By Michele Leight
A sparkling "Baroque Egg
with Bow (Turquoise/Magenta)" by Jeff Koons (b. 1955) from
his "Celebration Series" has never come to auction before
and leads Sotheby's Contemporary Art evening sale on May 12, 2009.
Lot 9, it is made of high-chromium
stainless steel with transparent color coating. It measures 83
1/2 by 77 1/2 by 60 inches and was executed between 1994 and 2008.
It is one of five versions and this one is uniquely colored. It
has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000. It sold for $5,458,500
including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this
article. After the auction, Tobias Meyer, the auctioner told the
press conference that "Koons is a world-class aritst with
a very devoted collecting community and the price was a very serious
amount of money for a very serious work of art." "It's
a very different world, apples and oranges" from when his
major works sold for more than $20 million, Mr. Meyer emphasized,
adding that "the market is alive and well," and that
"new buyers were absolutely there"and that the auction
house was seeing more activity than last November.
The 39 of the 48 offered
lots sold for a total of $47,033,500 including the buyer's premiums.
The pre-sale estimate, which did not include the premiums was
$52,020,000 to $72,730,000.
"Monumental in scale and
joyously effusive in spirit, the handling and precision of the
scupture is astonishing," the catalogue entry for the lot
proclaims, adding that it is part of his "Celebration"
series that "focuses on toys, presents, and other small childhood
objects, all rendered with spectacular attention to detail and
phemnomal realism." The series consists of more than 20 sculptures
and 16 paintings.
Other highlights of the auction
include Martin Kippenberger's "Untitled," with an estimate
of $3,500,000 to $4,500,000, which is the catalogue's cover illustration,
Robert Rauschenbers's "Transom," a rare Twombly, a delicate
and graceful Calder, and a superb Basquiat entitled "Red
Lot 7, "Untitled,"
by Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997) is a self-portrait painted
in 1988 that was based on David Douglas Duncan's famous photograph
of Picasso in his swimming trunks. At a press preview, Alex Rotter
explained that Kippenberger had wanted to be the world's greatest
painter but here he has donned Picasso's garb but depicts himself
rather unflatteringly, reflecting probably that his quest will
not succeed. It sold for $4,114,500, an auction record for
the artist who is the subject of a major exhibition now at the
Museum of Modern Art in New York.
"This is obviously a very
different market from just a year ago," said Alex Rotter,
Head of the Contemporary Art Department in New York. "Therefore
we decided on quite a different approach for this season's sale.
We wanted to ensure that we had an excellent representation of
iconic names, which we achieved."
"We also wanted to include
artists whose works have been somewhat scarce and whose appeal,
as a result, has remained consistent, among them Kippenberger,
Wool, Gober, Wall and Munoz, all of whom have been celebrated
with recent exhibitions and major museum retrospectives. And so,
together with their work, we have included rare and choice examples
by Rauschenberg, Calder and Twombly," Mr. Rotter added. Lot
13, "Myo," is an oil based house paint and earth on
canvas painted in 1951 by Cy Twombly (b. 1938). It measures 30
by 40 1/4 inches and was executed in 1951. It has an estimate
of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $338,500.
Lot 20, "Transom,"
by Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) was painted in 1963, after
his ground breaking Combine Paintings. "Transom" is
one in a luscious series of experimental photo-silkscreens Rauschenberg
helped pioneer with Andy Warhol that incorporated photographic
images from print media, laid down in his now universally recognized
collage style. Unlike the Combines, this powerful, Colored Silkscreen
Painting is two dimensional, signifying Rauschenberg's return
to the canvas. Art and life fuse as the Velasquez' "Rokeby
Venus" co-exists with swathes of red, yellow and blue wash,
New York City water towers, an army helicopter and an open cube.
It has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It failed to
sell and was passed at $3,400,000.
Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988(
was influenced by Robert Rauschenberg's Combines, and he used
collage, paint, and constructive elements such as wood in many
of his paintings. Lot 23, "Red Man One," evokes noble
African masks and primitive paintings with energy and vitality.
Graffiti infused iconography and the artist's trademark crown
- this one more like Lady' Liberty's, or a crown of thorns than
a monarch's - combine to form a human figure unlike any in contemporary
art. "Red Man One's" skeleton is incised on his body,
a nod to Leonardo da Vinci's anatomical drawings, which fascinated
Basquiat. It has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $5,000,000. It
sold for $3.554.500.
"Red Man One" references
the African traditions of ornamenting the body and face with paint.
This dignified stereotype of African heritage gave Basquiat a
fresh "take" on the urban, African American male, offering
a graceful antidote to the ugly realities of racism. Basquiat
used pigment aggressively, magnificently, like war paint. It says
as much about his struggle for identity and stature as his childlike
iconography, and strong, often angry drawing, the perfect armor
for his vulnerability. "Red Man One" challenges the
viewer like a proud warrior, ready to engage in battle. This superb
portrait is mounted on an unpretentious frame of found materials,
probably made by the artist.
Sotheby's will offer 5 paintings
by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) in the evening sale, including a beguiling
purple and black "Mona Lisa," from the Estate of Andy
Warhol and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Lot
4, "Kellogg's Cornflakes (Los Angeles Type)," created
in 1970 for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which retains
fifty seven of the 100 in the series, and Lot 32, "Fifteen
One Dollar Bills," from 1962, that references American consumerism
and desire, and according to Sotheby's catalogue for this sale
is one of a small group of works on paper created with the use
of a wood block mounted with a metal relief dollar design. Lot
22 has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for
$1,762,500. Lot 4 has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000.
It sold for $482,500. Lot 32 has an estimate of $750,000
to $1,000,000. It sold for $902,500.
In "Double Mitered Maze,"
Lot 33, illustrated above with Anthony Grant, Senior International
Specialist, Contemporary Art, Sotheby's, was painted in 1967 by
Frank Stella (b. 1936). The alkyd on canvas measures 62 1/4 by
124 3/4 inches and and has an estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000.
It failed to sell and was passed at $850,000. It combines
his signature geometric patterns with vibrant colors, leaving
behind his earlier monochromatic palette.
Lot 42, "Flin Flon,"
is an acrylic on canvas that measures 108 inches square and was
executed in 1970. It was originally from the Leo Castelli Gallery,
New York, and is all curves and wall power. It has an estimate
$700,000 to $1,000,000. It failed to sell and was passed at
$600,000. A gorgeous blue, green, red, pink and yellow Dan
Flavin (1933-1996), Lot 41, "Untitled (to Alex and Nikki),"
is 144 inches high and has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000,
while his exceptionally beautiful "'Monument' for V. Tatlin,"
Lot 28, is a glowing tower of cool white fluorescent light, originally
from Pace Wildenstein has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000.
Lot 41 passed at $240,000. Lot 28 sold for $482,500.
Three very different sculptures
by Calder, David Smith and Claes Oldenberg offer a counterpoint
to wall art. Lot 21, "Typewriter Eraser," by Oldenberg
has an estimate of $350,000-450,000, originally from Leo Castelli
Gallery, New York
Illustrated above is Lot 19,
"Large Circle (Voltri)," by David Smith (1906-1965),
created during Smith's trip to Italy in 1962, when he was invited
to submit two works to the "Festival of Two Worlds"
in Spoleto, Italy, an annual tradition since 1958. Fortuitously,
Smith found he had access to abandoned industrial sites in neighboring
Voltri, a treasure trove of the "found" mechanical components
and industrial detritus he delighted in, leftover from factories
that once made parts for cars, trucks that could be forged and
re-worked into cutting edge, yet timeless sculptures like this:
" ...the great quiet of stopped machines - the awe...exceeded
that of visits to museums in Genoa or even the ancient art in
other cities. The beauties of the forge shop...the found tombs
of early twentieth century" (David Smith, ed, by Garnett
McCoy, New York, 1975, pp. 156-158, courtesy Sotheby's catalog
for this sale). The lot has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000.
It sold for $2,602,500.
The heft of Smith's sculpture
contrasts dramatically with the extraordinary delicacy of an early
Alexander Calder (1898-1976). Lot 15 is entitled "Ebony Sticks
in Semi-Circle," and was created in 1934. It has an estimate
of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000 and has been in the same private collection
for almost 50 years, acquired after it was exhibited in Chicago
at the Renaissance Society in an exhibit of Calder's work in 1935.
It looks as contemporary as anything created today. It sold
A seminal work from the 1980s
and 1990s is an untitled work, Lot 6, by Robert Gober (b. 1954).
It is a disembodied cast wax torso covered in musical notations
transcribed from sheet music he found in the street. A similar
torso exists in "The Garden of Earthly Delights," by
Hieronymous Bosch, minus the hair. This is one of only two sculptures
inspired by Bosch's painting, and it was included in Gober's mysterious,
1991 installation at the Jeu de Paume in Paris. The lot has an
estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It was passed at $2,400,000
and after the sale Mr. Meyer said that it was "a very important
and very rare" work by the artist and that he was "very
confident it will sell after the sale."
Lot 12 is a marvelously tactile
large sculpture entitled "Stamens of Sorrow" by Yayoi
Kusama (b. 1929). A fabric covered wood box construction it is
filled with cotton, wire stamens and spray paint and has 120 parts,
each 14 1/4 by 9 5/8 by 5 1/2 inches. It was created in 1985 and
has an estimate of $700,000 to $1,000,000. It sold for $758,500,
an auction record for a sculpture by the artist.
Lot 40 is an untitled work
by Donald Judd (1928-1994) that is made of cor-ten steel and red
plexiglass. Executed in 1989, it measures 40 by 40 by 30 inches
and it has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for
Lot 5 is an ethereal video
installation by the always very poetic Bill Viola (b. 1951). Entitled
"The Last Angel," it focuses on angels as the link between
heaven and earth, and there is no medium more suited to conveying
a sense of other-worldliness or transition than video. Here Viola
hones in on the amorphous properties of water - a consistent theme
for Viola, who almost drowned as a child. The experience was more
peaceful than traumatic for him however, and it transposes to
superb videos like this that have a soothing, hypnotic effect,
like an ultra-sophisticated lava lamp: "The most important
place where my work exists is not in the museum gallery or in
the screening room, or on the television, and not even on the
video screen itself, but in the mind of the viewer who has seen
it." (Robert Violette and Bill Viola, eds. Reasons for Knocking
at an Empty House: Writings 1973-1994, London 1995, p 173, courtesy
Sotheby's catalogue for this sale). The work is shown on a 50-inch
plasma screen with speakers and it is 1 from an edition of 5.
It has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $386,500.
Joan Mitchell and Cecily Brown's
paintings span several decades and share sophisticated, organic
imagery and lush brush work that make them highly desirable in
any collection of contemporary art today. Lot 47, "Girls
Eating Birds," by Brown (b. 1968) has an estimate of $700,000
to $900,000. It sold for $1,202,500.
Lot 17, "Untitled,"
by Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) was painted in 1960 and measures
49 3.4 by 43 inches. It has an estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000.
It sold for $1,202,500.
Lot 38, "Red Self-Portrait,"
by Yan Pei-Ming (b. 1960) is a oil on canvas that measures 137
3/4 inches square and was executed in 2007. It has an estimate
of $700,000 to $900,000. It sold for $626,500.
Lot 49, Kara Walker's powerful
"KKK: "the Prescript of the Order of the invisible Empire
- It's Peculiar Objects' listed under Moonlit skies by the Grand
Cyclops amid his hooded hench-men...a Negress, deep in the Woods
Beyond, overhears," by Kara Walker (b. 1969), is self-explanatory,
skillfully deploying silhouettes. It was executed in 2001 and
measures 78 by 186 inches. It has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000.
It sold for $206,500.
Lot 14 is a strong representational
painting by Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) entitled "Cane
Chair Outside." An oil on canvas, it measures 32 by 27 inches
and it was painted in 1959. It has an estimate of $1,800,000 to
$2,500,000. It was passed at $1,500,000.
Lot 29 is a very bright and
bold and colorful abstraction by Gerhard Richter (b. 1932). It
is an oil on canvas that measures 79 by 63 1/8 inches and was
dated in 1984. It has an estimate of $1,800,000 to $2,500,000.
It sold for $1,762,500.
An untitled work by Christopher
Wool, Lot 3, sold for $1,874,500 breaking his previous auction
record of $1,810,276.
Auction records were also
set for Dan Colen for an untitled work, Lot 5, that sold for $386,500
and for Juan Munoz, Lot 37, which sold for $698,500.
There is much to delight and
entice at this sale, spanning many decades of contemporary right
up to the present. The works of art have been chosen with care,
and are compelling in different ways.