Grab a paddle and $1B. It’s auction time.

It’s time, once again, for my semi-annual lunch hour trip to Christie’s to review a few choice lots from the upcoming Impressionist & Modern Art sale. Here’s a cavalcade of outrageously expensive works whose quality ranges from the sublime to the truly terrible. Remember, these pieces are passing from one private collector to another. In most cases, they haven’t been seen in public before and, after the auction, won’t be see again. They’ll hang above the mantle of a 1%-er in Aspen or Dubai or Beijing. As always, I’ll come back after the auction and post the prices realized. There’s lots of ground to cover so let’s get going. We’ll start off with this beauty by Mark Rothko.


No. 11 (Untitled). $25,000,000–35,000,000
Sold for $46,085,000

I’m dissatisfied with this photo. It doesn’t capture the painting’s vibrancy and movement. I must have stood in front of this thing, unblinking, for five minutes. It washed over me.

Our old pal, Andy Warhol, is here with a few pieces.


Mao. $3,000,000–5,000,000
Sold for $3,525,000


Mercedes-Benz W 196 R Grand Prix Car (Streamlined Version). $12,000,000–16,000,000
Sold for $13,045,000

I don’t see many Mao paintings coming up for auction and this one is particularly bright. The Mercedes piece is HUGE. I might be able to fit it in my garage but my living room is out of the question. One of Warhol’s grand jokes he played on the art world is here, too.


Brillo Soap Pads box. $700,000–1,000,000
Sold for 725,000

It’s a flippin’ box of soap pads. That’s all I ever see when I look at these. A+ Andy! You got em’ good that time! I call bullshit on this one. I don’t really understand this next one, either.


Coca-Cola. $40,000,000–60,000,000
Sold for $57,285,000

I believe the stratospheric estimate might be because it’s from 1962 and, hence, very early in Warhol’s career. Perhaps it has both aesthetic and historic significance? I don’t know. I don’t see where the value lies. As long as I’m feeling feisty, here’s another real head-scratcher.

Have any of you ever heard of Christopher Wool?


Apocalypse Now. $15,000,000–20,000,000
Sold for $26,485,000

I’m going to confess that prior to reading about an exhibit of his work that just opened at the Guggenheim, I had never heard his name. The quote in the painting is from Apocalypse Now, hence the title. I don’t like it. It’s lazy and it leaves me cold. But SOMEONE must be paying attention. $15M ain’t cow feed.


Seductive Girl. $22,000,000–28,000,000
Sold for $31,525,000

That’s better. Lichtenstein. Seductive girl. I’ll say.

This is kind of an unusual Pollock.


Number 16. $25,000,000–35,000,000
Sold for $32,645,000

He usually didn’t go for those reds and teals. I like it. Not for thirty-five millions dollars, but I like it.

I have a love/hate relationship with Jeff Koons’ work. His sculpture of Michael Jackson and Bubbles the Chimp is awful but I like his balloon dogs. They’re playful and dopey.


Balloon Dog (Orange). $35,000,000–55,000,000
Sold for $58,405,000


There are only five of these balloon dog sculptures. Each is a different color. This orange one is owned by newspaper magnate Peter Brant. Wall Street thief Steven A. Cohen of SAC Capital owns the yellow one, although probably not for much longer. Heh. There are also versions  in blue, magenta and red. The art world is not-so-quietly snickering at the $35–55M estimate. He who laughs last, etc.

Get ready to barf. I hope you’ve finished your lunch/breakfast/dinner.


Untitled. $25,000,000–35,000,000
Sold for $29,285,000

Jean-Michel Basquiat sucks eggs.


Untitled. $2,000,000–3,000,000
Sold for $1,925,000

Hideously ugly. I have tried over and over to understand what this guy was trying to do but I just don’t get it. I believe his work trades not on its merits, but on the cult of personality that arose after he ODed.


Untitled (Head of Madman). $7,000,000–9,000,000
Sold for $12,037,000

Even uglier than the first two, which didn’t seem possible. I wouldn’t give you seven bottle tops for this, much less $70,000 Benjamins.

Margaret Thatcher once called Francis Bacon “That horrible man.” That’s good enough for me!


Three Studies of Lucian Freud. Estimate on Request.
Sold for $142,405,000. Oh, my.

Holy shit. If some estimates run to the $35M range, how high is Estimate on Request?! Actually, I did some digging and they think it might sell for as much as $80,000,000. Can you imagine? Good thing they don’t give that money to poor people. They’d just waste it on stupid shit.

Details from Three Studies.



I like it. It’s a triptych, so you have to buy all three. You can’t just say, oh, I’ll take that middle one. You’d be surprised how much this actually does look like Lucian Freud. Fun fact: Freud was Sigmund Freud’s grandson and a great artist in his own right.

I guess it wouldn’t be a proper Impressionist auction without a Monet. This is a fine example, don’t you think?


Entreé de Giverny en hiver, soleil couchant. $5,000,000–8,000,000
Sold for $5,205,000

I don’t really dig Giacometti’s paintings and drawings, but his sculptures are killer.


Femme Debout (Figurine). $2,500,000–3,500,000
Sold for $5,429,000

Here’s a painting by William de Kooning, an overrated hack if ever there was one.


Untitled VIII. $20,000,000–30,000,000
Sold for $32,085,000

Just look at that mess. I told one of the security guards that I’m pretty sure it’s hung upside down. Could you live with that? Could you live with anything that guy did?

I heard a clinking clanking sound off in the corner of the gallery. I traced it to this sculpture by Jean Tinguely:

Untitled. $80,000–$120,000
Sold for $75,000

It’s kind of interesting to watch for a minute or two but if you had this thing sitting on a coffee table or kitchen counter at home, it would drive you mad.

Some people think Edward Hopper is kind of pedestrian but, man, I love him. And this painting, especially.


East Wind Over Weehawken. $22,000,000–28,000,000

It reminds me of the old neighborhood back on the near west side of Cleveland where my grandmother lived. Again, the photo doesn’t do justice to the painting. Funny thing…the title card with the description and auction estimate also stated “Do Not Touch.” I don’t recall ever seeing that on a title card before.



38 thoughts on “Grab a paddle and $1B. It’s auction time.

  1. Ghasted that you would think any of those ‘ art works’ would be worth bubkus. Apart from the monet, of course. Starting and finishing with the Rothko, I’m fairly sure my daughter and I did something similar, but with a different palette, while cleaning the rollers after painting the garden shed.

    • This is the type of comment I love. “That’s not art!” You are correct,of course. It’s all madness. Anyone who pays $35M for a Rothko ought to have his head examined and his bank account locked. I love the sense of outrage these twice-yearly posts generate. I look forward to it.

  2. It’s that time once again where i sit here, shocked and bewildered, by ‘art’. my dog regularly paints pollak-esque pieces on my carpet. in muted browns and other ‘neutrals’. next time he does it, instead of getting out the shampooer, i’m cutting a large square of the carpet, framing it, and shipping it to NYC for appraisal.

    the balloon dogs are quite nice…

    do we all have our folly? is there anything you’ve ever purchased that was extravagant, and ridiculously priced for your budget, but you just had to have it anyway? my costume closet has many such things. why do i need a fine top hat? a wig collection that would be the envy of every drag queen on the planet? we all need that whimsy… the difference is that i couldn’t sell one of my wigs and feed the entire population of Haiti for a year…

    • Bewildered is a perfect word for it. As much as I love some of these works, can you wrap your mind around having the kind of money it takes to buy one of these? It’s unimaginable. Only an infinitesimally small sliver of humanity can seriously consider it.

      My folly? Before I had the financial obligations that a family imposes, I used to buy rare books. I would spend hundreds, and in one or two cases, thousands of dollars on books that CANNOT BE READ because they’re too valuable. How crazy is that?

      • Not crazy at all, they’re rare books… mind you it’s the same with these pieces, they’re the originals, in some cases by artists no longer creating art, i.e. dead which of course drives up the value… and i don’t mind de Kooning or Basquiat, in fact i quite like Head of Madman even if my two boys regularly create works equal to if not better than what old Jean-Michel did… hell i’ve still got two pieces up in the Rumpus Room that would give Pollack a run for his money… oh isn’t art grand?

      • Believe me, at the time, I had no trouble at all rationalizing my insane book purchases. These days, on the rare occasion I pick something up, it’s something to add to the college fund. That works for me.

        The Basquiat painting do have a child-like quality to them. I’ve given up on trying to acquire a taste for his work. After years and years of sneering, I finally grew to appreciate Kandinsky. I don’t think that’s going to happen in this case.

      • Ah, but Kandinsky has that certain quality. Well, in my opinion. But I would not choose to have any of these in my house.Though the funny little sculpture made me feel tingle-y. (sorry!)

      • You can feel tingle-y at my site anytime you want. You don’t even have to ask.

  3. The pricing of all this art is based on the “greater fool” principle. Buy it for a ridiculous sum in the belief that a greater fool will pay even more for it later. The Tinguely sculpture is quite interesting and could be used to hypnotise people.

    • I’m certain that many of these are bought as part of an investment strategy. It makes me think that the Über Wealthy have all lost their minds. Perhaps there’s a point when you become so awash with cash that nothing at all matters. You’d probably eventually believe you could get away with murder.

  4. I love these arty inspired posts of yours. The price tags are staggering. Emperors new clothes springs to mind. Love the Bacon. ( Freud is understandably rather big over here in the UK and close up and for real his work is amazingly visceral ). I wondered if you’d heard about the stunt Banksy pulled in NYC ? I thought it was a good take on the commercially led nature of the art world.

    • Let me tell you about that little stunt that Banksy pulled. (I’m glad you brought this up. It’s been eating at my guts for weeks.) I work near Central Park and there’s a route I stroll on my lunch hour that takes me right past that table where he sold those painting for $60. He did that on a Saturday. Had it been a weekday, I would have walked past and there’s no doubt in my mind I would have instantly recognized the stunt for what it was. I’d have bought the whole damn lot. It would have CHANGED MY LIFE. My wife keeps asking me shut up about it but I can’t put it out of my head.

  5. I don’t understand ANY pf the price estimates. NO painting is worth 80 million.I don’t care who did it….That is Nuts! Frankly, I don;t think those Baloons are worth even $1000. Now Giocometti….that is reasonable, though I couldn’t afford it…but at least we are talking about “art” with him—I don’t happen to agree with you about his drawings—-Personally I think a lot of his drawings are—to use your word—‘Killer’, too….! Just my opinion. As to Wool, like you, I had never heard of him till reading about him recently….IT IS BEYOND MY UNDERSTANDING!!!!!!!
    We have talked about Basquiat before and I am in total agreement with you there….I don’t get it and I never have…..! The world has gone mad….And so has the so called “ART” world…..
    I just read about some auction that didn’t do well at all—some things one would think would sell like Hot Cakes, didn’t even get one bid! It Is All Crazy!

    • Can you imagine the good you could do with $80 million? That’s part of the thrill of these twice-yearly posts. The sense of outrage. You’re referring to an auction that took place at Christie’s the day before I saw these lots. The offerings weren’t that strong and the price estimates were too high. The estimates should be set a little below their real value so that people think they’re getting a bargain, but not so low that you devalue the art. It’s a delicate balancing act.

      • The Bacon sold for $142,405???
        Disgusting. Sickening. Outrageous.
        And there were 7 people bidding against each other????
        This is just so EFF’D up…..!!!! These people could all help stop hunger!!!!!! OY VEY!

      • I can’t believe there are seven people who could pony-up that much money for a painting! One of them should have dropped out and sent a check to the Philippines.

  6. Strange how you like the Pollock but not the de Kooning. I liked the Pollock–it’s unusual to see such a large swathe of one colour left bare (the blue bit that looks like a lake mid-river).

    That word you use–“paddle”. You talk funny! Always make me think that the auction will be held during a canoe race in the Adirondacks.

    • I see a tremendous difference between the Pollock and the de Kooning. Please don’t ask me to articulate what that difference is because I cannot.

      I just Googled it and ‘paddle’ is the appropriate term to use. I’m not sure why it sounds odd to your ears. Perhaps you think of it, first and foremost, as a verb? Or is it a marital aid to you?

      • It’s a ludicrous word to use! Why does one need to take caneoing implements to an auction room? Here, one bids with a nod of the head or by twitching one’s programme or catalogue, or scratching one’s head.

        I accept it’s standard US usage but the image it creates in the English English head is bizarre. I first came across it when Daisyfae went to an auction, and could not for the life of me work out why she was taking a paddle with her.

        Hey ho, language is a multicoloured garment.

      • But the auction paddles here have numbers on them to identify the bidder. They’re functional. I wonder how they track the many bidders in Europe without them?

  7. The Emperor’s new clothes springs to mind here. Although I will readily admit that art is in the mind of the admirer and is a very individual taste. Sadly though, I thought the whole lot was pure shite and I wouldn’t pay a single penny for any of it. Now, a portrait of the trailored gal wearing only a cheeky wee smile, priceless!

    • In these auctions, it’s almost a mathematical certainty that an increase in the amount of disposable income available almost always equates to an erosion in good taste. But, as you correctly state, it’s all very subjective.

  8. I like Rothko… and a few of the others… they are so different in real life though, which is how they are all supposed to be seen – although not in a museum context, where they become historical relics marking cultural time. I can’t justify the prices though. Art, just another economic industry… I’m better off hanging my own daubs on the wall.

    • That’s a very astute observation. They really do look much different when you’re standing in front of them! I couldn’t capture that Rothko no matter how many pics I took of it. Not the balloon dog, either. And as bad as the Basquiat paintings look above, they’re even more offensive in person.

  9. Holy fuck those prices! Really…and that Untitled VIII makes me want to cry. Not out of joy too.

    I like the Balloon Dog the best. I wanna ride on it. It looks fun. Do you know what material it’s made of? My deductive skills also tell me that you like harmony in your art. Cool.

    • According to Christie’s, Balloon Dog is:

      Mirror-polished stainless steel with transparent color coating.

      The auction is Tuesday. It’ll be interesting to see what someone is willing to pay for it.

      Overall, I suppose I enjoy harmonious works although the Pollock drip paintings are pretty bad ass and there’s not much in the way of harmony going on there.

  10. Well now as soon as you said you didn’t like Michael and Bubbles I knew there was going to be a problem. See, I saw that piece in San Francisco and I was stunned to silence. It was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen, even uglier than anything by Rothko or Warhol’s Brillo Box ( ’em Andy!) However, when I got back home and complained about how ugly and horrible it was and asked why, I entered a discussion about art I’ve never forgotten. Good art, successful art, should make you feel something. Even if it’s disgust or anger or some other repressed emotion. So my criteria for art changed after I viewed Bubbles and Michael. Now, whether I hate it or love it, I question my reaction.
    The prices are laughable though. Totally. When Steve Wynn had Joan Rivers up to view his Picasso and she put her elbow through it…well, that says it all doesn’t it?

    • Hello, Laura. Welcome to my sandbox. I’ve heard, and have meditated, on that argument before. That as long as I’m move in some way, it succeeded. I don’t buy it. I’m about to put up a post of a piece I saw that moved me to disgust. I agree with your initial reaction. If it’s the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen, then it has no value. No value for you, that is. It’s always subjective. But call bullshit when you see bullshit.

      Here’s the funny thing about that Wynn painting. First of all, it was WYNN who poked a hole in it! But he had the last laugh. He sold it a few years ago and now that it’s got a “story” connected to it, it’s more valuable. He made a monster profit off of it.

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