Published: August 29, 2000
A “bold” bargain might best describe Mary Hanley’s high bid to win a limited edition print of Andy Warhol’s Mickey Mouse for $22,000 in artnet.com’s recent American Dream auction.
In fact, Hanley, a dentist in Illinois, placed the only bid for ‘Mickey,’ as she affectionately calls the latest addition to her nascent collection of Warhol Myth images, in her first online auction experience. It was the “boldness” and the color of the work that prompted her to add the 1981 screenprint with diamond dust on Lenox museum board to the images she already possessed: “Grace Kelly” and “The Witch.”
“I’ve just always liked Mickey, and I like the diamond dust in the background,” Hanley noted.
She thinks she got a great price when the bidding closed July 13. “From what I understand it’s [worth] anything from $24,000 to $32,000,” she said, adding that she found it “extremely surprising” that there wasn’t competition at the end. In fact, she got the print at its starting price.
Rather than focusing on one particular artist in this auction, as it will in next week’s Warhol sale, artnet.com went thematic, culling “works that depict the American Dream” to celebrate America’s 224th birthday, according to the auction’s online catalog.
Several works in the auction drew attention, with bidding wars and record prices. Maybe people are finally getting excited about the presidential election: Images of flags and political subjects were especially popular. Seven bidders vying for William Wegman’s photolithograph “Dog Draped in the American Flag” (1996) pushed it significantly over its estimated price of $1,000-$1,500; it eventually sold for $2,090. Also, Roy Lichtenstein’s limited edition color screenprint “The Oval Office” (1992), one of 175 in existence, fetched $8,250, more than doubling the previous record price for the last such print sold (for $3,300) at Butterfield’s auction house in San Francisco.
Lichtenstein’s “Inaugural Print” (1977) also achieved a new auction record, $5,500, and Andy Warhol’s “Uncle Sam” brought the same price, the highest it had reached since 1989.
Lichtenstein’s “I Love Liberty” (1982) brought $12,000; it had been estimated at $12,000 to $15,000. Deborah Ripley, artnet.com’s senior specialist for prints, had recommended this piece in the catalog, noting its modern viewpoint: “Many of the older, more traditional portraits of her are from a distance — perhaps, as one would see her as they were approaching America for the first time. By contrast, in this modern print, it is as if we are looking up at her, already under her protective wing.”
The sales confirm what Karen Amiel, vice president of content and promotions, notes about internet art sales in general: “The artists who do the best over the Internet are what you would call highly recognizeable names. Warhol does well, Lichtenstein, Picasso — these are names that obviously the greatest number of people are familiar with. Their images have leaked into popular culture.”
If a work sells for more than its estimates value online, she attributes this to the desirability of the artist’s work and the opening up of the work to a larger audience. But this auction also demonstrates another side to internet auctions, and auctions in general: the audience has to be there. Of the six works that artnet.com’s experts described with glowing language in the online auction catalog, half remain unsold. These include Robert Rauschenberg’s color silkscreen “Signs” (1970), estimated at $5,000-6,000; Diane Arbus’ photograph “Two Girls in Matching Bathing Suits, Coney Island” (1967), estimated at 6,000-$8,000; and W. Eugene Smith’s photograph “Pittsburgh” Dream Street” (1955), estimated at $7,000-8,000.
If bidders are queasy about spending this much money on a work sight unseen, Dr. Hanley’s experience might reassure them. She was concerned, but trusted artnet’s experts when “they said it was good quality, and it was. It was shipped marvelously. It took two guys about a half hour to get it open. I think it came from London,” she says. “They handled it in a timely manner, and I thought it was very professional. It was fast. It was a good as being there.”
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm