Published: November 21, 2000
Contemporary Art Market Alive and Well – and more Competitive – in New York Salesrooms
NEW YORK CITY – How do you get ahead when you’re number three? If you’re the number-three auction house -otherwise known as Phillips – you put your lots on sale. It’s an unusual marketing strategy, but this time the underdog won.
On Monday, November 13, according to The New York Times, Phillips placed “unusually low estimates” on works in its sale of contemporary art and after a flurry of bidding only two of the 47 works failed to find buyers. The auction also netted more money than expected, totaling $10.6 million, some $200,000 above the firm’s high estimate.
The pricing strategy, one that seems to reflect a growing trend among some auction houses these days, is part of a marketing plan that has already cost the company – purchased last year by Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy – millions. Chairman Bernard Arnault has been trying to make Phillips a heavy hitter in the auction world, on par with Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Part of Arnault’s plan is paying top dollar for art and then selling the works for a loss.
Some of the works presented in the evening auction, conducted at The American Craft Museum, were from more famous artists such as Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons and Matthew Barney, in addition to Andy Warhol and Willem de Kooning. The sale also featured photography by Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin and Shirin Neshat. Many of the works sold at or above their estimates.
While it can be considered easier to break a record in the area of contemporary art than in any other fine art category, no less than seven records were felled at Phillips. A standing-room only crowd of bidders competed heavily against 20 busy phones. The top lot was Warhol’s 1964 silkscreen on canvas, “Flowers.” Estimated at $900,000/1,200,000 it ultimately realized $1,872,500 after fierce competitive bidding.
Hirst’s “In Love-Out of Love,” a diptych with butterflies affixed to a background of pink on one side and blue on the other was another top seller. The work sold for $750,000 against an estimate of $400/800,000, breaking the previous world record of $552,500 for Hirst set by Phillips in New York last May. Another work by Hirst consisting of cigarette butts in a wooden and glass vitrine entitled, “Dead Ends Died Out, Examined,” was a favorite, bringing $508,500 against a pre-sale estimate of $300,00-400,000.
Further records were established for works by Andreas Gursky, William Kentridge, Jeff Wall, Sam Taylor-Wood, Rineke Dijkstra and Neshat, all of them working in the photographics medium.
Prices include the buyer’s premium. Of the final prices paid for an rdf_Description, Phillips receives 15 percent commission on the first $50,000 and 10 percent of the rest. Phillip’s chief executive worldwide, Christopher Thomson, says the auction house made a profit from the sale that included buyers from around the world.
Sotheby’s and Christie’s press releases provided record-setting details from both galleries. In a packed salesroom, Sotheby’s November 9 evening auction of contemporary art brought $43,140,900. World auction records were achieved for works by Cecily Brown, Gary Hurne, Maurizio Cattelan, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Joan Mitchell, Isamu Noguchi, Brice Marden, and Alexander Calder, while records were set for works on paper by Cy Twombly and Robert Gober. The sale was highlighted by Mark Rothko’s “No. 2 (Blue, Red and Green)” which sold for $11,005,750, above the high estimate of $10 million.
Laura Paulson, director of the New York department of contemporary art, noted, “These results were achieved because today’s market is driven by the pursuit of quality works which are among the best examples by an artist. The mix of artists we assembled was evenly spread between the younger generation of the last 20 years and the established generation from Abstract Expressionist materpieces such as Rothko’s “No. 2 (Blue, Red and Green)” to Robert Gober’s 1984 “Deep Basin Sink.” Of the lots sold this evening, 18 lots sold above their high estimate, 37 sold at or between estimates and 13 lots sold below their estimates. Eight lots sold for more than $1 million.”
Alexander Calder’s stabile “Stegosaurus” represents the first time a stabile of this scale has been offered at auction (property of the Trustees of the Ella Burr McManus Trust). It had been estimated to sell for $2,5/3,500,000 and brought $4,185,750, a record for the artist at auction.
“It was,” said Paulson, “one of the most exciting moments of the sale.”
Archile Gorky’s oil on canvas “Khorkom” incorporating Surrealist imagery, executed circa 1938, sold for $2,205,750 (est $1,800/2,500,00).
Donald Judd’s stack “Untitled” evoked a bidding frenzy in the room when it soared to $819,750 against the pre-sale estimate of $200/300,000.
The night’s sale brought strong prices for Warhol. One of Warhol’s best known images, “Large Campbell’s Soup Can,” 1965, brought in $1,083,750 (est $1,000,00/1,500,000) and “Marilyn,” a silkscreen on canvas from 1962 which had been owned by Emily Tremaine, one of Warhol’s early patrons, reached $2,755,750 (est $1,8/2,500,000).
Property from the collection of the late Leonard Lionni hails one of Calder’s large-scale sculptures constructed of painted sheet metal, “Untitled,” executed in 1963 sold for $1,160,750 (est $800,000/1,000,000).
Yves Klein “RE 9-I” painted in 1961, one of Klein’s best sponge reliefs, belongs to his spectacular series of Reliefs Eponges (Sponge Reliefs) the painting had been estimated to bring $600/800,000 and sold for $907,750.
Cecily Brown’s “Twenty Million Sweethearts,” an oil on linen, from 1998-1999, in her first time offered at auction, sold for $87,000, a record (est $30/40,000).
Cy Twombley’s “Silex Scintillans,” oil, wax crayons and pencil on paper, signed and dated July 14, 1981, estimated to sell for $600/800,000, brought $885,750, a record for a work on paper by the artist at auction.
Robert Gober’s “Deep Basin Sink” from 1984 sold for $830,750, a record for the artist at auction against the pre-sale estimate of $500/700,000. One of the artist’s earliest sink sculptures this work was sold to benefit the Oregon Community Foundation.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ “Untitled (Lover Boys)” executed in 1991 and constructed with blue and white candies, individually wrapped in cellophane sold for $456,750, a record for the artist at auction. It had been estimated to sell for $300/400,000.
From Lannan Foundation, Isamu Noguchi’s “Cronos” signed and dated 1947/62 and numbered 1/6, one of six bronze casts executed from 1962 to 1988, constructed from an earlier balsawood sculpture of the same size, carved in 1947. It had been estimated to bring $600/800,000 and brought $643,750, a record for the artist at auction. Frank Stella’s “Nunca Pasa Nada (Nothing Ever Happens)” painted in 1964, constructed with metallic powder in polymer emulsion on canvas, was estimated to bring $1/1,500,000 and sold for $1,435,750. The sale of this group of abstract works that has come onto the market for the first time has clearly indicated a new interest in this corner of the contemporary market.
A Charles Ray mannequin sculpture and an important installation work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres were among ten works that realized world auction records November 16 at Christie’s sale of Contemporary Art at Rockefeller Center. Fueled by consistently competitive bidding, the sale realized $12,789,200 and was 87 percent sold by value and 85 percent sold by lot. Of the 53 lots sold, 48 sold above or within the pre-sale estimate.
Successful buyers that evening were about 40 percent American, 58 percent European and two percent from other parts of the world. In addition, “virtual clients” followed the sale on the Internet via Christie’s live Web cast on www.christies.com. The sale continued on November 17.
A novel clash of the artificial and the natural, Charles Ray’s “Male Mannequin,” executed in 1990, emerged as the top lot of the sale, selling for $2,206,000 and establishing a world auction record for the artist. This brilliant sculpture, an upended self-portrait with anatomically precise genitalia cast from the artist, is the second example from Ray’s celebrated series of works based on store mannequins to sell for a record price at Christie’s. In May, Christie’s sold Ray’s “Boy” for $886,000.
One of the most coveted works of the evening was “Untitled” (Blood), an installation work by the late Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Bidders fiercely competed for this gleaming curtain of red and clear beads, resulting in a world auction record price of $1,656,000, far exceeding the artist’s previous auction record of $178,090 set at Christie’s London in 1998. Additional record-setters this evening included an untitled 1997 installation work by the Italian conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan. This humorous work, composed of a taxidermied ostrich that has seemingly burrowed his head beneath the gallery floorboards, attracted numerous bids and finally sold for $270,000.
Contemporary photographs were led by Andreas Gursky’s “Prada II,” which realized $270,000, establishing a new world auction record for the artist. Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled (#92)” from her famous “centerfold series,” fetched $259,000, well over the pre-sale estimate of $80/120,000. Thomas Struth’s “Musee d’Orsay II,” 1992 realized $127,000 and his “Giulia Zorzetti with a Painting by Francesco di Mura, Chiesa Donna Romita, Napoli,” 1989, sold for $149,000.
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