$179 million Picasso painting and $141 million Giacometti sculpture set records at Christie’s
Old records tumbled and new records were established at Christie’s Looking Forward to the Past sale on Tuesday, May 11, including the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction, a 1954 Picasso painting that made $179,365,000 ($160 million plus fees) and a Giacometti that became the most expensive work of sculpture at $141,285,00 ($126 million plus fees). Christie’s global president Jussi Pylkkanen presided over the taut, curated, 35-lot sale, which lasted less than 90 minutes, but with impressive highlights including a Monet of London’s Houses of Parliament, an iconic Picasso (or two), a heroic Giacometti sculpture, a Warhol of Liz Taylor, and so much more. It raked in a combined hammer price of $623,850,000 – within the pre-sale estimate of $577.7-667.5 million (estimates do not include buyer’s premiums) or $705,858,000 with the buyer’s fees. Thirty-four of 35 lots sold, one failed and none withdrawn.
Lot 1a, Marcel Duchamp’s Feuille de vigne femelle, a cast from a set of small-scale “erotic objects” created by the artist in the early 1950s, opened at$280,000 and hammered for $650,000 ($785,000 with fees), against an estimate of $350,000-450,000, followed Egon Schiele’s Weiblicher Torso in Unterwäsche und schwarzen Strümpfen, a gouache, watercolor and black Conté crayon on paper estimated at $1-1.5 million gaveled below the low estimate at $850,000 to a telephone bidder ($1,025,000 with fees). Francis Picabia’s Sans titre (Visage de femme), estimated at $250,000-350,000, raced up to $580,000 ($701,000 with fees), and then Elizabeth Peyton’s Gavin on the Phone, a 1998 small oil portrait of NY gallerist Gavin Brown, estimated at $300,000-500,000 topped out at $600,000 ($725,000 with fees).
Lot 5a, the Peter Doig (above), the first eight figure work estimated at some $20 million, and carrying a third party guarantee opened at $16 million and saw just two minutes of bidding before hammering at $23 million ($25,925,000 with fees). Doig’s Swamped is based on a single frame from the 1980 cult horror film Friday, the 13th – as the catalogue entry notes:
Doig builds a shuddering tension in his painting. This atmosphere is only amplified by the artist’s rich assimilation of pictorial techniques and influences from across the history of art. InSwamped, Doig’s intricate and seamlessly woven tapestry of process-based and abstract techniques creates a special friction between figurative atmosphere, and dense abstract and painterly meaning.
In Swamped, the surface is riddled with small, button-like blobs of oil paint in bright primary colours and clear resin, protruding from the surface of the canvas to simulate the rich, textured environment of the lagoon. Across the canvas, Doig has flicked small specks of white paint, creating a painterly smoke screen, which, like static on a television screen, forces the viewer to explore negative space. Splashes and drips of wet paint circulate the landscape, recalling the kinetic action painting of Jackson Pollock. The effect is almost hallucinogenic, the artist’s hand and the viewer’s eye chasing across the surface of the canvas. As the artist has explained, ‘[for me] painting is about working your way across the surface, getting lost in it… [The size of paintings] is about the idea of getting absorbed into them, so you physically get lost’. (P. Doig, quoted in R. Shiff, ‘Incidents’ in J. Nesbitt (ed.), Peter Doig, exh. cat., Tate Britain, London, 2008, p. 33).
Lot 6a, Sigmar Polke’s 1993 painting Ohne Titel, carrying a $2-3 million estimate, gaveled at $2.4 million ($2,853,000 with fees), followed by Max Ernst’s 1924 Surrealist painting titled Le Couple (L’Accolade), estimated at $6-8 million and carrying a third party guarantee, which hit its tope estimate of $8 million ($9,125,000 with fees).
That paved the way for the first major $100 million-estimated work in the sale, Pablo Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) , (above) once part of the Victor and Sally Ganz collection (below), and sold by Christie’s in 1997 from the Ganz collection to the present owner for $31,902,500; more than twice its high estimate of $12 million. The painting, subject of a separate 85-page catalogue, carried a third party guarantee, so the only question was how much it would sell for. It opened at $100 million and proceeded in $5 million increments until $120 million, the point at which the auctioneer said it could be sold. It then proceeded in $1 million increments to $129 million, when it gained a little momentum with at least four bidders. At $151 million, the auctioneer said “we’re in new territory, ladies and gentlemen.” It finally made $160 million ($179,365,000 with fees) – a result met with considerable applause.
Bidding settled back into the seven digit range with Yves Klein’s UNTITLED BLUE SPONGE SCULPTURE (SE 181), a blue soaked sponge on a metal stem and plaster base from 1960-61 and estimated at $4-6 million, which made its $4 million low estimate ($4,645,000 with fees). Next up, lot 10a, Robert Delaunay’s 1910-11 Cubist depiction of the Eiffel Tower, La Tour simultanée, estimated at $2.5-3.5 million, hammered below estimate for $2 million($2,405,000 with fees). This was followed by Piet Mondrian’s modestly sized Komposition II, with Red, 1926 – estimate d at $7-9 million, it found a buyer at mid-estimate for $8.2 million ($9,349,000 with fees); and that led to On Kawara’s SEPT. 13, 2001, a work from his Today series (1966-2013), comprised of an acrylic on canvas painting, accompanied with artist-made box and corresponding newspaper clipping about the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, Washington, DC and rural Pennsylvania. Estimated at $600,000-1,000,000, it brought $1 million ($1,205,000 with fees).
Mark Rothko’s No. 36 (Black Stripe) of 1958, brought the sale back into eight digit territory. Estimated at $30-50 million, and carrying a third party guarantee, it brought $36 million ($40,485,000 with fees). Urs Fischer’s amusing Untitled (next three images below), a figurative paraffin wax work with pigment, steel, wicks and lead weights that one could call “burning man” hammered for $2 million ($2,405,000 with fees), against a $1.2-1.8 million estimate.
Pablo Picasso’s Buste de femme (Femme à la résille), from 1938, is according to the sale catalogue “one of the best-known of his series of images of Dora, and crucially one of the best known remaining in private hands.” Bidding opened at $45 million and climbed steadily over to land at $60 million ($67,365,000 with fees).
Alexander Calder’s 1937 mobile Untitled, estimated at $5.5-7.5 million, opened at $4.5 million and stopped at $5.2 million, the only lot to bomb. It was followed by Lucio Fontana’s Concetto spaziale, Attese, of 1965, a bright red canvas with two rows of seven vertical slashes per row. It carried a $10-15 million estimate and made $14.5 million ($16,405,000 with fees). Lot 18a, Pablo Picasso’s Femme assise (Dora Maar), a gouache, gray wash, and brush and pen and India ink on Japan paper portrait executed on March 5, 1942, last sold at auction just two years ago in Paris, started at $3 million, against a $4-6 million estimate, and closed at $3.7 million ($4,309,000 with fees).
At this point, mid-way through the sale with some $325 million spent (combined hammer prices), it was time for some Warhol. And what better than a diptych of Liz Taylor. The work was also recently on the market, having been last auctioned just five years ago, but it was back, with a $25-35 million estimate, and carrying a third party guarantee. It opened at $18 and hammered for it’s low estimate of $25 million ($28,165,000 with fees). Martin Kippenberger’s Untitled (from the series Jacqueline: The Paintings Pablo Couldn’t Paint Anymore), painted a year before his death in 1997, depicts Picasso’s widow Jacqueline. Estimated at $8-12 million, the work opened at $5.5 million and gaveled to an Italian telephone bidder for $11 million ($12,485,000 with fees). Cady Noland’s Bluewald, a silkscreen on aluminum, as the catalogue notes, “excerpts the image of Lee Harvey Oswald—the alleged assassin of President John F. Kennedy—portraying him in graphic detail, moments after he was struck by the .38 caliber bullet from Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby’s revolver that would ultimately kill him. Visually isolated, truncated from the waist down and enlarged to roughly twice the figure’s real life size, Noland magnifies not only Oswald’s scale but also the emotional and visceral impact of the original image, which she appropriated from journalist Robert H. Jackson’s Pulitzer prize winning photograph.” It carried a third party guarantee and made $8.6 million ($ with fees), against a $6-8 million estimate.
An iconic chef-d’oeuvre of Jean Dubuffet’s most celebrated series, the Paris Circus, Paris Polka radiates with the artist’s unfettered application of vibrant hues and boisterous brushwork resulting in a dynamic interpretation, raw vitality, and joie de vivre that pulsated through the French capital in the 1960s. One of only four large-scaled canvases,Paris Polka is perhaps the most definitive masterpiece of the artist’s most influential series left in private hands. While many canvases belonging to the Paris Circus are housed in such reputable collections as the Tate, London; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, it is only Le Commerce Prospère (1961) at the Museum of Modern Art, New York that Paris Polka meets its match. Teeming with life and movement, Paris Polka offers a dynamic composition, executed in a particularly vibrant palette, that is filled with people, cars, storefronts and architecture. Each storefront and car appears to be a little world unto itself, and yet almost all of the characters face the viewer creating a strange and striking interaction. While loosely drawing from the aesthetic styles and subjects that launched his career, Paris Polka—through the boldly scrawledl’entourloupe—simultaneously announces Dubuffet’s departure into the Hourloupe style, which would occupy the artist from the summer of 1962 through the autumn of 1974.
It opened at $18 million and hammered for $22 million ($24,805,000 with fees).
Immediately after the sale of a 1948 Alexander Calder mobile The New Ritou, that had once been in the collection of Klaus Perl, barely sold at $2.65 million ($3,113,000 with fees), against a $3-5 million estimate, the Monet Le Parlement, soleil couchant (The Houses of Parliament, at Sunset) came before the collected bidders. From the catalogue:
Depicting a beautiful sunset over the Houses of Parliament, Le Parlement, soleil couchant specifically belongs to a group of nineteen views which Monet started working on in 1900 and 1901. Of the series, only five—the present one included—are still in private collections. The remaining fourteen are part of the collections of some of the world’s most important museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. Evoking an enveloping atmosphere that transforms the urban landscape into a fleeting vision verging towards abstraction, Le Parlement, soleil couchant is a testimony to the absorbing fascination and the impressive challenge that, at the dawn of the twentieth century, the leading figure of Impressionism found in London and the Thames.
Since the picture carried a third party guarantee, the only question was how much it sell for – it hammered for $36 million ($40,485,000 with fees), on the low end of its $35-45 million estimate.
It was followed by Jean-Michel Basquiat’s smallish Swiss House on Fire painted when the artist was 23 (five years before his death). Bidding opened at $1.4 million and the painting gaveled at $1.9 million ($2,285,000 with fees), against a $1.8-2.5 million estimate. Next up, Diane Arbus deliciously disturbing and dystopic Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C., 1962, hammered at $650,000 ($785,000 with fees) against a $500,000-700,000 estimate. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled from 1982, an oilstick and ink on paper image of a large-scale human head rendered in frenetic strokes. Unlike the marks Keith Haring would use to indicate movement, Basquiat’s draughtsmanship is vigorous to the point of violent. According to the catalogue: “During the pivotal year of 1982 that Basquiat rendered the present drawing, he was living at 151 Crosby Street in Soho, in an apartment that the gallerist Annina Nosei had provided for him. He kept a studio in the basement of her gallery where he churned out drawings and paintings marked by skeletal figures and mask-like faces at a frenzied pace.” The images are said to be somewhat autobiographical, but this one also has a halo – perhaps it’s also a saint in the final throes of martyrdom. Estimated at $9-12 million, it made $12 million ($13,605,000 with fees). Next on the turntable, René Magritte L’empire des lumières, a small gouache on paper (7 ½ x 10 ¼ in.), is according to the catalogue, “one of the artist’s most enduring and recognizable images: a dimly lit nocturnal street scene under a bright blue, sunlit sky filled with white clouds.” The notes continue: “Between 1949 and 1964, Magritte painted 17 oil paintings and 10 gouache versions of L’empire des lumières, each showing subtle compositional differences and variations, with many now residing in major museums and collections around the world. The present work, painted in 1955, is one of the earliest gouaches in the series.” Estimated at $3-4 million, it caught a wave and made $4.7 million ($ with fees), thanks in part to a third party guarantee.
The eagerly anticipated Giacometti, the second work to carry a nine figure estimate (approximately $130 million), took center stage. Would the nearly six-foot-tall 1947 L’homme au doigt dethrone the record-breaking Picasso from earlier in the evening. Bidding opened at an astonishing $100 million, before rolling to $125 million, when the only real bid came in and the hammer came down at $126 million ($141,285,000 with fees).
From heroic to slaughtered and the Soutine – from the sale catalogue: “Between 1923 and 1925, Soutine painted an extraordinary sequence of nine canvases that take as their starting point the newly slaughtered carcass of a steer, the vermillion-colored flesh and golden suet flayed and opened up for the artist’s penetrating inspection. Only three of these prized paintings remain today in private hands, of which the present is the largest.” What’s remarkable about the provenance is that this was once in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC – an institution that does not deaccession work. How did this end up getting sold? A third party guarantee for $20-30 million estimated work led to a final hammer price of $25 million ($28,165,000 with fees).
This led to the final lot so of the evening beginning with a late career painting by Willem de Kooning, Untitled XVIII from 1982, which carried an $8-12 million estimate and gaveled for $8 ($9,125,000 with fees). Andy Warhol’s 1963 silkscreen Five Deaths on Turquoise, from his famous Death and Disaster series, which was last at auction some 18 months ago, came up with a third party guarantee and an $8-10 million estimate, and hammered for $8.6 million ($9,797,000 with fees). John Currin’s four-foot-tall painting of a female nude, The Collaborator, with a $3-4 million estimate (and a third party guarantee), pulled in $3 million ($ with fees), followed by Rene Magritte’s 1942 gouache, Le miroir invisible, which made $2.6 million ($3,525,000 with fees), against an estimate of $2-3 million. The evening’s final lot, Richard Prince’s Untitled (Girlfriend), closed at $690,000 ($833,000 with fees) against a $700,000-1,000,000 estimate.