Published: May 22, 2001
NEW YORK CITY – Works by Bruce Nauman, Maurizio Cattelan, Cindy Sherman and Gilbert & George were among ten works of art that realized world auction records May 17 at Christie’s sale of Contemporary art at Rockefeller Center. In a flurry of bidding, 43 of the 51 works offered sold 84 percent, with 21 works selling above the pre-sale high estimate.
The sale realized $22,589,350, far exceeding the overall pre-sale high estimate of $17.1 million, and was 93 percent sold by value. Collectors from around the globe participated in the sale 44 percent American, 49 percent European and seven percent from other parts of the world.
In the private collection of legendary art dealer Leo Castelli until 1994 and on the auction block for the first time, Bruce Nauman’s “Henry Moore Bound to Fall (back view)” realized $9,906,000 and was the top lot. Many bidders, including several museums, competed furiously for this work before it finally sold to an anonymous telephone bidder, shattering the previous world auction record for Nauman ($2,202,500, “Good boy, bad boy”).
“La Nona Ora (The Ninth Hours),” a highly theatrical sculpture by the Italian conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan, and one of the oft-discussed centerpieces of the headline-generating 2000 exhibition “Apocalypse: Beauty and Horror in Contemporary Art” at London’s Royal Academy of Art, sold for $886,000, well beyond its estimate of $400/600,000. The subject of interest and debate since its debut at the Kunsthalle Basel in 1999, this full installation featuring a life-like wax effigy of Pope John Paul II in full papal regalia felled by a meteorite far surpassed Cattelan’s previous auction record of $270,000, also held by Christie’s.
Additional sale highlights included Jeff Koons’ “Woman in Tub,” a signature work by the artist first exhibited at his legendary show “Banality” at the Sonnabend Gallery, New York in 1988 which sold for $2,866,000. “Felix the Cat,” 1984-85, arguably the best collaboration by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat ever to come to auction, realized $512,000 and set a world auction record for a collaborative work by the artists.
A strong offering of photographs was led by Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled Film Still #48,” 1979, also known as “the hitchhiker,” which realized $336,000 and established a world auction record for the artist. Andreas Gursky’s “N.Y. Mercantile Exchange” surpassed its pre-sale high estimate of $180,000 and sold for $292,000.
In a packed saleroom May 15, Sotheby’s evening auction of contemporary art brought a total of $45,312,400, well over the low estimate, and saw world auction records set for Jeff Koons, Gerhard Richter, Ellsworth Kelly, Martin Puryear, and Ellen Gallagher.
There were strong prices across the entire range of contemporary art, from the $8 million achieved for the Abstract Expressionist masterpiece by Jackson Pollock, through Pop works such as Andy Warhol’s “Ladies and Gentlemen,” right through to the works of most recent artists such as Ellen Gallagher and Sue Williams.
One of the most exciting moments of the evening was the sale of Jeff Koons’ iconic sculpture “Michael Jackson and Bubbles,” which sold for $5,615,750, easily exceeding the high estimate and establishing a new auction record for the artist.
Early in the evening, at least four bidders vied for “Michael Jackson and Bubbles,” Koons’ groundbreaking 1988 porcelain sculpture. It finally sold to an anonymous bidder for $5,615,750, well exceeding the pre-sale estimate of $¾ million and breaking the previous auction record for a work by Koons, set in 1999, for $1.8 million. From the landmark “Banality Series,” this sculpture is one of an edition of three. The other two are in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and held in a foundation in Athens; a single artist’s proof is the property of the Broad Art Foundation in Santa Monica, Calif.
Jackson Pollock’s “Black and White/Number 6, 1951,” which marks a departure from his famous, brightly colored drip paintings, brought a strong $7,980,750, just under the high estimate of $8 million.
The market responded enthusiastically to the collection of Camille Oliver-Hoffman, with seven of the nine lots offered finding buyers, bringing a total of $9.3 million. Chief among them was Gerhard Richter’s painting “Drei Kerzen,” which sold for $5,395,750, a record for the artist at auction. In this work, Richter explores the enigmatic nature of painting, while presenting a seemingly realistic image of three glowing candles.
Also from this Midwestern collection was Ellsworth Kelly’s “Blue and Green 1 (EK401),” which sold to a bidder on the phone for $1,215,750, also a record for the artist.
Other auction records set from this collection include Martin Puryear’s evocative wooden sculpture “Bower,” which brought $764,750, surpassing its high estimate of $600,000; Bruce Nauman’s “Fox Wheel,” which sold for a record $665,750; and Richard Tuttle’s “Yellow,” which drew frenzied bidding in the room before finally selling for $291,750.
Other highlights from the Hoffmann Collection include Robert Gober’s 1987 sculpture “X-Crib,” which brought $423,750, and Donald Judd’s “Untitled,” which sold for $555,750.
Sparking a spirited battle, Andy Warhol’s “Group of Five Campbell’s Soup Cans” (1962) sold to an anonymous bidder for $3,745,750, surpassing a high estimate of $3.5 million. From the collection of Karl Stroher, one of the earliest European collectors of American Pop Art, this painting typifies the moment when Pop Art was evolving from its hand-painted origins into a more standardized and mechanized technique.
As noted by Tobias Meyer, head of Contemporary Art, “Bidding was extremely fast and furious” for five woks from Warhol’s series of “Ladies and Gentlemen,” richly painted examples of New York transvestites that demonstrate Warhol’s virtuoso brushstrokes. Collectors took advantage of the opportunity to compete for the late works which were acquired in 1975, the same year they were executed. All of these works found buyers, with the top lot achieving $434,750. In addition, Warhol’s silkscreen of “Liz as Cleopatra” brought $655,750, and “Oxidation Painting” sold for $423,750.
Richard Diebenkorn’s “Ocean Park No. 67” brought $3,525,750, establishing a record for the artist’s Ocean Park Series. Diebenkorn began this famous series in 1967, and named it after his Santa Monica neighborhood. Three bidders in the room vied for the artist’s “Girl in Profile,” more than doubling the high estimate to sell for $423,750.
Mark Rothko’s “Black and Red on Red,” from 1962, brought $1,545,750 against an estimate of $1/1.5 million, setting a record for a work on paper by the artist at auction. While smaller in scale than his well known canvases from the same prolific period, this oil on paper carries all of the emotional impact and formal beauty of his larger works.
The sale also featured three insightful drawings by Jeff Koons from 1978, when he was working at the membership desk of the Museum of Modern Art. “Two Rabbits,” which sold for $60,550 against an estimate of $30/35,000 and established a record for a work on paper by the artist at auction, relates to the period of experimentation when Koons began to make sculptures from store-bought, brightly colored inflatable bunnies and flowers.
“Untitled” (a paper collage on paper with plastic gems, stickers, and toy), an inspiration for “Inflatable Flower and Bunny,” 1979, brought $28,350, and “Untitled” (brightly colored magic marker on paper), whose horse imagery is also seen in “Split Rocker,” 1999, sold for $44,450, more than doubling a high estimate of $22,000.
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