its inaugural major auction of the Fall 2002 auction season was
not very successful (see The City Review article of its Impressionist
& Modern Art auction), Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg has a
strong Contemporary Art evening auction that is bolstered by the
fact that the subsequent Impressionist and & Modern Art auctions
at Sotheby's and Christie's steadied the art market considerably
despite definitely softer prices.
This season the amount of Contemporary Art being offered by the
three major auction houses is enormous and as the first such sale
this Phillips auction will be very closely watched not only as
a barometer of that market but also a clue to the continued viability
of Phillips following its Impressionist & Modern Art auction
last week that only realized about $7 million and had had a pre-sale
low estimate of about $44 million.
Given the generally high quality of its offerings, however, it
is likely to be a successful sale. It was, indeed, extremely
successful with 86.95 percent of the 46 offered lots selling,
by far the best record among the major auction houses so far this
season, and causing the packed saleroom to break into loud applause
at the end of the sale after a less than stellar showing of Impressionist
& Modern Art last week in which prices had softed by about
10 to 15 percent.
total was $24,866,025, less than a $100,000 short of its pre-sale
low estimate. Most of the buyers were private as opposed to dealers,
according to Michael McGinnis, the head of the auction house's
Contemporary Art Department, who added that 12 of the buyers were
American, 22 were European and 2 were Asian. "We're very
happy," he said, adding that "the market is still strong."
Jeff Koons (b. 1955) is represented with two works, Lots 10 and
The former is entitled "Self-Portrait" and is a 37 1/2-inch-high
marble bust that was executed in an edition of three with one
artist's proof in 1991.
The bust shows the artist's with head turned upwards with closed
eyes with a rather beatific visage, his shoulders and chest resting
on a very dramatic cluster of prismatic tubes pointing upwards
as if exploding. Very finely modeled in unveined marble, it is
an impressive and ironic play on traditional antique portrait
busts with a decidedly modern sense of narcissism. It has an estimate
of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It sold for $2,044,500 including
the buyer's premium as do all the results mentioned in this article.
This season the auction house raised its premium to 19.5 percent
of the first $100,000 and 10 percent for any amount above $100,000.
"Buster Keaton," is a 65 3/4-inch high polychromed wood
sculpture of the famous comic actor astride a horse. It was executed
in 1988 in an edition of three with one artist's proof. Keaton
here has a rather sad expression and bears something of a resemblance
to the artist. It has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000.
It sold for $1,109,500.
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"In 1988, when Jeff Koons introduced his Banality
series, he breathed new life into the timeworn concept of the
readymade. Like Marcel Duchamp and numerous Pop artists before
him, Koons based these sculptures on mass-produced goods that
exist in the everyday world. Unlike his predecessors, however,
Koons chose to replicate objects that already functioned as art
for countless middle-class Americans. As the present work demonstrates,
Koons' unique conceptual maneuver dramatically expanded the boundaries
of contemporary art. Like all of the artist's Banality
sculptures, Buster Keaton derives inspiration from the
painted wooden and porcelain knick-knacks that are sold in gift
shops throughout America and ultimate reside on shelves and tabletops
in typical middle-class homes. By enlarging such small collectible
figurines to the dramatic dimensions of a museum masterpiece,
the artist confronts his audience with their own definitions of
good taste and fine art. Brilliantly blurring he boundary between
valuable sculpture and cheap kitsch, Koons challenges the arbitrary
distinctions that create such categories, asking why one type
of object may be a sign of prestige, and the other a source of
"Silver Liz," by Andy Warhol (1928-1987), is a silkscreen
ink, acrylic and spray paint on linen in two parts that was executed
in 1963. It measures 40 by 80 inches. The right panel, with the
image of Elizabeth Taylor, the movie star, was painted in 1963
and the left panel was painted in 1965. The lot has an estimate
of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It sold for $4,409,500.
The catalogue provides the following incisive and analytic commentary:
"He challenged the notion of individual expression so prized
by the dominant Abstract Expressionists, and, in its stead, he
exalted the idea of self-as-automaton. Considered alongside his
own obsession with fame and adoration, his negation of individuality,
subjectivity, and self-importance is complicated if not contradicted.
Moreover, Warhol's statement ['I think everyone should be a machine.
I think somebody should be able to do all my paintings for me']
suggests the dismissal of agency and moral responsibility in a
postwar commodity culture. Perhaps he was commenting on the impossibility
of fulfilling the role of the genius artist recording his personal
vision for posterity in a world where subjectivity is made obsolete
by the insatiable appetite of the commodification process. Both
his work and d self-made image ingeniously underscore the pursuant
complacency that increasingly encumbered his own era. The early
1960s marked his launch into artworld stardom. In 1963, he appropriately
christened his new studio space "The Factory" and also
had his second watershed exhibition at the Ferus Gallery in Los
Angeles, the avant-garde haven where Irving Blum first showed
Warhol's silkscreen panels of consumer products and celebrities
in 1962. Using an inherently technological and impersonal medium,
Warhol created large-scale photo-silkscreens that exude the same
contradictions and ambivalence revealed in the statement above.
That images of Campbell's Soup cans were juxtaposed with images
of celebrities or that such venerated personalities as Elizabeth
Taylor were exhibited in assembly-line fashion is indicative of
a certain collapse between person and thing, between body and
disembodied. For the 1963 Ferus exhibition, Warhol made about
ten Silver Liz panels, each measuring 40 by 40 inches.
The near identical canvases of the Ferus series recall parts that
make up a machined - objectified, fragmented, equivalent, replaceable.
Both the 1962 and 1963 Ferus installations must have appeared
as panoramas of mechanical parts: interchangeable, fleeting, but
interestingly not productive. While the various parts that comprise
a machine work together to produce something material, there is
no tangible end product with the Warholian machine. The series
assembled together in the gallery suggests a cadence of movement
similar to the endless motion of production in an exacerbated
commodity culture. Though both content and form Warhol literalizes
his industrial maxim and takes Pop Art's fascination with mass
culture to a much more complex and nuanced level.The garish red
lipstick and bright blue smears of eye shadow hint at a sense
of hysteria as they fall blatantly out of place on her slightly
electric face. Many of the original Ferus-type Liz paintings,
under the influence of Warhol's later ties to the New York dealer
Leo Castelli, have been coupled with 'blanks' and sometimes separated
again. With this Silver Liz, Warhol was surprisingly able
to match the silver spray-painted background of the original canvas,
creating a cohesive diptych."
Most multi-canvas paintings are somewhat jarring, disjointed and
gimmicky, but the blank left panel here works extremely well giving
more dimension and dynamics to the work.
Lot 31, "Two Multicolored Marilyns," by Andy Warhol
shows two portraits of Marilyn Monroe side by side against a black
background on one canvas, a different kind of diptych. The acrylic
and silkscreen on canvas measures 18 1/8 by 28 inches and is inscribed
on the reverse "I certify that this is an original painting
by Andy Warhol completed by him in 1986 © Andy Warhol. Frederick
W. Hughes." It has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It
sold for $449,500.
Lot 28, "Crosses," is a strong abstraction by Warhol
composed of 12 crosses against a black background. The synthetic
polymer and silkscreen on canvas measures 90 1/8 by 70 1/2 inches
and was executed in 1981-2. It has an estimate of $500,000 to
$700,000. It sold for $669,500.
Lot 21, "Head #3," is a bronze bust by Willem de Kooning
(1904-1997) that is 18 inches high. Cast in 1973, it has a modest
estimate of $250,000 to $350,000 and is a very interesting, albeit
grotesque, work of great tactile power. It sold for $180,000,
one of several lots that reflected low reserves.
de Kooning work, Lot 15, "Untitled," is an explosively
colorful and very painterly abstraction. Painted in 1971, it measures
68 1/2 by 77 3/4 inches and has an estimate of $900,000 to $1,200,000.
It sold for $889,500.
Lot 16, "Head with Monocle," is a strong and good oil
and magna on canvas by Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997). The 36-by-30-inch
work was executed in 1980 and has an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000.
It sold for $669,500.
"Head of a Man," by Stephan Balkenhol (b. 1957) is a
149 1/2-inch high wawa wood and paint sculpture that was executed
in 1992. It has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold
for $87,235. It is one of his better works and in 1992 it
was mounted in the middle of the Blackfriars Bridge in London.
One of most spectacular works in the auction is Lot 27, "Die
Woge (The Wave)," by Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945). This 110 1/4-by-149
5/8-inch canvas, cloth, paint, tin and cotton on board was executed
in 1995. It has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It was
one of the few works that failed to sell and was passed at $320,000.
The catalogue provides the following commentary.
"In order to address the moral dilemma of artistic production
n post-Holocaust Germany, Anselm Kiefer rejected classical painting
techniques in the early 1980s. At that point, Kiefer began using
a wide range of unconventional materials in his work, allowing
each substance to detonate its own inherent wealth of associations.
This practice continued throughout the 19902, when the artist
turned to other subjects freighte with profound moral issues and
cosmic dimensions, highly charged by poetry, from such poets as
Rainer Maria Rilke. In Die Woge (The Wave), for example,
Kiefer deftly mixed cotton clothing, tin, and ashes to address
the cabbalistic narrative of the she-demon, Lilith. An ancient
Babylonian woman who figures prominently in the Bible, the Talmud,
and the Cabballa, Lilith is usually portrayed as a demonic female
figure who rebels against the word of God. Identified in the Cabbala
as 'the first Eve' Lilith was created from the same clay as Adam
and demanded to be treated as his equal. When God refused her
request, Lilith denounced her creator and flew away to the shores
of the Red Sea, where she became an unholy mother to all of the
faithless. Despite the negative associations that typically surround
the figure of Lilith, Kiefer seems to identify with this rebellious
outcast, whose symbolic dresses have appeared in many of is strongest
paintings in recent years."
"Light Switches - Hard Version," by Claes Oldenburg
(b. 1929), is a painted wood, formica and metal sculpture that
measures 47 3/4 inches square. Executed in 1964, it has an estimate
of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $691,500 breaking the
artist's previous auction record of $574,500. Another auction
record for set for Blinky (Peter Heisterkamp) Palermo, whose "Stoffbild,"
Lot 23, sold for $669,600 breaking the previous record of $464,500.
(b. 1928) is one of the post-war stars of the art world whose
scribbled works leave some observers frigid, but Lot 22, shown
above, "Untitled (Bolsena)," is perhaps the most appealing
work of his to have appeared at auction in recent years. The oil-based
house paint, wax crayon, and lead pencil on canvas, measures 79
by 94 3/4 inches. Executed in 1969, it has an estimate of $2,500,000
to $3,500,000. It sold for $2,869,500.
This Twombly has a luscious blue-gray background with thin white
horizontal lines in the center that give this work a Rothkoesque
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"In 1966, Cy Twombly embarked on a long series of gray paintings
that are commonly considered his most daring and original works
of his career. As the present canvas demonstrates, Twombly renounced
the baroque flourishes of bright color that appeared in his work
of the early 1960s, and instead produced spare, white scribbles
on dark, muted grounds. Despite their whispering quietude, these
canvases announced a dramatic break with the heritage of Abstract
Expressionism. First presented to the New York art world in 1967,
Twombly's gray paintings were welcomed into the cool climate of
Minimalism, and presciently anticipated the rise of Conceptual
art in the following decade. For obvious reasons, Twombly's gray
paintings have often been referred to as 'blackboard paintings.'
These large rectangular canvases, painted in deep shades of gray,
green, and black, closely approximate the expansive chalkboards
found in classrooms throughout the world. Fittingly, Twombly covered
these dark monochromes with graphic strokes of a white wax crayon.
The results often resemble handwriting exercises, the cursive
efforts of a young child learning to communicate for the first
"Mit Kleinen Schwarzen Quadraten (with small black squares),"
by Sigmar Polke (b. 1941), is an handsome Mondrianesque abstraction
that is dispersion on beaver cloth, 59 by 50 3/8 inches. Painted
in 1968, it has an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It failed
to sell and was passed at $500,000.
"In this painting," the catalogue noted, "Polke
paints black squares over a checkered fabric. In their own way,
these painted brushstrokes become one with the pattern of the
fabric, thus the painting can also be read as a parody of abstract
Richter (b. 1932) (see The City Review of a recent retrospective
exhibition on the artist) is represented in this auction by Lot 26,
"Troisdorf (572-2)," a 33 1/2-by-47 1/4-inch oil on
canvas. The landscape painting was executed in 1985 and has an
estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000." It sold for $3,199,500.
Lot 29, "Untitled," is a very vibrant acrylic on canvas
by Keith Haring (1958-1990). The painting measures 60 inches square
and was executed in 1988. It has a modest estimate of $100,000
to $150,000. It sold for $196,500.