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Contemporary Art

Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg

Monday, 7 PM, May 14, 2001

Sale NY849

"Kingsbury Run (First Version)" by Frank Stella

Lot 37, "Kingsbury Run (First Version)" by Frank Stella, oil on canvas, 69 by 71 3/8 inches, 1960

By Carter B. Horsley

This evening Contemporary Art auction features an excellent Frank Stella, a superb Isamu Noguchi, and a very good Claes Oldenberg, and good examples of such current "stars" as Robert Gober, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Mona Hatoum, Rachel Whiteread, Feliz Gonzalez-Torres and Nan Goldin as well as interesting works by David Hammons, Shirin Neshat, Mariko Mori, Andy Warhol, Jean Dubuffet, Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter.

The sale was quite successful with 82 percent of the offering lots selling for a total of $16,410,950 against a pre-sale low estimate of $18,835,000 and a pre-sale high estimate of $26,080,000. Given the fact that a couple of major lots failed to sell and the rollercoaster record of the Impressionist and Modern Art auctions last week and the generally astronomic price levels for a lot of contemporary art, this was a strong showing evidenced by the fact that world auction records for set for six artists. The art market, it would appear, is still pretty robust, albeit a bit unpredictable. Simon de Pury, chairman of Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg, said after the auction that it was "successful" and that Europeans were quite active and there was some Asian participation this week.

The cover illustration of the catalogue, which has incisive commentary on many of the lots, is a detail of Lot 37, "Kingsbury Run (First Version)," by Frank Stella (b. 1936). This aluminum oil point on a shaped canvas was painted in 1960 and measures 69 by 71 3/8 inches and has been exhibited the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

With its thin yellow strips against a gray background, this is a very elegant painting of considerable subtlety. The upper left and lower right corners of the painting are notched and the stripes shift their alignment to create a diagonal pattern between the notched corners, a kind of "Man in a Gray Flannel Suit with Crooked Elbow."

It was executed two years the artist graduated from Princeton University and a year after he did a series of Black paintings that, the catalogue entry noted, "effectively banished illusionistic space with rigorous patterns of repeating black stripes." "Rejecting all allusions to extra-pictorial content, Stella presented the painted canvas as a strictly material object," it continued, adding that the Aluminum series, while "predicated on his Black paintings,…represent a distinct and elegant refinement of the artist's initial pictorial concerns….The Aluminum series also introduced quick, angular bends to Stella's work….As the present work demonstrates, this device lent great dynamism to Stella's work, and accelerated the lateral spreading of his stripes. They now responded like wavelengths to a mysterious source of internal energy….By allowing internal patterns to dictate external shape, Stella further emphasized the radical materiality of his work."

The lot has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $1,500,000.

"Strange Bird" by Isamu Noguchi

Lot 46, "Strange Bird (To The Sunflower)," by Isamu Noguchi, 56 1/2 inches high

Lot 46, "Strange Bird (To The Sunflower)," is a 56 1/2-inch-high bronze sculpture by Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988), shown above. It is number 8 of an edition of 8 with two artist's proofs and has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000 and has been widely exhibited and published. This is a lovely and very fine Noguchi. It sold for $495,500 including the buyer's premium as do all the results in this article.

"Softlight Switches" by Claes Oldenburg

Lot 43, "Softlight Switches," by Claes Oldenburg, 1863-9

Another excellent sculpture lot is 43, "Softlight Switches," a 41 1/8-inch square and 11-inch-deep vinyl work by Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929), shown above. Executed between 1963 and 1969, it has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $574,500.

The catalogue notes that the artist's sculptures are "extreme exaggerations, colossal variants of their natural scale," adding that "Sewn from canvas or vinyl, these everyday objects are rendered doubly uncanny, the familiar made uncompromisingly strange: they are at once enlarged and tactilely transformed. Remaking the small as large and the rigid as malleable, Oldenburg embraces giganticism and softness to reimagine our usual experiences and redirect conventional expectations of monumental sculpture." This is a particularly successful and happy work.

Robert Gober (b. 1954) is represented by four works.

Lot 21, "Untitled," is a 3 1/4-by-7 1/4-by-3-inch wax sculpture of a women's shoe with human hair inside it. It was executed in 1992 in an edition of 15 and has an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $74,000. The hair looks as if it is growing inside the shoe and harkens of course to earlier surrealistic works by other artists such as Meret Oppenheim's famous Fur-Lined Teacup of 1936 in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Lot 22, "Untitled (Butterchurn)," is a 59-inch-high bronze sculpture of a butterchurn that was executed by Gober in 1996-7 in an edition of four and has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $118,000.

Lot 23, "Distorted Playpen," is a 25-by-63 3/4-by-32 3/4-inch wooden construction covered with white enamel paint that is a unique work that was executed in 1988. It has an estimate of $350,000 to $450,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $250,000, perhaps a reflection that another more interesting version, known as "X Crib" was due to be auctioned at another venue this week.

Lot 24, "Untitled (Broom Sink)," is a plaster and wire construction covered with semi-gloss enamel paint. It was executed in 1984 and has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $464,500.

The catalogue contains a two-page essay on the artist, who will represent the United States at the Venice Biennale of 2001, that recalls that he began in 1983 "his first serial body of sculpture" that would create over 40 variations of a sink until 1992. Unlike Marcel Duchamp's industrial "ready-mades," Gober's work is not mass produced, but are finely crafted to mimic manufactured goods. "Despite its real-world origins, Broom Sink ultimately confounds the viewer's expectations of a sink. Fixtures and faucets have been eliminated. Drains have disappeared. External plumbing is non-existent. Reduced to this strangely dysfunctional state, the sculpture invites deeper, metaphorical intepretations," the essay maintained.

"In 1986 Gober began to add playpens, cribs, and beds to his sculptural lexicon. The playpens, in particular, evoked troubling memories of infancy. Like Broom Sink, Distorted Playpen produces meanings through a process of elimination. One notes the lack of padding, cusions, or children's toys that normally furnish a playpen. Stripped to its essential components, the sculpture appears uncomfortably bare and cell-like. This disquieting allusion to incarceration may be noted in all of Gober's playpen sculptures," the essay continued.

Of the shoe, the essay states that Gober has transformed "a familiar article of clothing into a powerful symbol of eroticism," adding that "The artist heightens its fetishistic potential by literally fusing this shoe with its absent owner." The essay also comments that Butter Churn is an "essentially phallic structure" and adds that it "marked a significant departure for the artist" because it represented a turn to the "historical past."

Lot 26, "Flowers," is a stainless steel sculpture by Jeff Koons (b. 1955) that was executed in 1986 in an edition of three plus one artist's proof. The 18-inch-wide sculpture has an estimate of $250,000 to $300,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $190,000.

"A Duchampian spirit clearly informs the present work, which essentially reproduces a garden-variety, decorative tschatke sold in gift shops worldwide. Often taking the shape of floral bouquets, and commonly used to decorate domestic interiors, such mass-produced objects testify to a pervasive humanimpluse to possess things of beauty. By decontextualizing and isolating the knick-knack for the viewer's sustained meditation, Koons emphasizes the festishistic nature of such a desire. For while this object faithfully replicates the outward appearance of a floral arrangement, one must ultimately acknowledge its numerous imitative shortcomings. The roses have been bled of their color. Their scent has been extinguished. The delicate leaves and petals have become brittle and concrete. All the unique and pleasurable properties of a bouquet have been paradoxically eliminated from this deficient copy. Koons cleverly demonstrates the essential absurdity of such reproductions, revealing how they sacrifice the authentic, ephemeral beauty of flowers in order to satisfy a desire for permanent ownership," the catalogue notes, adding that Koons has stated that stainless steel is "fake luxury."

If Koons's stainless-steel bouquet's high reflectivity is part of its allure, Damien Hirst's transparent jars filled with the internal organs of cows in Lot 9, "Uncaring Lovers," is viscerally very visible. The work, which was created in 1991, consists of a glass-doored cabinet with six rows of jars with various organs in formaldehyde. The catalogue notes that despite the jars' contents, the work is fastidious and tidy, and it includes a quote from the artist: "Art is about life. It has to be - there's nothing else." It has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $277,500.

One of the artist's "Pharmaceutical Paintings" is Lot 7, "Calcium Gluconate Injection," a 92-by-108-inch gloss household paint on canvas, painted in 1992. The painting, which consists of black, dark gray and light gray dots against a white background," represents the artist's "scientific" approach to painting. The catalogue entry contains a quote from the artist that "Art is like medicine - it can heal," but, it continues, "I've always been amazed at how many people believe in medicine but don't believe in art, without questioning either." The lot has an estimate of $300,000 to $350,000. It sold for $332,500.

Lot 6, "Pin Carpet," is a 1995 work by Mona Hatoum (b. 1952) made up of stainless steel pins, canvas and glue, and obviously is a fakir's delight as it is a large and delicate "bed of nails." The 49-by-97-by-1-inch work is unique and has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $129,000. "Initially striking the distant spectator as a Minimalist exercise in flatness, this simple rectangular shape hugs the floor like the self-evident squares of a Carl Andre sculpture. Gaining proximity, one appreciates this sculpture as a carpet. A distinct texture emerges, inflected with light a, and creates a plush, luxurious inviting surface. One ultimately realizes that this rug is fashioned from thousands of stainless steel pins. Relentlessly pushed through a thin fabric backing, they expose their tiny shiny points to the unsuspecting viewer. As do many of Hatoum's works, Pin Carpet comforts the viewer with familiarity, entrances with beauty, seduces with luxury, only to reveal itself in the end as a paradox.

The long essay on the work, a detail of which illustrates the back cover of the catalogue, also notes that "when viewing Pin Carpet, one strains to grasp the mind-boggling quantity of pins required for its fabrication." "This painstaking, hand-wrought construction asserts Hatoum's physical authorship, while also recalling the ritualistic wrappings and nailings that accompanied many of Jackie Winsor's early sculptures. More analogous, perhaps, are the equally obsessive works of Eva Hesse….The present work begs the question of physical labor in other works as well, especially when viewed from a feminist standpoint. As a carpet, the sculpture readily alludes to domestic space and its duties, while the countless dressmaker's pins invoke the nimble and often tedious processes of sewing. Perhaps, then, Pin Carpet also bears testament to the lives and labors of women that too often remain devalued in present society."

Lot 10, "Untitled (Convex)," is a rubber and high-density foam sculpture in the shape of a mattress by Rachel Whiteread (b. 1963). The 39 1/2-by-77-by-13-inch work was executed in 1993 and has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $365,000, breaking the previous world auction record for the artist of $220,807 set at Christie's in London December, 1998.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Over the past fifteen years, Rachel Whiteread has garnered consistently high acclaim for her ghostly sculptures of emptiness. Her work is rooted in the domestic realm, where she tends to cast the negative spaces below, inside, and around pre-existing objects….The resultant sculptures are spare, elegant forms that invoke the original objects by way of their absence. In the early 1990s, Whiteread create a discrete series of works that inverted her typical sculptural strategy. Remaining committed to the aesthetic vocabulary of the home, she cast a number of used mattresses in rubber, wax, plaster, and foam. These sculptures, however, were realized as positive volumes, replicating the solid mass of the original bedding….Although conceived as a positive volume, the present work is clearly distinguished from an actual mattress. The original bed has been displaced in the casting process, leaving behind an indexical trace of its shape and surface….Whiteread emphasizes this distinction by propping the present work against the wall. This efficient gesture extracts the sculpture from its own mundane history on the floor, and repositions it as a work of art….Despite their representation origins, Whiteread's sculptures consistently betray a substantial formal debt to Minimalism….Whiteread's work is also freighted with multiple references to the human body. …The color…is a warm yellowish hue that evokes human flesh. Perhaps the most corporeal details are the puckers and folds that radiate from the circular depressions and stretch around the bed's corners. When translated into pliable foam and rubber, these marks are highly suggestive of wrinkled skin. Far from gruesome, these details poignantly invoke the distant history of the sculpture as the former site of both sleep and sexual intimacy. As do most of Whiteread's mattress sculptures, the present work feels vaguely haunted, as though permeated with memories of the bodies it once supported."

Lot 18, "Untitled (Legal Size White)," by Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996) is a 65 1/2-inch-high found wall-mounted magazine rack and offset prints on white legal paper. The unique work was executed in 1989 and has an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $40,250.

"The present work," according to the catalogue, "occupies an important, pivotal position in the artist's oeuvre. Created in early 1989, Untitled (Legal Size White) clearly anticipates the appearance of his floor-bound paper stacks later in the same year. Like these related sculptures, the present work is indebted to the formal vocabulary of Minimalism. Yet this sculpture also undermines that tradition in a subtle fashion, by deliberately ceding its artistic authority tot he personal reviewers of its viewers." The catalogue entry noted that the artist's paper stacks "yield to the touch of their audience" and that "Spectators are e courage to remove individual sheets of appear from these endlessly replenished sculptures" and "in so doing, they become active participants in Gonzalez-Torres's creative enterprise contributing to both the physical (dis)appearance and metaphorical significant of his work."

Lot 14, "C Putting on her Makeup at Second Tip, Bangkok, 1992," is a 27 1/2-by-40-inch Cibachrome executed in 1992 in an edition of 25 by Nan Goldin (b. 1953). Unlike much of this artist's work, this photograph of a woman in front of a mirror as seen from the side is well composed and quite beautiful. It has an estimate of $20,000 to $25,000. It sold for $17,250.

"Untitled" by David Hammons

Lot 12, "Untitled" by David Hammons, 54 by 60 by 16 inches, 2000

Perhaps the most amusing work in the auction is Lot 12, "Untitled," by David Hammons (b. 1943), as it depicts a basketball hoop with a mirror as a backboard that is festooned with crystal and brass sconces and candle-like lights and a net of crystal beads. The 54-by-60-by-16-inch work is unique and was executed in 2000. It has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $409,500, rather significantly shattering the previous world auction record for the artist of $18,500 set at Christie's in London in November, 1999. Michael McGinnis, the head of Phillips's contemporary art department, said after the auction that the artist's work is difficult to get. "In this work,," the catalogue notes, "the basketball hoop was explored as both an icon of black male street cool, as well as a symbol of disenfranchisement and poverty….The surreal fusion of the athletic, common basketball hoop and the pristine, chandelier and crystal elements, not only bring forward the notion of kitsch, but more specifically, make undeniably obvious two very strong clichés in American society: the stereotype that basketball is synonymous with African American males, and the ornate chandelier symbolic of the bourgeoisie 'Wasp' society."

Lot 15, "Speechless," is a stunning photograph of a women's face overlaid with script and beside the barrel of a pistol. The 49-by-36-inch pen and ink over gelatin silver print was executed in 1996 by Shirin Neshat (b. 1957) and is from an edition of three. It has an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000. It sold for $70,700 breaking the previous world auction record of the artist of $50,600 that was set at Phillips last November.

Another leading woman artist is Mariko Mori (b. 1967). Lot 11, "Last Departure," a 84-by-144-inch Fuji, supergloss duraflex print mounted on aluminum in artist's smoked chrome aluminum frame, was executed by her in 1996 in an edition of three and has an estimate of $120,000 to $160,000. It sold for $134,500, breaking the previous world auction record of $116,734 set at Sotheby's in London last October. Many of her works, including this, have a soft sci-fi mood of mystery and wonder.

Lot 41 is a fine portrait of "Mao" by Andy Warhol (1928-1987). The 50 1/4-by-42 3/4-inch synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen on canvas was painted in 1973 and has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $1,157,500. Its provenance is Ileana Sonnabend Gallery, Leo Castelli Gallery, Dia Art Foundation, Armand Bartos and Tony Shafrazi Gallery.

Lot 45, "L'Automobile Fleur de l'Industrie," by Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985), is a 86 3/4-by-65-inch oil on canvas that was executed in 1961 and has an ambitious estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. The painting shows the artist's child-like vision of a Ford and a Citroen in traffic as seen from above. It sold for $2,972,500.

Lot 34, "Grobe Tyede-Landschaft (285)," is a good, 78 1/4-by-118 1/8-inch oil on canvas by Gerhard Richter (b. 1932). The 1972 work, a landscape derived from a volcanic region on Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands, has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $1,000,000.

Lot 32, "Untitled," is a 103-by-78 1/2-inch acrylic and synthetic resin on canvas painted by Sigmar Polke (b. 1941) in 1983. The vibrant abstraction has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $266,500.

Lot 2, "Colin de Land," by Elizabeth Peyton (b. 1965), a 1994 oil on canvas, 60 by 40 inches, sold for $77,300, breaking the previous world auction record for the artist of $70,500 set at Christie's a year ago.

Lot 8, "Foxy Roxy," by Chris Ofili (b. 1968), an oil, polyester resin, paper collage, glitter and elephant dung on canvas, sold for $211,500 breaking the artist's previous world auction record of $136,496 set at Christie's in London in December, 1999. The painter shows a bare-breasted blonde but is a rather dark painting for Ofili and not one of his most sparkling works.

Lot 33,"Baum Mit Panzer," a 111-by-82 1/4-inch oil and lead on canvas by Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945) that was painted in 1977 failed to sell and had been estimated at $200,000 to $300,000.


See The City Review article on Post War Art evening auction at Christie's, Nov. 15, 2000

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's, Nov. 14, 2000

See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction at Phillips, Nov. 13, 2000

See The City Review article on Contemporary Art Part II auction at Phillips, Nov. 14, 2000

See The City Review Article on the May 18-9 Contemporary Art auctions at Phillips

See The City Review article on the May 16, 2000 evening auction of Contemporary Art at Christie's

See The City Review article on the May 17, 2000 Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall, 1999 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 auctions of Contemporary Art from a European Private Collection and Contemporary Art, Part 2, at Sotheby's Nov. 18, 1999

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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