By Carter B. Horsley
The May 12, 2011 Contemporary Art evening auction at Phillips de Pury at 475 Park Avenue in New York is perhaps its finest auction yet with many superb works by important artists and numerous excellent works by some lesser known artists such as Jacob Kassay and Thomas Houseago.
The "star" of the auction is a large silk-screen portrait of Elizabeth Taylor by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) with a blue-green background, Lot 8. Executed between October and November, 1963, it measures 40 inches square and is known as "Liz #5." It has reportedly been consigned by Steven Cohen and has an "estimate on request." It sold for $26,962,500 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.
"Liz #5" behind Simon de Pury in the auction room
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"To Andy Warhol, Elizabeth Taylor epitomized everything that so fascinated him. She was shockingly beautiful and devastatingly alluring, yet her life was full of both tragedy and scandal. More importantly, her face was one of the most famous in the world....Of the various portraits he did of the Hollywood starlet, none is more rich and striking than Liz #5. In it Warhol perfectly captures the glamour, sex appeal and ravishing beauty that epitomized Elizabeth Taylor....This legendary portrait was a groundbreaking masterpiece when it was painted then and today, with its rich history it becomes a timeless homage to two of the world's most iconic figures....Warhol's aim was to capture and exaggerate Taylor's flamboyance, pure physicality and sexual appeal. He succeeds laying bare the trappings of celebrity and fame. The result is an extraodinarily artifical image - yet one that radiates the promise of Hollywood sex and glamour. Liz #5 wholly seduces the viewer....Liz #5 also captured the attention of one of the most important art world figures of Warhol's time, the powerhouse art dealer, Ileana Sonnabend. It became a central piece of Illeana's personal collection and remained so until her death in 2007."
View from the back of the standing-room-only auction room
The standing-room-only auction sold 38 of 50 offered lots for a total of $98,825,500. Its pre-sale estimate was $84,520,000 to $121,350,000. Simon de Pury, the auctioneer, said after the sale that he was "very, very happy with the results." "We're thrilled with the strong results of the evening sale and also to our new location at 450 Park Avenue, which has boosted the company. Michael McGinnis, senior director and worldwide head of Contemporary Art said he was "delighted with tonight's results, which continue to highlight our strength in the contemporary market with both blue chip and emerging artists. Tonight we generated an energy and buzz in the saleroom due to a great section of works that contributed to the overall success."
Although the total was far below Christie's very successful sale of more than $300 million the night before, it was not very far behind Sotheby's weak total of about $128 million earlier in the week and, perhaps most importantly, the quality of Phillips's offering was very high and reasonably successful and quite respectable.
Lot 29,"Witch," by Andy Warhol, acrylic and silkscreen oncanvas, 60 1/8 inches square, 1981Warhol would make many portraits for people and was so prolific that most of the non-celebrity portraits tax one's patience and culture to murmur "Enough already." Some portraits that have not come up often at auction and are therefore lesser known, however, can be very riveting, perhaps none more so than his 1981 portrait of Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West from "The Wizard of Oz" movie. An acrylic and silkscreen on canvas, it measures 60 1/8 inches square and depicts a bright pale green face with blood red lips and an very animated, open mouth beneath a cocked witch's hat. It is a very forceful and powerful image that conjures every once of wickedness that Hamilton was able to give to the very famous role. The lot has a very modest estimate of $1,800,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for $2,658,500.
Lot 20, "Third Eye," by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, acrylic on canvas, 80 3/4 by 128 3/4 inches, 1985Lot 20 is a collaborative painting done in 1985 by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) entitled "Third Eye." An acrylic on canvas, it measures 80 3/4 by 128 3/4 inches and has been widely exhibited and published. It has a modest estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000.
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"It was the dealer Bruno Bischofburger who had the idea for the two artists to combine both of their distinctive brands of art in a series called Collaborations in 1984....Warhol officially met Basquiat when Bischofberger took him to be photographed at the Factory for a portrait Warhol was planning make of the young artists. Not too long into their meeting, Basquiat left. An hour later one of his assistants returned with a still wet painting of Andy and him. Warhol, who had been previously unconvinced of the young artist's talent, responded 'I'm really jealous - he is faster than me!'....Though each of the artist's styles were worlds apart when combined they created bold, powerful works....The Collaborations are bold, bright and visually arresting and perhaps none more so than Third Eye with its brilliantly hued background, Warhol's bold color blocking and Basquiat's frenzied style. To create these collaborations, the artists painted over one another's work, each emphasizing their distinct brandsof art, creating a moving tension between the two styles and across the canvas. As was typical in the Collaboration,Warhol would be the first to lay down his images. Then, once the graphcis were blocked, Basquiat would fill in other areas of the canvas....Basquiat's carefully chosen words, Chewing, Meat and Sausage - some clarly visible, some crossed out, heighten the dynamism of the canvas. He once said 'I cross out words so you will see them more; the fact that they are obscured makes you wnat to read them.'"
It sold for $7,026,500, shattering the previous auction record of a collaboration between Warhol and Basquiat of $2,807,942 set in 1985.
Lot 24, "Untitled (Lung)," by Jean-Michel Basquiat, acrylic on wood, 96 1/2 by 55 inches, 1986
Lot 24 is an excellent untitled work by Jean-Michel Basquiat of acrylic on vertically aligned wood slats. Created in 1986, it measures 96 1/2 by 55 inches and the fence-like work is very bold and elegant but also scary. It has a modest estimate of $3,500,000 to $4,500,000. The catalogue remarks that the painting "is an outstanding example of Basquiat's fascination with the power of primitive art and the basic forms of the human body. His works are intentionally reductive in nature by breaking down his subjects to their most elemental form, he allows an exceptional depth and emotional connection to take shape." It failed to sell and was passed at $3 million.
"Ever the provocateur," the catalogue entry, continued, "Prince's art is all about desire. It represents covetousness, of a beautiful woman or of an alpha male, of a luxury watch o ra perfectly appointed living room, of sex or of words. The deisre is never left unadulterated however - there is alway an element of subversion or something ever-so-slightly out of reach that brings such power to his work. There is always a hint of irony and a sense of humor in Prince's paintings."
Lot 7, "Inferno," by Ed Ruscha, acrylic on canvas, 72 inches square, 1987
Lot 7 is a 72-inch square acrylic on canvas by Ed Ruscha (b. 1937) entitled "Inferno." It was created in 1987 and has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for $2,210,500.
Lot 1, Untitled, by Jacob Kassay, acrylic and silver deposit on canvas, 48 by 36 inches, 2009
Lot 1 is an untitled acrylic and silver deposit painting on canvas by Jacob Kassay (b. 1964) that conjures the great circular stone "coins" of the Solomon Islands and enormous sheets of mica from the side of a mountain near the Housatonic River in West Cornwall, Connecticut and star-spangled banners wherever. It measures 48 by 36 inches and was created in 2009. It has a very modest estimate of $60,000 to $80,000 especially with the recent rise in the value of silver for this may well be worth its weight in silver....
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"Reflecting his training as a photographer, Jacob Kassay's silver canvases emerge from a complex process that bespeaks a mastery of technique and material that far surpass his years. Beginning by covering the surface of a canvas with an acrylic base to render it waterproof Kassay then builds up thin layers of silver pigment to create areas of rich impasto and textured brushwork scattered throughout the canvas. Kassay then sends it out to be electroplated, a treatment process through which the elements of the work becoem crystallized, similar to mirror plating. The canvas develops areas of burnishing and oxidation and the unprotected edges become singed in striking contrast to the silvery finish of the painting. As the results of the complex chemical process is out of Kassay's control, each canvas is rendered unique - a mirror-like surface with beautifully imperfect irregularities. Similar to gelatin silver printing, the most integral component of Kassay's work is sensitivity to light and context. Though the surface of the work is opaque, it is partially reflective. Much like a burnished antique mirror, the surface plays more with light and movement than with accurate reflection. Each canvas ebbs between shiny and matte, smooth and textured. Technically sophisticated and visually luxurious, these works maintain a sense of the temporal and spatial within the realm of painting. Kassay's paintings are informed by their surroundings, both physical and ambient. Light continuously alters the painting's surface, illuminating and transforming it. The canvases reflect their environment - the artistic process utltimately completes itself when the painting beomes animated by its surroundings."
It sold for $290,500.
Lot 4, "Untitled," by Thomas Houseago, plaster, wood, hemp, graphite and oilbar, 74 by 49 by 45 inches, 2008
One of the most striking works in the auction is Lot 4, an untitled sculpture of a face mask by Thomas Houseago (b. 1972). The plaster, wood, hemp, graphite and oilbar work measures 74 by 49 by 45 inches and was created in 2008. It has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $98,500, almost double the artist's previous auction record of $50,000 set in 2008.
Lot 6, "Filth," by Glenn Brown, oil on panel, 52 3/8 by 37 1/8 inches, 2004One of the auction's more fascinating works is Lot 6, "Filth," by Glenn Brown (b. 1966), an oil on panel that measures 52 3/8 by 37 /8 inches and was created in 2004. It has an ambitious estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,500,000. It is based on a portrait by Jean-Honoré of Marie-Madelione Guimard, prima ballerina of the Paris Opera that hangs in the Louvre in Paris. The catalogue entry notes that "the smooth polished surface subverting the bold gesture of the stroke" and "Brown's version of Fragonard's portrait gains intensity from the aggresive unapologetic brushstrokes, the liberal use of color and the darkly atmospheic emanating background. The deep yellows and lush reds that ocne described the sitter Brown has changed into the garish, decaying combinations that render her more boldly uninhibited." The entry noted that the portait "all innocence is lost here - the sitter is made filthy."
Lot 41, "Popsicletoes," by John Chamberlain, painted chromed stainless steel, 106 by 34 by 30 inches, 2008
Lot 41 is a deliciously beautiful, painted chromed stainless steel sculpture by John Chamberlain (b. 1927). It is 106 by 34 by 30 inches and is entitled "Popsicletoes." It was created in 2008. It has a modest estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for $602,500.
Lot 42, "Tranquility," by Damien Hirst, butterflies and household gloss on canvas, 91 1/4 by127 1/4 inches, 2008
See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening sale 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