By Carter B. Horsley
This evening auction
of Contemporary Art has few blockbusters but good examples of
such contemporary artists as Alex Katz, Andreas Gursky, Chris
Ofili, Malcolm Morley, and Bernd and Hiller Becher.
The glittering highlight of the sale is quite literally Lot 305,
"Untitled" (Placebo)," which consists of an "endless
supply" of candies individually wrapped in cellophane. The
dimensions of this "work' varies with the installation and
it was "executed" in 1991 and is unique. The work has
a rather ambitious estimate $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for
$666,000 including buyer's premium, the highest price of the auction,
which also realized by two other lots.
"Like the Minimalist artists before him, Gonzalez-Torres
was interested in the conceptual as well as the aesthetic, yet
unlike his predecessors, the artist did not alienate his audience
by distancing them physically from his works. Instead of merely
contemplating his pieces from afar, audiences he offered the choice
of physically changing the nature of the work, therefore participating
in its metamorphosis," the catalogue entered noted.
The auction abounds in large
color photographs, the best of which is Lot 321, "Paris,
Montparnasse," shown above, by Andreas Gursky (b. 1955),
a color coupler print, 63 1/2 by 121 inches. This work was executed
in 1993 and is number one from an edition of five and has an estimate
of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $600,000, a world auction
record for the artist and perhaps also for a contemporary photograph
and an astounding price. The previous auction record for Gursky
was $310,500 set at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg November
12, 2001. A good architectural photograph of a very large
public housing project, its scale well conveys the monumentality
of the building and Gursky's decision to shoot the building with
an overcast sky permits the building's excellent use of color
to show forth well. By cropping the picture to show only the main
portion of the building he also increases its rather awesome appearance
but making the viewer wonder how much bigger it might be. This
is one of Gursky's better architectural studies.
The catalogue describes
the building as a "tenement" and goes on to argue that
"Gursky's artistic vision is an intellectual form of social
photography, provoking the viewer to reflect on the human condition
and its status vis-a-vis the heady promises of Modernism."
"In Montparnasse," it continued, "we see
social housing in pracice, the epitome of the modern urban envirnonment
and a wistful reminder of how the reality of Modernist architecture
parted ways with its socially-minded ideology....Gursky is able
to achieve a powerful sense of both alienation and individuality,
which leaves us feeling the prime symptom of the modern world:
the fear of being alone."
The object portrayed by
Gursky may be considered a "tenement" by some sophisticates
but it is in fact far better architectural than most "luxury
apartment" buildings built in Manhattan after World War II
and certainly not inferior to I. M. Pei's Kips Bay Houses. It
is large but it is full of rhythm and color and is very handsome.
Modernism is not a dirty word!
more interest than the Gursky is Lot 316, "Hochöfen,"
shown above, by Bernd & Hilla Becher (b. 1931 & 1934),
a group of 22 gelatin silver prints each 17 3/4 by 21 1/2 inches.
This work, which was executed in 1997, and is one of the best
series of the artists's archiving of delapidated industrial structures.
It has a a modest estimate of $65,000 to $85,000. It sold for
$160,000, almost doubling the previous auction record for the
artist of $88,125 set at Christie's May 18, 2001. The Bechers
have been very influential and their students included Andreas
Gursky, Thomas Ruff and and Thomas Struth (b. 1958). The catalogue
observes that Gursky has "been seen as moving increasingly
away from the dictates of the Becher style, with its emphasis
on a front viewpoint, seriality, detached objectivity, modest
format, and consistent use of black-and-white film." "Ruff
takes it a step further by radically changing his subject matter
every few years, working in opoosition to the Bechers' long-term,
single-minded devotion to the specific project of recoding decaying
structures (blast furnaces, foundries, derricks, etc.) at the
end of the ndustrial age....And in the case of Struth, he diverges
from the Bechers most notieceably in terms of his interest in
human subjectivity. Expecially in his portraits and museum photographs,
Sturth's figures are capable of communicating with the viwer in
a way that makes one fell implicated in an exchange."
accessible non-photographic work in this auction is Lot 343, "Fire
Island with a Second Ending," by Malcolm Morley (b. 1931),
shown at the top of this article. The oil on canvas with paper
collage on three panels measures 60 by 150 inches and was painted
in 1974. It is related to the artist's group of three-dimensional
paintings inspired by fold-out postcards. The panels are hinged.
This lot has a modest estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. It sold
Lot 311, "Spaceshit"
by Chris Ofili, oil, polyester resin, map pins and elephant dung
on linen, shown above is a stunning bright work with a rather
mesmerizing, celestial feel. It measures 72 by 48 inches and was
executed in 1995. It has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It
sold for $82,250.
Lot 337, "Blue Umbrella
#2," is a large and pleasant work by Alex Katz (b. 1927).
The oil on canvas was executed in 1972 and measures 96 by 144
inches and has an ambitious estimate of $500,000 to $700,000.
It sold for $666,000, shattering the artist's previous auction
record of $129,000 set at Christie's May 3, 1994. The work,
one of the artist's finest and quiet nice, depicts the artist's
wife in his typical billboard fashion, but Lot 345, "Black
Brook V," is a more abstract work, without any figures. The
90 1/2-by-66 1/4-inch oil on canvas was painted in 1989 and shows
some leaves against a black background. It has an estimate of
$120,000 to $180,000. It sold for $105,000.
Lot 344, "Security Guard," by
Duane Hanson, a good typical example of his excellent work, sold
for $314,000 breaking his previous auction record of $297,000
set at Christie's May 3, 1988.
Lot 315, "Julie, Den Haag, Netherlands,
February 29, 1994," "Saskia, Haderwijk, Netherlands,
March 16, 1994," and "Tecla, Amsterdam, Netherlands,"
three large, stark color photographs by Rineke Dijkstra, sold
for $105,000, a new auction record for the artist.
Lot 328, "Scheune (Barn," a very
striking photograph by Thomas Demand, sold for $99,500, tying
the artist's auction record set May 17, 2001 at Christie's.
Buoyed by the very strong price for the
large Gursky, the auction was quite successful with 38 of 48 offered
lots selling for $6,908,550. The presale low estimate was $6,210,000
and the high estimate was $8,520,000.