DAVID COHEN, Editor           
       December 2004  

 

FALL '04 CONTEMPORARY ART SALES IN NEW YORK AT CHRISTIE'S, SOTHEBY'S AND PHILLIPS DE PURY & COMPANY

By BRIAN APPEL

Richard Prince "Untitled [Three Women Looking In The Same Direction]" (1980)
Ektacolor photograph, in three parts [one from an edition of 10], 20 x 24 inches [each]
Hammer Price: $650,000

COVER December 20, 2004:
Maurizio Cattelan Not Afraid Of Love (2000)
polyester stryrene, resin, paint and fabric, 81 x 123 x 54 inches
2nd from edition of two plus one artist's proof
hammer price: $2,450,000 (auction record for this artist)


  
So Puff Daddy's coming over for dinner.  What do you want to have on your wall -- the sublime painting, "London, the Parliament, Effects of Sun in the Fog", (1904) by Monet, or Warhol's renegade, 2-panel, "Mustard Race Riot", (1963) of a black civil rights protester being savaged by the dogs of a group of white uniformed policemen?  No brainer!  
 
The playground of the "Masters of the Universe" is shifting from the Monet/Gauguin/Mondrian world of Impressionism and Modern Art to the Rothko/Warhol/Johns world of Post-War and Contemporary Art.  Savvy auction sellers took advantage of a heated contemporary market and "guarantees" from the houses themselves and "downloaded" their classic paintings, sculptures and drawings by the masters of post-war art reaping "Mike Ovitz-like" payouts for their efforts.
 
Over the course of five days last month [November 8-13, '04], $290,675,340 dollars exchanged hands for art since 1945.  Christie's won barely with a 43% share to Sotheby's 41.5%, and Phillips increased their market share from 10% to an impressive 15.5% piece of the pie with the rock lobster appetizer of the "Veronica's Revenge" contemporary photography auction at the start on Monday evening.  Simon de Pury's strategy of focusing on contemporary art, photography and design has continued to funnel the young, hip and Louis Vuitton-clad to his recently red-carpeted Chelsea "loft" salesroom where his trendy catalogues and excellent service usurp the sons and daughters of the rich and the newly successful from the other two houses.  Charles Ray, Cindy Sherman, Matthew Barney, Richard Prince, Mike Kelley, Andreas Gursky & Barbara Kruger broke records or brought in huge percentages beyond their high estimates.  Richard Prince alone brought in $1,255,200 on his seven lots [$179,314 average] at "Revenge".
 
The following evening at Sotheby's was a record breaker for the house where collectors and dealers gobbled up $93,431,600 in contemporary art.  Mark Rothko's, "No. 6 [Yellow, White, Blue Over Yellow On Grey]" from 1954 brought in $17.4 million, the highest amount for the evening and the top lot of the entire week. "It performed like a star", was how the Saville Road tailored, head of contemporary art worldwide, Tobias Meyer, described the work.  Jasper Johns brought in just over $19 million with three pieces in the top ten that "...investigate the epistemology of the Sign", -- "0 Through 9", (1961) the charcoal and pastel work that shattered the artist's world record on paper, the grey, 1971 encaustic and collage on canvas, "Flag", and one of his earliest signature paintings, "Green Target", (1956) followed by Andy Warhol with three lots – the horrific and voyeuristically seductive cadmium red 2-panel repeating image of anonymous victims from a car crash, "Death Twice 1", (1963) the appropriated magazine advertisement, "Where Is Your Rupture", (1962) and, from his myth series, "Mickey Mouse", (1981) totaling just under $11 and one half million.  Richard Prince's, strategically re-photographed, "Untitled [Three Women Looking In The Same Direction]", (1980) broke an auction record for photography at the house with a $736,000 payout.  Jeff Koons broke his painting record with a $2,248,000 payday for his post-modern nod to 'high' and 'low', a 1995-8 piece entitled, "Bracelet", as did Joan Mitchell's own brand of lyrical Abstract Expressionism with her 1956 oil on canvas, "King Of Spades" landing $2,696,000. Damien Hirst, Jean-Michael Basquiat, Louise Bourgeois, Cy Twombly, Piero Manzoni, Agnes Martin, Thomas Demand, Gilbert & George, Donald Judd, Alexander Calder and Yves Klein rounded out the rest of this unique evening for both sellers and buyers.  Sotheby's brought in the most per lot amount since the go-go days before the crash of the art market in the early 90's with an unbelievable $1,868,632 average on the 50 lots that sold. 
 
Sotheby's morning and afternoon sales the following day brought in another $27,632,500 with 301 lots sold averaging out to a more "accessible" $91,802; Alexander Calder, Isamu Noguchi, Joan Mitchell, Ed Ruscha, Roy Lichtenstein, Richard Diebenkorn, Eric Fischl, Donald Judd, Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg, Sigmar Polke, Richard Serra, Phillip Guston, Susan Rothenberg, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Karen Kilimnik, John Baldessari, Marlene Dumas, Joseph Albers, Richard Prince and Andy Warhol made great numbers -- many above the high estimates.
 
Christie's evening sale was as spectacular as Sotheby's the night before, with 59 out of 63 items sold for a $1,567,527 average per lot –  a $92 and one half million total take home.  Andy Warhol's, "Mustard Race Riot", (1963) was the top winner, a 2-panel meditation on the traumatic "flip-side" of American race in the 60's going for just over $15 million.  Cy Twombly had two "...mystic and highly sensual" paintings in the top ten, both entitled, "Untitled [Rome]", from 1971 and 1962 going for just shy of $9 million and Alexander Calder's tour-de-force, "Baby Flat Top", (1946) broke the artist's all time indoor sculpture world record at $4.7 million.  Robert Motherwell's exceedingly rare, "Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 71", (1961) broke a world auction record for the artist as well going for just under $3 million.  Jasper Johns's 30 x 90 inch cross-hatch with skull-and-crossbones oil on canvas, "Untitled", (1981-1982) clocked in at $3,367,500 at the rostrum while Richard Diebenkorn's exploration of figuration and abstraction, "Marin Landscape", (1961-1962) matched the hammer price with John's.  Roy Lichtenstein scored big with both a painting, "The White Tree", (1980) and a sculpture, "Brushstroke Group", (1987) the latter of which broke the artist's world auction record for sculpture.  Both pieces brought in identical hammer prices within their pre-sale estimates of $2.5-3.5 million.  Maurizio Cattelan's, "Not Afraid of Love", (2000) a very theatrical, seven-foot-tall elephant wrapped in white fabric, broke the artist's world auction record, [only to be bested two evenings later by another one of his own sculpture/installations at Phillips] rounded out the top ten that evening.  The subversive and funny artwork brought in a breathtaking $2,751,500 for a work barely four years old.  
 

Christopher Wool Untitled (2000)
enamel on  aluminum, 108 x 72  inches
Hammer price:  $235,000

Christie's morning and afternoon sessions the following day brought in a little over $27 and one half million with an impressive $124,495 per sold lot average.  Calder, Warhol, Ruscha, De Kooning, Albers, Yayoi Kusama, Ellsworth Kelly, Twombly, Sam Francis, Morris Louis, Wayne Thiebaud, Jean Dubuffet, Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, Mark Di Suvero, Barbara Kruger, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Vic Muniz, Vera Lutter, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Jeff Wall, Thomas Struth, Bernd & Hilla Becher, Jack Pierson, Yoshitomo Nara, Tim Noble & Sue Webster, Richard Phillips, Richard Prince and John Currin did exceedingly well in this buoyant, seemingly ever expanding market.
 
The Thursday evening auction at Phillips de Pury & Company in the Chelsea/meat district pointed the way to the future.  Contemporary art collectors and dealers bid furiously on edgier work from the 80's and 90's.  Fifty-four out of fifty-nine lots sold for a total of $25,584,800 with a $473,793 per lot average.  The highest lot price of $3,592,000 went to Francis Bacon's, "Oedipus", (1979) a semi-abstract, flame-orange and purple homage to his deceased lover, George Dyer, whose head was superimposed over a nude figure inspired by, "Man Throwing a Discuss", an Eadweard Muybridge photo-sequence image source.  But the stars of the night were the trio of Koons, Warhol and Cattalan who, amongst fierce bidding, sold three works each.  Jeff Koon's meditation on kitch and consumerism with "Bear And Policeman", (1988), "Wild Boy And Puppy", (1988) and, "Jim Beam-Model A Ford Pick-Up Truck", (1986) brought in an astounding total of $4,929,600.  Andy Warhol was half a million shy of those numbers with his, "Nine Multicolored Marilyns [Reversal Series]" of 1979-1980, the crushed glass and silkscreen on canvas, "Diamond Dust Shadow", (1979) and his floating fright-wig head, "Self-Portrait", (1986) grabbed up by Larry Gagosian.  But, if one piece were to stand in as the evening's truly memorable icon, it would have to be Maurizio Cattelan's room-size installation sculpture of Pope John Paul 11 felled by a meteorite that crashed through a skylight.  "The Ninth Hour", (1999) was the reason, as I found out later, for the spectacular, newly-installed red carpet throughout the Phillips sales floor which gave the space a Hollywood Premiere feel throughout the evening and certainly created a telling mise-en-sans for the events of the last four days.  "Lullaby", (1994) a political commentary with rubble-encased in plastic, and "Catttelan", (1999) a sly reference to advertising and celebrity [his own, with an extra "t"] in neon, went for the blue chip total of $3,451,200.  Nice.  Richard Prince, Christopher Wool, Martin Kippenberger, John Currin, Piero Manzoni, Dan Flavin, Marlene Dumas, Ugo Rondinone, Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy and David Salle all brought in gavel numbers that exceeded Phillips's high estimates [some for two to three times their projections] rounding out a highly desirable display of technically and intellectually arresting artworks.
 
The Contemporary session Friday morning was rainy and cool but did not dampen the brisk sales at Phillips.  Six point eight million dollars with a per sold lot average of $32,346 was realized in spirited bidding.  This was a wonderful, last opportunity for younger, "less-heeled" collectors and dealers to take advantage of the rare quality this market was providing as the week came to an end.  Christopher Wool [the new Twombly], Richard Prince [son of Warhol], Raymond Pettibon, Karen Kilimnik, Jack Pierson, Elizabeth Peyton, Alison Van Pelt, Nan Goldin, Sam Taylor Wood, Louise Lawler. Luc Tuymans, Bernd & Hilla Becher, Martin Kippenberger, Thomas Struth, Susan Rothenberg, Laura Owens, Tom Sachs, Philip Taaffe, Mike Kelley and Andy Warhol brought in hammer prices that exceeded [often in multiples] Phillips's high estimates.
 
If pressed to come up with trends from this sensational week of Post War/Contemporary Art sales, where the "extremely rich" [in the evening sales] and the "merely rich" [in the daytime sales] engaged in this season's dramatic, almost hysterical grasping for a piece of the "American Cultural Pie", it's fairly obvious to this viewer, that collectors and dealers are buying artists who, like speculators in the over-heated real-estate market follow certain artists into neighborhoods where there was no previous perception of value.  After an appropriate "redeployment" by the artist whereby the signifiers of the less-desirable become "ironically hip" for the cognoscenti, the transformation is complete, and the mantra becomes buy now before the works/properties become too damn expensive for the "merely rich" to appropriate. Ownership is the opiate that makes what's already "real", "more real".

 

Send comments for publication on this article to the editor