DAVID COHEN, Editor           
       July 2006  




Donald Judd Untitled (92-7 Hernandez) 1992
Cor-ten steel units with black Plexiglas units
Six units: each 19-11/16 x 39-3/8 x 19-11/16 inches
Courtesy Christie's

The contemporary art market boom continued unabated with 12 artist records broken on the May 9th opening of the spring season at Christie’s.  New records were set for Richard Prince, Mike Kelley, Damien Hirst, Robert Rauschenberg and David Hockney and others, netting Christie’s $143,187,200 in sales, the median of their pre-sale estimates of $113-160M.  Helping them with their second best tally ever (after last fall’s $157M “perfect storm”), 25 out of the 26 lots offered at the top of the sale from the estate of Donald Judd found buyers.  

Taking extra footage at 1230 Avenue of the Americas in addition to their regular exhibition spaces at Rockefeller Center to display collections for upcoming sales (along with a lavish, in-depth 160 page catalogue) paid off handsomely.  The Judd Foundation took in $24.47M proving that the artist’s market and Minimalism in general are extremely solid.  How many contemporary artists could have brought so many works to market in the same sale and received this kind of depth of support?  

The money received will maintain, preserve and promote Judd’s permanently installed living and working spaces, libraries and archives at the 1870 cast-iron building at 101 Spring Street in Soho and his ranch overlooking the Rio Grande in West Texas.  

Andy Warhol’s cool, ironic pop masterwork “Small Torn Campbell’s Soup Can (Pepper Pot)” of 1962 was the top lot of the evening.  Larry Gagosian (on behalf of Los Angeles collector Eli Broad) beat out only one other buyer to acquire the work.  Broad paid $11.77M to its consignor Irving Bloom who had acquired the painting in a trade with New York collectors Eugene and Barbara Schwartz in 1967.  At just 20 by 16 inches, this hand painted oil on canvas from 1962 might be one of the most expensive per square inch Post-War works ever sold.  Based on a black and white photograph by early Warhol collaborator Edward Wallowitch, this “distressed” version of the Campbell soup can anticipated the “disaster paintings” with their existential contemplation of the darker side of modern 20th century society.

Marlene Dumas’s “Feathered Stola” from 2000 followed on from Judd. Almost doubling the high pre-sale estimate of $600K, her oil on canvas from her “Stripping Girls” project in collaboration with photographer Anton Corbijn brought $1.19M.  Mike Kelley’s “Ahh… Youth”, (1991) a nostalgically kitsch photographic work consisting of eight cibachrome prints of stuffed animals and a dark-toned humorous self-portrait in an edition of ten, was purchased in spirited bidding for $688K, breaking the artist’s previous auction record.  A Richard Prince “joke” painting, “Untitled (Good News, Bad News)” in acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas from 1989 easily surpassed both its $800K pre-sale high estimate and the artist’s previous record for a painting (“A Nurse Involved”, 2002) at $1.36M.  Jeff Koons “Aqualung”, (1985) from an edition of three plus one artist’s proof shown at his very first show (International With Monument gallery in the East Village) surpassed it’s high estimate by a million dollars.  The bronze cast of an underwater breathing device received a $4.6M payout from Larry Gagosian along with murmurs from the assembled.  It was last sold at Phillips in May of 2002 for $1.8M.

Andy Warhol Small Torn Campbell's Soup Can (Pepper Pot) 1962
Casein, gold paint, and graphite on linen, 20 by 16 inches
Courtesy Christie's

High-rollers and Andy Warhol seemed joined at the hip that evening.  His “S&H Green Stamps (64 S&H Green Stamps)” from 1962, an acrylic and pencil on linen painting pre-dating his move to mechanical aided silkscreen composites dazzled with a $5.2M take home.  Larry Gagosian, Andrew Fabricant, Jose Mugrabi and Neal Meltzer pushed the bidding up to more than three times its pre-sale high estimate only to lose to an unidentified telephone bidder.  The combination of picture within a picture repetition, the flattening of forms, unevenness of inks, and use of the grid (along with the fact that the stamps refer to a “fake” kind of money) all play heavily into what was to become Warhol’s ‘Pop’ signature.  Purchased by collector Betty Asher directly from the artist during a visit to Warhol’s studio with Irving Blum in the year it was made (for around $200), this easel-size canvas was included in the artist’s retrospective at MoMA less than 2 years after his death.

A 1974 synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen ink on canvas portrait of French actress Bridget Bardot consigned to Christie’s by her then husband, industrialist and 60s playboy Gunter Sachs sold for more than twice its high estimate ($3M).  “Flowers”, in 16 parts from 1964 sold for $3.9M with a $2.2M high estimate, and “Four Jackies” (also from ’64), the artist’s poignant memorial to the First Lady’s suffering and strength brought $1.36M.  Money paid for Warhols that evening topped $25M.

Willem de Kooning’s classic, signature-sexy Ab-Ex trophy, “Untitled” from 1961, a juicy, flesh-toned and sun splattered oil on canvas was fought over by L&M’s Dominique Levy and Andrew Fabricant from the Richard Grey Gallery.  Fabricant ended up with the season’s highest asking price for a De Kooning paying $10,096,000 to consignor and dealer Virginia Dwan.  Continuing with the high prices for his work that started in earnest last season with the Lee V. Eastman deaccessioning, three other de Kooning’s became big tickets.  “Two Women (Study for Clamdigger)” a relatively small-scaled work from 1961-62 featuring a pair of Rubenesque nudes in a landscape that last sold for $715K in 1989 at Sotheby’s went to the L&M Gallery for $5.73M.  “Asheville #1” an early work on paper from 1948 almost doubled its high estimate at $1.58M and “Woman”, a 12 by 9 ½ inch graphite on paper sketch drawn in 1951 took $632K.

Dominique Levy of L& M continued her spring buying spree by securing Damien Hirst’s 1995 “Away From The Flock, Divided”, a lamb sliced in two and preserved in aqua-colored formaldehyde filled steel and glass tanks.  The dealer succeeded in breaking Hirst’s previous 2004 world record for the artist with a $3.38M payout. 

Another Hirst work from 2002, “Beauty And The Beast”, a two panel diamond-shaped canvas painting consisting of the “found objects” of butterfly wings and household gloss on the left panel and flies and resin on the right panel brought $1.7M.  “Benzhydrol” from 1996, a ‘Spot’ painting continuing his commentary on pharmaceutical chemical usage took in $912K, easily surpassing the $700K high estimate.  

Joan Mitchell and Eva Hesse have been getting a lot of attention lately.  Mitchell’s large oil and canvas “Untitled”, (1969) from her ‘Sunflower’ series which sold for $280K back in May 2000 at Sotheby’s shook up the room with a take home final price of just over $2M.  Eva Hesse’s painted relief with references to the human reproductive system, “An Ear In A Pond”, (1965) sold for $2.26M.  Last purchased in 1992 for just under 6 figures the paint and varnish on Masonite with cotton cord work established a new world auction record for the artist. 

The auction record for David Hockney was reset  at $3.6M with “A Neat Lawn”,(1967) a quintessentially Californian, conceptually-cool painting of a sprinkler in front of a 60s-era California apartment complex. 


The morning sale the following day at Christie’s topped its high pre-auction estimates of $32M landing in at $40.75M.  8 new world auction records were set.  Andy Warhol’s iconic $1.47M “Self Portrait” from ‘1966-67was the highest lot of the session doubling its pre-sale high estimate. 

Christie’s afternoon sale exceeded their pre-auction high estimate of $17M bringing $21.85M.  Yoshitomo Nara’s, “Missing in Action” from 1999 was the session’s top lot (pre-sale est. $200-300K) with a $1.08M take home.  Donald Judd, Karen Kilimnik, Kara Walker and  Damien Hirst doubled or tripled their high estimates. The 95 lot contemporary photography offerings from the final part of the bankrupt Refco deaccession sale where the use of photography to explore conceptualist ideas is a recurrent thematic thread that runs throughout the collection brought $800K above the pre-sale high estimates.  Hiroshi Sugimoto, Thomas Ruff, Vik Muniz, Barbara Kruger, Andy Warhol and Carrie Mae Weems brought in at least double their high estimates.

Willem de Kooning Untitled XVI 1975
Oil on canvas, 70 by 80 inches
Courtesy Sotheby's

The rising tide of the art market continued unabated at Sotheby’s.  Their most successful evening sale ever ($128.80M) began with explosive bidding and new artist world records for Neo Rauch with “Stunde” from 1999 at $531K (est. $150-$200K), Cecily Brown for “High Society” of 1997-98 at $968K (est. $200-$300K), Lisa Yuskavage’s “Honeymoon” from 1998 (deaccessed by the artist’s recently ex-dealer, Marianne Boesky, to the major Warhol market player Alberto Mugrabi) at $1.02M.

Christopher Wool’s “Untitled (P80) Helter Skelter” purchased by L&M Arts for $1.4M set a new auction record as did Andreas Gursky’s “99 Cent” (est. $1M-$1.5M), sold by newspaper magnate Peter Brant for $2.26M.  Wednesday evening’s sale not only shattered Gursky’s previous world auction record of $632K, it also ushered in a new world record for a contemporary photograph.  The 81-½ x 132 inches chromogenic print (the last print in private hands from an edition of 6) was purchased by Mr. Brant through the Stellan Holm Gallery, the dealer who was responsible for purchasing Richard Prince’s “Untitled (Cowboy)” from 1989, the previous contemporary photography record holder.

Dominique Levy and Robert Mnuchin didn’t stop with Christopher Wool’s “Helter Skelter”.  They were responsible for buying the two most expensive lots of the evening.  Lichtenstein’s mastery of the shrill chromatic comic book as a sunset in “Sinking Sun” of 1964 from consignor Joseph Hellman and Willem de Kooning’s 1975 frenetic, blue and white dominated “Untitled XV1” were both purchased for $15.70M each. 

Hellman apparently opted for Sotheby’s purported $17.5M guarantee on the 68 x 80 inches masterwork which was once owned by Dennis and Brooke Hayward Hopper.  If this was the case, Sotheby’s lost a good deal of money with the guarantee (the house anticipated a $20M payout for the work) but also with its tireless and expensive publicity.  The house spent lavishly on the lot’s own separate mini-catalogue for “Sinking Sun” as well as high-profile advertisements in “The New York Times”, “FT” and a number of specialty art magazines.

Mnuchin’s purchase of the de Kooning was almost double its high pre-sale estimate.  This buy along with last November’s acquisition of another untitled de Kooning masterwork (1977) from the estate of Lee V. Eastman for $10.66M has gone a long way in raising prices for the artist who, up until relatively recently, was looked upon as playing second best to Jackson Pollock.  

The power couple went on to dominate the evening’s sales by scooping up a Jeff Koons sculpture from 1981-1987 with three vacuums cleaners and two shampoo polishers encased in Plexiglass for $5.28M ($1.75M over the high estimate) and a serene 72 by 72 inch Agnes Martin acrylic and graphic on canvas for $1.75M.  They were also the underbidders on the record breaking Robert Ryman oil and charcoal on sized stretched canvas that went to an unidentified telephone bidder for $9.65M ($3.65M over the high est.). 

The energy continued the following morning session garnering $36.86M exceeding its $28.36M pre-sale high with Ed Ruscha’s “Metro, Petro, Neuro, Psycho” from 1989 taking the top lot with $1.14M.  Warhol’s “Mao”, a 1973, 12” by 10” acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas painting purchased only 5 years previously at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg took in $772K doubling its $350K high estimate.  Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Lee Krasner, Robert Indiana and Kenneth Noland brought in particularly strong numbers. 

Elizabeth Peyton Spencer Drawing 2000
oil on canvas, 35-1/2 x 55-1/4 inches
Courtesy Phillips de Pury and Company

Thursday evening’s sale at Phillips was a resounding success with 74 of the 76 works offered scooped up by dealers and collectors who saw prices being driven up all week.  Simon de Pury, their charismatic chairman and chief auctioneer, is seen as the presiding executive of a venue that has a reputation for anticipating shifts in contemporary art collecting tastes.  Phillips offered 25 lots executed since the year 2000 in their contemporary art evening sale as compared to 8 lots at Christie’s and only 2 at Sotheby’s.  Because of this, in a very short period of time, de Pury has developed a wildly enthusiastic customer base that have reacted strongly to the results of his tireless search for important works by emerging artists.

The final total of $29.5M ($27.22M pre-sale high estimate) at Phillips surpassed last November 10th’s evening sale by over $6.5M.  Seven figure lots more than doubled jumping from to 7 from 3 last fall.  Real estate developer Aby Rosen bought the top lot of the evening – Jeff Koons’s “Buster Keaton” from 1988, a polychrome wood sculpture of the silent film star on a pony for $2.7M.  Koons continues to sizzle with 5 lots selling at the top 3 houses for a total of $12.78M. 

Marlene Dumas’s oil on canvas of a stripper, “Adult Entertainment”, (2000) topped its $1.2M high estimate hitting $1.58M.  Elizabeth Peyton’s painting of her friend and fellow artist Spencer Sweeney, also from 2000, sold for $553,600 in heated bidding, Karen Kilimnik’s 1998 portrait of Leonardo di Caprio broke her previous world auction record for $198K.  Baldessari’s 2003 digital photographic triptych of painted silhouettes of characters under stress (kicking and fighting) taken from films as seen on the television screen doubled its high presale estimate at $419K.  Another work from the edition of 10 of Mike Kelley’s “Ahh… Youth”, was flipped by Peter Brant to hedge fund manager and collector David Ganek for $688,000 netting Brant more than a quarter of a million dollars on a work he had purchased only 18 months before, at the Phillips “Veronica’s Revenge” contemporary photography sale.

Emerging Chinese artists did exceedingly well as compared to their American and European colleagues.  Yue Minjun’s multiple self-portrait expected to sell for $120-$180K went for $464K after spirited bidding.

Tom Friedman, Jack Pierson, Albert Oehlen, Hernan Bas, Damien Hirst, Richard Prince, Edward Ruscha and Brice Marden all brought in strong numbers exceeding their high estimates.


If you had any doubt or hesitation about the broadening base and financial depth of the growing number of collectors in the rooms look no further than sales.  Whether bought on impulse for their own collections or for an investment to flip for quick profit, contemporary art at the three houses in New York have grown from $300 million last spring to a very robust $432 million this spring.  77 works of contemporary art sold over the one million dollar mark from enthusiasts who felt investors were cashing out early as compared to 44 from just last May. 

The 4 top-tier post-war/contemporary masters accounted for a very impressive $136.52M of the total garnered from the big three this spring.  Andy Warhol’s 58 lots amounted to a total of $43.41M.  De Kooning’s 21 lots came a very close second with $42.59M.  Judd’s 42 lot total hit $27.47M and Lichtenstein’s 11 lots brought $23.05M. 

When compared to the May 3rd, $95.2M purchase of Pablo Picasso’s “Dora Maar au Chat” painted only 21 years before Warhol’s soup can, or Ronald S. Lauder’s June purchase of Gustav Klimt’s recently reclaimed portrait of “Adele Bloch-Bauer 1”, (1907), for $135M, these defining works of American Pop Art, Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism look like prudent, low risk investments.

Click here to read the statistics associated with these sales








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