Auctions: Blowing the contemporary bubble

Both Sotheby's and Christie's are licking their chops in anticipation of next week's contemporary sales.

warhol art 88 298 (photo credit: )
warhol art 88 298
(photo credit: )
As this page went to press, we were still awaiting the results of what promised to be the biggest auction take ever; the evening sales in New York of Impressionist and Modern Art at Sotheby's and Christie's, which together may reach half a billion dollars. Both houses are now licking their chops in anticipation of next week's contemporary sales. The evening sales are always reserved for the top lots. Most of the contemporary masters are hardly contemporary, being unfortunately dead, but this only means that the estimates for them are higher than ever. However, some of the day sales of both houses, again with a record number of lots, are replete with stuff I wouldn't have in the house, much less pay good money for. When will this bubble burst? Only when new young collectors cease to listen to dealer-babble. The post-modern hotshots of yesterday, like Sandro Chia, Francesco Clemente and David Salle, are now being unloaded. They have been replaced by German, Chinese and Japanese artists, none of whom show the strength needed to stay a long course. (The Chinese often display a cruel touch.) Top lot at Sotheby's on November 11 is Francis Bacon's Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe, not my cup of tea even at $9m.-$12m. Roy Lichtenstein's 1962Head in Yellow and Black ($8m.-$10m.) has an intentionally vapid comic book charm. A large late Willem de Kooning, a squishy oil from 1977, will probably push $10m. Andy Warhol's very early Self-Portrait, a silkscreen on canvas from 1964, is a pre-Warhol image ($3.5m.-$4.5m. at Sotheby's). The superbly crafted colored wood sculpture of a huge pig escorted by three cherubs, Ushering in Banality, is the artist's laugh on all those ready to pay well over $3m. for one of an edition of three. Sam Francis, Roy Lichtenstein, Josef Albers, Tom Wesselmann and Alexander Calder are all well-represented in Sotheby's morning contemporary catalogue. Sadly, none of them are still with us. THE CHRISTIE'S SALE of 81 lots on Wednesday evening has another 1977 De Kooning from his squishy period ($5m.-$7m.) and yet another without a public estimate, but the top lot is Warhol's steal of an official portrait of Mao, with a top estimate of $15m. Who would want to live with it? Warhol's Marilyn has the same estimate. I liked the Lichtenstein of a brushstroke he painted in oil and magna back in 1965 (magna, an early acrylic, proved to be an unreliable pigment), showing just how early this artist had mastered his signature style. There's also a painted bronze by Lichtenstein derived from a comic strip rendering of a fighter plane attack ($3m.). I was especially taken by a bold painterly abstraction by Richard Diebenkorn, dated 1955, a canvas that will top $3m. This hefty catalogue also offers a row of cheeses painted by Canada's Wayne Thiebaud in his unique manner and personal color harmony, back in 1961 ($1m.). Robert Mangold, Sol Lewitt, Brice Marden, Franz Kline and Ed Ruscha also feature in this sale.