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Contemporary Art

From a European Private Collector & Part 2


November 18, 1999

"Man in Blue" by Sandro Chia

Lot 87, "Man in Blue," by Sandro Chia,

oil on canvas, 77 1/8 by 79 1/8 inches, 1982

By Carter B. Horsley

The second part of Sotheby's Contemporary Art fall 1999 auction is preceded by a sale, with a separate catalogue, of 41 contemporary works from a European Private Collector including several works by Sandro Chia, Enzio Cucchi, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Julian Schnabel and Francisco Clemente.

Lot 87, shown above, is a strong work by Sandro Chia (b. 1946), who is perhaps best known for his ravishing and stunning murals at the bar of the Palio Restaurant in the Equitable Center Building on Seventh Avenue between 51st and 52nd Streets in New York.

Entitled "Man In Blue," this 77 1/8-by-791/8-inch oil on canvas was executed in 1982 and has a conservative high estimate of $80,000. It sold for $101,500, including the buyer's premium as do all sales prices in this article.

Another very fine Chia is Lot 109, "La Doccia," a 62 7/8-by 82 ¾-inch oil on canvas that was executed in 1980 and is reminiscent of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's 1915 painting of military men in a shower owned by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. It has a high estimate of only $70,000. It sold for $68,500.

Perhaps the best work in this collection is Lot 106, an untitled piece dated 1887-8 by Enzo Cucchi (b. 1949) that is made of oil, iron and resin on cement, 106 ¼ by 154 inches. The cream-colored surface of the work has several very intriguing circular bas-reliefs as well as a boldly painted diagonal element in the center the top of which intersects with a row of gray dots that escalate slightly in size and parallel a large iron rod whose curved tone, like a cane handle, rises above the top of the four large panels. This is a very tactile, monumental work whose small bas-reliefs are full of mystery and romance. Is this the eroded section of a small great lost Renaissance mural pried from its surround by a giant crowbar? Spartan and very powerful, this work has a very conservative high estimate of $60,000 and conjures the poetry of Scarpa. It sold for only $28,750!

Also monumental, but not so mysterious is Lot 86, also an untitled Cucchi work that is 110 ¼ by 116 inches, an oil and collage on canvas that depicts a huge ancient ship in a storm-tossed very red sea. The catalogue clearly rides its swells:

"This muscular image gains grace from the artist's sense of poetic urgency, expressing the passions of a medieval epoch as well as the powers of a primordial state. The vessel he depicts is as much a vehicle of myth as it is of action, so that Cucchi here combines a sense of mythic ritual with the vitality of a life force. This momentous voyage, fraught with danger, can therefore be seen as an odyssey from he legends of the past to the questions for the future."

The painting was exhibited in the Cucchi retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1986 and has a conservative high estimate of $120,000. It sold for $90,500.

Lot 118, "Untitled (Rue Rimbaud)," is yet another interesting Cucchi work in a very different style. Painting mostly with yellows, browns and whites and blacks in oil and metal on a 110 ¼-by 154 1/8-inch canvas, it conjures mud-strewn, war-ruined cities but it is more luminous than ominous and has a conservative high estimate of $40,000. It sold for $28,750.

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) is represented by a strong four-panel work, Lot 95, "Blue Heads," 72 by 92 inches, acrylic and oilstick on hinged canvas, dated 1983. This lot has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $662,500.

There are two "plate" paintings by Julian Schnabel (b. 1951) in this auction, Lots 92 and 103. The former, "Portrait of a Girl," is 96 by 84 by 6 inches and was executed in 1980. The image shows a young Indian girl with her head lowered in contemplation and this is one of the artist's best "plate" paintings that cover much of the surface with pieces of broken dishes. The lot has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $360,000. The latter is much less attractive and smaller and has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. Entitled "Martine," it is 73 by 60 7/8 inches, oil, crockery with epoxy and bondo on wood. It sold for $101,500.

Francisco Clemente (b. 1952), who is currently being given a retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, has several works in this private collector auction, the best of which is Lot 91, "Experience of Love," a 48 4/4-by-52-inch oil and pigment on canvas, mostly in whites, blacks and grays, that shows a woman balanced on the head of a man. Painted in 1991, it is a strong design and displays the artist's usual fine painterliness. It has an estimate of $70,000 to $90,000. It sold for $310,500! Lot 85 is a suite of 16 watercolors, each 15 by 11 inches, that with a face and then has fragments of a sexual encounter and ends with a foot. It has a conservative high estimate of $70,000. It sold for $140,000. Lots 107 and 108 are large paintings dealing with voyeurism, sex and violence by Clemente, each with high estimates of $60,0000. Lot 107 sold for $79,500 and Lot 108 sold for $40,250. Far more colorful is a large Clemente watercolor, "Obedience," Lot 111, which has an estimate of $35,000 to $45,000. It sold for $123,500.

Only 1 of the 40 lots in this part of the auction was bought in, Lot 117, an untitled work by Julian Schnabel that had a low estimate of $40,000.

Part 2 of the Contemporary Art auction is rich in content. Too much perhaps as only 191 of 245 lots offered sold and many of the passes were "big" names and many of the prices that sold were not excessive.

Lot 182, "Studio Studios" is a large, bright red painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat that is themed around movie studios and their logos and has a high estimate of $225,000, and sold for $250,000.

"Study for Amerika X" by Tim Rollins and K.O.S.

Lot 200, "Study for Amerika X," by Tim Rollins and K.O.S., watercolor and

charcoal on book pages mounted on linen, 24 1/2 by 42 inches, 1987-8

One of the most interesting works is Lot 200, shown above, "Study for Amerika X," by Tim Rollins and K.O.S. (b. 1955), dated 87/88, a watercolor and charcoal on book pages mounted on linen, 24 ½ by 42 inches. It has a high estimate of $12,000. It was withdrawn. A similar work by the same artist is Lot 212, "The Nature Theater of Oklahoma XV," almost the identical size, and it has a high estimate of $7,000. It sold for $4,600. Both are very striking and interesting works and similar to one included in the current exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, "The American Century, Part 2."

Sylvester Stallone, the actor, consigned a pair of bronze columns, Lot 226, by Robert Graham (b. 1938) that are excellent with many bas-reliefs and surmounted by female figures in dance poses. The columns are 93 inches tall and are number 3 from an edition of seven and have an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. They are quite wonderful. They sold for $96,000.

Gerhard Richter (b. 1932) is represented by a very strong and colorful work, Lot 233, "Fuji (No. 839-33)," an 11 ½-by-14 ½-inch oil on aluminum, executed in 1996. It has an estimate of $15,000 to $20,000. It sold for $28,750.

"Aaron's Rod Turning Into A Snake," Lot 234, by Anselm Kiefer, is a 25 by 33 inch oil, lacquer and photographic collage on paper, executed circa 1984 as part of the artist's Departure from Egypt series. A solid work, it has an estimate of $18,000 to $25,000. It was withdrawn.

The most delightful work being offered is Lot 238, a painting of a paint-smeared putti flying in the clouds on his palette, entitled "Protector Noster Aspice," 38 ½ by 28 inches, oil on paper mounted on canvas, executed in 1984 by Sandro Chia. It has a very conservative high estimate of $22,000. It sold for $21,850.

Agnes Martin has two small, elegant works on paper, Lots 246 and 247. The former is the cover illustration of the Part 2 catalogue and is untitled and consists of horizontal ink lines that form the shape of an egg. The 9-inch square work, executed in 1963, has a high estimate of $20,000. It sold for $76,750. The latter, entitled "Starlight," is a black ink graph on blue watercolor, 8 inches square, executed the same year. It has a high estimate of $50,000. It sold for $156,500.

Some small things are expensive. Lot 247A, "Oak Armed Exercise," is a radial-arm saw carved block of wood with four pairs of lugs projecting, one pair from each face of a square along a horizontal shaft. The piece is by Carl Andre (b. 1935) and was done in 1959 and is 4 7/8 by 12 ¼ by 5 inches and has an ambitious estimate of $90,000 to $120,000. It was passed at $85,000.

While some works by Cy Twombly (b. 1928) now are priced in seven figures, Lot 258 is one of the rare examples of his art that is rather pretty. Untitled, the 30-by-39 ¾-inch oil and crayon on paper has his trademark wavy, uneven white and gray lines streaking across a dark bluish-gray background. This work is dated 1969, has a high estimate of $150,000 and works because it is not as messy as most of his other works and the angled lines are almost parallel and their dynamics are effective. This is a somewhat more reasonable price range for this rather overrated artist. It sp;d fpr $123,500.

"Still Life in Gold and Pink" by Andy Warhol

Lot 273, "Still Life in Gold and Pink," by Andy Warhol, 1957

Andy Warhol (1928-1987) has several works in the auction including Lot 273, shown above, "Still Life in Gold and Pink," a quite delicate and good work in gold leaf and ink on paper. Executed circa 1957, it has an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It was passed at $37,500. Less attractive and interesting but more famous is his Lot 290, "Four Multicolored Marilyns," dated 79/86, synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas, 36 ¼ by 27 ¾ inches, has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It was passed at $240,000.

Much better, however is Lot 316, a 72-inch-square in similar materials that depicts the Statue of Liberty in blue and gray camouflage. It has an estimate of $350,000 to $450,000. It sold for $453,500.

Lots 322 and 323 are Warhol portraits of Sigmund Freud and Kafka, both 40 inches square and both with high estimates of $150,000. The former is more complex, appropriately, and is better. The former sold for $118,000 and the latter for $129,000.

Lot 303, "Motorcycle Accident," is one of Duane Hanson's remarkable lifelike sculptures, this time of a young man who has fallen off his (real) motorcycle. The 1967 work has an estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. It sold for $96,000.

"Steps with Shadow/Paper Pool #2J" by David Hockney

Lot 311, "Steps with Shadow/Paper Pool # 2J,"by David Hockney,

50 by 33 inches, pressed paper, 1978

A very strong work on pressed paper pulp, 50 by 33 ½ inches, by David Hockney (b. 1937), shown above, is a fine amalgam of Matisse and Diebenkorn. This 1978 work, Lot 311, "Steps with Shadow/Paper Pool # 2J," is conservatively estimated at $45,000 to $65,000. It sold for $101,500.

For many years, a pylon atop the low-rise building on the northwest corner of 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue was decorated with several female faces by Alex Katz (b. 1927). For those who had to work in the area, the bland, unattractive, empty and repetitive faces of the Katz women made the area more dreary than the prostitutes, pimps and drug dealers that considered it their turf. The faces were finally removed, fortunately, but unfortunately the pylon and low-rise building are now being replaced by a new skyscraper for Reuters.

Katz, however, has not gone away and Lot 313, "Dark Glasses," is, surprise, a fine work by him that actually has an excellent composition and some interest. While one is tempted to suggest that this Katz is good because the woman's vacuous eyes are covered with the beautiful dark glasses and her tubular fingers cover part of her face, it is probably because her blue-black-gray hair is the same color as the background with which it is at an angle and that the strong cast of her lit face against the dark background and the asymmetric composition. It was executed in 1989 and has an estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. It sold for $85,000.

One of the delights of looking at a lot of art is the discovery that some artists are not as bad as previously thought and that one has to change one's opinion. The Katz and Twombly, for example, are quite respectable works.

Robert Rauschenberg (b. 1925) has a very large work, Lot 325, entitled "Stage Coach (Shiner)," that is a 96-by-120-inch, acrylic and metal propeller on stainless steel. The work was executed in 1986 and stainless steel is always nicer than canvas, right. This is a good, impressive work and has a conservative estimate of $90,000 to $120,000. It sold for $195,000.

When it comes to hard things, however, Rauschenberg is outdone by Arnaldo Pomodoro (b. 1926), the sculptor who has the centerpiece in the plaza of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan and two fine lots in this auction. Lot 363 is untitled work with an inverted bronze cone impaled through a bright helical base. Number 4 of 9 and executed in 1987, this 29 ½-inch high sculpture is superb and has a conservative estimate of $22,000 to $28,000. It sold for $25,300.

"Radar #2" by Arnaldo Pomodoro

The other Pomodoro sculpture is Lot 373, shown above, "Radar #2," 48 inches in diameter, a convex, circular bronze sculpture that has a high estimate of $55,000. It sold for $74,000.

Lot 148, "Lust," by Jack Pierson (b. 1960), a metal, painted metal, plastic and neon work executed in 1996 had a high estimate of $35,000 and sold for $134,500.

Lot 153, "Newspaper, 1992," a tied stack of newspapers, by Robert Gober (b. 1954), had a high estimate of $25,000 and was passed at $19,000.

A large Cindy Sherman color photograph of herself with a fake nose and a wig, Lot 163, sold for $46,000, while two large color photographs by her of large dolls, Lots 166 and 167, were passed.

A large sculpture by Nancy Graves (1940-1995), Lot 194, "Diagonals Migrated," had a low estimate of $80,000 and was passed at $65,000.

Lot 293, which consisted of four works by Malcolm Morley (b. 1931) had a low estimate of $80,000 and was passed at $65,000.

Lot 294, a colorful and large work by Jim Dine, had a low estimate of $150,000 and was passed at $150,000.

Two works by Romaire Bearden (1914-1988), Lots 326 and 327, both sold at slightly over their high estimates.

A very good acrylic on canvas by Sam Francis (1923-1994) had a high estimate of $35,000 and was passed at $22,500.

See The City Review article on the Nov. 16, 1999 evening auction of Contemporary Art at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Sotheby's Nov. 17, 1999 auction of Contemporary Art

See The City Review article on the May 18, 1999 Contemporary Art Auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on Contemporary Art Part 2 auction at Sotheby's May 19, 1999

See The City Review article on the Christie's, May 19, 1999 Contemporary Art auction

See The City Review article on the Christie's, May 20, 1999 Contemporary Art Part 2 auction

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