992,000.
Lot 51 is a stunning, 48-inch square synthetic polymer and silkscreen
inks on canvas that was painted in 1967 with three blossoms on
a dramatic red background (and only a few tufts of blue grass)
has a marginally lower estimate at $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It
sold for $5,192,000. There is one more Warhol "Flowers"
painting on offer at $1,200,000 to $1,800,000, Lot 14, which is
24 inches square and was painted in 1964 and sounds almost like
a bargain. It sold for $2,168,000.
Brilliantly self-promoting, the artist included
himself in his line-up of celebrities, and Christies will offer
four atypically pensive Warhol "Self-Portraits" (before
the dramatic bleached blond hair), Lot 40. It sold for $8,216,000,
well over its $6,500,000 high estimate. Painted between 1966-1967,
three of the four paintings were once owned by the Leo Castelli
Gallery, and all four were originally part of an installation
of 24 at Warhol's 1970 exhibition at The Pasadena Museum of Art.
Although these self-portraits were as "staged" as any
of Warhol's famous Hollywood matinee idols, they are tinged with
the eagerness of a small-town boy who came to New York in search
of fame and fortune, before his art took him to heights even he
could not have imagined.
There is a marvellous Warhol portrait of Leo
Castelli, the legendary art dealer, whose gallery either launched,
exhibited or bought many of the world class paintings included
in this, and all top notch auctions of contemporary art. It is
Lot 67, a synthetic polymer and silkscreen inks on canvas that
is 40 inches square and was painted in 1975. It has a modest estimate
of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold for $1,720,000.
Lot 29, "Untitled I," is a luscious
1981 work by Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) that has rightfully
earned itself a place in the best art shows, including the definitive
exhibition of the artist's late paintings at the Museum of Modern
Art in 1995 (see The City Review article).
There is a powerful sense of exuberance and
movement in "Untitled" that evokes figure and landscape,
neither restricting the other. This beautiful painting which graces
the cover of the evening sale catalog is devoid of conflict -
and violence - or the angst and tension that often accompany De
Kooning's works. There is a reason why "Untitled" defies
a focal point, which is explained in the catalog - the artist
turned it around continuously, painting from different angles,
and it works magnificently however it is viewed. It is an oil
and charcoal on canvas that measures 88 by 77 inches. It has an
estimate on request and is expected to sell for around $20 million.
It sold for $19,080,000.
Two exquisite paintings by Mark Rothko, sublime
master of myth and mythology, should attract sophisticated buyers.
Lot 34, "Untitled,"is a 1954 oil
on canvas that measures 69 by 50 inches and is estimated at $20,000,000
to $25,000,000 and it comes with flawless provenance - Marlborough
A.G. Lichtenstein, and Pace New York - where it was acquired by
the present owner. This deeply moving work of art was included
in the Solomon R. Guggenheim (New York) exhibition "Abstraction
in the Twentieth Century: Total Risk, Freedom, Discipline,"
in 1996. It sold for $22,400,00.
Lot 21, "Untitled," a 1961 oil on
canvas that measures 69 by 50 inches, is estimated at $20,000,000
to $25,000,000 and is especially beautiful up close, which is
how the artist liked them to be viewed. It sold for $28,040,000.
The exhibition catalog offers the following insights:
"Rothko considered his greatest works
those that would consume the viewer. He sought to control and
even overwhelm us by placing a dizzyingly vast wall of color before
us. He did not intend his pictures to be viewed from afar, but
instead to be seen from close-up. In part, this has been posited
as a legacy of his own myopia, in part it is a reflection, as
he asserted himself, of the fact that he painted his works at
a short distance, about 18 inches. We are placed not only within
the world of 'Untitled,' but also into the footsteps of the artist
Damien Hirst's "Lullaby Winter,"
Lot 17, estimated at $2,500,000 to $3,500,000, represents the
double-edged sword of modern science and medicine and their curative
powers, and our obsessive and often unhealthy reliance on it.
In the past the blind faith that many currently place in medicine
and pharmaceutical drugs was reserved for religion. Hirst contrasts
the ability of medications to sustain and prolong life with the
inevitability of death, a preoccupation of many great creators
from both the sciences and the arts. It sold for $7,432,000,
a world auction record for the artist.
The rows of minimalist pills in "Lullaby
Winter," which consists of glass, stainless steel and painted
cast pills and measures 72 by 108 by 4 inches, set against a mirrored
background that look so convincing in the illustrated close-up
are in fact a sly derivation of them. Even an incisive camera
lens does not divulge the true identity of these crafty, hand
wrought placebos. They are not real pills, but were painstakingly
"created" by the artist, and painted in juicy colors.
They are not filled with toxic chemicals and they will not dissolve
and decay. Pills were the original inspiration for Hirst's famous
"spot" paintings, replaced once again by "pills,"
in a continuum of creativity and inspiration.
In his tussle with immortality - which can
coast only so long on the magic of science and medicine - Hirst
affirms his faith in art, and its enormous healing powers."
Like Warhol, Hirst is also a supreme realist; he knows his art
will outlast him. The work was created in 2002.
"I believe painting and all art should
be ultimately uplifting for a viewer.........I love color, I feel
it inside me. It gives me a buzz. I hate taste - it's acquired,"
said the artist in a quotation in the catalogue entry for the
"Wonder of You," Lot 52, also by
Hirst, is an exquisitely conceived work populated with exotic
Malaysian butterflies, estimated at $1,200,000 to $1,800,000.
It sold for $1,608,000. Originally from his 1991 London
gallery installation entitled "In and Out of Love,"
which simulated a tropical rainforest, the butterflies lived out
their lives within the gallery walls. When they died a natural
death, 90 species of exquisite butterflies were laid down on a
shimmering canvas bed coated with household gloss paint. Mixing
the rare and the ordinary, Hirst's beautiful creations, borrowed
from Mother Nature, have attained immortality in art. This extraordinarily
compelling work recalls the finest mosaics, filigree, and the
intricate luminosity and mystery of stained glass windows. It
was executed in 2002 and is 84 inches square.
Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) reverted to
figuration at the height of the Abstract Expressionist era, and
clung to it. An avowed colorist in the tradition of Matisse, he
was able to infuse elegant restraint with emotion.
Lot 48, "Berkeley #5" is a wonderful
Diebenkorn oil on canvas that is 53 inches square and was executed
in 1953. It has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000. It
sold for $6,176,000, setting a new auction record for the artist.
Three years after he painted "Berkeley
#5," Diebenkorn painted "Untitled (Still Life With Iris)."
An oil on canvas, it measures 17 3/4 by 15 3/8 inches and is property
from the estate of Sally Lilienthal. It has an estimate of $400,000
to $600,000. It sold for $2,336,000.
"The Pajama Game," Lot 2, by Cecily
Brown (b. 1969), shows off the artist's virtuoso brushwork that
mirrors De Kooning's, although it is more intense and concentrated.
While Brown's sensual paintings are as "female" as his
are masculine, they both make their point unreservedly. De Kooning's
woman is rendered with vigor, while Brown's voluptuous women recall
the fleshy goddesses that have adorned museum walls for centuries.
Back then they were all painted by men. The oil on canvas measures
76 by 98 inches and was painted in 1997-8. It has an estimate
of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $1,608,000, breaking the
previous auction record for the artist of $1,104,000 set at Sotheby's
May 15, 2007. The catalogue observes that her paintings are
In "Night," Lot 5, Lisa Yuksavage's
contemporary baroque imagery explores desire, sex and sexuality
- previously the exclusively domain of male artists. Yuksavage
(b. 1962) and Brown are labeled "bad" girls for their
borderline pornographic focus, which only serves to prove their
point: that crossing over into traditionally male territory will
get you branded, but neither backs off from owning their own sexuality.
Yuksavage's females are simultaneously provocative and vulnerable,
painted in a distorted, racy way that recall the no-holds-barred
femininity of Boucher and Rubens - although these modern women
are far more suggestive. This lot is an oil on canvas that measures
77 by 62 inches and was painted in 1999-2000. It has an estimate
of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $1,384,000, breaking
the artist's previous world auction record of $1,024,000 set at
Sotheby's May 10, 2006.
Gerhard Richter (b. 1932) (see The
City Review article on a Richter exhibition at The Museum of Modern
Art by Michele Leight), is represented by two dazzling abstracts,
Lot 46, "Frost," and Lot 60, "Abstrakt Bilds,"
both of which bear no resemblance to his famously banal, monochromatic
"paintings" of photographs. "Frost (1)" is
an oil on canvas that measures 57 by 39 3/8 inches and was painted
in 1989 and has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It
sold for $2,840,000. "Abstrakt Bilds" is an oil
on canvas that measures 98 1/2 inches square and was painted in
1992. It has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,500,000. It sold
for $6,200,000, surpassing the artist's previous world auction
record of $5,551,181 set at Sotheby's in London last February.
Lot 41, "Forge" is an excellent 1959
work by Robert Rauschenberg (b. 1925). The oil, printed paper,
fabric, sock, necktie, paper plate and found metal object on canvas
measures 73 by 31 inches. It has an estimate of $5,000,000 to
$7,000,000. It sold for $6,200,000.
When a landmark painting like "Green Car
Crash," (illustrated at the top of the story) comes to market,
learning more is the order of the day, and the Christies catalog
provided fascinating insights far beyond its price tag and provenance.
The image was appropriated by Warhol from a photograph by John
Whitehead in the Seattle Times. The caption describes the horrific
scene in pared down, journalistic terminology that only serves
to magnify the tragedy:
"End of the Chase: Pursued by a state
trooper investigating a hit-and-run accident, commercial fisherman
Richard J. Hubbard, 24, sped down a Seattle street at more than
60 mph, overturned, and hit a utility pole. The impact hurled
him from the car, impaling him on a climbing spike. He died 35
minutes later in a hospital."
Warhol immortalized this ill-fated death and
the sudden transformation of a "nothing much happening here"
suburban street into a nightmarish disaster worthy of Hollywood's
most gruesome special effects, except that this "disaster"
was only too real. In the background of a chilling scene is the
shadowy figure of a man (detail) who walks past the suffering
and carnage, either oblivious, or uncaring. Either way, he is
Once the shock of his indifference sinks in,
we realize that we have yet again been manipulated by Warhol as
he forces us to step back from a high and mighty judgmental position,
recognizing that we are often as guilty of ignoring the suffering
and tragedy of others - Darfur, Rwanda - when we are not directly
affected by it.
Warhol peels away the veneers of callousness,
packaging a terrifying event in somber colors and intentionally
distanced, mechanical technique. "Green Car Crash" is
a spectacular indictment of "normal." Unlike so many
of Warhol's irrepressible, lusciously colored paintings, this
work pulsates with dark emotion, like "Jackie" at her
husband's funeral. The oracle Warhol seized on an unexpected event
in a quiet suburban neighborhood that could be anywhere in America
to skewer human immorality and detachment. Through Warhol, the
dying man was immortalized in death as he could never have been
"Green Car Crash" is reminiscent
of Warhol's electric chair images, also from the "Death and
Disaster Series," which parodied the extreme violence used
by all societies - including "civilized" ones - that
invent painstakingly barbaric ways of punishing those who break
its rules. (See The City Review etc). The real sadness in "Green
Car Crash" is that fate took a nasty turn in a young man's
life, on a day like any other. This time, Warhol's self imposed
distance from his subject matter is set aside, and emotion seeps
into this great work of art.
Lot 72, "Black Sea, Ozuluce, Yellow Sea,
Cheju; Red Sea, Safaga, is a wonderful gelatin silver print "triptych"
by Hiroshi Sugimoto, (1991-1992). The work was originally exhibited
individually at the "L 'histoire de l 'histoire" show
at the Hermes 8 Forum in Tokyo in 2003. It has an estimate of
$900,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $1,888,000, a new auction
record for the artist.
Lot 49 is a fine 1938 oil on
canvas by Arshile Gorky (1904-1948) that measures 40 by 52 inches.
It has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for
$4,184,000, just over the artist's previous world auction record
of $3,962,500 set at Sotheby's November 15, 1995.
Lot 36 is a bold and colorful
abstraction by Hans Hofmann that is entitled "Early Dawn."
An oil on canvas, it measures 50 1/2 by 84 inches and was executed
in 1957. It has an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000. It sold
for $2,112,000, just over the artist's previous auction record
of $2,056,000 set at Sotheby's May 15, 2007.
There are two "all red" masterpieces
at this auction, one by Lucio Fontana, the other by Clyfford Still.
Lot 27, "Concetto Spaziale, Attese,"
by Lucio Fontana (1899-1968), is a waterpaint on canvas that measures
31 7/8 by 25 1/2 inches. It was painted in 1965 and has an estimate
of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold for $1,496,000.
Lot 39 is a large red oil on
canvas by Clyfford Still (1904-1980) that is entitled "1955-D.
PH-387," measures 117 1/2 by 111 inches and has an estimate
of $7,000,000 to $9,000,000. It was once in the collection of
Ahmet Ertegun. It sold for $7,880,000.
Lot 3 is aluminum chest with
painted wood feet designed by Marc Newson (b. 1963). It has an
estimate of $700,000 to $900,000. It sold to Larry Gagosian
for $1,048,000, setting a new auction record for the artist.
Lot 25, "Figure 4,"
is an oil, encaustic and collage on canvas by Jasper Johns (b.
1930) that measures 20 1/4 by 15 1/2 inches. Executed in 1959,
it has an estimate on request. It sold for $17,400,000, just
eclipsing the artist's former auction record of $17,050,000 set
at Sotheby's November 10, 1988.
Car Crash" by Warhol is a serious painting about a tragic
twist of fate, and it stole the show. Its price tag was impressive,
but that was probably not the reason why. An artist known for
his partying and self-promotion stopped "playing" when
he began his "Death and Disaster" series, because he
knew the sun was setting on a way of life that could not sustain
Overall, this painting exemplifies
the level of quality of so many of the art works that made history
tonight, although none were as deeply moving. It was exceptionally
well lit in the auction room, flanked by a sublime Rothko. It
was wonderful to see Contemporary Art make history.
Lot 8, "While series II," by Morris
Louis sold for $2,896,000, setting an auction record for the artist.
Lot 10, "Quality Material...,"
by John Baldesarri, sold for $4,408,000, shattering the artist's
previous auction record of $992,000.
Lot 13, "Untitled, 1977 (77-41 Bernstein),"
by Donald Judd, sold for $9,840,000, setting an auction record
for the artist.
Lot 30, "Concetto Spaziale, Natura,"
by Lucio Fontana, sold for $1,832,000, setting an auction record
for a sculpture by the artist.
Lot 31, "Iterate," by Eva Hesse,
sold for $4,520,000, doubling the artist's previous world auction
record for a sculpture.
Lot 33, "Untitled, by Barnett Newman,
sold for $2,952,000, smashing the artist's previous world auction
record of $352,000 for a work on paper.
Lot 42, "The Desert," by Agnes
Martin, sold for $4,744,000, breaking the artist's previous auction
record of $2,584,000.
Lot 56, "Diagonal," by Susan Rothenberg,
sold for $1,496,000, setting a new auction record for the artist.
Lot 58, "Die Russin (Die Dresdner Frauen),
by Georg Baselitz, sold for $1,104,000, setting a new auction
record for a sculpture by the artist.
Lot 63, "Airplanes," by Wilhelm
Sasnal, sold for $396,000, besting the artist's previous auction
record of $216,000.
Lot 69, "Interior with Sideboard I,"
by Richard Artschwager, sold for $1,272,000, nicely over the artist's
previous auction record of $990,000.
Lot 71, "Untitled (Cowboy)," by
Richard Prince, sold for $2,840,000, more than double the previous
world auction record for a photograph by the artist.
Lot 73, "Untitled No. 92," by
Cindy Sherman, sold for $2,112,000. The previous auction record
for a work on paper by the artist was $665,600.
Lot 75, "Familie O-Mittag," by
Matthias Weischer, sold for $480,000, a new auction record for