DAVID COHEN, Editor           
       May 2004  



Auction Reports, May 2004

Christie's: May 11
Post-War and Contemporary Art
Sotheby's: May 12
Contemporary Art
Phillips de Pury & Company: May 13 and May 14:
Contemporary Art


Christie's: May 11 Post-War and Contemporary Art


Jackson Pollock Number 12 1949
oil on paper laid down on masonite, 31 x 22-1/2 inches

A new overall total sales record was set at the Post-War & Contemporary Art Auction at Christie's last night. Total sales (including buyer's premium) amounted to $102,111,650. Only 7 lots of 67 offered failed to reach the secret minimum.

Jackson Pollock's "Number 12," (1949), which was being sold by the Museum of Modern Art, established a world auction record for the artist at $11,550,000 as did Joan Mitchell's "Degel," (1961-62) at $903,500. Willem de Kooning's sculpture "Standing Figure," (1984) established a new world record for sculpture by the artist coming in at $3,479,500. Jeff Koons brought in his second highest price at auction with his highly anticipated "Jim Beam J.B. Turner Train," (1986) for $5,495,500 almost $2M over the high estimate and his "Saint Benedict," (2000), set a world record for a painting by the artist during the same sale. Dan Flavin, Chuck Close, Ed Ruscha, Brice Marden & Marlene Dumas also broke world auction records at the sale. Warhol was well represented with "Large Flowers," (1964), coming in at $6,727,500 and "Self-Portrait," (1967) was purchased by a European dealer at just shy of $7M.

Ultimately, 9 records were broken with the most ebullient response reserved for Pollock's piece which brought out spontaneous hand clapping when the gavel struck. There were few disappointments at tonight's auction. Murmurs were heard throughout, however, when John Currin's painting, "Sister," (1992) came in at $150K below its low estimate, passing at $350K. It was an electric sale overall with standing room only. Christopher Burge, in his post-auction summary for the press, attributed the frenzy in bidding to the quality and rarity of the works offered coupled with a stronger overall economy. It is interesting to note that wholly 78% of the sales at auction were made by Americans followed by 17% European with only 3% Asian.

In possible homage to Elvis or a nod to Brad Pitt in Troy, women at the auction are beginning to use more product in their hair this spring creating some "greasier" effects, while the sling back high heel with extreme pointed toe is still de rigueur as last season. Men were sporting slightly more fitted suits; shiny grey 3 button models with ice-blue wide ties and white shirts with spread collars stood out. The clatter of cell phones with the occasional musical refrain punctuated the events throughout the evening as is the common practice of society's wealthiest exiting ceremoniously ten minutes before the end to showcase their presence and most recent couture purchases.


Sotheby's: May 12 Contemporary Art

Maurizio Cattelan The Ballad of Trotsky 1996
taxidermied horse, leather saddlery, rope, pulley, variable measurements

The strength and depth of the contemporary art market continued to perform last evening at Sotheby's when all 58 lots found buyers driving the evening's take above the pre-sale high estimate to an astonishing $65,670,400 (including buyer's premium). The evening's top 5 paintings, Roy Lichtenstein's "Step On Can with Leg," (1961), "Jasper John's "Corpse and Mirror," (1975-76), Clyfford Still's "1960-F," (1960), David Smith's "Untitled" (1960) and Andy Warhol's "The Last Supper," (1986), brought in over $17M between them.

Seventeen artists' records were shattered as New York's wealthiest proved again that the transparent environment of the auction house is an appealing alternative to the backrooms of the dealer market. Sotheby's brilliant mix of the very best of the current heavy hitters of contemporary art with the classic superstars from the 60's and 70's together with an economy that appears to be galloping along opened the wallets of the Dolce & Gabbana set who are now more confident that buying the best is satisfying to both the spirit and the pocketbook.

Spontaneous clapping and restrained hooting burst forth as the gavel crashed down on Maurizio Cattelan's "The Ballad of Trotsky" (1996) that exceeded it's high, pre-sale estimate by over $1M coming in at $2,080,000 (including buyer's premium). The taxidermied full-sized horse held air bound from a rope and pulley was an apt symbol of the coolly challenging shift going on in the art world presently. Ellsworth Kelly's 1971 masterpiece, "Chatham X111: Yellow Red (EK 464)" quickly followed at just under $3M exceeding its pre-sale high estimate by $1.5M. John Currin's, 1996 portrait, aptly named The Optimist, broke a previous record landing at $433,600. Takashi Murakami, Tim Noble/Sue Webster, Keith Haring, Rachel Whiteread, Jasper Johns, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Yoshitomo Nara, Clyfford Still, James Rosenquist, Claes Oldenberg, Sol Lewitt and Robert Indiana also broke artists' records with the ubiquitous Warhol represented by a fright-wig portrait [$1,296,000] soup can [$2,024,000] and Last Supper with Wise potato chip logo [$2,920,000] exceeding or matching previous strong numbers at the gavel.

Artists who use the medium of photography had a wonderful evening with Cindy Sherman's "Untitled Film Still #48," (1979), a 16 x 20 inch black and white silver print of a girl with suitcase on a highway going for $280K. Thomas Gursky's "Turner Collection," an 81-1/2 x 108-3/4 inch Cibachrome print of a trio of Turner paintings in a museum sold at $400K double the high estimate and Thomas Struth's "Milan Duomo," (1988), a 69 x 86-3/4 inch Cibachrome print of the cathedral interior also exceeded its high estimate landing at $210K.

An extremely interesting post-auction conversation with Sotheby's Vice President of Contemporary Art, Matthew Carey-Williams, leads me to believe that the sons and daughters of the elite are not buying the masterpieces of their parent's generation but are now coming out to establish their own mark by supporting the art of their contemporaries.

The standing-room only crowd at Sotheby's tended to be slightly more formal than the Christie's group from the previous evening and there was much less musical accompaniment on the cell phone chatter. Manolo's continue to be the shoe of the moment although I did notice the addition of more brass and silver hardware at the ankles. More tough love at Sotheby's, presumably.

Phillips de Pury & Company: May 13 and May 14: Contemporary Art

Martin Kippenberger Wie Komme Ich in Kriegszeiten mit Knoch Enbruch und Futurismus Klar 1984, oil and metallic paint on six panels, 87-3/4 x 70 inches

In hindsight, you could say that Simon de Pury, Phillips principle auctioneer extraordinaire and co-owner of New York's third auction house (in sales) saw the shift in the art market coming way back when he conceived of a plan to move from the tony uptown premises on 57th Street downtown to the hipper-than-thou Chelsea-Meat District in Manhattan in late 2002. The epi-center of the new world of contemporary art market was where he wanted to be and he found a cavernous, white minimalist warehouse with a concrete floor that mimicked the sensibility of the cool, new art galleries that were designed to appeal to the younger, Gucci-clad collector, dealer and art advisor. His stripping down and re-focusing on the 90's masterpieces of contemporary art (as well as the classics of the 70's and 80's) makes his Phillips house look like the retail boutique equivalent of Jeffrey's as opposed to the behemoths of Barney's and Bergdorf's.

Selling 94% of the total lots offered at above the presale high estimate of $17.5M, the evening Contemporary Art sale was among the most successful in the firm's history. Of the 59 lots sold 11 artists' records were smashed. Doug Aitken's "Electric Earth (Linear Version)," (1999), an eight-channel video installation, brought in more than double his previous record made at Sotheby's in November of 2003 for $114K. Christopher Wool's "Untitled (W26A-W26E)," (1990), an enamel on aluminum painting in five parts, installed as "RUN", "DOG", "RUN", "DOG", "RUN", sold for $848,000 also doubling his May 1999 record sale at Christie's. Bridget Riley sensational "Serif," (1964), a black and white striped op-art piece rolled out the door with a $792K price tag destroying the record for the artist of $321,839 set in London at Sotheby's in February 2003. Richard Prince "My Name," (1987), a "joke" diptych painting in acrylic and silk screen with the text, "I never had a penny to my name so I changed my name," landed at an astonishing $747,200 surpassing his previous record by almost $300K [also at Phillips] from November of last year. Marlene Dumas's canvas "Young Boys" (1993) received jubilant clapping when the gavel went down at $880K, $550K over the high estimate giving the deep-pocketed buyer a take home price tag of $993,600 plus applicable taxes [buyers premium 20% for the first 100K and 12% after].
Artists working with the camera continued to reduce the discrepancy with the mediums of painting and sculpture at the rostrum with Andreas Gursky's "Times Square," (1997), a 73-1/4 x 98-1/4 inch c-print of the interior of the Marriott Hotel going for $271,200, over $70K above the pre-sale high estimate. The "old timers", Bernd and Hilla Becher sold their 22 gelatin silver print piece of black and white variants of blast furnaces of 1997 for almost $100K above the high estimate at $176,000. It's of note that it was under the tutelage of this couple at the Kunstakadamie Institute in Dusseldorf that Mr. Gursky developed his interest in topologies.

Richard Prince struck gold again... this time using the camera with his seminal work on cowboys appropriated from the Marlboro cigarette print advertisements. "Cowboy," (1999), a 68-5/8 x 40-1/2 inch Ektacolor photograph mounted on paperboard went for $110K above its high estimate to reach $265,600.

Jean-Michel Basquiat's acrylic and oilstick on canvas, "Blue Heads" (1983) captured the biggest money of the evening going out the door at $2,024,000, followed by Damien Hirst's "We Are Afraid of Nothing," (1992), his pharmaceutical drug containers, glass and steel medicine cabinet and ladder for $372K over its high estimate at $1,072,000. The ubiquitous pop great Andy Warhol sold four works at the evening auction, "Four Marilyns (Reversal)," (1979-86) for $579,200, "Beatle Boots (Negative)," (1986), for $243,200, "Crosses," (1982) for $792,000 and "Diamond Dust Shadow" (1979) at $288K. Three out of the four hit at the centre or high end of their pre-sale estimates. Tim Noble/Sue Webster, Daniel Richter, Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman, Rosemarie Trockel, Ed Ruscha and the super star of this season's contemporary auction round, Maurizio Cattelan with "Mini-Me," (1999) at $355,200 [$105K over high estimate] helped Phillips cash in to the ever deepening market base of the Contemporary Art market.

Part 2 of the Contemporary Art sale at Phillips turned into a five hour marathon which took advantage of coming at the end of a two week run of heated collector interest. The overall feeling in the room was more akin to the populist ambience of a mega art fare like the Armory Show at the piers than at the wood panelled, carpeted mise en scene of the boy's club at Sotheby's or Christie's. Over 250 items were auctioned off with pre-sale estimates running from $3 to $200K. A top 10 paintings brought in over $2,200,000. These included Martin Kippenberger's "Wie Komme Ich In Kriegszeiten Mit Knoch Und Futurismus Klar," (1984), oil and metalic paint on six panels, overall 87-3/4 x 70 inches. Estimated at $60-80K went for a whopping $620K at the gavel. Other works bringing in his prices were by Keith Haring, Richard Prince, Anselm Kiefer, Mike Kelly, Gilbert and George, and Ugo Rondinone. The few disappointments of the day fell on Julian Schnabel, Meyer Vaisman, David Salle, Jonathan Borofsky and Philip Taafe which were passed or brought in less than their low estimates but above the consigner's secret minimum.

The Phillips crowd consisted of the usual suspects sporting white Prada leather jackets and bags and men in pin-striped Brioni suits and Farragamo shoes. But, the meat district also brought out a younger, hipper crowd some wearing trucker hats with logos from L.A. strip clubs and army/navy store khakis with cargo pockets and young women showing their navels wearing super-low Rogan and Diesel jeans. There was also a smattering of what one would describe as Hollywood types with bountiful cleavage and wrap-around tinted glasses. I saw a T-shirt with Lick Bush in '04 in the front and Taste Freedom on the back. Puma running shoes were everywhere as were Gucci loafers with no socks and fitted white shirts with open white collars that showed a bit of chest. There were a couple of babies in the crowd which was nice and a few 5- 8 year olds who took advantage of watching the cars being washed through the large glass windows on the western edge of the auction room. Actually this 3 panel glass window into the car wash was a magnet for a lot of men who perhaps were drawing comparisons with Ruscha's 26 Parking Lots piece from the 60's. That afternoon Phillips was a talent scout's dream casting laboratory.


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