This morning auction
of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie's May 15, 2003 is
highlighted by good representative works by Wayne Thiebaud (b.
1920), Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974), Robert Motherwell (1915-1991),
Robert Rauschenberg (b. 1925), Larry Rivers (1923-2002), Helen
Frankenthaler (b. 1928), Charles Bell (1935-1995), Willem de Kooning
(1904-1997), Jim Dine (b. 1935), Frank Stella (b. 1936), and George
The cover illustration of the auction catalogue is a detail from
Lot 124, "Sugar, Salt and Pepper," a 13-by-17-inch oil
on canvas, shown above. The small painting was created in 1970
and has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000 and is one of his
better bright still-lifes. It sold for $533,900 including the
buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.
It is both lovely and stark. The catalogue provides the following
commentary: "In the early 1960s, Thiebaud rebelled against
the angst-ridden brushstrokes of his peers, creating his own brand
of painterliness, one in which surfaces are deliberately and masterfully
controlled. He also began to draw on his experience as a commercial
artist, creating eye-catching works with a directness and economy
of means that are indebted to his advertising work. Thiebaud's
mature work coincided with the explosion of interest in Pop Art
in the early 1960s art scene, which has caused Thiebaud to be
linked, albeit uneasily with that movement. Sugar, Salt and
Pepper depicts the ubiquitous condiments that populate every
American diner and coffee shop. Unlike Pop Artists who use cultural
signifiers to ironically comment on culture, Thiebaud's work is
more concerned with the formal issues of paint. Sugar, Salt
and Pepper has a strong architectonic composition, rigidly
anchored in place with a symmetrical alignment and severe horizontal
bands of color. The paint is languidly brushed in horizontal strokes
across the canvas in his trademark cake-frosting tones of white,
while the racing-stripe colors along the bottom and the crisp
high key color highlights bring the entire surface to life."
Lot 106, "Blast II,"
is one of Adolph Gottlieb's first three "Burst" paintings,
which, according to the catalogue, "are landmarks of Abstract
Expressionism. The oil on canvas measures 90 by 45 inches and
was executed in 1957. It has a conservative estimate of $150,000
to $200,000. It sold for $959,500.
Lot 181 is a very strong
small work by Robert Motherwell. Entitled "Open No. 148,"
it is an oil on canvas that measures 14 by 18 inches. Executed
in 1970, it has a very conservative estimate of $20,000 to $30,000.
It sold for $38,240.
Robert Rauschenberg is perhaps
best known for his early "combines" and his penchant
for expanding the boundaries of the art object. His work is generally
quite conceptual and not inherently "beautiful." Lot
194, however, shows the artist can produce works that are quite
ravishing. Entitled "Untitled (Copperhead)," it is an
acrylic on copper that measures 48 ¾ by 96 ¾ inches.
Executed in 1989, it has a very conservative estimate of $70,000
to $90,000. It sold for $105,160.
As he was riding as a passenger
in car on the Long Island Expressway towards Manhattan, Larry
Rivers saw a neon sign that advertised Dutch Master cigars with
a reproduction of Rembrandt's Syndics of the Drapery Guild.
He was so taken with the notion of using an Old Master "to
sell stinky cigars" that he decided to use it in a series
of paintings. This impressive and very painterly, large wall-relief
measures 97 by 70 ½ by 14 inches and was executed in 1969
seven years after his first "Dutch Masters cigar" work.
It has a modest estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It failed
Lot 136 is a very strong
work by Helen Frankenthaler entitled "Herald." An acrylic
on canvas, it measures 108 by 81 inches. Executed in 1970, it
has a modest estimate of $120,000 to $180,000. It sold for
Willem de Kooning is famous
for his wild and very "hot" abstract paintings of women
and also for his more lyrical late, bright abstractions. Lot 170,
"Untitled," is a very strong oil onpaper laid down on
canvas by de Kooning that measures 41 ½ by 30 inches. It
was executed in 1977 when he was, according to the catalogue,
"combining images of large scale figures with landscapes."
"the landscape," the catalogue entry continued, "has
broken through the figure's contours and actually entered the
body. Dissolving the figure-ground dichotomy, painterly passages
of tan and orange tones evoke both the beach and flesh; blue streaks
conjure up bodily contours as well as bodies of water. The figure
takes up most of the composition, with white passages at the top
standing in for a head and `hands' joined together at the bottom.
The sensuous curvature of the neck and should is beautifully articulated
with brown and blue strokes, which is located above the fleshy
colored area towards the upper right corner."
This work is much more delineated and structured than his earlier
wild red women and it conjures some of the distortions of Francis
Bacon but without that artist's ominous style. This lot has a
conservative estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for
Another very painterly work
is Lot 176, "Study for This Sovereign Life," by Jim
Dine, a 48-by-73-inch diptych of oil and sand. Executed in 1985,
the work has a skull on the left side and a large heart on the
right. It has a modest estimate of $140,000 to $180,000. It
sold for $130,700.
Frank Stella is represented
in the auction by two excellent works, Lots 191 and 192. The former
is entitled "The Carpet Bag (2x)," and is a wall relief
of oil, colored dipsticks, glitter and lacquer and aluminum and
magnesium. It measures 75 by 86 by 36 inches and was executed
in 1989. It has a modest estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It
failed to sell.
Lot 192 is entitled "Karpathenburg
I," and the mixed-media on canvas measures 117 by 135 inches.
It has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It sold for $135,300.
For the pinball enthusiast,
Lot 164 should prove irresistible. Entitled "Finis Coronat
Opus," it is a large photorealist work by Charles Bell that
was executed in 1995. An oil on canvas, it measures 54 by 74 inches
and has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It sold for $220,300.
George Rickey was a very
elegant kinetic sculptor and Lot 186 is a fine example of his
work. Entitled "Column of Six Parallelepipeds," the
62-inch-high kinetic stainless steel sculpture was executed in
1986 and is number two of an edition of three. It has a modest
estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $53,775.