7 PM, November 9, 2010
By Michele Leight
Sometimes a painting is so beautiful it says it all. No words are necessary. Its radiance is that potent. In a season of masterpieces "Untitled" (1955), by Mark Rothko is such a painting, which leads Sotheby's Contemporary Art Evening sale in New York on November 9, 2010. "Untitled," has an estimate of $20,000,000 to $30,000,000. It sold for $22,482,500 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article. It was the highlight of the Abstract Expressionist works in the sale, and it was acquired by an Asian buyer.
The auction was very successful with 90.7 percent of the 54 offered lots selling for $222,454,500, above the pre-sale high estimate of $214,400,000. The top selling lots and highlights of the night were Warhol's "Coca Cola (4) Large Coca Cola" which surpassed its high estimate to sell for $35, 362,500, and Mark Rothko's "Untitled" ($22,482,500), both illustrated here.
Tobias Meyer, Sotheby's Worldwide of Contemporary Art and the evening' s auctioneer said: "Two things were going on this evening: the iconic classical market and the young market. Both benefited from the great depth of bidding in our sale and resulted in a very strong total of $222 million, above the high estimate. Most of the bidding was from very smart collectors, some who were long time and others who were new sophisticated entrants from the global community. They all responded enthusiastically to the great works on offer."
Alex Rotter, Sothbby's Head of Contemporary Art in New York said: The success of tonight's sale was the result of editing - getting the right young, Pop and Abstract Expressionist material into the sale. From the Urs Fischer to de Kooning's Montauk III and the star of the evening, the Warhol Coke bottle, this was a terrific night. Almost half the sold lots brought prices in excess of their high estimates, and six works sold for more than $10 million. It was a very strong result for the market."
Anthony Grant, Sotheby's International Senior Specialist of Contemporary Art said: "This evening's sale offered significant, iconic works by artists who really came to prominence in the last 15 to 20 years, such as Cady Noland, Larry Rivers and Julie Mehretu and the market responded by driving the prices to new record levels. With each sale another Contemporary artist - another artist from our generation - enters the canon of the modern masters of the world - on a par with Modigliani, Matisse or Monet. Warhol has clearly entered that canon, and I think that tonight proves that Richter is going to enter that canon as well."
"Untitled" has not been on the market for over 40 years. It was in the Tate retrospective, and it is in pristine condition - just what you want from a Rothko" said Tobias Meyer, who described immediately noticing the absence of imperfections when they went to view it in the warehouse. It is remarkable, considering it has been around for over half a century.
The perfect counterpoint to the Abstract Expressionist "Untitled" is a superb Pop Art monochromatic painting by Andy Warhol, Lot 12, "Coca-Cola (4) Large Coca Cola" with an estimate of $20 to $25 million. It is amazing how nostalgic a vintage Coca-Cola bottle can make us feel. So simple, yet so evocative and powerful. It sold for $35,362,500, and was the top selling painting of the night. Eight bidders competed for the painting, which was the last of four Coca Cola bottles executed by Warhol in 1961 and 1962. and the largest of the group. Other Warhol's did well, including "The Last Supper" ($6,802,500 with an estimate $$4,000,000 to $6,000,000) and beautiful "Shadows" painted in 1978 ($4,226,500 with an estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000).
"It was very clear we needed a Rothko and a Warhol this season" said Tobias Meyer, Sotheby's International Head of Contemporary Art, at a press conference. They certainly have stellar examples by each artist, both with conservative estimates.
Andy Warhol said: "What's grand about this country is that America started this tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same thing as the poorest...you can know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Talyor drinks Coke, and, just think, you can drink Coke too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better coke."Other major works by 20th and 21st century artists in Sotheby's sale include fine examples of Abstract Expressionist and Pop Art, and European Masters including Willem de Kooning, (a knock out drawing by) Arshile Gorky, Robert Rauschenberg, Louise Bourgeois, Donald Judd, Ellsworth Kelly, David Hockney, Francis Bacon, and Gerhard Richter, among others. Highly collectible artworks by recent contemporary artists such as Jeff Koons, Richard Prince, Anish Kapoor, Julie Mehretu (born 1970), and Urs Fischer (1973) are on offer, many with conservative estimates. Collectively these works span decades of "contemporary" art.
The stellar complementary "duo" of hand-painted Pop Art paintings - Andy Warhol's "Coca-Cola (4) Large Coca Cola" (estimate $20,000,000 to $25,000,000), and Roy Lichtenstein's "Ice Cream Soda," (estimate $12,000,000 to $18,000,000) - were both executed in 1962, and depict a staple of American consumer society - soda pop. 1962 heralded the beginning of Pop Art, and both these paintings were exhibited in early Pop Art shows in 1963, depicting a subject (soda pop) that played a critical role in popular culture and consumerism in post-World War II America. Since then, soda pop has become a global phenomenon, and can be found virtually anywhere in the world. Lot 17 sold for $14,082,500.
"Many factors resulted in the advent of Pop art, including a movement away from the abstract expressionist idiom to the clarity of a single, high-impact image, and in these two paintings, both individually and as a couple, it all comes together. The synchronicity is remarkable; it's almost as if they were painted in the same studio, but of course they weren't, " said Tobias Meyer.
Warhol was well aware of the underpinnings of American capitalism and consumerism because he worked as in illustrator for an advertising company. He incorporates Letraset, widely used in the advertising industry before the emergence of computer graphics. "Coca-Cola (4) Large Coca-Cola" is a homage to advertising and celebrates the relationship between big business and consumerism, and the public that ultimately benefits from it. Tobias Meyer said: "In this painting Warhol is saying 'this is what American society is." Lot 16, "The Last Supper" reveals the other side of Warhol - his spirituality. The catalogue for this sale cites: "The artist was in fact the pious son of immigrants from Czechoslovakia, and the antithesis of Warhol the artist and Warhol the spiritual man is central to the production of his last canvases: the Last Supper series....The celebrity portraits and the Death and Disaster series have their associations with Warhol's twin obsessions of mortality and fame, but The Last Supper as an aesthetic subject combines the immortality of religion with the immortality of art." The lot has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It sold for $6,802,500.
Lichtenstein selects objects that reflect American culture but he also prizes his subjects for their aesthetic qualities, like the curved contours of reflective surface patterns like glass. He elevates, "Ice Cream Soda" - a commonplace item that can be found anywhere and can be afforded by just about anyone in America - to fine art. It was featured in one of the earliest exhibitions of Pop art - "Six Painters and the Object" - at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1963. Unlike Lichtenstein, who continued to paint his canvases by hand, Warhol moved on to silkscreens that were "made" in multiples, like products in a factory. Close inspection of this nostalgia-inducing work reveals painstaking, hand rendered dots that blur when the painting is viewed from afar. Lichtenstein's "Still Life with Lobster," (Lot 10, $5,000,000 to $7,000,000) was painted in 1972, and the dots are more intense and visible. The subject bears the hallmark of his ironic detachment, rendered so appealingly in this evocation of the ocean's bounty and the good life. There are no hidden meanings in Lichtenstein's imagery. What you see is what you get. Lot 10 sold for $5.962,500.
Robert Rauschenberg painted "Exile" (Lot 28, estimate $5,000,000 to $7,000,000) in 1962, the same year he visited Andy Warhol's studio when Warhol was experimenting with the silkscreen method. It is one of the earliest works in his important silkscreen paintings that highlights a dominant image in the series, "The Rokeby Venus" by Diego Velazquez. Rauschenberg combines her seductive, old-school lusciousness with prosaic images of keys, white lights and a tire, that reference modern industrialization. Rauschenberg has produced some of the most sophisticated and magical "layering" in paint we shall ever see, as in this beautiful painting. "Exile" has flawless provenance (Castelli and Sonnabend) and an impressive exhibition history: Sonnabend, Documenta in Kassel, the Stedelijk in Amsterdam, and the Whitney in New York. Lot 28 sold for $8,034,500.
It is remarkable how Andy Warhol's "Shadows" (Lot 30, estimate $3,000,000 to $4,000,000), a powerful, large-scale abstract painted in 1978, evokes some of the painterly effects of Rauschenberg's "Exile." Or Franz Kline, and the Abstract Expressionists. The give and take between these artists becomes powerful. "Shadows" is the antithesis of the commercial subject matter Warhol was preoccupied with in the prior decade. It evokes the ominous mood of his "electric chair" paintings, that sense of something terrible about to happen. In a different mood it is a heavenly shaft of light in inky darkness. "Shadows" is detached, depicts nothing, and offers no clues, but it has all the drama and pathos of a scene in a film or a photograph where whatever is about to happen is conveyed without words or any human presence. This sense of detachment is mirrored in "Matrosen (Sailors)" by Gerhard Richter, reviewed below. Lot 30 sold for $4,226,500.
To the right of "Shadows" is Cady Noland's "Gibbet," Lot 7, estimate $600,000 to $800,000, named after the gallows structures from which the bodies of executed criminals were hung and the "stocks" in Colonial times that secured the ankles and wrists of prisoners. This work exemplifies "the artist's adept exploration of the realities of the American dream and its shortcomings." Cady Noland is the daughter of Kenneth Noland, the Color Field painter. Lot 7 sold for $1,762,500, a world auction record for the artist.
Arshile Gorky was lauded by the Surrealists, most famously Andre Breton, who called him an American Surrealist. Gorky was also a seminal influence on the Abstract Expressionists, perhaps most notably Willem de Kooning. The outstanding drawing illlustrated here, "Housatonic" Lot 23, estimate $800,000 to $1,200,000, was executed by Gorky in 1943, and it is hard to tell it is not a painting. Gorky takes ink and crayon and spins magic. The catalogue notes: "For many artists drawing is the soul of the creative process, giving birth to new ideas through the intimate practice of putting pen to paper. For both the European Modernists of the early 20th century and the younger generation of abstractionists in New York at mid-century, the freedom afforded by the act of drawing was essential to many artists, Arshile Gorky paramount among them. When Matta suggested to Gorky that he thin his pigments into veils of color, one of the motivations was to preserve the primacy of drawing in Gorky's art." This drawing should far exceed its estimate. It sold for $3,666,500, a new world auction record for a work on paper by the artist, and a strong result for an Abstract Expressionist work on paper.
At the press preview, Anthony Grant, Sotheby's Senior International Specialist, Contemporary Art, spoke glowingly of Gorky's drawing, which he said was from the Collection of Clarence Day, acquired from the Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasadena. Moving on to "Montauk III," displayed right beside it, Mr. Grant said: "It was done on brown paper. De Kooning loved the way it looked like sand. He lined it three times." This sumptuous work comprises two painted sheets of paper mounted on canvas. Its painterly surface is sublime.
Willem de Kooning was never a conformist. If abstraction was in, he reverted to figuration, and returned to abstraction when figuration was in vogue. However, the influence of Ashile Gorky is persistence, which is more pronounced in his figurative paintings of women, but can also be seen in the delicate balance he maintains between abstraction and figuration in lushously rendered "Montauk III," (Lot 25, estimate $5,000,000 to $7,000,000), painted in 1969. Mr. Grant said it has been requested for the upcoming exhibition titled "De Kooning: A Retrospective," curated by John Elderfield for The Museum of Modern Art, New York (September 18, 2011 to January 9, 2012 ). It sold for $9,938,500, well over its high estimate of $5-7 million, another strong result of an Abstract Expressionist painting.
Sotheby's catalogue notes: "As he cycled through his rural environs and walked the beaches, de Kooning was free to paint what he wished and produced canvases such as 'Montauk III' that reinvestigated the pastoral tradition of Northern European landscape and the Western art tradition of the nude as tactile flesh.''
The winsome, expressive sculpture, Lot 37, "Cross-Legged Figure," is also by de Kooning, executed in 1972. Lot 37 has an estimate of $1,750,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for $1,762,500.
several "waves" of Abstract Expressionists are
represented in this sale, like Hans Hofmann's exuberant "Twilight in
the Swamp." Lot 22, it is on oil on canvas that measures 48
1/4 by 36
inches and was executed in 1958. It breaks away from the
forms that dominated his earlier work.
Painted in 1958 - his final years - it will be included in the forthcoming "Hans Hofmann Catalogue Raisonné" sponsored by the Renate and Maria Hofmann Foundation. It has an estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000. It sold for $1,650,500.
Lot 24, David Smith's "Race for Survival (Spectre of Profit)," (estimate $1,500,000 to $2,500,000) is from his mid-1940s "Spectres" series that "are Boschian hybrid figures that blend horror with eroticism. Like Picasso, Smith was nourished by Surrealism and a passion for stylized organic forms. With imagery evocative of 'Guernica', Picasso's response to the tragedies of war, the prehistoric figure in the present work is displayed with open mouth and jagged jaws with chains for legs and soaring above bronze gears" (catalogue). Gorky's "Housatonic" is behind it on the right. It failed to sell and was passed at $1,400,000.
Joan Mitchell's Abstract Expressionist "Untitled" was also painted in her later years, in 1973. The magnified, frenzied brushstrokes of her earlier - wonderful - canvases have lost their aggression, now broken apart to form blocks of color reminiscent of Mark Rothko, and softly scumbled, Monet-like brushwork. Lot 39 has an estimate of $2,200,000 to $2,800,000. It sold for $2,210,500.
Shown below is a magnificent graphic work by Ellsworth Kelly "Cowboy." Although the influence of Matisse is palpable, the artist describes an experience that inspired it:
"I had just been to see a rodeo in NYC. I went with Betty Parsons and her friend, Annie, who owned a ranch in Utah. She took me down to introduce me to her cowboys. The picture is like a cowboy thrown from a horse" (Ellsworth Kelly, 2010, cited in the catalog for this sale). Lot 27 has an estimate of $1,800,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for $1,762,500.
On the left of "Cowboy" is a glowing, pristine brass sculpture by Donald Judd, "Untitled." Lot 13 has an estimate $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold for $1,594,500.
Alex Rotter, Sotheby's Head of Contemporary Art, New York highlighted three paintings by European Masters Francis Bacon and Gerhard Richter. "Figure In Movement," by Francis Bacon, (Lot 31, estimate $7,000,000 to $10,000,000), painted in 1985, is a stunning composition with a rich orange background and was featured in the 2008 landmark exhibition "Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective" at Tate Britain, which travelled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid. It has also been exhibited at the Pompidou Center in Paris, and other fine museums and galleries. It is a powerful depiction of a figure in motion, and a technical tour de force comparable to the greatest of the old masters. It sold for $14,082,500, and was eagerly sought after by four bidders.
has a touching personal story attached to it. Bacon insisted his
doctor accept this painting as a gift after he had chosen a different
one. Bacon said this one was better. This is its first appearance
to the auction market: "There is a lot of emotion and intimacy
in this painting Bacon gave to his doctor," said Mr. Rotter,
adding that Bacon was a master of figuration and the estimate
for this painting was "very conservative." It is destined
to far exceed its estimate, given its quality.
"This is the European variation of Warhol and Lichtenstein" said Alex Rotter of Gerhard Richter's "Matrosen (Sailors)," (Lot 36, estimate $6,000,000 to $8,000,000. It sold for $13,242,500) adding that it had great provenance - the Stiftung Neues Museum Weserburg, Bremen. From his famous "Photopaintings" of the 1960s, it is one of the most important works by the Richter to be offered at auction. Two meters wide, it is also one of the largest. The influence of Andy Warhol looms large, yet again, but this time with a European master. Gerhard Richter, who was born in 1932, is still working. He saw Andy Warhol's monochromatic "Eight Elvises" painted in 1963, which looks more like a silk-screened photograph than a painting, illustrated in the catalog for this sale. In contrast, Richter's "Matrosen (Sailors)," executed in 1966, is incredibly painterly considering the medium is oil, perfectly capturing an image similar to a blurred photograph, as if someone bumped into the photographer at the moment they took the shot. This is not easy to achieve. Richter's technique is absolutely superb, which he characteristically - and contradictorally - camouflages.
It was a strong night for Richter with both "Matrosen (Sailors)" and "Abstraktes Bild" surpassing their high estimates. Both are illustrated here.
The catalog for this sale cites: "The gray-tone canvases have an underlying consiousness of death, whether implicit or explicit, that is a defining characteristic of the works, further accentuated by Richter's choice to work in grisaille. Connections can be drawn between Richter's 1060s canvases and Andy Warhol's celebrity portraits and Death and Disaster series from the same decade. Both artists challenged the gap between personal experience and public reality, choosing loaded imagery from source photographs and transforming them into grand scale canvases."
fleeting moment is rendered
more anonymous because these are navy sailors - military men,
most likely from a newspaper photograph, which Richter clipped
and saved as source material. Of
the gray color palette Richter has this to say: " It makes
no statement whatever; it evokes neither feelings nor associations:
it is really neither visible or invisible...It has the capacity
that no other color has, to make 'nothing' visible. To me gray
is the welcome and the only possible equivalent for indiffernce,
noncommitment, absence of opinions, absence of shape (Gerhard
Richter in a 1977 letter to Edy de Wilde, in Robert Storr, Gerhard
Richter: 'Forty Years of Painting, New York," 2003, p.62).
Basquiat was also
influenced by Warhol, and they collaborated on murals together.
However Basquiat, who was 30 years younger and self-taught, was
more attuned to the powerful individualism and imagery of Jackson
Pollock - and to a lesser extent Jean Dubuffet, whose wonderful
"Vue de Paris, Le Petit Commerce" (Lot 38, estimate
$3,000,000 to $4,000,000) is being offered at this sale. The mixed
by both artists was appropriated by Basquiat to include everything
from xeroxed collages and oil sticks to urban detritus like discarded
wood, which often formed either the base or the frames of his
paintings. The wordplays and child-like spontaneity are entirely
his own. Lot 44 "Riddle Me This, Batman" (estimate $4,500,000 to
$6,500,000) is a beautiful example of his inimitable, radical style.
Caught in the vortex of his own genius, Basquiat died prematurely
at the age of 28. This poetic work was painted a year earlier.
Another beautiful, childlike painting by Basquiat is in this sale,
entitled "Paciderm." Lot 46 has an estimate of $2,000,000
to $3,000,000. It sold for $1,594,500.
Works by other recent contemporary artists are well represented, including the Jeff Koons illustrated above, "New Shelton Wet/Dry 10 Gallon, New Shelton Wet/Dry 5 Gallon, Double Decker," reminiscent of twin "R2-D2s" (the adorable robot in "Star Wars") in the softly lit gallery. In bright light, they take on a sinister appearance, as if they could invade at any moment and clean everything in sight. Lot 6 had an estimate of $3,000,000 to $5,000,000. It sold for $3,442,500.
Detail of Lot 2
Illustrated above are Louise Bourgeois' wonderful "Spider III" (Lot 32, estimate $600,000 to $800,000), and Julie Mehretu's imaginative, epically scaled "The Seven Acts of Mercy," (Lot 49, $1,500,000 to $2 million dollars). It is interesting that the young person I was with especially loved this duo - "the spider and the map-art" as he called it. Both artists are women. Ms. Mehretu is 40, the youngest artist in the sale.
Lot 32 sold for $3,554,500. Lot 49 sold for $2,322,500, a world auction record for the artist.
It was a strong night for recent contemporary artists, with world auction records also set by Jim Hodges, Cady Noland, Julie Mehretu as well as Urs Fischer ("Unscented Candle," which achieved $1082,500) and Larry Rivers "French MoneyIII," which achieved $1,142,500)
Lousie Bourgeois passed away in New York City in May, 2010 at the age of 98. Her long life was devoted to her art and sculpture, during which time she often wondered why she did not get the kind of recognition she felt she deserved. She implied it was because she was a woman. Bourgeois was born in 1911, before women had the right to vote. Many of her sculptures and installations reference her struggles, and feminists have always warmed to her. Her art appeals to the young of both sexes, which probably means she was far ahead of her time. In October 2007, I remember seeing - and walking under - a giant version of this spider, called "Maman" in the plaza of Tate Modern in London, along the River Thames. It was part of the first major British survey of Louise Bourgeois' work. She was 77 years old. Indoors, in Tate Modern's Grand Turbine Hall, there were more large and wonderful spiders.
Sotheby's catalogue sale includes an "ode" by Louise Bourgeois about the significance of this fascinating creature in her work:
"The Spider is an Ode to my mother.
She was a tapestry woman.
My mother was my best friend.
She was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable,
dainty, subtle, indispensavle, neat and useful as a Spider.
-Louise Bourgeois, 1996
Incredible paintings, drawings and sculpture are being offered at auction this season. Sotheby's galleries were packed with admirers, reflecting confidence in the sale on Tuesday.
A very fine painting by Larry Rivers, "French Money III," Lot 11, has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $1,142,500, a world auction record for the artist.
Lot 1 is an untitled sculpture by Urs Fischer that has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $1,082,500, a world auction record for the artist.