RECORD BREAKER: $84.1 Million Barnett Newman Leads $744.9 Million Christie’s May 13, 2014 Evening Sale of Post War and Contemporary Art in NY
UPDATE: The big surprise of the evening was the record breaking $84.1 million for the Barnett Newman ($75 million plus the buyer’s fees, which edged out the $80.8 million Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards as the evening’s top lot. Auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen maintained his stamina for a sale the lasted a good two-and-one half hours. Out of 72 lots, none were withdrawn and four failed to sell – the sale totaled a record $744.9 million (inclusive of buyers’ premiums). This followed on the heels of the last night’s very successful If I Live I’ll See You Tuesday sale. Of the first 14 lots from Chicago-based collectors Lindy and Edwin Bergman, all but one sold, bringing in a collective hammer price of $52.2 million. Quote of the Night: “I don’t know what money means anymore” – according to Bloomberg News’ Katya Kazakina, this was said by Asher Edelman, “an art dealer and founder of ArtAssure, an art financing company, as he exited the Rockefeller Center salesroom halfway through the auction.” The night kicked off with Lucas Samaras’ Box #102, estimated at $80,000-120,000, it hammered for $230,000 ($281,000 with the buyer’s premium), a new world record for the artist and an auspicious start for the evening, followed by the first of the evening’s seven works by Joseph Cornell, Untitled [Snow Maiden], which hammered at $1.4 million ($1,685,000 with the buyer’s premium). The Joseph Cornell Medici Slot Machine nearly doubled its $3.5 million high estimate to hammer at $6.8 million, ($7,781,000 with the buyer’s premium), a new world record for the artist. The Calder Poisson volant (Flying Fish) was the subject of protracted bidding to finally sell for $23 million ($25,925,000 with the buyer’s premium), purchased by a Chinese buyer bidding by phone with Larry Gagosian as the underbidder – the price a new record for the artist.
Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (712) was sold at Sotheby’s only one-and-one-half years ago for $17,442,500 ($15.5 million hammer price plus buyer’s premium) and now carried a hefty $22-28 million estimate – it sold for a hammer price of $26 million ($29,285,000 with the buyers premium). Robert Gober’s The Silent Sink, easily surpassed its$3 million high estimate to hammer at $3.6 million ($4,197,000 with the buyer’s premium), a new record for the artist. Warhol’s Race Riot drew several bidders, opening at $38 million and hammering for $56 million ($62,885,000 with the buyer’s premium), after careful nudging from the auctioneer. This winning bidder was Larry Gagosian who also dropped $23,685,000 for the Christopher Wool If You. Warhol’s White Marilyn progressed steadily from an opening bid of $10 million and multiple bidders before more than doubling its $18 million high estimate after ten minutes of bidding to hit $36.5 million ($41,045,000 with the buyer’s premium). The Koons Jim Beam opened at $24 million, thought the auctioneer initially said $24,000 to some laughter, hammering for $30 million ($33,765,000 with the buyer’s premium), bourbon included.
At 8:20PM Gallerist tweeted: “Eli Broad heads for the door at 8:20 p.m., as Koons hammers at $30 million, Mr. Gagosian two minutes later. Still more than 40 lots to go.” The Rothko progressed in million dollar increments to a hammer price of $59 million ($66,245,000 with the buyer’s premium), going to a Chinese buyer bidding by phone. The Barnett Newman Black Fire I opened at $40 million and climbed to a record breaking $75 million ($ The Clyfford Still PH-1033 that sold for $19,682,500 ($17.5 million hammer price plus buyer’s premium) just two-and-one-half years ago – carried a $15-20 million estimate, and sold for a hammer price of $25.5 million, so this owner took a loss.
ORIGINAL POST: Christie’s May 13, 2104 Evening Sale of Post War and Contemporary Art in New York is astonishing for the number of eight-figure estimated works – and for following the preceding night’s If I Live I’ll See You Tuesday sale at Christie’s. There are plenty of the predictable and bankable art world darlings – Warhol, Richter, Basquiat, Koons, Bacon and Rothko – but there are also seven works by Joseph Cornell, which is just shy of 10% of the 72 lots in the sale. This will be a lengthier post than usual because there is so much good material – iconic pieces by Robert Gober, Christopher Wool, Gerhard Richter, Robert Ryman, Anselm Kiefer and others – enough to create the nucleus of an important collection. There are a few works by Brice Marden including the rich and sublime 5 (Note to My Self), based on his Cold Mountain series, an early and delightfully disorienting Sigmar Polke and a winning Cy Twombly (all shown below). The Marden and Twombly are a couple of works from the personal collection of the late Frances “Frannie” Dittmer – there are additional works by Agnes Martin, Rudolph Stingel, Christopher Wool, and Martin Puryear – a philanthropist and noted art collector who died in an airplane accident this past February in Mexico. For many years she was married to Thomas Dittmer, who founded the financial firm Refco. Frannie built up the company’s art collection during three decades. The Dittmers divorced in 1999. The company was sold by Thomas and ultimately went into bankruptcy after its then-chief executive, Phillip Bennett, was indicted on fraud charges. The corporate collection was sold at auction in 2006. A good deal of material is fresh to the market – though there are a few lots that were recently at auction, including Clyfford Still PH-1033 that sold for $19,682,500 ($17.5 million hammer price plus buyer’s premium) just two-and-one-half years ago – the present estimate is $15-20 million, which means the seller could lose money or just break even. However, since it carries a third party guarantee, it will sell. Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (712) was sold at Sotheby’s only one-and-one-half years ago for $17,442,500 ($15.5 million hammer price plus buyer’s premium) and now carries a hefty $22-28 million estimate – clearly Richter’s market is hotter than Still’s. This work also carries a third party guarantee, so it will sell. The sale opens with 14 works owned by Lindy and Edwin Bergman, Chicago-based collectors of Surrealism, Tribal art, and Post War painting, drawing and sculpture – including those seven by Cornell. According to the catalogue:
Friends and fellow collectors describe the Bergman residence as one filled with art that fostered conversation, contemplation and a sense of beauty; the couple simply collected the art they loved. “In spite of the extraordinary number and quality of the art objects (on every wall, table, shelf and even floor),” notes [historian Dawn] Ades, “the apartment was still very much a home, not a museum.” It was an attitude toward collecting that remains familiar in Chicago: “One thing that’s marked serious Chicago collectors over the years is that they go after things they’re interested in rather than the latest fad,” notes Lynne Warren, curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art. “They don’t always stick with trends in art. They tend to have one-of-a-kind collections because they follow their inclinations.” (J. Hueber, “The In Crowd,” Chicago Reader, 31 October 1996).
Here are three of the seven Cornells:This work carries a third party guarantee, so it will sell. From the catalogue:
Cornell’s works from the 1930s possess an inexplicable amount of wonder and whimsy. It was during these years that, due to Cornell’s lack of formal artistic training, and his innate desire to catalogue and collect objects of unyielding interest to him, he was able to experiment with a variety of containers and methods of display, which would ultimately inform his mature works. […] Glistening within her azure and marbled confines, Untitled [Snow Maiden] at first appears as a modestly unassuming construct culled from a vintage 1889 advertisement trade card and calendar for Taylor & Williams shoe store. However, this young child, lost in the snow, garners an exceptionally strong capability of pulling the viewer into gentle contemplation.
From the catalogue:
On the evening of February 26, 1945, Joseph Cornell made his way back to his home at 3708 Utopia Parkway. It had been a wet afternoon, and the pavement was still glistening with the lingering drizzles of rain. Finding himself in his cluttered studio basement, Cornellin his characteristic and almost-incomprehensible scrawlpenciled down the days journey. Decided to go to Keiths, he began, referring to the Flushing, New York movie theater. Remembering the vacant, dark confines of the theater, Cornell grew skeptical about what he saw. Pure Hollywood hokum, the artist jotted down of Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not, starring Humphrey Bogart and the nascent Lauren Bacall, who he described as disappointing in her Hollywood debut (J. Cornell, quoted in D. Tashjian, Joseph Cornell: Gifts of Desire, Miami Beach, 1992, p. 121). And yet, through a stroke of instant desire, Cornell withdrew his initial assessment of the young actress in favor a growing fascination with her close-ups.
Christie’s has guaranteed this lot, which means they own it if it fails to make the reserve. From the lot notes:
Executed in 1943, Medici Slot Machine from the celebrated eponymous series, is considered by many to be his greatest works, adapting three different Renaissance portraits as their sources, in this case Pinturicchios Portrait of a Boy from the Gemldegalerie in Dresden. Although Cornell was known to have almost never traveled beyond the bounds of New York, he was an inveterate traveler of the mind.
Christie’s has guaranteed this lot, which means they own it if it fails to make the reserve. From the catalogue:
Alexander Calder’s remarkable sculpture, Poisson volant (Flying Fish), amply demonstrates the breadth and diversity of the artist’s prolific career. The sleek black outline of the fish combined with the complex construction of animated elements that comprise the fish’s tail demonstrate the artist’s unique compositional ability, unsurpassed technical execution and sheer sense of joie de vivre in one memorable work. Although much of Calder’s work was defiantly non-referential, the fish motif was one that occurred throughout his life; from Steel Fish, one of the artist’s early standing mobiles he created in 1934, to the themed headboard he made for Peggy Guggenheim in 1945, and continuing with his large scale mobiles and stabiles, such as the present work and Yellow Whale created during the late 1950s, the symbolic nature of the fish seemed to encompass much of what Calder wanted to achieve in his unique brand of sculpture.
As note above, this work carries a third party guarantee, so it will sell. From the catalogue:
The present work, along with Richter’s other abstract paintings of the late 1980s and early 1990s, is the culmination of a five-decade-long investigation into the possibilities of painting. Having first covered a photorealist image with swirls of grey pigment in his early work, Table, 1962, Richter began in the 1980s to use a squeegee to spread thick, colorful streaks of paint over his canvases. Traditionally, abstract painting has pared back painting to its fundamental constituents, but for Richter it is from the buildup of countless layers of paint that his work derives its force. The rhythmic application and disruption of pigments with the squeegee is at once creative and destructive, a clash between conscious control and free, intuitive painting.
This work carries a third party guarantee, so it will sell. From the lot notes:
Mediated by cinema, television and other forms of mass advertising, Wool’s generation involved the viewer in a kaleidoscopic sequence of appropriations. Reaching deeper into the art historical past, Wool appropriated catchphrases from the vernacular, re-imagined them as painted images, and, by doing so, called meaning into question. His stacked vocabulary disrupts understanding and works metaphorically both as an iconic symbol and cunning cipher. Despite myriad cultural references to mythic-sized word play to the history of the medium, Wool remains emphatically an artist in the traditional sense: “I always considered myself involved with painting. I can’t imagine someone seeing one of those and not realizing it’s a painting. I think, the way I used text was not didactic. I was not speaking about art, I was just making paintings. The text was more subject than anything else” (C. Wool, “Conversation with Christopher Wool,” with Martin Prinzhorn, Museum in Progress, 1997, http://www.mip.at/attachments/222).
From the catalogue:
Created in 1984,The Silent Sink is an important, early example of Robert Gober’s most significant body of work, the sinks that he fabricated in New York between 1984 and 1986. […] Robert Gober’s fascination with the domestic trappings of the family home began to emerge in the 1970s while he was building and selling miniature dollhouses. In 1983, he made his first sculpture of a sink, titled The Small Sink, which was a rather rough, unrefined version of the sinks he would begin in earnest in 1984. For the most part, Gober’s sinks are based on his childhood memories. He vividly recalled the porcelain washbasin from his grandparents’ home and a nearly identical version that his father had installed in his basement workshop. […] For Gober, The Silent Sink seems to also symbolize the dialectical opposition of purification and bodily pollution, two key issues for a homosexual male artist raised in the strict doctrine of the Catholic Church who later witnessed the ravaging effect of HIV and AIDS in New York of the 1980s and 90s. If the sink stands as a modern repository for the elimination of dirt and waste, a modern convention of daily personal hygiene that renders a dirty body clean, then what does Gober’s tapless, pipeless, [waterless] “silent” sink signify? It seems to issue forth from some nightmarish dream, in which the dirty body can never be cleansed, and may point to the inability of the body’s immune system to eradicate diseases like the AIDS virus from the body.
This work carries a third party guarantee, so it will sell. This work is intriguing within Bacon’s oeuvre because the subject doesn’t seem tormented – certainly not like the screaming popes. From the catalogue:
Painted in 1984, Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards is a celebration of what was probably the most important and significant relationship of Francis Bacon’s life. The subject of this painting is John Edwards, a bar manager from the East End of London, who Bacon had met a decade earlier and who went on to become one of the artist’s closet and most trusted companions. Across its three panels, Bacon records with his characteristic verve and painterly flourishes the lithe figure of Edwards dressed in a simple outfit of a white shirt and grey pants. Locating his subject in an ethereal arena-like space, Bacon focuses attention on Edwards’ soft features, infusing each brushstroke not with angst and fear, as he had done in his earlier portraits, but with a considered sense of warmth and serenity that was to become the hallmark of his later work.
Christie’s has an ownership interest in this lot. From the catalogue:
In the first days of May 1963, the long, burgeoning but also often unseen struggle for civil rights in the United States suddenly exploded into full public view. All at once, it seemed, stark and disturbing images of young American black men, women and children being assaulted by fire-hoses and police attack dogs on the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, began appearing across the world’s media engines when a peaceful organized mass protest against Southern segregation laws turned violent and ugly.
The result of these events, and of the shocking images they generated, was that almost overnight one of the great lies about America–the so-called “land of the free”–was made plain for all to see. Suddenly, the discomforting truth that, at the heart of the world’s richest, most powerful and technologically advanced society–the self-proclaimed “leader of the free world”–lay an entire race of its own citizens who were themselves not free, but legally and violently oppressed by its rulers, was graphically and embarrassingly exposed.
Christie’s has guaranteed this lot, which means they own it if it fails to make the reserve. Talk about fetishizing … from the lot notes:
Jeff Koons’s Jim Beam – J.B. Turner Train stretches nine and a half feet, a silvery seam of industrial nostalgia: it takes the form of a vintage locomotive and its carriages. This is a subject that taps into the pioneer history of the United States of America. It channels the glamor of a bygone era, an elegy to the ages of steam and steel. Its appearance mimics that of the lavish centerpieces that would have adorned the formal table of a Duke, a Frick or a Carnegie. And yet this is not Tiffany or Fabergé silver: instead, it is stainless steel. The train is made of the same practical material that underpinned the expansion of the USA, once linked by vital arteries of steel along which trains like this would trundle. Invoking old world glamor and filled with bourbon, a piece of found cultural ephemera transformed into indestructible, immaculate steel, Jim Beam – J.B. Turner Train taps into many chapters of American history, from the pioneers to Prohibition to Pop.
Jim Beam – J.B. Turner Train was made in 1986 and formed part of Koons’s second one-man exhibition, Luxury and Degradation, held at the International with Monument Gallery in New York. As the show’s title implies, Koons’s train is at once a celebration and a caveat, pointing to the exploitation that lay behind the successes of the speculators of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries alike, be it through land sales, booze or advertising, while commemorating the heroic spirit of these frontiersmen and trailblazers.
This is big, luscious and intoxicating. From the lot notes:
Painted in 1952, this towering, vibrant and deeply moving painting derives from the first years of Mark Rothko’s maturity–the period when, after many years of struggle and exploration, the artist had suddenly arrived at the “new vision” and “new structural language” that was to define his painterly practice for the rest of his life. A vast, extraordinarily painterly, turbulent and even, in places, tempestuous work, determined by its fascinating, busily worked surface of multiple layers of warm, radiant color, this painting is a vivid and gripping example of the full revelatory power of Rothko’s “new vision.” First developed between 1949 and 1950, this “vision” was the realization of what fellow New York School artist, Robert Motherwell, once famously called Rothko’s “genius” in creating an entirely new “language of feeling” solely from the painting of only a few, separate, and at the time, shockingly empty, rectangular fields of color.
I’m not a Barnett Newman “zip painting” fan, for the most part, but this is a significant work from a defining period:
Black Fire I is a sublime Abstract Expressionist masterpiece that perfectly captures Barnett Newman’s radically reductive and uncompromising aesthetic. It represents a significant group of works painted in black pigment on exposed canvas that Newman created between 1958-1966, of which only three remain in private collections. The other paintings are currently housed in major international museum collections; they are: White Fire II (1960, Kunstmuseum Basel); Noon-Light (1961, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA); Shining Forth (To George) (1961, Centre Pompidou, Paris); The Station (1963, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); and Newman’s monumental, fourteen-part series The Stations of the Cross (1958-66, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C). The Zen-like simplicity of Black Fire I embodies the spirituality, grandeur and solemnity that define all of Newman’s greatest works. The stark black palette, luminous raw canvas and austere structure emerged with The Stations of the Cross, which slowly came to fruition over nine years. Painted in 1961, Black Fire I was created during a period of refrain from this project while Newman came to terms with the sudden death of his much-loved younger brother, George. Coaxed out of depression by a close friend who encouraged him to keep working, Newman negotiated his emotions through the language of abstraction. In doing so, he chose to continue the theme of dynamic tension between light and dark that was first established in the Stations.
As noted above, this work carries a third party guarantee, so it will sell.
This painting was purchased by the present owner in 1982, one year after it’s creation, and has not been publicly shown since:
Executed on canvas and on a scale akin to the wall expanses he had previously utilized on the street of downtown New York City, Untitled is a masterpiece from Basquiat’s most inspired period, created at the precise moment in Basquiat’s career when he was channeling the raw energy of his street art into the medium of fine art. Untitled captures all of the unharnessed talent and graffiti imagery that first garnered Basquiat attention during his SAMO days, in a richly wrought work worthy of the artist’s place as one of the most iconic artists of the twentieth century. Acting as an almost subconscious nod to how far he had come from his graffiti days on the gritty streets of New York City, Basquiat tagged a scrawl of gold spray paint along the side of his warrior’s face, which, along with the repetition of his crown motif, acts as symbols of sorts reflecting his feelings of personal triumph. With the victorious figure emerging from a warm and glowing background, Untitled would seem to capture the particular sentiments of Basquiat at this time of his life.
This work carries a third party guarantee, so it will sell.
This is the first of two Ryman paintings in the sale:
Both rigorous and radical, Robert Rymans entirely unique body of work is, above all, a celebration of the act of painting and of paint itself. Executed in 1980, the year of Ryman’s first internationally touring solo show, Mission exemplifies the integrity of the Tennessee-born artist’s ambition. A rare example of Ryman charging the underlying surface with an emotive color, Mission resonates with aesthetic and conceptual intensity. Interweaving, overlapping strokes of white paint play upon a deep, rusty red ground, creating a vibrant, shimmering white form in a marriage of grace and gravitas. Each slender, writhing white brushstroke is integral to the whole mass yet is not quite consumed by it; rather, the individuality of their shape, weight, direction and movement are emphasized by the smoothness and richness of the dark background as well as the strict linear confines of the square canvas upon which they dance. Created shortly after Ryman began to first integrate the system of hanging into the compositional whole, Mission embraces its spatial surroundings via its painted metal supports. Used for both formal and practical effect, they serve to highlight the works strong, almost sculptural presence. Ryman’s work emphasizes that painting can be a performance in itself, and that its essential material components, its medium and its structural support, also deserve to take center stage.
Christie’s has guaranteed this lot, which means they own it if it fails to make the reserve:
Rather than revealing by creating tonal areas that would ensure legibility, Polke uses his [raster] dots to encrypt the image. Unsparing in his parodying of Roy Lichtenstein’s more unified design of clear and crisp images, Polke’s use of Lichtenstein’s formal device is hauntingly murky. In contrast to Lichtenstein – who uses thick contour lines and high contrast in value, color and saturation to foreground shapes as in advertisements and comics – Polke compresses his image and substitutes for contour lines strongly demarcated shifts in value. Polke’s dots blur the image through his meshing of irregular dots, conjoined or absent, an artistic practice that emphasizes the artificial construction of the image. Polke’s erudite, but skeptical approach, opens art toward the mechanical processes of the every-day, but in a way that erases effect, evacuates sentimentality and tentatively acknowledges memory.
Christie’s has guaranteed this lot, which means they own it if it fails to make the reserve.
Christie’s has guaranteed this lot, which means they own it if it fails to make the reserve:
A celebration of the quiet beauty of color and form, 5 (Note to My Self) is composed of a series of the artist’s enigmatic “glyphs,” meandering linear forms that he places on a monochromatic background of dark maroon-red pigment. Simple and enigmatic, these motifs are comprised of a series of dark lines that the artist allows to roam across the surface of the canvas, their final form designated by a series of angular twists and turns. Here, Marden places them in a loose grid pattern comprised of three rows of three, with each jostling for attention alongside their neighbor. Some have likened this formation to Chinese calligraphy, a graphic form which had interested Marden ever since a visit to China three years before this work was painted. These calligraphic forms are regarded by some scholars to be the high point of the artist’s oeuvre, with the present work being recognized as an exemplary example.
Christie’s has guaranteed this lot, which means they own it if it fails to make the reserve. This work is also from the collection of Frances Dittmer:
Robert Ryman’s vigorous and evocative work belongs to a series of intimately-scaled, canvases that he painted between 1958 and 1962. A crucial, fertile period, this era was marked by an exceptional freedom of handling and a certain painterly exuberance, in which Ryman developed the rigorous tenets of a mature style that would consume him for the next five decades. In this early era, Ryman produced a series of small, brilliant works of white pigment upon bare, unstretched canvas, in which the surrounding edges were left untouched and often reveal the selvedge edge of plain linen. True to this era, this particular painting displays a soft wash of white that has been thinned down so as to appear nearly translucent in some areas, rendered with a confident, expressive touch that feels at once strong and subtle. The edges of this interior cloud-like form are scumbled in a bold manner that directly contrasts the bareness of the raw canvas. Within this intimate work, Ryman’s highly restricted process is laid bare, in the application of white paint upon a square canvas, so that the artist’s poignant gesture and expressive mark-making become the subject of the painting itself. During this formative period, Ryman sometimes innovated with color, but found himself continually “painting out” the different hues with white, and eventually decided upon white as the only effective way to allow the inherent physical qualities of the paint-texture, density, light and reflectivity-to speak for themselves.
From the catalogue:
A massive, desolate winter landscape, lacerated by diagonal paths that lead the eye to a high horizon line over which hovers a handwritten inscription written into the pale sky, Anselm Kiefer’s epic painting lays bare an undeniably compelling beauty rising amid the ravages of historical time. Both a universal and specific story, the words, “Beschwaert sind die östlischen Himmel mit Seidengewerbe” (“The eastern skies are laden with silken twine”) are Paul Celan’s, whose 1944 poem “Septemberkrone,” inspired Kiefer to create this searing evocation of historical memory. Kiefer’s imagery, like Celan’s, is both allegorical and literal, beckoning the viewer to join in a conscious act of collective memory, while also exploring individual unconscious associations. This grand-scale work is also about nature and landscape as metaphor. Drawing upon allegorical imagery, Celan’s poem literally traces the course of the woodpecker as it weaves silken threads through trees and pumpkin fields. Literal, too, are Kiefer’s materials. Thickened white, grey and flesh-colored oil paint is overlaid with broken branches on lead blackened with ash and paint. Skeins of bundled hair course through the impasto. Like Celan, Kiefer’s imagery is not only specific, but also replete with allusion. While Celan’s woodpecker is associated in mythology with the god of war, Kiefer’s barren snow-covered field is its reversal, an evocation of war’s effects. The branches are broken, shaped into mirror images of Celan’s verse. The ‘silken twine’ has lost its suppleness; scorched and stiff, it stands for “autumn’s runic weave,” a phrase from the poem that augurs autumnal death, resonating with the stream of broken branches, so many runes – mysterious written incantations – strewn over the forsaken terrain. The author of “Septemberkrone,” Paul Celan, was the only surviving member of a Romanian Jewish family that was deported and subsequently exterminated in a Nazi concentration camp. The traumas suffered by his family – his father died of typhus and his mother was shot and Celan himself suffered in a labor camp for eighteen months (and, indeed would take his own life years later) – produced some of the most haunting Germanic poetry ever written. “It seems that war continued to live next to and in Celan to an unbearable degree” (B. A. Kaplan, Unwanted Beauty: Aesthetic Pleasure in Holocaust Representation, Urbana and Chicago, 2007, p. 19).