Auctions: Success of the contemporary dead

Christie's New York followed its brilliant record-breaking sale of Impressionists and Modernists by also topping Sotheby's in its contemporary sales last week.

francois art 298 (photo credit: )
francois art 298
(photo credit: )
Christie's New York followed its brilliant record-breaking sale of Impressionists and Modernists by also topping Sotheby's in its contemporary sales last week. Christie's New York's sale of Post-War and Contemporary Art totaled $239,704,000, breaking the $200m. barrier barely 18 months after it topped $100m. for the first time. Among the artists for whom the sale set new world auction records were Andy Warhol, Willem de Kooning, Clyfford Still, Sam Francis and Sol Lewitt. Nineteen new world auction records were set and de Kooning's Untitled XXV set a world auction record for any post-war work at over $27m. From the same period, de Kooning's Untitled XXIX, 1977 realized $8,080,000 while his superb drawing, Two Women II, circa 1952, achieved $9,648,000, setting a new world auction record for a work on paper by the artist. The top Warhol of the evening was Mao, which realized $17,376,000, a new world auction record for the artist. It was bought by Joseph Lau, a private collector from Hong Kong. Orange Marilyn, topped its best estimate at $16,256,000. Sixteen Jackies, brought $15,696,000. In total, the eight works by Andy Warhol offered in the sale realized $59,712,000. Clyfford Still's 1947-R-No.1 realized $21,296,000 (previous record was $3.15 million). SOTHEBY'S EVENING sale of Contemporary Art in New York brought $125,132,800, the second highest total ever for the category at Sotheby's; and set a record for Francis Bacon's Version No. 2 - Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe, which sold well above its rosiest estimate for $15,024,000, to an anonymous buyer. The painting was a cornerstone of the The Vanthournout Collection, a private collection in Belgium, which brought an unexpected $42,146,400 and was 100% sold by lot and value. Most of the big lots were by artists long dead and thus hardly contemporary. Fifteen artist records were achieved at this sale, including those for Francis Bacon, Piero Manzoni, Anish Kapoor, Carl Andre, Robert Mangold, Dan Flavin, Isamu Noguchi, Barnaby Furnas and Joseph Albers. Willem de Kooning's late abstract canvas, Untitled XXX, 1977, sold for $10,656,000 to an anonymous buyer. Jeff Koons's delightful painted wood sculpture Ushering in Banality, 1988, one of an edition of three depicting a huge hog herded by three little angels, topped $4m. Andy Warhol's banal canvas Flowers, 1964, sold for $6,848,000. The cover lot of the sale, Warhol's youthfully unrecognizable Self-Portrait, 1964, was purchased for $3,172,000. Roy Lichtenstein's Black and White Sunrise, 1964, an early and classic example of the artist's return to realism by painting people and things, sold for $6,624,000 to an anonymous buyer. A late Albers topped an amazing $10m. The day sale of Contemporary Art, which brought a bumper $54,291,200, made the two-day total $179,424,000. CHRISTIE'S RUSSIAN sales in London next Tuesday and Wednesday reflect a growing interest in Tsarist treasures by a growing Russian nouveau riche. The beautifully fashioned clocks, silverware and jeweled knicknacks of Imperial times, many by Faberg , also reflect the enormous gap that existed between the haves and Russia's newly "emancipated" have-nots. The prices listed in the massive catalog devoted to these luxurious baubles are many times those of the generally trite (and occasionally erotic) works listed in the catalog of "Important" Russian pictures. A silver clock surmounted by the Romanov eagle which was the imperial family's presentation to Alexander lll and his Empress Maria Federovna on their 25th wedding anniversary, has an estimate of 4m.- 6m. A few Jewish artists appear in the painting catalog: Isaac Levitan, the 19th century landscape painter; Leon Bakst, Diaghilev's designer, with a seriously sensuous nude in oils; and Issachar Ber Ryback, with a classic version of his two Jews fleeing a pogrom carrying Torah scrolls. The catalog is seriously flawed in presentation, as many of the pictures and texts are set on reflecting gold backgrounds. Equally stupidly, the typefaces are all in tiny 6-point, which printed in reverse serif type on the gold are illegible without resort to a magnifying glass. The equally small type employed in the silver catalog is printed, at least for the most part, black on white. A pox on the designer.