Wednesday, May 23, 2007




The evening sale of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s New York on May 16, 2007, was certainly dramatic, if higher and higher bids coming one after the other almost without end is your idea of drama. The sale totaled $384,654,400, a new record for a contemporary auction, with 74 of the 78 lots finding buyers, or 95 percent. Looks like the bulls still rule the art market.

"I’m stunned and exhausted and thrilled," said auctioneer Christopher Burge at the post-sale press conference. It seems he’s always saying something along those lines, though this time it was truer than ever. "We had strong prices in all sections of the market with bidders from all over the world." Indeed, the first passed lot didn’t come till lot 37, about an hour into the sale. Sixty-five of the lots sold for over $1 million, and 26 new artists records were set.

Prices given here include the buyer’s premium of 20 percent of the first $500,000 bid and 12 percent of the remainder.

Although plenty of action took place in the room, most of the top ten lots were won by phone bidders. Andy Warhol’s Green Car Crash (1963), which Christie’s said would establish a new price level for Warhol, did just that, soaring above its presale high estimate of $35 million to go for $71,720,000.

Burge started the bidding at $16 million, ran it quickly up to $25 million, and then the bids ping-ponged between the phones in $500,000 increments (Burge tried but never cajoled the bidders to take leaps of $1 million, like Tobias Meyer had done at Sotheby’s the night before).

The back-and-forth telephone duel between one bidder on the line with Marc Porter, president of Christie’s Americas, and another with Ken Yeh, Christie’s deputy chairman for Asia -- who was comically holding two phones, one to each ear -- seemed to go on forever, until it was abruptly interrupted by Larry Gagosian, sitting in the room, who jumped in at $61.5 million. "He’s bidding for David Geffen," guessed one know-it-all in the crowd.

Gagosian’s last-minute effort was to no avail, as Yeh’s phone bidder would not be denied, and the Warhol was knocked down at $64 million, or $71,720,000 with premium. The crowd applauded. Could the picture be heading east?

Three lots later, a small (20 x 16 in.) Andy Warhol portrait of Marilyn Monroe, dubbed Lemon Marilyn (1962), sold for $28,040,000, once again to a phone bidder -- though Gagosian, on his cell with a client, came in at $25.5 million, only to quickly rescind his bid. "We can go back and do it again if you like," quipped Burge.

For a while, it seemed as if every third or fourth lot broke $10 million. A red and pink Mark Rothko painting from 1954 sold for $26,920,000, a dark red and crimson Rothko from 1961 went for $22,440,000, a 1981 Willem de Kooning painting was purchased for $19,080,000.

Jasper JohnsFigure 4 (1959), a picture as small as the Lemon Warhol (ca. 20 x 16 in.), sold for $17,400,000, a new auction record for the artist. The buyer was again Larry Gagosian, who won several other lots as well, including the record-setting Marc Newson riveted aluminum Pod of Drawers (1987) for $1,048,000, a large (99 x 147 in.) Damien Hirst dot painting for $2,392,000, and a painting by Eric Fischl, Slumber Party (1983), for $768,000. They obviously don’t call him "superdealer" for nothing.

As for the crowd in the room, most dressed up, and a few dressed down. Stephanie Seymour, sitting up front with her husband, Peter Brant, wore a long ribbon in her hair, a black turtleneck and black pumps, and a flared skirt with concentric rings of piping that suggested an homage to the Paul Poiret show at the Metropolitan Museum. She looked sharp.

On the other hand, Tobey Maguire, sitting further back with a couple of friends (including collector and Hollywood producer Stavros Merjos), dressed down, wearing sneakers, jeans, a gray t-shirt and gray baseball cap. Though he is an art collector (as well as Spiderman), he watched the action quietly and didn’t buy anything.

Successful bidders did include L&M Arts, which won the large (77x 62 in.) Lisa Yuskavage painting of a sultry babe, Night (1999-2000), for $1,384,000, a new auction record for the artist, and London dealer Tim Taylor, who snagged the impressive Philip Guston Head and Bottle (1975) for $6,536,000, though only after a ferocious battle among several bidders.

Daniela Luxembourg, sitting in the front row, took home an impressive set of 79-inch-wide lips by Tom Wesselmann, Mouth #2 (1966), for $2,168,000 -- the dealer flashed her own happy smile when she won the lot -- and also successfully bid for Roy Lichtenstein’s 1965 Landscape with Column, paying $4,744,000.

Jack Tilton bought Agnes Martin’s Minimalist Mountain II, a 72-inch-square traversed by pairs of parallel pencil lines, for $4,520,000, and Andrew Fabricant of Richard Gray Gallery purchased an impressive 1957 Hans Hofmann abstraction titled Early Dawn for $2,112,000, a new auction record for the artist.

Paul Judelson of I-20 gallery in Chelsea was the successful bidder for Andy Warhol’s beautiful, 40 x 40 in. portrait of art dealer Leo Castelli, which sold for $1,720,000. The painting was consigned by Laura de Coppet, a close associate of Castelli’s and the co-author of The Art Dealers.

Also late in the sale, Chelsea dealer David Zwirner won two lots back-to-back, setting new auction records for both artists: Hiroshi Sugimoto, whose Black Sea, Red Sea, Yellow Sea triptych from 1991-92 went for $1,888,000; and Cindy Sherman, whose Untitled No. 92 (1981) -- one of the well-known double-square "victim" images -- went for $2,112,000.

Needless to say, whether all these dealers were buying for clients or for stock is a secret known only to the principals.

The sale set so many new auction records that it almost makes more sense to list the lots that weren’t milestones. But let’s not; in addition to those already cited, records were set for Richard Artschwager ($1,272,000), John Baldessari ($4,408,000), Cecily Brown ($1,608,000), Richard Diebenkorn ($6,760,000), Lucio Fontana ($1,832,000), Arshile Gorky ($4,182,000), Eva Hesse ($4,520,000), Damien Hirst ($7,432,000), Donald Judd ($9,840,000), Morris Louis ($2,896,000), Agnes Martin ($4,744,000), Richard Prince ($2,840,000), Gerhard Richter ($6,200,000), Susan Rothenberg ($1,496,000), Wilhelm Sasnal ($396,000) and Matthias Weischer ($480,000).

One seller of note was Mel Bochner, who consigned a 1966 work by his friend Eva Hesse, Untitled ("Bochner Compart"), which sold for $3,064,000.


Anonymous Ophira said...

Good words.

4:04 PM  

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