Published: June 7, 2016
Review by Anne Kugielsky
Photos Courtesy of Heritage Auctions
DALLAS, TEXAS & NEW YORK CITY — The month of May affirmed what Heritage Auctions’ Frank Hettig, director of modern and contemporary art, said: “We proved Heritage’s distinct competitive advantages in the middle market…our auction [May 2] reached $3.8 million and unlike other houses where sales have dramatically reduced in size, we have grown, selling more six-figure works than ever before.” In a month highlighted by four strong auctions of art, Heritage is solidifying its positions.
On May 2 in New York City, modern and contemporary art was 78 percent sold by value and set a record for the highest number of six-figure lots selling at an art auction by Heritage; on May 7 in Dallas, American art broke $4.43 million; May 24, modern and contemporary prints and multiples broke $6.8 million, when combined with the May 2 sale; and, in a particularly strong niche for Heritage, its May 21 Texas art auction brought $639,881 overall, with contemporary artists — whose artworks surpassed all expectations — claiming five of the top ten lots sold.
The modern and contemporary art auctions were led by Willem de Kooning’s 1968 “East Hampton II,” which realized $802,000, and Helen Frankenthaler’s “Tantric,” 1977, which brought $610,000, both in New York.
Three unique screenprint variations of Andy Warhol’s “Dollar Signs” from 1982 claimed top lot honors in Dallas on May 24: “$ (9) Black” sold for $106,250; “$ (9) White” went to $96,875; and “$ (Quadrant),” sold at $87,500 (all against $80,000 estimates). The auction catalog cover lot, Keith Haring’s “Medusa Head,” 1986, finished at $52,500 setting a world record price for the print at auction. Haring’s untitled 1981 acrylic sold for $100,000 in New York.
The Haring was not the only record price for artwork achieved during the month, Heritage’s May 7 sale was truly a blockbuster when Birger Sandzén’s “Lake at Sunset, Colorado,” 1921, sold for a record $670,000; “Indian Rider,” 1918 — a singular example of William Robinson Leigh deploying dramatic movement, bold color and compositional integrity — sold for $394,000; Sandzén’s “Near the Timberline, Rocky Mountains, Colorado,” circa 1919, realized $346,000; Ernest Leonard Blumenschein’s love letter to the American West, bursting with vibrant color and poignant symbols of Native American heritage, “Cottonwoods in the Square,” sold well above its estimate, at $298,000; and a circa 1940 work by Victor Higgins, “Lower Hondo, Spring,” went to $131,250.
Aviva Lehmann, director of American art at Heritage said, “We are delighted to play a significant role in the maturation of the California and Western art markets,” and both the May 7 American art auction and the Texas art auction proved her point. Within the May 7 auction, several illustration artists’ works caught collectors’ eyes.
A rare piece of Hollywood history painted by Norman Rockwell, the original promotional art for the Jerry Lewis’s 1960 film Cinderfella, made its auction debut, consigned directly from actor Lewis’s collection where it has been since Rockwell presented it to him in 1960. The oil and pencil on canvas, 17 by 23 inches, achieved $250,000. Then a desirable Saturday Evening Post cover for July 4, 1931, titled “1776” by Joseph Christian Leyendecker sold for $163,500, against a $60,000 estimate.
“Preparing the Boats at Greenwood Lake,” 1858, by Hudson River artist Jasper Francis Cropsey, sold for $100,000 to lead the auction’s selection of early American landscapes. “Castle Geyser, Yellowstone National Park,” 1891, by Grafton Tyler Brown, set an auction record for the artist after a bidding war pushed the price to $81,250, against an $8,000 estimate. Blumenschein’s stunning “Sandia Mountains,” a 1949 work on paper incorporating pink and orange hues and dynamic lines to provide a striking contrast with the rugged geometric shapes of the mountains, realized $52,500.
Texas art is a genre close to Dallas-based Heritage Auction’s heart, but the May 21 sale was unique for a relatively new crop of artists whose work is being collected at a rising rate. “There’s a lot of intriguing interest in Texas contemporary art,” Atlee Phillips, director of Texas art said. “Of course, Onderdonk’s work nearly always performs well at auction, but the demand for contemporary artists cannot be ignored. It’s an exciting time for contemporary Texas art; the market is very strong.”
Topping the day was indeed a quintessential Julian Onderdonk (1882–1922) oil on linen painting. “A Blue Bonnet Field-Evening,” 1921, took top-lot honors at $103,125.
Leading the selection of contemporary art was “Red Pickup,” 1992, by the Dallas-based David Bates, which sold for $27,500. Bates’ paintings continue to see broad interest at auction, especially after Heritage set a new auction record for the artist in 2014 during its presentation of the Belo collection of Texas art.
Bill Hassell’s “Morning on the Trinity River, Ft Worth,” 2010, set a new artist auction record when the vibrant oil on canvas, displaying the artist’s love of light, color and wildlife, sold for $25,000, against a $6,000 estimate. “Dusk” by Kermit Oliver sold for $22,500, and “Blue Willow,” a 1984 painting by Bates, sold for $22,500.
“Storm Sunset, Lake Travis,” circa 1950s, by Everett Franklin Spruce appeared at auction from a private Dallas collection to sell for $18,750, a 36-inch-high sculpture by Jesús Bautista Moroles, made of pink granite and titled “Totem.” sold for $15,000, against a $3,000 estimate. Moroles’ monumental sculpture has been exhibited in installations throughout the United States, including a 22-foot sculpture in the New York CBS Plaza.
Modern and contemporary artists excelled at the New York auction, when 15 lots sold for six-figures, a record for Heritage. The list reads like a Who’s Who in art: already mentioned were Willem de Kooning ($802,000) and Helen Frankenthaler ($610,000) but the list continues with “Ice Bucket,” 1986, by Jeff Koons, from the collection of lifelong arts patron Anita Reiner, which sold for $370,000; “USA-1,” 1984, an iconic oil on burlap by Keith Haring that saw fierce competition pushing the price to $162,500; and untitled (four works), 1999, by urban artist KAWS, that sold for $131,250.
Other classic works included Milton Avery’s, “Bather,” 1961, at $292,000; Fernand Léger, “Composition,” 1925, sold for $250,000; Fernando Botero, “Woman in the Kitchen,” 1981, brought $225,000; Andy Warhol, “Ethel Scull,” 1963, realized $200,000; Sigmar Polke’s 1997 untitled realized $130,000; Robert Motherwell, “Pierrot’s Hat,” 1943, sold at $112,500; and two that sold at $100,000 each are Charles Bell’s “Study for Ta-Daa,” 1985, and Bernard Buffet’s “Delphinium bleus,” 1965.
All prices include the buyer’s premium. For more information, www.ha.com or 877-437-4824.
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