By Michele Leight
The works of art on offer at Christie's New York Contemporary Art Day sale May 12, 2011 are a reflection of the quality in the evening sale, many with great provenance, with a much wider range in prices, offering the aspiring collector and art-lover the chance to acquire works by leading post-war and contemporary artists.
In the morning sale, stellar paintings by important Abstract Expressionists painters such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Richard Pousette-Dart share the stage with Jasper Johns, Yayoi Kusama, a stunning winter landscape by Richard Estes, and incredible Pop Art pieces by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, and Robert Indiana - the power elite of Pop Art , whose undisputed king is Warhol. At every price, and regardless of subject matter, Warhol has emerged as an artist whose work continues to entice and excite buyers at auction.
Christie's Morning Sale totaled $31,406,625. The top lot of the sale was Lot 145, "Jackie," by Andy Warhol, that sold for $1,482,500 (with an estimate of $700,000 to $1,000,000).
There are several Warhol's on offer in this sale, but it is the images from his more serious "Death and Disaster Series" that are most in demand, because of the seriousness of the subjects portrayed, which aligns him with the giants of contemporary art, not just Pop Art. Warhol was obsessed with accidental death. It is the subject of many images in his "Death and Disaster" series, which, together with his icons like Liz, Marilyn and Jackie, are considered his most important and generate considerable interest when they are presented at auction. Lot 145, "Jackie," is a deceptively happy portrait of First Lady Jackie Kennedy, from 1964.Christie's catalogue for this sale notes: "In this particular image, the smiling First Lady appears relaxed and glamorous wearing her trademark pill box hat. And yet, as in Warhol's pictures of Marilyn Monroe, there is a dark undercurrent to this portrait. For its context contradicts the smiling happiness of its content: this picture was taken on the morning of 22 November 1963 upon the President and first Lady's arrival in Dallas only hours before a gunshot would forever alter American history. It is this sense of inevitablility that is captured in Jackie, a sense of imminent tragedy that is at odds with the open smiles of the picture itself."
Jonathan Laib, Head of the Morning Session of Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Department remarked: "Christie’s extraordinary season for Post-War and Contemporary art charges through, following Wednesday’s spectacular Evening Sale. The Morning and Afternoon Sessions totaled more than $65 million and sold 92 percent by value and 89 percent by lot.” Important prices were achieved for Andy Warhol’s Jackie, 1964, which realized $1,482,500; Roy Lichtenstein’s Entablature No.2 which achieved $1,142,500 and Yayoi Kusama’s Self Obliteration, which realized $1,022,500 - all well above their high estimates.”
The gruesome, tragic, silkscreen ink on paper, Lot 147, "Ambulance Disaster," (1963), by Warhol depicts the sudden, brutal end of a life in an accident. The figure has not yet been covered up by an institutional white sheet, it is vulnerable and exposed. Christie's catalogue for this sale notes: "According to Peter Halley 'The Disasters' constitute a key moment in (Warhol's) work. Suddenly the sassy young man, who had burst on the scene with images of Campbell's Soup, Coca-Cola, dollar bills and movie stars, was turning his attention to the death-obsessed underbelly of American life. These paintings must have been a tremendous shock when they first appeared, revealing that Pop Art was much more than an iconic joke for Warhol. With the Disasters, Warhol succeeded in separating himself from the other Pop Artists, who, for the most part, continued to occupy themselves with the mechanics of mass-market image-making. He defined himself as an artist operating on a truly ambitious stage, willing to take on the big issues of human existence - mortality, the randomness of life and death, and the impersonal cruelty of state power. By so doing, he created a link for himself to not only the pessimism and humanism of Goya and Picasso, but more importantly, to Abstract Expressionsim and its existential and metaphysical concerns - concerns which had been mostly abandoned by the artists of the 60s."(P. Halley, "Fifteen Little Electric Chairs,"Andy Warhol Little Electric Chair Paintings, exh.cat. Stellan Holm Gallery, New York, 2001, p.40.)
Lot 147 has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $1,022,500, far exceeding its high estimate.
Warhol's appeal appears to be universal, reflected season after season at auction, not just by the high prices achieved for his best works, but by the sheer excitement and buzz it generates in the room, which is often electrifying. In Christie's evening sale on May 11, 2011, a bidding war over an early Warhol self-portrait lasted aabout 15 minutes - an art auction bidding record! Great collectors have always wanted Warhol's iconic "Green Car Crash," or his wonderful Marilyn, Liz and Jackie silkscreens. Now it seems they also want self-portraits of Andy himself. Warhol has created his own, universally recognizable, "brand."
Lot 115, "Shadows," by Andy Warhol, is one of his increasingly popular abstracts, that looks nothing like the happy-go-lucky portraits of Coca-Cola bottles, consumer goods and star-studded celebrities. Measuring 14 by 11 inches, it has an estimate of $40,000 to $50,000. It sold for $84,100. Lot 156, "Diamond Dust Shoes" is a throw-back to the early part of Warhol's career in the 1950s when he "worked as a commercial illustrator, making footwear advertisements for the I. Miller Shoe Company. Warhol rendered shoes fancifully and capriciously, injecting the company's sedate image with glamour. His drawings became well known, a calling card for the young artist, bolstering his burgeoning fame." (Christie's catalogue for this sale).
It was the imaginative merging of the shoes with diamond dust (galvanized glass) - and that irresistible sparkle - that caused a stir, and transported "shoes" into the pantheon Warhol's mass-market consumer goods. The shoes received their own high-profile exhibition at Gagosian Gallery in 1999, "Diamond Dust Shoes," in which Warhol's friend Vincent Freemont comments in the catalog: "Andy created the Diamond Dust Shoe paintings just as the disco, lame, and stillettos of Studio 54 had captured the imagination of the Manhattan glitterati. Andy, who had been in the vanguard of the New York club scene since the early 60s, once again reflected the times he was living in through his paintings" (V. Freemont, Diamond Dust Shoes, exh. cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, 1999, pp.8-9; included in Christie's catalog for this sale). Lot 156, "Diamond Dust Shoes" by Andy Warhol, has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $662,500)Strong drawing was at the core of Warhol's "oevre," and critical to the production of his silkscreen paintings. His skill as an illustrator is evident in many superb sketches, and silk-screens on paper or canvas in this sale. Sadly it is not possible to cite or illustrate them all. Lot 187, "Paul Delvaux," (estimate $150,000 to $200,000/it sold for 170,500), is a portrait of the artist, who Warhol met in Brussels, and greatly admired. Christie's catalog for this sale notes: "Considered alongside Magritte as a leading exponent of the Surrealists, Delvaux himself did not really regard his art as Surreal. Although for a long time he was associated with the Belgian group of Surrealists led by E.L.T. Mesens, he considered his art to be a renewed form of classicism that sought to evoke the poetry of everyday life rather than an art that stricktly adhered to Surrealist principles."
There is also a silkscreen in ink on board in this sale that looks like a work by Edvard Munch, but it is a slick replica by Warhol, Lot 257, "Eva Mudocci, After Munch," (estimate $120,000 to $180,000/it sold for $158,500). He was mischievious. What is incredible about Warhol is his consistency, given the enormous number of works he made. Whether it is a simple pencil sketch, or a full-blown silkscreen of a First Lady, Warhol "brands" each work of art indelibly.
A superb set of lithographs by Jasper Johns, Lot 149, "Color Numeral Series (ULAE 59-68)," (estimate $300,000 to $500,000), is shown in the photograph above, with Yayoi Kusama's wonderful mixed-media installation, Lot 184, "Self-Obliteration," that was a clear favorite during viewing hours in the gallery prior to its sale. It has an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000. Lot 184, by sold for $1,022,500. Lot 149 sold for $722,500.
Two very different - and really fun - works of art in this sale are Lot 127, Roy Lichtenstein's bold graphic "Screen with Brushstrokes," (Lot 127), with an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000 (it sold for $302,500), and "Eco-Echo VI," Lot 151, by Robert Rauschenberg. Lot 151 is a "propellor" installation that was exhibited in "Robert Rauschenberg: A Retrospective," at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, The Menil Collection, Contemporary Arts Museum and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum Ludwig Cologne and Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, from September 1997 to February 1999. There is a photograph in the catalogue of Rauchenberg assembling "Eco-Echo VI." He is oblivious to the camera, focused only on the placement of the propellers in what would become this winsome work of art. The result is quite wonderful. Lot 151 has an estimate of $180,000 to $250,000. It sold for $171,500.
Lot 155, "Suspended Mobile," by Roy Lichtenstein, 50 1/4 by 76 1/4 by 4 inches, 1990, from an edition of 19 plus 4 artists's proofs
Lot 155 is a beautiful "Suspended Mobile" by Lichtenstein that was created in 1990 in an edition of19 plus 4 artist's proofs. It measures 50 1/4 by 76 1/4 by 4 inches. It has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It failed to sell.
Lot 107, "Untitled," by Lee Krasner, watercolor and ink on paper, 27 by 22 1/4 inches, 1969, top; Lot 108, "Spanish Elegy Study," by Robert Motherwell, oil on paper, 18 by 35 inches, 1979, bottom
Lot 107 is bright and cheery, untitled abstraction by Lee Krasner (1908-1984). It is a watercolor and ink on paper that measures 27 by 22 1/4 inches and was created in 1969. It has an estimate of $70,000 to $100,000. It failed to sell.
Lot 108 is a "Spanish Elegy Study" by Robert Motherwell (1915-1991) that is an oil on paper that measures 18 by 35 inches. it was created in 1979 and has an estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. It sold for $182,500.
Lot 163, "Antarctica VI," by Richard Estes, is as magnificent a landscape painting as it is possible to imagine, depicting one of the world's last great wildernesses. However, it is desolate, not idealized. We see the passenger boat on the right, a connection to the world we know, teeming with crowds, fumes and noise. The subject's isolation and remoteness from civilization is off-set by our knowledge that this is not an image made by a lone explorer of myth and fantasy, but a journey into a part of the world we shall probably never see. Unlike Estes famous cityscapes with their raw, urban energy, this dramatic and cinematic portrayal of nature is epic, and its exquisite painterliness removes any likeness to many world-famous photographs of similar uncharted territory. Christie's catalogue for this sale notes that "Antarctica VI is one of the largest and grandest of the Antarctica series." Lot 163 has an estimate of $450,000 to $550,000. It sold for $542,500.
Lot 164 is a fine oil on canvas by Ralph Goings (b. 1928) that is entitled "Tux" and measures 32 by 46 inches. It was created in 2003 and has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It failed to sell.
Lot 144, "Protractor Variation," by Frank Stella, is one of the most gorgeous paintings by the artist to appear at auction. It has the impact of an awe-inspiring stained glass window, set like a jewel in a cavernous interior with a lofty, vaulted ceiling. Lot 144 has an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for $842,500.
Within a decade, that "mystic strain" would reach epic proportions in Pollock's gargantuan drip paintings. Lot 214 has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $278,500.
Also illustrated is Lot 130, "Eye-Scape," a late painting by Pollock, made at the height of his creative powers when he was "already famous." Once again he radically changed course, breaking away from his now famous "drip" paintings, instead incorporating earlier totemic imagery into his work. Christie's catalog for this sale notes: "The fertile soil of the creative unconscious was something Pollock instinctively grasped. He was proud of his roots in the West, and mythologized his kinship with nature and contact with indigenous Native Americans during his childhood. Their rituals and practices, such as Navajo sand painting, were sacred acts of image-making that elevated the status of the artist as hero/healer and emphasized the artist's melding with his materials/tools so that there was a continuous flow of energy from the artists hand to the medium, and ultimately to the picture. The balletic grace of Pollock's movements that is singularly captured in the photographs and films by Hans Namuth reveals Pollocks confidence of achieving unity with the medium, therefore ensuring the pictorial integrity of the work." Lot 130 has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $782,500.
A next-generation artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, idolized Pollock, Dubuffet and Warhol. Pollock's return to a more linear style, evident in "Eye-Scape, leaves room for amorphous shapes and totemic images. Totemic imagery is inseparable from Basquiat's work, and his presence is felt in this painting, although there are no artworks by him in this sale. Pollock's use of unprimed canvas was also influential, allowing paint to seep and flow with variable intensity, as it does in exquisite "Eye-Scape." This technique was also adopted by the next wave of American painters - younger artists like Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler - who took it further with Color Field and "stain" painting. Lot 220, "Summer Insignia," by Helen Frankenthaler has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $254,500.
Lot 207, "Champ d'expansion," by Jean Dubuffet, demonstrates the strong "drawing" and amazingly energetic brushwork of the legendary artist, who influenced many famous artists. This beautiful work on paper was painted a year before Dubuffet died, aged 86. Lot 207 has an estimate of $120,000 to $180,000. It sold for $152,500.
Lot 129, "Fantasie," by Richard Pousette-Dart, is a superb painting by the artist, whose "prime legacy rests with his paintings and drawings that he began exhibiting in New York in the 1940s. A first generation artist of The New York school, Pousette-Dart was included in many seminal exhibitions, including solo and group exhibitions at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century gallery, the Venice Biennale in 1948, MoMA's Contemporary American Painters in 1949 and regularly in the Whitney annual surveys of American art." (Christies catalogue for this sale). He joined Betty Parsons Gallery, and "Fantasie" was included in his first one-man exhibition there in 1948. Pousette-Dart was one of the "enfants terrible" included in the famous "Life" magazine photograph (taken by Nina Leen for Time/Life, in 1951) entitled "Irascibles," featuring what was to become the "Whos Who" of The New York School artists that shook the foundations of the art world establishment: Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Clifford Still, William Baziotes, Willem de Kooning, Theodoros Stamos and Ad Rhinehart, to name only some. (See "Abstract Expressionism" in Art/Museums on this site)
Lot 129 has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $614,500,
Lot 241, "Truro Light House," by Hans Hoffman, is an incredibly fresh, early work by another member of The New York School, whose later abstracts incorporated the luscious colors evident here. It was exhibited at The Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, "Hans Hoffmann: Painter and Teacher," in 1948, and will be included in the forthcoming Hans Hofmann Catalogue Raisonne. Lot 241 has an estimate of $70,000 to $100,000. It sold for $74,500.
Lot 226, "October Field," by Theodoros Stamos is a beautiful, atmopheric "scumble" of oil and acrylic, reminiscent of Mark Rothko and Clifford Still. The give and take between The New York School artists is very evident in paintings by them in this sale. Executed in 1960, "October Field" was exhibited in 1984 at M. Knoedler Zurich AG, "Theodoros Stamos: Works from 1945 to 1984." Lot 226 has an estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. It sold for $134,500.
Lot 215, 'Mother and Child," by Arshile Gorky, acknowledges Cubism, Willem de Kooning (who was greatly influenced by him), yet rendered in his own inimitable style. Gorky incorporates a thick, richly painted surface that was later sanded down to achieve its smooth surface. The catalogue for this sale notes "for Gorky, the struggle of creation was an important part of the work and the subtle colors of the underpainting create a rich surface, full of painterly incident."
Lot 215 has an estimate of $200,000-300,000. It sold for $722,500, well above its high estimate.
Lot 131 has an estimate $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for S818,500.
Lot 148, "Chamber," by Ross Bleckner, is one of the artist's incandescent "Chandelier Paintings," that was exhibited at the "Ross Bleckner" at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of Art in New York, March-May 1995. Lot 148 has an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $98,500.
Property from the Estate of Aino and Alvar Aalto, the famous Finnish architects and designers, include a beautiful brass necklace executed in 1939 by Alexander Calder, Lot 103,"Untitled (Necklace)," with an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $602,500, far above its high estimate. The necklace was a gift of the artist to Aina Aalto, and there is a great photograph of the Calders with the Aaltos - and Fernand Leger - in the catalogue for this sale. Other jewelry by Calder from this Estate includes Lot 104, "Untitled (Necklace and Ring)," with brass wire, with an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000 (it sold for $506,500, far above its high estimate), Lot 105, "Untitled (Belt Buckle)," a gorgeous spiral in brass wire, with an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000 (it sold for $60,000) and Lot 106, "Untitled (Brooch)," a dynamite design in silver and steel wire, that has an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000. It sold for $86,500, far above its high estimate. (See The City Review article on a Calder exhibition.)
Lot 123, "Sled (Schlitten)" by Joseph Beuys, stamped with signature 'BEUYS' (on the upper edge of the sled), and numbered '20' (on a metal plaque affixed to the sled), wooden sled, felt, belts, flashlight, fat, rope and oil; 13¾ by 35 3/8 by 16 inches, 1969. This work is number twenty from an edition of fifty plus five Hors de Commerce.
Nothing about Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) is simple, no matter how commonplace his installations look. A towering figure in 20th century European art, Beuys body of work continues to influence young artists in Europe and America today - which is important - primarily in the way he involved the audience. His earliest performances explored the role of artist as shaman, which was also a focus of some Abstract Expressionists, including Pollock. A revolutionary, Beuys genuinely believed art could be a vehicle for change - or as he called it, "social sculpture." He would not let "art" pass people buy, or go un-noticed. He forced a confrontation, and while that does not seem so radical today, it was unusual in his time.
Despite alleged "fictional" accounts by Beuys of being shot down over the Crimea during World War II and being rescued by "tartars," (if they were fictitious, his stories were darned exciting), this installation with the "Sled (Schlitten)," (Lot 123), is really about survival against all odds, and hopefullness where there should be none. Galleries filled with his work display the most ordinary things, like the sled, flashlight, torch and "fat." Lot 123, "Sled (Schlitten)," is an important installation with special significance for the artist, and it relates to the far-fetched story about being rescued by tartars:
"He was the only survivor and was discovered in deep snow by a group of nomadic Tartars. They took him into their care, treated his wounds by rubbing animal fat into them and wrapped him in felt blankets to keep him warm. As he regained consciousness, the smell of the fat and the texture of the felt became ingrained in his memory and became a central figure in his most important works." (Christie's catalogue for this sale).
Or so the story goes. In the end, whether it was a dream or it really happened, Beuy's "Sled" installation conveys important, universal concepts - we all want to survive whatever comes at us. We all want to be protected, have a happy ending and be rescued at the most hopeless point in our lives. Beuys was idealistic and extremely eloquent: "The most direct kind of movement over the earth is the sliding of the iron runner of the sleds...This relationship between feet and earth is made in many sculptures, which always run along the ground. Each sled carries its own survival kit: the flashlight represents the sense of orientation, then felt for protection, and fat is food." (Joseph Beuys, quoted in Guggenheim, p.190)
Joseph Beuys was a huge influence on the contemporary artists of his generation, and he made an impact in the broader community with his outspoken views about the role of the artist in society - and the importance of art in people's lives. Christie's catalog for this sale includes another quote by Beuys that reveals his humanity (1970) : "We have to create a new base for art because the base of the present art has become terribly restricted during the course of the political developments of the last 100 years. It has become the territory of a few intellecuals, far from the life of people" (J. Beuys quoted in J. Schellman and B. Klüser, 'Questions to Jospeh Beuys', Joseph Beuys: The Multiples, Cambridge, 1997, p.24). Lot 123 "Sled (Schlitten)," has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $350,500, far above its high estimate.
Like Pollock, Beuys believed in the artist as shaman. Like Warhol, Beuys was a populist, but nothing could be further from the silkscreens of gorgeous movie stars, First Lady's, Coca Cola bottles and diamond dust shoes than this quaint sled with its utilitarian cargo.
However, Beuys "Sled (Schlitten)," has a powerful connection to Lot 147, "Ambulance Disaster," by Warhol, whose tragic victim was rescued, but by the time the ambulance got there, it was too late. Warhol's image is not a portrayal of dramatic rescue and happy endings. It depicts the commodification of violence, and how desensitized we can become to tragedy.
Christie's afternoon sale (2 pm) is reviewed separately, and features the work of important Post-War and contemporary artists and artists on the cutting edge. Some of them the "artistic descendants" of artists whose work is featured in this story.
See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art morning auction at Sotheby's May 11, 2011
See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction at Phillips de Pury May 12, 2011
See The City Review Contemporary Art evening auction at Christie's May 11, 2011
See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening sale at Sotheby's May 10, 2011
See The City Review article on The Collection of Allan Stone auction at Sotheby's May 9, 2011
See The City Review article on the Carte Blanche auction curated by Philippe Ségalot at Phillips de Pury November 8, 2010
See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction Part I at Phillips de Pury Pury following the Ségalot auction
City Review article on the Fall 2010 Contemporary Art evening
auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2010 Contemporary Art day auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2010 Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2010 Contemporary Art day auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2010 Contemporary Art day auction at Phillips de Pury