By Michele Leight
Sun drenched "Beverly
Hills Housewife" by David Hockney (b. 1937) from the Betty
Freeman Collection leads the Post War and Contemporary Art cvening
sale at Christie's New York on May 13, 2009.
Painted between 1966-1967 it
has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $10,000,000, the highest estimate
in the sale that comprises 54 lots and is expected to achieve
between $71,500,000 and $104,530,000, a broad and realistic price
range, and the quality of the artworks is high.
The Hockney, Lot 14, a diptych
and an acrylic on canvas that measures 72 by 144 inches, sold
for $7,922,500 including the buyer's premium as do all results
mentioned in this article. The price was a world auction record
The auction was very successful
with 49 of the 54 offered lots selling for $93,734,500, almost
twice the result achieved at Sotheby's the night before (see The City Review article).
After the auction, Amy Cappellazzo
described the auction as "fantastic" and "very,
very strong" and said that "there was very broad, deep
bidding on a global level," adding, with a big smile because
of the current fiscal crisis, that it "felt vaguely like
a year ago" when prices were soaring.
Brett Gorvy, International
co-head and deputy chairman of the Contemporary Department, said
that 69 percent of the buyers were American, 27 percent were European,
two percent were Asian and two percent were others.
"There was definitely
magic in the area," he said, adding that "we had great
expectations." He said that he was gratified to see that
works by such artists as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Peter Doig and
Andy Warhol fared well despite some recent "backlash"
comments about them. Laura Paulsen, senior international director
and deputy chair of the department, added that "the sale
was really well textured."
If the Christie's experts
were a bit giddy from the "success" of the evening,
so too was the crowded auction room that burst in a loud round
of applause at the auction's conclusion.
This sale is highlighted by
works of art from the Betty Freeman Collection, a fusion of art
and sculpture as extraordinary as the woman herself. The pink
dress shown here in Christie's galleries is the one she wore for
her portrait in "Beverly Hills Housewife," and the bright
modern house depicted behind her was an informal gallery for many
artworks included in this sale, offering a glimpse into the private
life of a legendary collector, who lived surrounded by the creations
of her favorite artists, to be enjoyed as well as "collected."
The Betty Freeman Collection
is as extraordinary as the woman herself. The pink dress shown
here in Christie's galleries is the same one she wore for her
portrait in "Beverly Hills Housewife." The bright modern
house depicted behind her was an informal gallery for other works
from the Betty Freeman Collection on offer at this sale, offering
a nostalgic glimpse into the lifestyle of a legendary collector.
To call Betty Freeman just
a "housewife" is a deliberate understatement, and no
doubt she and Hockney enjoyed a good laugh over the title of the
painting. A legendary "modernist" who believed wholeheartedly
in the art of her time, Betty Freeman was an important benefactor
of contemporary artists, and of avant-garde classical composers
that are now household words - even among those that might not
be fans of classical music - John Cage, Phillip Glass and John
Adams to name a few. Lot 1,"Blue Goose," by Robert Wilson,
who created ground breaking "Einstein On the Beach,"
is the first lot of the collection, and has an estimate of $15,000
The epically scaled Hockney
dominates the sale, representing an iconic chapter in the history
of contemporary art. A native of Bradford, Yorkshire, (England),
Hockney fell in love with bright and beautiful California as soon
as he arrived there. The place became an important catalyst and
a successful subject for him - and it made him famous. He painted
California's light, palm trees and shimmering swimming pools with
measured detachment, now known as his "California Dreaming"
series. Betty Freeman and Hockney have remained lifelong friends,
and this painting is a celebration of the California lifestyle,
and his patron's extraordinary vision, personality and style.
Mark Porter, President of Christie's America described "Beverly
Hills Housewife" as a "highly competitive consignment
won by Christie's through creative marketing commitments, the
expertise of its specialists, and our long-term relationships
with the consignor rather than through guarantees or revenue sharing
"I'm always interested
in the new, and don't understand why everybody isn't. I like contemporary
painting, furniture, architecture. So of course I like contemporary
music....I like complexity, challenge, ambiguity, abstraction"
said Betty Freeman in an interview with The New York Times
Other highlights of this sale
include the very fine, amorphous "Grey" by Sam Francis
(1923-1994), also from the Betty Freeman Collection, that was
exhibited in "Twelve Americans" at the Museum of Modern
Art in 1956. It has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. The
1954 oil on canvas measures 119 by 75 3/4 inches and has an unusual
but quite rich palette. It sold for $3,66,500.
Another Francis painting from
the Betty Freeman Collection is Lot 4, "Blue and Yellow,"
a 1954 watercolor on canvas. It measures 29 3/4 by 22 inches and
has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $446,500.
Lot 27 is a stunning 1993 work
by the contemporary artist Peter Doig (b. 1959) entitled "Night
Fishing" that is reminiscent of a shimmering Joseph Mallord
William Turner. An oil on canvas, it measures 79 by 98 1/2 inches.
It has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It sold for
The Doig is large and features
a canoe in water, the perfect foil for mouthwatering painterly
effects that capture the ever-changing virtuoso effects light
enacts upon nature, a challenge that many great artists have transposed
to canvas in every possible style. This romantic waterscape evokes
Monet, Turner, and Caspar David Fredrich, the 19th century German
Romantic painter, who has also influenced Gerhard Richter.
Depicted at dusk, the canoe
is on the verge of disappearing into an amorphous mist in which
nothing is clearly defined except a pulsating color field. Doig's
romanticism is resonating with collectors, and prices for his
paintings have risen dramatically in the last few years. "Night
Fishing" is a dazzling work of art that made its presence
felt in a gallery packed with heavyweights of Post War and Contemporary
Peter Doig's subjects are often
prosaic - houses, beaches, lakes - culled from film stills, film
footage and photographs, which are then abstracted and transformed
through a rich variety of media into imaginary, otherworldly images
that are left unresolved, like "Night Fishing," where
a canoe appears to be dissolving into an amorphous, pulsating
color field. Tate
Britain held a major retrospective of Peter Doug's work in 2008, and his romanticism is resonating
with collectors, spurring a rise in prices for his work.
Another bright star from the
Betty Freeman Collection is Lot 6, "Frolic" by Roy Lichtenstein
(1923-1997) that he happily plagiarized from a painting by Picasso,
(who described himself as the best plagiarist he knew), "Baigneuse
au ballon de Plage," (1932), and from his own Pop Art "Girl
with Ball," which is universally recognized from the catalog
of The Museum of Modern Art (both paintings are in the MoMA Collection)
and which appears sporadically on everything from metro card holders
sold in its gift store to museum literature. This lot has an estimate
of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It sold for $6,018,500.
Lot 17, Roy Lichtenstein's
oval "Mirror #3," is an oil and magna on canvas that
measures 60 by 48 inches. It has an estimate $1,900,000 to $2,500,000.
It sold for $1,650,000.
Appropriating and subverting
a painting by the great Picasso was not off-limits for Lichtenstein,
who "lifted" images at will from popular culture and
re-worked them in his own "imitation print" paintings
that were carefully rendered by hand - with a traditional paintbrush,
a deliberate irony. A great and popular artist was no different
to a mirror, comic book character or garish advertisement, although
he did wait till after Picasso's death to take on one of his paintings
as a Pop Art subject.
Lot 15, "Brushstroke,"
by Roy Lichtenstein, is a painted and patinated bronze sculpture
that measures 54 1/2 by 27 1/2 by 10 1/2 inches. It is also from
the Betty Freeman Collection and has an estimate of $600,000 to
$900,000. It was passed at $480,000.
Lot 10, "Typewriter Eraser,"
is a painted aluminum, stainless steel, ferroconcrete and bronze
sculpture by Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929). It measures 89 1/2 by
80 by 70 inches and is from the Betty Freeman Collection. It has
an estimate of $1,400,000 to $1,800,000. It sold for $2,210,500,
setting a new auction record for the artist.
Other highlights from The Betty
Freeman Collection include Lot 9, "Portrait of Man Ray,"
by Andy Warhol, a 1974 synthethic polymer, acrylic and silkscreen
ink on canvas that measures 78 1/2 by 95 1/4 inches. It has an
estimate of $2,000,000 to $4,000,000. It sold for $2,098,500.
Other artists whose work Betty
Freeman collected and included in this sale are Alexander Calder,
Joseph Cornell, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and Bruce Nauman.
The 20 lots from the Betty
Freeman Collection are estimated at $24,000,000 to $37,000,000.
From the artist's "Ocean
Park" series is Richard Diebenkorn's luminous, Lot 29, "Ocean
Park No. 117," painted in 1979, is one of the best examples
in the series created over a period of twenty years, its colors
evoking the coast, light and topography of the location that inspired
it. The 45-inch square oil, graphite and charcoal on canvas, is
a sophisticated gem by Diebenkorn and has an estimate of $4,000,000
to $6,000,000. It sold for $6,578,500, just short of the artist's
auction record of $6,760,000.
This sale includes Lot 36,
"Corps de dames, la rose incarnate," a superb Jean Dubuffet
(1901-1985) from the collection of Caral Gimbel Lebworth, an accomplished
equestrian and lifelong patron of the arts, who was the daughter
of Bernard and Alva Gimbel, of Gimbels Department stores, once
the largest store company in the world that included Saks and
Co. Her third husband - after baseball star and Hall of Famer
Hank Greenberg - was Joseph Lebworth, with whom she spent the
last 46 years of her life, during which time their friends included
Leo Castelli, William Rubin, Andy Warhol, Christo and Jean Clause,
and she attended the star studded wedding of Elizabeth Taylor
to Mike Todd in Acapulco. Caral Gimbel Lebworth was also on the
board of Curators International, Plays for Living, and and supported
The Metropolitan Museum, the Whitney, the Guggenheim, and The
Museum of Modern Art. The Dubuffet is an oil on canvas that measures
46 by 35 1/2 inches and was painted in 1950. It has an estimate
of $700,000 to $1,000,000. It sold for $1,762,500.
Two very different "takes"
on women by heavyweights of contemporary art are illustrated here.
Lot 41 is a a rare depiction
of a female by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Entitled "Mater,"
it is an acrylic and oil stick on canvas that measures 72 by 83
inches and was executed in 1982. It has an estimate of $5,000,000
to $7,000,000 and is a portrait of his mother with whom he was
close, and who encouraged his art, depicted dramatically as a
martyr, with halo and outstretched arms. It sold for $5,850,500.
Lot 31, "Woman,"
is a superbly rendered 1953 work by Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)
that was formerly in the collection of Evelyn Annenberg Hall.
An oil, charcoal, wax crayon and graphite on paper laid down on
canvas, it measures 24 by 18 1/4 inches. It has an estimate of
$1,400,000 to $1,800,000. It sold for $3,666,500.
Lot 32 is a 1959 untitled oil
on paper laid down on board by Mark Rothko. It measures 29 7/8
by 21 7/8 inches. It has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000.
It was passed at $2,300,000.
Lot 48 is a large portrait
of Brigitte Bardot by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) that measures 47
by 47 1/4 inches and was executed in 1972. It has an estimate
of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. "Brigitte Bardot" is one
of five paintings offered at the evening sale by Warhol. It
sold for $2,770,500.
One of the other Warhols, "The
Last Supper,"Lot 44, is 10 feet long and was painted in 1986.
It has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It sold for
Lot 21, "Jim Beam - J.B.
Turner Engine," by Jeff Koons (b. 1955), is much smaller
in scale, and exquisitely crafted in stainless steel and bourbon.
It has an estimate of $700,000 to $1,000,000. It sold for $2,322,500.
Christopher Burge, the auctioneer, remarked that because the work
contained "alcohol" it was being sold not only by Christie's
but also by "Christie's Wines just to keep us legal."
Hans Hoffman's "Wild Vine,"
Lot 30, is a dramatic and bold 72-by-60-inch oil on canvas from
1961. It has an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for
Lot 47, "Our Town,"
by Kerry James Marshall (b. 1955), is an acrylic and painted paper
collage on canvas, 100 by 142 inches.It was executed in 1995.
It is an intensely personal, winsome depiction of "Our Town
and has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $782,500, easily shattering the artist's
previous auction record of $541,000 set at Sotheby's November
15, 2007. Marshall
was born in 1955 in Brimingham, Alabama, a cauldron of Civil Rights
activity at the time, then moved with his family to Los Angeles
when he was 8 years old, two years before the Watts Riots of 1963,
which made a deep impression on him. The "blackness"
of the figures in Marshall's work is deliberate - they almost
melt into a void - symbolizing the "invisibility of blacks
in America, and the negativity associated with "darkness."
The painting references race and identity in America. This highly
charged, rigorously executed canvas is as beautiful as it is socially
conscious. It commands the viewer's attention in the same was
as billboards and advertisements: "You still have to earn
your audience's attention every time you make something,"
says the artist.
Lot 34, "Laureline,"
is a smoky oil on canvas by Franz Kline (1910-1962) that measures
57 by 81 inches. It was painted in 1956. It has an estimate of
$3,000,000 to $5,000,000. It was passed at $1,700,000.
It and Lot 32, an untitled
oil on paper by Mark Rothko evoke moods, emotions and internalized
The auction has two works by
Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920). Lot 26, entitled "Lipsticks,"
is an oil on canvas that measures 12 by 9 inches and has an estimate
of $800,000 to $1,000,000. It sold for $1,202,500.
Lot 22, "Painting for
Kubler," by John Baldessari (b. 1931), has been requested
by the artist for his forthcoming retrospective "John Baldessari:
Pure Beauty," at Tate Modern in October 2009, continuing
through January 2011 at Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona,
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The Metropolitan Museum
of Art in New York. It has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000.
It sold for $3,666,500.
Lot 2, an untitled, 80-inch-square,
vacuum-formed translucent Plexigalss and neon tubing by Douglas
Wheeler (1939) has an estimate of $90,000 to $150,000. It sold
for $290,500, significantly more than the artist's previous world
auction recordof $78,000 set at Bonhams & Butterfields May
Lot 53, "Duck," a
painted steel sculpture by Tony Smith (1912-1980) measures 136
by 166 by 111 inches and has an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000.
It sold for $842,500, far exceeding the artist's previous world
auction record of $168,000 set a Chrisite's May 17, 2007.
At the press preview Robert
Manley, Co-Head of Christie's Evening Sale said: "We only
looked at top quality works for this sale, and walked away from
anything that was not."
The quality shows in this sale.