By Michele Leight
Mark Rothko's magnificent "Orange, Red, Yellow," Property from The Estate of David Pincus, set the tone for an evening sale of wonderful Contemporary Art on May 8th at Christie's New York. The quality reflects the consignors of this sale, whose collections were just one part of their impressive, multi-faceted lives that included philanthropy and support for the arts, a phenomenon that seems ingrained in some enlightened and extremely generous human beings that happen to love art. The sale of several important collections and individual works of art in this sale will benefit arts foundations, the acquisition of new works for major museums, and the catalogue for this sale notes that a percentage of the proceeds of Yves Klein's "FC 1(Fire Color 1)" will be donated to Oceana, the largest international organization that works exclusively to protect the oceans of the world.
This sale includes Property from the Collection of Evelyn D. Haas - a legendary collector, arts patron and philanthropist - including an atmospheric Diebenkorn and a stunning work by Vija Celmins. A beautiful Hans Hoffman that is Property from The Museum of Modern Art will be sold to benefit the Acquisitions Fund.
As philanthropists, humanitarians, and arts patrons, David Pincus and his wife Geraldine - known as Gerry - enjoyed a collection of Post War and Contemporary art that they began collecting from the early 60s. Besides the extraordinary quality and rarity of some of the works of art is their art historical importance. On a personal level, one only has to imagine what it must have been like to live with paintings like this, let alone have them under one roof at the same time, to appreciate how magnificent this collection was. It would be a dream come true for lovers of contemporary art, especially The New York School.
Paintings and sculpture from The Estate of David Pincus include a beautiful work by Jackson Pollock, "Number 28," (illustrated) and Barnett Newman's "Onement V." No contemporary art sale would be fun without a Calder, and this sale has a magnificent and unusual example of the artists's work, "Lily of Force." Other standouts include Lot 14, "Abstraktes Bild (798-3)," and a sublime duo of mobiles, The Noyes Calders, commissioned by the legendary modernist pioneer, Eliot Noyes - Lot 11, "Snow Flurry," and Lot 12, "Untitled," by Alexander Calder. (See below for prices and illustration).
No contemporary art sale would be truly contemporary without the inclusion of the work of artists of the present generation, and this sale has several, including Urs Fischer, Jim Hodges, Robert Gober, Nan Goldin, and an important Cindy Sherman, Lot 10, "Untitled #96," Property from The Akron Museum Sold to Benefit The Acquisitions Fund (see below for prices).
There is a significant presence of female artists in this sale - including Louise Nevelson, Joan Mitchell, Sherrie Levine, Marisol, Agnes Martin, and amazing Vija Celmins, whose diminutive, ethereal charcoal, graphite and chalk on paper - Lot 7, "Untitled #8" from the Collection of evelyn D. Haas) flew past its high estimate ($700,000 to $900,000), selling for $1,142,500, a world auction record for the artist. Celmins intricate and beautiful constellations are a highlight of any contemporary art sale. It is not illustrated here because a reproduction would not do it justice.
Lot 20 has an estimate of $35,000,000 to $45,000,000. It sold for $86,882,500.
All testimonials about David and Gerry Pincus - including Laura Paulsen's, who knew them well - reveal they were a generous spirited, philanthropic couple who were also happily married for 50 years. David Pincus was an astute and successful businessman - always good for a community - and the catalogue for this sale notes that their legacy will continue to enrich the Philadelphia community for years to come. The people they helped in far away places will benefit from their generosity for generations.
As philanthropists, humanitarians, and art patrons, David Pincus and his wife Geraldine, known as Gerry, enjoyed a collection of Post War and Contemporary art since the early 60s that includes important paintings, drawings and sculpture, as well as important contemporary photography - a powerful piece by Nan Goldin - by (among others) Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Arshile Gorky, Anselm Kiefer, Jeff Wall, among others. Many are illustrated in this review.
Christie's evening sale of contemporary art achieved $388,488,000, an outstanding result, making it the most valuable Post War and Contemporary art auction ever.
14 new world auction records were set and Mark Rothko's "Orange, Red, Yellow" from the Collection of David Pincus fetched $86.9 million, setting a new record for any Post War and Contemporary Art at auction.
Works of art from the Pincus Collection totaled $174,900,000 - the most expensive collection of Post War and Contemporary Art ever sold. The pre-sale estimate for this collection was $100 million, so this is an outstanding result.
David and Gerry became involved with the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania when it first opened in 1963, as well as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where David served on the board for more than 35 years. The Pincuses appreciated the art of their time and were in the vanguard in recognizing the pioneering and significant work of artists such as Andy Warhol. The early collection contained eight of Warhols Electric Chair paintings and 20 portraits of Jackie. Over time, two of the Chairs and four of the Jackies were given to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to enrich its permanent collection. The proceeds of four sculptural works by de Kooning (illustrated) will benefit the Pincus Family Foundation which oversees their charitable giving.
Illustrated above - with accompanying detail photo - is a powerful monochromatic Pollock from the collection that was executed at a turning point in the artist's life:
"In 1951, at the very height of his creative power and artistic achievement, Pollock had suddenly changed direction. Abandoning the vast scale, epic format and subtle color of the large, and now famous masterpieces such as 'Autumn Rhythm' and 'Lavender Mist' that he had exhibited at the Betty Parson's Gallery in November 1950, Pollock had embarked on a series of more graphic, drawing-like paintings made solely in black enamel paint on raw cotton duck canvas. For the first time in many years, in these radically new works known as the Black and White paintings, vague figurative elements reminiscent of his earlier work had begun to reappear amidst the dramatic rhythmic swirls and convoluted skeins of his dripped paint. As he wrote to his friends Alfonso Ossorio and Ted Dragon at this time, 'I've had a period of drawing on canvas in black - with some of my early images coming thru - think the non-objectivists will find them disturbing - and the kids who think it simple to splash out a Pollock" (J. Pollock, 'Letter to Alfonso Ossorio and Ted Dragon,' June 7, 1951, quoted in F.V. O' Connor and E. Victor Thaw, (ed) Jackson Pollock: A Catalogue Raisonne of Paintings Drawings and Other Works, vol. 2, London, 1978, p. 261)
It might not immediately strike anyone that this spectacular painting by Pollock could be "like" that of any other artist, but Christie's catalogue for this sale offers fascinating insights that resonate when considering the other painting cited below:
"Giving birth to an entirely denser, complex and extraordinarily rich, varied and multidimensional surface - one that Frank Stella was to compare to both Pollock's earlier Number 1A, 1948 and Piet Mondrian's Broadway Boogie-Woogie - the seeminlgy writhing and wrestling surface of Number 28, 1951 is also indicative of the general deepening at this time of Pollock's painterly struggle in the face of the demons of his alchoholism which, in 1951, had returned to haunt the artist and his work..."
What might appear to some to be one of the simplest paintings in the world, Broadway Boogie-Woogie is one of the greatest and most complex paintings of all time. What might not be easily understood - because they look so different - is that Mondrian passed the torch to Pollock, or rather, Pollock took the torch from him, perhaps without realizing it. This was a formidable undertaking:
"When Mondrian realized that the freeing of his spanning grid had the simultaneous and equivalent effect of freeing the background, he put these discoveries to work in Broadway Boogie-Woogie and Victor Boogie-Woogie, but he did not live long enough to face, as Pollock had to, the inevitable consequences of these ideas. It is certainly possible that Pollock never saw that Mondrian's grid could be 'in front of itself' and that paintings like Blue Poles and Autumn Rhythm, which seemed so expansive and so surely to be pointing to a wider vision, were anomalies. But we have to wonder, because it seems wrong to sell Pollock's talent short" (F. Stella, Working Space London, 1986, pp. 83-4, in Christie's catalogue for this sale).
Lot 24, "Onement V," is a real beauty, widely exhibited and written about. Newman's "Onement series" made an enormous impact and were considered radical when they were first exhibited. If you love Newman's work - as this reviewer does - you feel its power:
"Newman belonged to a generation of American painters including Mark Rothko, Alfred Gottlieb, Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still and others who had witnessed the very darkest moments of the twentieth century, amongst them the Great Depression, the atom bomb and the Holocaust. Rather than recoil however, they sought a new, emancipating vernacular and the title of the present work embodies this artistic ambition. As Newman once explained, 'I tried to make the title a metaphor that describes my feelings when I did the painting...[It] is a celebration of harmony, wholeness, the archaic sense of atonement that was 'at onement'" (B. Newman quoted in T. Hess, Barnett Newman, New York, 1969, p.54).
The beauty of Newman is his searing simplicity that disarms the receptive viewer, allowing them to enter a place they never expect to be - a gentle space where even the worst things are banished, if only temporarily. The onement paintings are healing, hope filled. Newman's "zips" get to the heart of you:
"At first glance, works such as Onement V appear to be centered on color and form, but for Newman these concerns were only secondary. Instead he sought to instill in his compositions a fundamental spiritual and transcendental power" (Christie's catalogue for this sale
The "onement" series seems so "present generation" it is hard to believe this series dates to the 50s. Newman was way ahead of the game, but for him this series was a deliberate rebuttal of the art that surrounded him at the time:
"Much of Newman's disaffection with contemporary art can be understood in the context of the Second World War and what he perceived as the inability of surrealism and geometric abstraction to respond to its devastating reality. He concluded that the art created during this period offered little more than decorative distraction and as such, needed to be urgently superseded. His ambitious claims for American painting become clear in the conversations Newman shared with his friend and neighbor Willem de Kooning in the mid-1940s: Bill said, 'Art history is a bowl of alphabet soup; the artist reaches in and spoons out what letters he wants, which letters do you want Barney?' And I didn't know what to answer; I mean it wouldn't have been polite to say that I've nothing to do with a bowl of soup" (B. Newman quoted in A. Temkin (ed.), Barnett Newman, exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia 2002, p. 32).
Lot 6, "Untitled," by Barnett Newman, oil on canvas, 36 by 24 1/4, 1945
One of the most beautiful works in the auction is Lot 6, an untitled oil on canvas, by Newman that measures 36 by 24 1/4 inches. It was painted in 1945 and is property from the collection of Evelyn D. Haas. It has been widely exhibited and published and has a modest estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It sold for $3,218,500.
Illustrated at the top of this review is the centerpiece of The Pincus Collection, a monumental acquisition from 1967 - Mark Rothko's "Orange, Red, Yellow," 1961, (Lot 20, estimate: $35,000,000-45,000,000) that blew past its high estimate, selling for $86,882,500, toppling the previous record for "White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose)" from the David Rockefeller collection that sold for $72.8million in 2007. With its hovering orange and red forms that give the appearance of floating against their soft red background, this is Rothko at his best. In his orange/red paintings, Rothko was influenced by one particular painting by perhaps the world's greatest colorist, Henri Matisse:
"It had been the arrival of Henri Matisse's Red Studio at The Museum of Modern Art in New York that had first inspired Rothko to make his great breakthrough into allowing color alone to be the carrier of meaning in his work. 'When you looked at that painting ' Rothko said later of it, 'you became color, you became totally saturated with it as if it were music (M. Rothko quoted in J.E.B. Breslin Mark Rothko: A Biography, Chicago 1993, p. 283). And it was this direct, undiluted, unmediated experience of the sublime sensation of color as a viral but also immaterial entity seemingly pulsing through the viewer in an almost phyiscal way that Rothko sought to establish in his own paintings."
Mark Rothko is the grand master of the sublime, and one of the greatest artists of all time. As comments flew about the price tag for this work of art prior to its sale, it seemed more than possible to this reviewer that it would go above its high estimate because "Orange, Red, Yellow" is a masterpiece, and it was formerly in a legendary collection. Ultimately, it is the artist that creates something so amazing that it moves someone enough to pay whatever price is necessary to own it. To some, this might seem absurd, but by the end of the evening, Lot 20 had sold for $86,882,500, setting a world auction record for the artist and a world auction record for any contemporary work of art. If I had the money, I would have bought it for this price.
The impact of color on Rothko, which he transposed to his incredible paintings, was monumental:
"...Rothko once stated that he wanted his paintings to establish such a 'presence' that when you turned your back to the painting, you would feel that presence the way you feel the sun on your back" (M. Rothko, cited in J.E.B. Breslin Mark Rothko: A Biography, Chicago 1993, p. 275)
Anyone who has visited Philadelphia would know Rothko's "Orange, Red, Yellow," which has been on loan to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for many years along with Newman's "Onement V," and Pollock's "No. 28." If a trio of paintings can be sublime, this is it.The Pincuses knew that to create a comprehensive survey of American Expressionists, the collection needed a work of Jackson Pollock - all great collections need a Pollock - which remained elusive. Finally, in the late 60s, Jackson Pollock's Lot 22, "No. 28," 1951 (estimate: $20,000,000-30,000,000) became available, from the famed collection of Mr. and Mrs. Arnold H. Maremont of Chicago, through Harold and Hester Diamond from whom the Pincuses acquired the work. Measuring 38 by 54 inches, "No. 28," is distinguished by its black enamel and silver grey paint with pourings and drips of white, red and yellow. There has not been a Jackson Pollock of this quality or scale at auction since 1997. Lot 22, "No. 28," sold for $23,042,500.
The superb and important masterwork from The New York School, Barnett Newman's Lot 24, "Onement V, 1952," (estimate: $10,000,000-15,000,000) was acquired directly from Annalee Newman and from the important Onement series (the other works from this series are part of the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Hartford Wadsworth Atheneum in Connecticut and the Oberlin Allen Memorial Art Museum in Ohio). "Onement V" is a deep cerulean blue with a purple stripe down the center. Newman's signature ˇ°zipˇ± is in the center of the canvas, "a vehicle for the transcendental self."
Lot 24 sold for $22,482,500.
Romare Bearden considered himself fortunate to spend time at The Arts Students League, a great art school that has had many famous alums. I find Bearden's work to be beautiful and powerful, to be treasured both for its art historical significance and its commentary on issues that were important to the artist - which ultimately are universal issues. Christie's catalogue for this sale includes a commentary by Ralph Ellison that helps shed further light on Bearden's preoccupations:
"I am an invisible man. No I'm not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids - and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me..." (Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison)
The two men became friends in the 1930s and they "began to explore how the nature of their respective arts could be used to highlight the social injustices they witnessed in the world. The combined power of their work would eventually be joined together when Bearden asked Ellison to write his first ever essay on art for Bearden's 1968 exhibition Paintings and Projections at the Art Gallery of the State University of New York at Albany. In his introduction Ellison recalled the profound impact that his friend's art had on him, 'During the late Thirties when I first became aware of Bearden's work, he was painting scenes of the Depression in a style strongly influenced by the Mexican muralists. This work was powerful, the scenes grim and brooding, and through his depiction of unemployed workingmen in Harlem he was able, while evoking the Southern past, to move beyond the usual protest painting of that period to reveal something of the universal elements of an abiding human condition. By striving to depict something of the times, by reducing scene, character and atmosphere to a style, he caught both the universality of Harlem life and the 'harlemness' of the national human predicament" (R. Ellison, Romare Bearden: Paintings and Projections, exh. cat., New York, 1968, n.p.)
Romare Bearden said "The true artist feels that there is only one art - and that it belongs to all mankind" (R. Bearden, Los Angeles Times, 14 March 1988). Lot 45 "Strange Morning, Interior," circa 1968, is a beautiful, elegaic - and extremely sophisticated - collage that epitomizes the Harlem Renaissance, in which the artist was a major player:
"Bearden's peripatetic youth and his extensive contacts with artists in both America and Europe, including Stuart Davis, Georges Braque and Constantin Brancusi meant he was able to draw upon a number of disparate influences. But it was his contacts with the German emigree George Grosz that appeared to have the most impact in his career. While he was working as an editorial cartoonist in New york, Bearden enrolled in evening classes at the city's Arts Students League where he met and studied under George Grosz. Despite already working as a professional artist, Bearden was enthralled by this opportunity to study under one of the masters of German Expressionism, "I couldn't wait for the evenings to get there," he once said, "because I felt I I had a lot to learn" (Romare Bearden, The Spaces Between," The Art of Romare Bearden, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.,2003, p. 9). Groz had been an influential member of the German Dada movement and it has been suggested that he had introduced his students to the political drawings and collages of his fellow Dadaists, Max Ernst and Hanna Hoch. The highly charged satirical and political nature of their work can be seen as a possible pre-cursor to Bearden's perceptive observations that he began producing a quarter of a century later."
Lot 45 has an estimate of $250,00 to 350,000. It sold for $338,500, setting a world auction record for the artist.
Illustrated above is Lot 14, "Abstraktes Bild (798-3)," by Gerhard Richter, one of several abstract works by the artist included in this sale. Another very different Richter features an amorphous and beautiful seascape with gray/blue clouds rendered in oil on canvas (Lot 36, not illustrated) that remains inscrutable, distant, romantic - a total contrast to the pulsating abstracts that highlight Richters mastery of his medium. No matter how he wields his brush or squeejee, the one thing that is consistent in whatever Richter creates is his glorious painterliness. He is a magician with paint.
Lot 14, "Abstraktes Bild" has an estimate of $14 to $18 million. It sold for $21,810,500. Lot 36, "Seestueck (Leicht bewoelkt)," has an estimate of $10 to $15 million. It sold for $19,346,500. Works of art by Richter are doing consistently well at auction, most often exceeding their high estimate, with the best works blowing past them, perhaps because Richter's appeal is universal.
Four strong bronzes by Willem de Kooning are illustrated above, Property from the Collection of David Pincus, dramatically displayed between the staircases in Christie's galleries in New York. The two sculptures included in the evening sale are Lot 23, "Seated Woman on a Bench," with an estimate of $2.5 to $3.5 million (it sold for $2,098,500) and Lot 26, "Large Torso," with an estimate of $2.5 to $3.5 million (it sold for $2,882,500). The other two sculptures will be offered in the day sale.
An absolutely exquisite late painting by De Kooning, Lot 21, "Untitled I," (circa 1980) represented a comeback or rebirth for the artist after a downturn in both productivity and well-being. The quality of this luscious work of art has to be seen in person to be appreciated, unfortunately it was not possible to illustrate it here. However, it is eloquently described in Christie's catalogue for this sale as "a monumental testament to Willem de Kooning's prowess during his twilight years. This rippling, luminous canvas is both a work of sublime sensuality and a triumphant manifestation of de Kooning's will to overcome a period of personal and creative crisis. Untitled I was painted in a time of newfound stability for the artist, which heralded the dawning of a significant new phase in his oevre. During the 1970s, de Kooning suffered bouts of severe alchoholism and depression. He found himself struggling in 1978, in the wake of the sudden deaths of two dear friends and critical supporters, Harold Rosenberg and Thomas Hess. At 74 years of age, de Kooning may have felt that the world he knew was ending and it might have, had he not been rescued from his extremes of anxiety and the drinking that accompanied them by the intervention of Elaine de Kooning and other family and friends who helped dry him out and bring order to his life and work again. The scant quantity of de Kooning's production at this time indicates that the cure was neither easy nor immediate. De Kooning was notorious for allowing few works' survival under the harsh scrutiny of his standards and of the paintings that were made during this period only a small number were kept...Indeed, although de Kooning's dealer Xavier Foucade attributed ten canvases to 1980, his studio assistant Tom Ferrara (who began working for him in October 1980) believes Untitled I to be one of three paintings credited to this year that were actually painted in 1979..."
Lot 21 has an estimate of $8 to $12 million. It sold for $14,082,500.
Lot 12, "Untitled," by Calder. 1957
I found the Noyes Calders to be magical. Displayed together in a softly lit gallery, they were like a mini-constellation of modernist planets. Perhaps a commission for sculpture by someone the artist admired - and a kindred spirit - inspired these masterpieces that are simultaneously delicate and powerful. They played with each other, teasing, gently swirling, in their quiet white space. Caught up in their magic, it was hard to believe that the cacophany and pageantry of this great city lay just outside the entrance. It was as if the viewer was intruding on a very private dance between two glorious, unidentifiable - benign - ET's (extra-terrestrials).
Christie's catalogue for this sale includes a wonderful description of the shared sensibilities - and brilliance - of Eliot Noyes and Alexander Calder:
"The key to Noyes' success was not a 'top down prescriptive approach that many expected, including the President of IBM, Thomas Watson Jr. who recalled, 'I wanted factories, products and sales offices all done in such a way that a person could look at any of them and say instantly, 'That's IBM.' But Noyes said this would be self-defating. If we tried to fit a single uniform image, it would eventually become tired and dated. Instead, he suggested the IBM's theme be simply the best in modern design . Whenever we needed something built or decorated, we would commission the best architects, designers and artist, and give them relatively free hand to explore new ideas in their own styles' (T. Watson Jr., as quoted in G. Bruce, Eliot Noyes, London, 2006, p.157). As well as overseeing the design of everything from product building and even office layouts, Noyes wanted to share his belief in the enriching power of modern art, and IBM offices and manufacturing facilities soon became the site of major works by Henry Moore, Isamu Noguchi, and his close friend Alexander Calder...The friendship between Noyes and Calder was far more than a relationship between artist and client. The two shared a number of fundamental beliefs about art, design and a philosophy for modern living. At the heart of Noyes design philosophy was the embodiment of clarity that he applied to all his work, whether it be architecture, product design or corporate identities. In his architecture, Noyes' views manifested themselves in a rigorous understanding of the relationship between several contrasting elements - primarily, in architectural terms, between the public and private areas of the house. This Bauhaus design ethic - regarding the totality of design - not only influenced the way he designed homes, but also the way he designed corporations and the products that were made for them. His work for IBM, Westinghouse and Mobile Oil spread this philsophy of good design around. Similarly, the quality of Calder's designs for both his mobiles and stabiles lies in the totality of their design and execution - how scale, color and degree of movement all combine into one enchanted work that is inherently suited to its environment, whether that be a private home or public space. Together Noyes and Calder exemplified the holistic approach to art and architecture. As Noyes himself noted, modern art and modern architecture enjoy a symbiotic relationship and one which has the power to transcend the everyday and allow us to revel in the sublime..." (E. Noyes, 'Wall Houses,' Art in America, January-February 1968, pp 57-65)
Lot 11, "Snow Flurry," has an estimate of $3,500,000 to $4,500,000. It sold for $10,386,500, a world auction record for the artist. Lot 12, "Untitled," 1957 has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It sold for $6,354,500.
Illustrated above are three very different works of art, all superb." On the left is Josef Albers Lot 4,"Homage to the Square," with an estimate of $800,000 to 1,200,000(it sold for $1,986,500). In the center is Lot 41, "Hommage a Goethe IV," by Eduardo Chillida, (estimate $900,000 to $1,200,000/It sold for $962,500) and on the right is an exuberant oil on masonite by Hans Hoffman, Lot 13, entitled "Kaleidos," (estimate $2 to 3 million), which, as its title suggests, references the kaleidoscope, but embraces much more:
"While creating a new formal discourse with his abstract work, Hofmann's exuberant use of color bears the legacy of the Fauvist penchant for vibrant, irrational, and at times, acidic hues. Drawing inspiration from the vibrantly colored landscapes of Maurice Vlaminck, Hofmann creates a captivating work that engages the viewer. As the pulsating color in the orange tree trunks and swaths of green leaves of Vlaminck's Paysages aux Arbres Rouges captures the viewer, so does the vibrancy of the similar colors found in Kaleidos. While drawing color inspiration from the Fauvists, Kaleidos incorporates many modern ideals of abstraction and the flattening of the picture plane. Hoffman, who was highly attuned to representing space in his works, creates an intriguing sense of space. Hoffman said 'Space is alive, space is dynamic'" (H. Hoffman, Hans Hoffman, New York, 1963, p.14). Thus, while the painting points out the canvases flatness, the colors and brushstrokes make it an active arena, a living pictorial space. Furthermore, Hofmann amplified the movement in the painting by leaving evidence of his gestures within the brushstrokes. We can clearly see the motion of Hofmann's strokes within Kaleidos, his presence lingering on the canvas, adding to the painting's overall vitality..." (Christies catalogue for this sale).
Vital it certainly is - as vital as a shot of espresso. Lot 4 sold for $3,554,500.
The ash strewn, exquisite Kiefer illustrated above evokes the beauty - and beastliness - of life:
"Babylonian in origin, Lilith, in Jewish tradition is often described as the first wife of Adam who, when God refused her equality, rebelled by pronouncing God's ineffable name and running away to the shores of the Red Sea to live in exile from Paradise. In Kiefer's work throughout the 1990s it is the image of Lilith as a kind of melancholic presence haunting cities and ruins like a specter - a primordial remnant of God's creation, seemingly condemned to wander through the imperfect and temporal realm of man - that Kiefer appears to celebrate and invoke."
A photograph included in an essay in the catalogue for this work of art depicts a warehouse filled with mountains of clothes confiscated from prisoners and deportees gassed upon their arrival in Auschwitz, Poland, in 1945. No matter how often I read about this inhumanity, I feel its impact, and the photograph takes you right there, into the depths of depravity and evil. It is this legacy that Kiefer continuously references in his haunting imagery that incorporates urban detritis, artifacts, earth and ash. Sometimes, his mixed media paintings are reminiscent of maniacal, man-made devastation and ruin: the Holocaust, The Killing Fields - the torture and killing of children in war zones today - and all the inhumane acts that deface civilization. However, Kiefer obliquely reveals our inhumanity and weakness without pronouncing judgment. Judgment, his work suggests, is left to a higher power. In the midst of his ruins, there are beacons of hope - in this assemblage, the clothes of children - symbols of new life, resurrection, and renewal. Their purity and innocence offers a release from inhumanity, carnage and chaos. Kiefer's huge appeal is that he is hopeful, transcendant.
Lot 30 has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $1,762,500.
Just when you think Calder cannot top his best effort, there is a sculpture like "Lily of Force," part mobile, part stabile, cited in Christie's catalogue for this sale as one of the most important works by the artist ever to come to auction. It is so rare to see a piece like this by Calder, which makes it all the more delightful. "Lily of Force" was created in 1945, at the end of World War II "...at the pivotal moment when the axis of the art world shifted from Europe to America, Calder was one of the few artists to bridge both continents - acting as a vanguard for American art in Europe, whilst at the same time championing the tradition of European modernism to American audiences about to be thrust into the turmoil of Abstract Expressionism" (Christie's catalogue for this sale)
Gargantuan in scale, "Lily of Force" is like a beautiful Japanese floral arrangement or bird of paradise fashioned from painted sheet metal, rod and wire, poised to take off into the stratosphere. It is also uncannily reminiscent of Juan Miro's fun, amorphous shapes, which is not coincidental:
"1945 saw a seismic shift in artistic dominance away from Europe towards America as the end of World War II witnessed the United States began to assert its authority as the new center of artistic innovation. This was the year that Clement Greenberg anointed Jackson Pollock as "the strongest painter of his generation" after his exhibition at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century gallery and a few months later the art critic of the New Yorker, Robert Coates, first coined the term 'Abstract Expressionism' to describe an exhibition of Hans Hoffman's paintings. By this time, Calder was already familiar with much of the European avant-garde as he had been a frequent traveller to the continent since his first trip to Paris in 1926. From his inspirational visit to Mondrian's studio in October 1930 to his close friendship with Joan Miro, he was well versed in the language of European Modernism and as an American with such an understanding, he was well placed to act as a bridge between the old world and the new."
Lot 33 has an estimate of $8 to $12 million. It sold for $18,562,500, a world auction record for the artist.
What a line up in the photograph shown above! From left to right, Lot 25, "Untitled (PH-786, 1955-R)," by Clyfford Still, from The Estate of David Pincus (estimate $5 to 7 million); Lot 42, Rouge de Sache," by Alexander Calder (estimate $4 to 6 million); Lot 44, "Salut Sally," by Joan Mitchell, 1970, (estimate $5 to 7 million) and - in the foreground, right, Lot 32, "Spider III," by Louise Bourgeois, executed in 1995 (estimate $2 to 3 million).
Lot 25 sold for $8,594,500. Lot 42 sold for $5,794,500. Lot 44 sold for $7,025,500. Lot 32 sold for $4,562,500.
The catalogue for this sale includes a moving commentary about Clyfford Still:
"Still was one of the most influential artists of the 1940s onwards; he was the pioneer of the large-scale abstract, originally working in near-seclusion on the West Coast where he taught, far from the cut and thrust of New York, which is often considered the great cradle of Action Painting and indeed the hotbed of the movement, the home of "The Club" and the Cedar Tavern which were the focal points during that period. In many ways it was his sometime friend Mark Rothko who brought Still, and his influence, to New York, having discovered his work while teaching in California, where the artists met and struck up a friendship. For a long time, Rothko would even hang a Still in his bedroom to serve as a guiding light. A range of artists would subsequently come to cite Still as a major, direct influence, many of them his students. Within this number are figures as diverse as Sam Francis, Allan Kaprow and Richard Serra. Serra's weighty, precarious masses of standing metal can be seen as three-dimensional responses to the might of Still's own painting, with its emphasis on the upright."
Lot 5, "Berkeley #59," by Richard Diebenkorn, painted in 1956, has superb provenance, and is Property from the Collection of Evelyn D. Haas and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, a part of which is sold for the benefit of future acquisitions. Lush, gorgeous, the catalogue for this sale describes it best:
"Ignoring the constraints imposed on him by the conventions of easel painting, Diebenkorn weaves together a complex tapestry of dynamic surface impasto and areas of subtle opacity resulting in a painting that is a dramatic reinterpretation of the classic genre. These dramatic places of color interspersed with thin striations of dark paint are Diebenkorn's response to the compositional dilemma of reinterpreting three dimensional phenomena within the context of a two-dimensional painting. Rather than trying to produce an illusion of perspective, Diebenkorn takes the innovative approach of dispensing with it altogether."
One of the great joys of writing art reviews - including art auction reviews - is that one gets to read some of the insights in the accompanying catalogues. In all honesty, it is hard to select only a few works of art to write about, because the stories attached to many of them are so riveting. It is not possible to read or describe them all within the constraints of a review, as I would like to do. In addition to the works of art, I look forward to learning about the many collectors and artists that have had a long term impact on the communities they have shared their prosperity and good luck with. This "giving back" is at the heart of collectors like David and Gerry Pincus, and Evelyn D. Haas, who were and are extraordinarily generous.
I remember the excitement of buying my first pair of Levi jeans with my own baby-sitting money at the tender age of 16. It was the first "label" I ever bought and I will never forget it:
"The history of the Haas famnily has been inextricably linked to San Francisco for seven generations; ever since Levi Strauss established his company in 1853 the family has played a mojor role in the cultural and economic development of the city. As well as building Levi Strauss & Co into one of the most recognizable brands in the world, the physical landscape of the city also bears numerous traces of the family and their business acumen and generosity. As well as the economic benefit of having Levi Strauss & Co. based in the city, the family has also been one of the Bay Area's most important philantrhopic benefactors. In 1897, Levi Strauss endowed 28 scholarships at the University of California, Berkeley, thus establishing the family's legacy of supporting a distinguished series of charitable causes, from large-scale institutions like the San Francisco Symphony to smaller projects inspiring children and young adults in some of the city's lowest income neighborhoods, the family's support is designed to build stronger, more accessible and healthy communities. This sense of community is most eloquently demonstrated by the decision in 1980 of Evie's husband, Walter, to purchase the Oakland Athletics baseball team primarily to stop them moving from the city and keep them in the Bay Area. The family has also played an important role in changing the physical layout of the city too. Beginning with Rosalie Meyer Stern's gift of Stern Grove as a public park in 1931 through to their recent generosity in supporting the transformation of Crissy Field from a former airfield into a wetland habitat and public park, the family's visible legacy will continue for generations to come..." (Christie's catalogue for this sale)
Baseball, wetlands, endowing the arts, inspiring children in low income neighborhoods? What a legacy!
The exquisite, sophisticated Dibenkorn illustrated above, Lot 5, "Berkeley #59," was acquired by Evelyn D. Haas from John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, and will be included in the forthcoming Richard Diebenkorn Catalogue Raisonne as number 1151.
Lot 5 has an estimate of $4 to $6 million. It sold for $6,242,500.
There are several excellent photographs in this sale, lead by Lot 10, "Untitled #96," by Cindy Sherman, circa 1981, (illustrated), and including another work by her from the Estate of David Pincus, Lot 28, "Untitled #122," featuring the artist dressed up in her famous platinum blond wig all but covering her face and a dark business suit (not illustrated).
Lot 10, "Untitled #96," is a color coupler print from Sherman's famous "centerfold" series, number seven from an edition of ten. It has been widely exhibited, including in "The Pictures Generation, 1974-1984" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2009, and more recently at "Cindy Sherman," February 2011- June 2013, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and traveling to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis and the Dallas Museum of Art. Christie's catalogue for this sale includes the following commentary on this iconic photograph:
"As a female artist, Sherman was also deeply implicated in feminist discourse. Unlike the earlier generation, however, she felt no need to circumscribe her work as exclusively feminist. As Douglas Eklund has asserted, Sherman and 'these younger women artists were part of feminism's second wave; for them, gender and sexuality were part of a larger nexus between representation and power, and images were highly coded rhetorical devices that shape, rather than merely reflect, men and women and maintain power relations in all spheres of life' (D. Eklund, The Pictures Generation, 1974-1984, exh.cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2009, p.144). It is within this context that Sherman's 'Centerfolds' and in particular 'Untitled #96' should be understood."
Lot 10, "Untitled #96," has an estimate of $2.8 to $3.8 million. It sold for $2,882,500. Lot 28 has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $206,500.
A powerful work by Nan Goldin from The Estate of David Pincus, Lot 29, "Ballad Triptych" is arranged in three grids and is characteristically autobiographical and acutely personal:
"...the narrative here is one of coupling and the human need for companionship. As Goldin remarked in the 1986 publication, 'there is an intense need for coupling in spite of it all. Even if relationships are destructive, people cling together. Love can be an addiction. I have a strong desire to be independent, but at the same time a craving for the intensity that comes from interpendency" (N. Goldin, Ballad, New York, 1986, p. 7). In the same publication Goldin wrote: "The solitary male is shown with his tenderness and vulnerable sexuality, but when the men are together, they become tougher..." (Christie's catalogue for this sale)
Lot 29 has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $218,500.
On the right above the Sherman photograph (illustrated above) is an appealing work by Jeff Koons, Lot 52, "Cherubs," depicting the busts of two little angels. The catalogue for this sale includes this quote by the artist: "I use the Baroque to show the public that we are in the realm of the spiritual, the eternal. The church uses the Baroque to manipulate and seduce, but in return it does give the public a spiratual experience. My work deals in the vocabulary of the Baroque" (Koons, quoted in A. Muthesius, Jeff Koons, Cologne, 1992, p 158)
Delectable eye candy in the mould of two incomparable French artists, Francois Boucher and Jean-Honore Fragonard, these winsome putti are Koon's brilliant contemporary "take" on the Baroque - as always flawlessly executed and incorporating his deliciously provocative twist:
"Jeff Koons' Cherubs were created in 1991 and form a part of his famous, indeed notorious, series of works first exhibited in their entirety that year, Made In Heaven. Looking at Cherubs, the continuation of Koons' investigation of the aesthetics of kitsch are clear to see, and these sculptures, revelling in a deliberately cloying sentimentality which is the artistic equivalent of a sheer sugar rush, recall his previous series, Banality. However, here he has pushed his interest in Baroque craftsmanship to a new level, blending it with subject matter fit for the age of the Counter-Reformation and reminiscent of church interiors, allowing Koons to invite us into his own utopia, his own hallowed yet sensuous contemporary realm. In creating his Cherubs, Koons has taken the legacy of so many artists of yore and created a pair of little putti in the Old Master tradition. But these adoring, angelic figures have been updated for our consumer era: one of them sports a bandana and is holding a teddybear in its leaf-like wings, showing the distance between them and their more staid progenitors in the church interior of the Baroque period. Meanwhile, both characters are covered in flowers; their wings recall both butterfly wings and, more importantly, gilded petals. In this way, these Cherubs can be seen to relate to Koons' recurring theme of flowers..." (Christie's catalogue for this sale).
Present generation artists are well represented in this sale, and their work delivers a one-two punch - or a reality check, depending upon how you view it - that forces the viewer to take pause, at the very least encouraging closer examination. This "full on" engagement with the viewing public stems from an innate sense of social justice - or a quest for more of it - despite a fast-paced, competitive world,. They know it is not easy getting the attention of today's youth that is by necessity preoccupied with survival. They also know that does not mean they do not share the same deep concerns as so many artists of their generation. Consequently, powerful, disturbing and socially conscious work is proven to have widespread appeal among the young, which is heartening.
From beautiful cherubs, we turn to war, a subject that recurs with unfailing predictability in the pantheon of art - as it does in life. Due to unprecedented social media, young artists today have unusual access to images that were tougher to get in the past, which impacts on their art making. Instead of relying on stock images, Jeff Wall (who was born in 1946) "staged" this disturbing tableaux in 1992, and barely a decade later, American troops were deployed to the same region. "Dead Troops Talk (A vision after an ambush of a Red Army Patrol, near Moqor, Afghanistan, winter 1986) is a hard hitting commentary on the fallout of war, yet the artist denies this is his intention. 1986, the date of the events depicted in this compelling work about other foreign troops in Afghanistan, implies that history - despite all the lessons it has tried to teach us for centuries - repeats itself:
"Wall explained that the inception of Dead Troops Talk came from out of the blue: 'I had a sudden notion of a dialogue of the dead, coming from I don't know where. It had nothing to do with the Afghan war, but the subjects needed to be soldiers because it seemed important that they would have died in an official capacity, that would surely give them something to talk about...At the time I was thinking about it, the Afghan war was coming to an end" (J. Wall, quoted in C. Burnett, Jeff Wall, exh. cat., London, 2005, p.59). Wall explained that he was influenced by war photography, and also by the contrast between the gritty realism of those images of the front line and their predecessors, the dramatic paintings created before the camera was taken into the field that were used to convey a sense of the drama and spectacle of war. In Dead Troops Talk, Wall plays with both conventions: the composition appears staged, following a formal rhythm across the canvas that recalls the nineteenth -century paintings of artists such as Gros and Gericault as well as Edouard Castres' panorama of the French retreat during the Franco-Prussian War which remains a tourist attraction in Lucerne - and itself became the subject of another of Wall's photographs during this time, Restoration. Dead Troops Talk is staged, like those images; however, the incredible impact of the gore of the wounds, the sense of dustiness of the rubble, the sheer scale of the figures, all allow the soldiers to spill into out world under the pretenses of documentary evidence through his use of photography."
Serious and searing - and gruesome as a Grunewald or Hieronymous Bosch - Lot 27, "Dead Troops Talk (A vision after an ambush of a Red Army Patrol, near Moqor, Afghanistan, winter 1986)," has been more widely exhibited and written about than any present generation lot in this sale. Its impact is profound, especially when coming off the happy high of Urs Fischer's winsome swinging lightbulb, shown in the photograph above. The essay for this lot in the sale includes other famously "staged" and equally appalling images of war by Francisco de Goya depicting a mound of dead bodies entitled "Disaster of the War," and a tragic photograph by Robert Capa depicting a Spanish soldier dropping dead - literally - with a bullet through his head. Christie's catalogue for this sale offers insights:
"Created in 1992, this tableau of the dead rising up and conversing during the Soviet-Afghan War is one of the most recognized and written about of all Wall's works. In this image, Russian soldiers are shown sporting wounds that would not look out of place in a slasher flick, with dismembered limbs and cavities in their heads; a foot is even shown having been blasted off its owner and lodged behind a rock. This is the shell casing-strewn fog of war, yet is an image of aftermath, with the victorious Mujahhedin shown picking through the loot. Unbeknownst ot them, conversation has broken out among the troops, many of whom appear to be comparing notes, some of them humorously, in a deliberately traumatic and distorted resurrection."
The catalogue for this sale continues:
"Wall has pointed out that, 'in a sense,' war pictures cannot really be 'anti-war.' They can, however, repudiate military glamour, the glamorization of combat and strategy, and focus on suffering (J. Wall, quoted in M. Schwander, 'Restoration: Interview', pp. 86-95, Jeff Wall: The Complete Edition, London, 2009, p. 93). Essentially, in Dead Troops Talk he has circumvented the complicity of the painters and photographers who depict these conflicts, instead creating an hallucinatory image showing the range of reactions of the thirteen dead soldiers in his picture. Some of them are clowning, one showing off his wound in an echo of the depictions of Doubting Thomas and Christ, another dangling an ear from his hand..."
Illustrated above is a winsome piece by Marisol (Escobar) depicting the one and only Andy Warhol, Lot 3, "Andy," with an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. This portrait of one of the art world's most famous personalities includes the artist's own shoes - a brilliant touch. To its right is a superb cowboy photograph by Richard Prince that is nostalgia inducing - for the freedom they imply - and serious. In fact, these healthy, gorgeous and virile men were not real cowboys, but models - the famous "Marlboro men" - deployed in advertisements for cigarettes which promote neither health nor vitality, an irony the artist was extremely effective in communicating at a time when cigarette smoking was not socially black-balled as it is today for obvious health reasons.
Lot 3 sold for $794,500. Lot 9, "Untitled (cowboys)," has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $602,500.
Lot 9, "Untitled (cowboys)," by Richard Prince, Ektacolor photograph mounted on board
Illustrated in this review - with Mr. Brandt - is one of the most entertaining works of art in the sale, Urs Fischer's "Mr. Watson - come here - I want to see you," which pretty much describes itself in the catalogue as a "light (that) swings back and forth, accelerating and decelerating in a 12-minute cycle electric motor, control unit, electric cable, light bulb, wire dimensions variable..."
This winsome flying artwork made me laugh out loud, which set the security guard off laughing as well, and we continued laughing helplessly together as the bulb lurched back and forth in the direction of the wax sculpture of Mr. Brant (described below), another hugely entertaining sculpture by the artist offered at this sale. Joy and laughter are priceless commodities that should be factored into the estimates of artworks! The wonderful wayward lightbulb - Lot 53," Mr. Watson - come here - I want to see you" - by Urs Fischer, is powered by a customized motor that causes it to swing rhythmically at varying speeds on a twelve minute cycle. The commonplace lightbulb is thus disrupted from its normal, functional self - and given the ability to make viewers (like myself) hoot with laughter at its antics:
"The title of this work references the first words exchanged via telephone as documented in Alexander Graham Bell's notebooks. Bell famously spoke these words to his assistant in testing the performance of his technologicval feat, an invention that would indusputably kick-start the changing social recourse that defined the 20th century. Fischer's titles often play an important role in injecting his works with their characteristic spirit of revelation."
The lightbulb silently but effectively invades a space that is traditionally quiet and meditative, deftly asserting its own message into it.
Lot 53 has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $266,500.
Brett Gorvy drew laughter at the press preview when he lit one of the "wicks" dotted about the back, shoulders and head of a wax sculpture of the art collector and publisher Peter Brant by Urs Fischer:
"Fischer marries high and low culture with his wax cast of Peter Brant by playing on the tradition of life-size celebrity wax figures featured at the tourist attractions such as Madame Tussauds. Scale and context have always played important elements in the artist's work, a theme which continues with "Untitled (Standing)" as the wax replica of Brant is proportioned to be larger than life." (Christie's catalogue for this sale)
The creation of this contemporary wax masterpiece - a giant candle essentially - embraces the notion that it will melt, which is not an insignificant consideration for a prospective purchaser of an artwork that has an estimate of $700,000 to 1,000,000! This project must have been such a fun undertaking for a now very famous contemporary artist and his clearly self-deprecating patron:
"Fischer created Untitled (Standing) for The Brant Foundation Art Study Center, in Greenwich, Connecticut, in May 2010. Fischer was given free reign over the entire foundation grounds, playfully entitling this exhibition Oscar The Grouch after the beloved but misanthropic Sesame Street character. For the central work in the show, he recreated a sitting room and library of the interior of Brant's home, creating wallpaper (Abstract Slavery, 2008) from photographs of his walls: including artworks, windows and even furniture. The artist then placed the wax Brant into the facade of his living room. Fischer created two wax casts of Brant, one standing and resting on the back of an attached wax chair in the sitting room, the other sitting in a chair with his right leg comfortably crossed over his left and placed in the library. Each work is cast in an edition of two with one artist proof. These works were then burned throughout the exhibit until they melted into near abstraction..."
Lot 1 has an estimate of $700,000 to $1,000,000. It sold for $1,314,500.
"Beauty really has to do with how a person carries it off," said Andy Warhol in "The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again)," published in New York in 1975.
A gigantic portrait of Jean Michel Basquiat by Andy Warhol dominated the softly lit gallery, evoking Michaelangelo's well-known Statue of David in the Vatican. However, "Reel Basquiat embodies a sly wink at the classical ideals of both strength and youthful human beauty, an allusion to the history of art from Greek times to the Renaissance in which standing heroic male nudes were regarded as the ideal figure of masculinity." (Christie's catalogue for this sale). The two artists forged a friendship that was fortuitous for both men and also resulted in dynamic collaborations on canvas, but "Reel Basquiat" is all Andy. Just when Warhol's career and fame was on the wane, in walks a youthful and deeply talented firebrand - unknown in the art world - ready for action. Warhol captures this so perfectly in the portrait:
"It was like some crazy-art world marriage and they were the odd couple. The relationship was symbiotic. Jean-Michel thought he needed Andy's fame, and Andy thought he needed Jean-Michel's new blood. Jean-Michel gave Andy a rebellious image again (R. Cutrone, quoted in v. Bockris, Warhol: The Biography, Cambridge, 2003, pp, 461-2). This unlikely pairing soon became a fixture on the New York art-world party circuit and the 'couple' was frequently pictured together on the cover of magazines, on television, and in the newspapers. Basquiat became a member of Warhol's entourage and was credited with renewing Warhol's interest in painting on canvas, which had declined somewhat since its heyday in the 1960s."
O to have been a fly on the wall at those parties!
Lot 61, "Reel Basquiat," has an estimate of $2 to $3 million. It sold for $3,330,500.
To the right of the Warhol portrait are a pair of lush abstracts by Gerhard Richter that ideally would hang beside each other permanently, but such fortuitious things only happen in circumstances like this. The catalogue for this sale describes verdant Lot 55, "Abstraktes Bild (646-3)" that was painted in 1987 as "Capturing both the natural world and and mechanized world, the present work can be understood to address the fundamental questions of color and line, expressive intention, perception of depth and surface, as well as the multitude of expressive possibilities projected by the viewer onto illusionistic space - in other words, the fundamental questions of painting since the Renaissance."
Its pair, Lot 56, "Abstraktes Bild (646-4)," also painted in 1987, evokes mountains, which is not happenstance. There is a reproduction of a photo-realist painting by Richter dating from 1968 that highlights the snowbound crevasses and peaks of those majestic mountains alongside this work of art in the catalogue:
"While only an associative feature of the present work, mountain-scapes are the subject of a work from 1968, awe-inspiring peaks that are clearly articulated in this drawn version of the same year, Mountains. In Abstraktes Bild, contour lines are almost as apparent as they are in the drawing of two decades earlier, even as here they dissolve in fluoresces of pigment and knifed crevices, teetering between the real and the abstract."
Lot 55 and 56 have estimates of $2.5 to $3.5 million. Both sold for $2,658,500.
I love the work of Jim Hodges, its poetry and beauty - quiet majesty - wrought from humble material that is easily accessible to anyone - but we could never do with it what Hodges does. I spent a great deal of time standing beside "Our Strength" as I watched Urs Fischer's wayward lightbulb. Beautifully lit to reveal its translucency, it was powerful and moving in its fragility:
"Our Strength embodies the fragility of the human condition as it endures the test of time. Here, Hodges has created a patchwork of silk fabric in the form of old handkerchiefs together with thin silver chains. Each handkerchief speaks to a past life, each with its own story to relay. The sheer nature of the fabrics add to the pieces fragility yet its ability to withstand against greater odds. For those bits and pieces of handkerchief frayed or torn or incapacitated against the test of time, Hodges has crafted delicate spiders webs of silver chain to fill and connect the missing parts. Thus the patchwork format works two-fold: it takes each story and amalgamates them into a shared visual experience. This also compensates for the frayed and tattered remnants of each individual part, strengthened through hand-stitching into a collective whole."
Lot 60 has an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000. It sold for $722,500.
The legendary fire painting by Yves Klein, Lot 34, "FC1 (Fire Color 1)," shown in a packed auction room in the photograph below, set a new world auction record for the artist at auction when it sold for $36,482,500, (estimate $30,000,000 to $40,000,000), far exceeding Klein's previous auction record of $23,500,000, making it the second highest price for any European Post-War artist at auction after the Irish artist Francis Bacon.
The painting demonstrates the artist's unique skill with fire, water, anthropometry, and incorporates his own International Klein Blue pigment. A fascinating film shown in Christie's lobby included documentary footage of the artist at work on this painting. Naken ladies and a flame thrower were unusal additions to the usual repertoire of pigments and oil!
Lot 18, "Untitled V," by Willem de Kooning, oil on canvas, 88 by 77 inches, 1983
Also shown in the auction room below is Lot 18, "Untitled V," by Willem de Kooning, from The Pincus Family Foundation, a vibrant composition painted in 1983 that sold for $8,482,500, well over its high estimate of $4 to $6 million. The oil on canvas measures 88 by 77 inches and was property of the Pincus Family Foundation. It was included in the recent retrospective on the artist held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Lot 21, "Untitled I," by Willem de Kooning, oil on canvas, 80 by 70 inches, 1980
Detail of Untitled I by de Kooning
The other De Kooning painting from the Estate of David Pincus - Lot 21, "Untitled I" - also soared past its pre-sale estimate of $8,000,000 to $12,000,000, selling for $14,082,500. It was previously cited and described in this review.
Lot 39, "Untitled No. 3," by Cy Twombly, household paint on wood panel, 99 14 by 72 3/4 inches, 2004
Lot 39 is a great painting by Cy Twombly (1928-2011) that is "Untitled No. 3." A household paint on wood panel, it measures 99 1/4 by 72 3/4 inches. It was created in 2004 and has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It sold for $5,010,500.
Lot 35, "Alphabets," by Jasper Johns, graphite wash, grapite and printed canvas board on illustration board, 19 7/8 by 15 7/8 inches, 1957
Lot 35 is a great work by Jasper Johns (b. 1930) entitled "Alphabets." A graphite wash, graphite and printed canvas board on illustration board, it measures 197/8 by 15 78 inches. It was created in 1957. It isproperty from the collection of Robert and Jane Rosenblum. It has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It sold for $6,802,500.
Lot 17, "Circles and Angles," by David Smith, stainless steel, 26 by 41 by 8 3/4 inches, 1959
The business of art is exciting, but it is the wonder and awe we have for art - art's ability to lay bare the most meaningful and moving in this life and beyond - that makes sense of it all. How else does one explain the juxtaposition of the incredible works of art illustrated here and an auction room packed with savvy collectors and buyers who put significant money behind what - ultimately - is a passion or feeling for a work of art, reaching so deep into their pockets to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars?
Art moves us in amazing ways, spun from the imagination and hearts of visionaries who try to capture the essence of their times, and their aspirations for a more hopeful future. Artists are best at describing their impulse to make art, which in turn inspires us:
It seems somehow appropriate that legendary auctioneer Chris Burge's final auction would be the one that achieved the world record for any contemporary art auction to date. However, one always got the impression that Mr. Burge loved what he did, regardless of the outcome. His sense of humor will be much missed. He generated joy as he wooed and cajoled savvy buyers in Christie's packed auction room. Christopher Burge has always been a perfect gentleman. It is hard to believe he will not stand at the rostrum again, smiling, laughing - being funny.
For thecityreview.com. Copyright Michele Leight 2012
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