By Carter B. Horsley
Philips de Pury's evening auction of Contemporary
Art May 15, 2008 has several important masterpieces by Anselm
Kiefer, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Damien Hirst, and Wayne Thiebaud
and stellar works by Jeff Koons, Gerhard Richter, Anish Kapoor
and all presented magnificently in the auction house's very impressive
and large catalogues.
Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945) is probably the world's
greatest living artist, capable of introducing and tackling great
and mighty and difficult themes and using a limited and usually
unusual palette and producing works of great drama, if not beauty.
Lot 131, "The Secret Life of Plants," is a classic and
very fine Kiefer. An oil and acrylic on lead, with wire and plaster
coated branches on canvas in two parts. The work measures 110
1/2 by 347 by 7 1/2 inches and was executed in 2001. It has a
modest estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for $1,833,000
including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this
article. Of the 64 lots offered for sale, 55 sold for $59,001,000.
The catalogue entry provides the following
"Beginning in the mid-1960s, kiefer began
developing a visual language that challenged the absence of a
collective memory in Germany culture. These predominant themes
of national identity and myth represent the artist's approach
to understanding and conceptualizing the past. In these early
years, Kiefer's style developed out of a response to the fascist
use of images of national identity and culture as symbols of power.
In reclaiming these images, the aritst was explicitly pointing
to the absence of adequate cultural images in post-war Germany.
Kiefer's medium - painting - focuses the viewer to take a stance,
to associate or dissociate with a historical meta-marrative....As
an artist, Kiefer's talent lies in his ability to move between
these referential spaces, manipulating the philosophical and poltical
myths that occupy Westen mythology. These myths are crucial allegories
for expression within Kiefer's visual language, as they represent
an artistic effort to reconcile a rupture withi the icons, myths,
and themes of German culture. The Secret Life Of Plants represents
Keifer's ability to construct highly complex metaphors rich with
layers of personal experience and collectve memory. The present
lot, which derives its name from an eponymously titled book, is
a fascinating account of the physical, emotional, and spiritual
relations between plants and man. Within Kiefer's working method,
quotation is a strategy for resurrection."
All that may be true, but Kiefer's relevance
is not confined to Germany and its myths and traumas, nor is it
contained by theories and "meta-narratives."
Lot 121 is a memorable work by Jean-Michel
Basquiat (1960-1988) entitled "Untitled (Fallen Angel)."
An acrylic and oilstick on canvas, it measures 66 by 78 inches
and was executed in 1981 when as the grafitti artist known as
SAMO he shifted to canvas, "skillfully adopting the purlieus
where he learned to become an artist to the more formal gallery
environs," according to the catalogue entry for this lot.
"Making the transition from the street
to the studio," the entry commented, "is a crucial component
of Basquiat's visual language during these early moments of this
career. The nervous, frenetic, and fierce style that Basquiat
cultivated was emblematic of his desire to know everything and
express his accumulated knowledge through visual symbols. During
the cultural sonic of the early 1980s, the artist's style and
iconography capture the charisma and dynamism with impressive
authorial assuredness, negotiating the critical boundary between
pictorial cacophony and compositional genius. This astounding
energy in the nascent period of Basquiat's artistic career would
become a definitive strategy of creative deconstruction. Splicing
and juxtaposing images and ideas from the two worlds he straddled
during 1981 would eventually establish his signature style....Unparalleled
in its ambition, the preset lot represents Basquiat's earliest
crowning achievement as an accomplished artist."
The lot has an estimate of $8,000,000 to $12,000,000.
It sold for $11,200,000.
Lot 111 is a marble self-portrait by Jeff Koons
(b. 1965) that is 37 1/2 by 20 1/2 by 14 1/2 inches. It is from
an edition of three plus one artist's proof and it was made in
1991. It has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000. The work
comes from the artist's series Made in Heaven that was
a sensaton at the Sonnabend Gallery in 1991. It sold for about
$2 million when it was offered at Phillips in November, 2002 and
at this auction it sold for $7,500,000.
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"Self-Portrait offers an idealized
likeness of the artist in the form of a traditional art-historical
marble bust. The artist continues to deftly mix the high culture
signatories of classical art with the low brow aesthetics of pornography
in this work, a quinessential piece from the Made in Heaven
series. Koons co-opts the bust-length portrait, for use in his
over-the-top kitsch way, referencing a long history of portraiture
generally reserved for gods, emperors, kings and saints, to display
the artist as a god-like figure."
Lot 116 is a stainless-steel caboose, 9 1/4
by 14 1/2 by 6 5/8 inches, filled with bourbon and it comes from
Jeff Koons's 1986 exhibition "Luxury and Degradation."
The workis from an edition of three and one artist's proof. It
has an estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000. It sold for $1,200,000.
Lot 101 is a large and interesting collage,
acrylic paint and felt tip pen work on canvas by Mark Bradford
(b. 1961), entitled "I Thought You Knew." It measures
72 1/4 by 84 1/4 inches and was executed in 2001.
"Bradford seeks to establish his own identiy
in his work by drawing on notions of beauty and ethnicity. Thelma
Goldin, curator at the Studio Museum Harlem, used the term 'postblack'
to describe the latest output of work by young African-American
artists in a recent exhibition titled Freestyle which included
Bradford's work. Bradford's artistic practice is influenced by
his personal experience growing up and eventually working in a
beauty salon in South Los Angeles. He uses overlapping squares
of cellophane and paper in ways that mimic the various dying,
straightening and curling processes of the salon. Layered over
salvaged remnants of posters and alongside collaged images from
hairstyling magazines, the artist's canvas is a composition of
shimmering, variegated forms that shine through the uneven surface
The lot has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000.
It sold for $325,000.
One of the more striking works is Lot 104,
"Skeletal Implosion #3," by Steven Parrino (1958-2005).
Enamel paint and gesso on canvas, it measures 84 1/4 inches in
diameter and was painted in 2001. The artist has pulled the painted
canvas away from its stretcher to create a sculptural object.
The lot has an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for
Lot 107 is a humorous sculpture by Tom Friedman
(b. 1965), that measures 60 by 39 by 22 1/2 inches. Entitled "Garbage
Can," it was executed in 2003. It has an estimate of $500,000
to $700,000. It sold for $505,000.
Lot 117 is a very dazzling
circular "stained-glass" work created by Damien Hirst
with butterflies and gloss household paint. The work is 72 inches
in diameter and was created in 2006, some 15 years after his first
butterfly paintings were exhibited in his first solo show at the
Woodstock Gallery in London in 1991. It has an estimate of $1,500,000
to $2,000,000. The title comes from poem by Philip Larkin. It
sold for $1,600,000.
Gerhard Richter (b. 1932) is represented in
the auction by Lot 119, a 78 7/8-inch square oil on canvas that
he painted in 1986. The "abstract" landscape has, according
tothe catalogue, affinities with Max Ernst and Piet Mondrian and
Kasimir Malevich. It is extremely painterly, as all almost all
his works, but unlike many of his "abstract" works this
one has considerable specificity in the sunset and waterfall sections
although the dense, rich, lush thickery at the right is very impressive.
The lot has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It sold
Lot 144 is a fine acrylic on canvas by Wayne
Thiebaud (b. 1920). Entitled "Cat and Traffic," it measures
15 3/4 by 20 inches and was executed in 1993. It has an estimate
of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It failed to sell.
"Cat and Traffic captures the unique
San Francisco landscape using Thiebaud's renowned compositional
talent and grasp of appealing colors. Thiebaud focuses on the
basic shapes of urban scenery, the high arch of the interstate
in the distance, the long shadow of the high-rise building, the
corner of the apartment balcony overlooking it all. Images of
city life are a natural extension of the pop imagery Thiebaud
was closely associated with in the 1960s. During this era, Thiebaud
produced a series of paintings of consumer goods found in storefront
windows - icons of the new American middle-class lifestyle. Much
like his contemporaries - Warhol, Lichtenstein and Ruscha - Thiebaud's
work exhibits a curiosity about popular culture, a relatively
new phenomenon in the early post-war years. Thiebaud's shift away
from the serial repetition of his Pop iconography results in a
studied exploration of the juxtaposition between city life and
nature, a celebration of modern civilization. Thiebaud's artistic
talents lie in the ability to construct tightly composed images
that guide the viewer's eye through the image. Like a storyteller,
Thiebaud's brushstrokes carefully narrate the scene, evolving
a dialogue through the pictorial space."
This is a superb Thiebaud that is monumental
despite its relatively small size. The intimidating cityscape
is nicely guarded and moderated by the calm cat on the edge of
This auction has several works that focus on
architectural. Lot 149, "Rudera," is a lavish andlarge
depiction of a golden space of struts and pergolas by Martin Kobe
(b. 1973). An acrylic on canvas, it measures 110 1/4 by 177 1/4
inches and was paited in 2006. It has an estiamte of $150,000
to $200,000. It sold for $205,000.
Lot 150, "House (13 floors)," is
an oil on canvas by Dirk Skreber (b. 1961). Executed in 1990,
it measures 80 3/4 by 38 1/4 inches and has an estimate of $120,000
to $180,000. It sold for $121,000.
Lot 152 is a strong composition by Thomas Scheibitz
(b. 1968) that is entitled "Rosenweg." An oil on canvas,
it measures 78 3/4 by 110 1/4 inches and was executed in 1999.
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"Thomas Scheibitz's hyper-futuristic abstractions
appropriate the concepts of digitalization into the medium of
painting. Scheibitz constructs a universally recognizable idea
of reality though the language of technological coding. Yet, painterly
gestures and drips remind the viewer that the human hand is the
source of creation speaking on behalf of the imagination. Rosenweg
fuses organic shapes with geometric lines in a panoptic landscape
that is further developed through overlapping layers and scaling.
...As an imaginative vision of the locale where nature and technology
meet, Rosenweg represents a synthetic concept of reality."
The lot has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000.
It sold for $169,000.
Julian Schnabel (b. 1951) outdid himself in
2007. Not only did he produce a widely praised motion picture
but he also built a Venetian-style palazzo in the Far West Village,
both two of the most interesting projects of the year. He also
decorated the interiors of the Gramercy Hotel facing Gramercy
Park, which quickly become one of the city's premier watering
holes for the young and well-off. Lot 141 is a classic broken-plate
painting for which the artist is famous. Entitled "Tomorrow
I Shave," it is acrylic and ceramic pieces on wooden panel
in two parts. The work measures 102 3/4 by 96 inches and was created
in 1987. It has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold
See The City Review article on the Christie's,
May 20, 1999 Contemporary Art Part 2 auction