Art + Commerce = The Fall Auction Report

I look forward to these semi-annual auctions with a near mania. I find this stuff endlessly fascinating. What is art? Every time I go to the autumn and spring auction previews at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, I am forced to reexamine what I think art is and isn’t. It’s good to be nimble in your thinking. It’ll keep you young.

Keep in mind that after the auctions, these pieces pass into private collections never to be seen again. I’ll mix the sublime with the hideous. I welcome your debate and disagreement. You can click on these for detail.

I’ll start off with a genuine treasure. Even though some people find the Impressionists pedestrian, I think we can all agree that their work is important and deserves respect. And, seriously, who wouldn’t want a Monet in their dining room?

Claude Monet
Estimate: $30,000,000 – $50,000,000
Sold for $33,850,000


I was not a fan of Cubism until just a couple of years ago when I had it explained to me via an audio guide at a Cubism exhibit at the Met. Now I enjoy it. Always get the audio guide.

Georges Braque
Le Violon
Estimate: $12,000,000 – $18,000,000
Sold for $8,202,000


Do you know what I love about this piece? One of the materials Braque used was sand. It gives the piece a fantastic earthy quality.


Here’s another guy who people pay a lot of cash for but is considered to be marginally talented by others. Margaret Thatcher called him “that horrible man.” That’s good enough for me. I like him.

Francis Bacon
Man With Arm Raised
Estimate: $8,000,000 – $12,000,000
Sold for $10,330,000


This one is my favorite. It’s the perfect case-in-point for just how pretentious art can get. The auction catalog uses flowery language like “a shimmering arrangement of color” and “rivers of shimmering, sparkly color.”


This is part of the artist’s “spilled candy” series. I’ve included the lot description in the estimate.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres
Untitled (LA)
Green candies individually wrapped in cellophane, endless supply. Overall dimensions vary with installation.
Estimate: $5,000,000 – $7,000,000
Sold for $7,669,000


Here’s a double header. I like both of these guys but am surprised at the valuation on the Warhol. Do you know how many of those flower silk screens he did? TONS! And I love Oldenburg’s work. I’ll bet a lot of you young punks have never seen one of those typing erasers. Now we use a delete key. I love how this photo turned out.

Andy Warhol
Late Four-Foot Flowers
Estimate: $8,000,000 – $12,000,000
Did Not Sell

Claes Oldenburg
Typewriter Eraser
Estimate: $500,000 – $700,000
Sold for $1,085,000


They made a big deal out of this piece. It was mounted in a prominent place in the gallery and the estimate wasn’t made public. I have no idea who this is. Do you? I thought I knew quite a lot but it turns out I don’t know SQUAT. It’s big. You’d need a big wall to hang it on.

Lucio Fontana
Concetto Spaziale, La fine di Dio
Estimate on Request
Sold for $29,173,000


Mmmmmm. Bacon. They’re studies for portraits. Wouldn’t it be awesome if you met the subjects and their faces were actually all fucked-up like that?

Francis Bacon
Two Studies for Portrait
Estimate: $12,000,000 – $18,000,000
Did Not Sell

bacon_two studies

Here’s a nice break from all the silliness. I’m not saying it’s worth what it sold for—hell, NONE of these are worth what they sold for—but you can almost understand the point. This was one of the real blockbusters. I took a close-up and am using it as a screen saver on my phone. It’s thick and juicy.

Vincent Van Gogh
Paysage Sous un Ciel Mouvement
Estimate: $50,000,000 – $70,000,000
Sold for $54,010,000

van gogh

Just look at her. Isn’t she spectacular? Her erotic submissive pose knocks me out. This was painted in 1917. Don’t you imagine people back then being reserved and sedate? Not everyone, apparently.

Amedeo Modigliani
Nu Couché
Estimate on Request
Sold for a Whopping $170,405,000

modigliani_nu coche

Like Jeff Koons, my feelings about Lichtenstein have vacillated throughout the years. Today, I like him. Next year? Check back with me. This nurse painting is considered a high point in his career.

Roy Lichtenstein
Estimate on Request
Sold for $95,365,000


Here’s a abject lesson in limitation and availability. Contrast the price realized for Nurse with this one.

Roy Lichtenstein
Crying Girl
Estimate: $7,000,000 – $9,000,000
Sold for $13,381,000

lichtenstein_crying girl

Both works were executed in 1964. The difference is that Crying Girl is the fourth in an edition of five. There’s only one Nurse. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, I’d much rather hang Crying Girl.

Do you know how some people say contemporary art is garbage? From the lot description:

“Accumulation of studio refuse in Plexiglas box with lid.”

Ah! WITH the lid! That explains it. Poubelle is French for trash bin.

Grande Poubelle
Estimate: $100,000 – $150,000
Did Not Sell. Perhaps there’s hope for the art world after all.


There were some pretty decent offerings by Picasso. If he’s your guy, this was your big chance. This is the cliche Picasso style depicted when someone wants to make fun of his work. Years ago, my brother explained what Pablo was up to and that lesson stuck with me. I see it.

Pablo Picasso
Femme Assise sue une Chaise
Estimate: $25,000,000 – $35,000,000
Sold for $20,074,000


This is a harsh little Picasso. It’s awash in the colors and stylings of Picasso’s Spain. He looks like he’s sporting Orthadox Jewish Payot but I don’t think that was Pablo’s intent.

Pablo Picasso
Homme à l’épée
Estimate on Request
Sold for $22,565,000


Some art passes in and out of my favor (Koons, Lichtenstein, etc.). But I’ve never liked Cy Twombly. The auction catalog describes this mess as being “…charged with visceral energy, a deluge of hurried lines hurtles across the canvas…” which is an elegant way of saying scribbling. He used house paint, oil, crayon and pencil on canvas. It sucks.

Cy Twombly
Estimate: $15,000,000 – $20,000,000
Sold for 17,525,000


I think these two Lichtensteins look pretty awesome together so I put in a bid for $400 for the pair. You can imagine how that went over.

Roy Lichtenstein
Interior with Yves Klein Sculpture
Estimate: $7,000,000 – $10,000,000
Sold for $6,661,000

Roy Lichtenstein
Glass V
Estimate: $1,800,000 – $2,500,000
Sold for $2,853,000 (not $400)


I’ve got a couple more—some that’ll either make you laugh very hard, make you very angry, or make you weep—but I’m going to split this into two posts.

Let’s say someone was holding a gun to a puppy and you HAD to display one of these in your home. Which one? I’m going with that Modigliani but that’s probably the last time my mother-in-law would ever visit.

81 thoughts on “Art + Commerce = The Fall Auction Report

  1. I am going to the Dollar Tree and Party City to get materials for my next work: Split Pinata. It’s like that one above, only more abstract.

    Great picture of the Warhol and Oldenburg. I have stood next to and have pictures of the larger pencil eraser outisde of the National Gallery of Art (sadly, I didn’t get to go into the Gallery that day but hey, good art!)

    Ornate frames are so gaudy. 🙂

  2. Wow, those prices our mind-boggling. Millions for a mound of green candies? Think of all the candy you could buy with that!

    Thanks for showing us this fascinating world. It’s really difficult to wrap my head around paying that much money for these types of things when you consider what good could be done with that much dough. Then again, it’s not my dough, so I guess I don’t get a say.

  3. You would make the best tour guide ever. Who needs the audio guide?
    The Modigliani definitely. Who doesn’t like a little ogle with their art? I’d settle for the Braque; make a good itching post.

    • If you’d have asked me about the Braque a few years ago I’d have said it was a dog. But a little homework and now I have an appreciation for it. Beyond just an itching post, mind you.

      If I could make a living giving tours of NYC and its museums I’d do it in a second. My dream career.

    • Thank you for saying that. It means a lot to me. I hope that if you or anyone else disagree with me–there must be Cy Twombly fans out there somewhere–you feel free to tell me to stuff it. That’s the beauty of art. It’s so subjective that everyone is right and everyone is wrong. Agree on the money. It’s so unfair.

      • No, not a Twombly fan, but here comes my spanner-in-the-works…I’d prefer that on my wall to the Monet.I love a lot of his work, but not those bloody water lilies!

      • Me too — the Monet is a bit sickly sweet, and I’ve seen it 958 thousand times — I wouldn’t want to see it every day.

        My favourite are the green sweets too. Mind you, you could make it yourself for a couple of hundred dollars I suppose. A friend of mine did that with some minimalist bands of colour to look a bit like something by Barnett Newman. I was astonished when I saw it, wondering how the hell he has that sort of money (even Newman prints go into the thousands) before he told me it was all his own work.

      • There was a time when Monet was considered radical and, in certain quarters, laughable. Nobody’s laughing now. The threshold for outrage is a fluid thing. I wanted to eat one of the candies. I should’ve.

        I like Barnett Newman. He’s kind out there (for me).

  4. I’d go with the Van Gogh, or the Francis Bacon, although he looks something like one of my brothers and I’m not sure I really want to be looking at him all that often.

    But if the gun were held to the head of my puppy, there are times, Mark … there are times …

    • Well, as you can see, the Bacon didn’t sell. (That sounds so funny to me for some reason.) Perhaps you can make a post-auction offer? You’ve got them right where you want them.

      Did you watch the debate? That was your homework assignment.

      • I am going to have to take an incomplete on that assignment. I was on drugs yesterday (literally) and was rather woozy. And totally disinterested. I can only take these guys in short bits …

        Funny about the Bacon, I rather liked it. He makes me laugh (although my brother rarely does …)

  5. Debate? What debate? I hate to say that but feel good about it at the same time. The run-down here is marvellous. I saw one of only six paintings known where Jesus is wearing a hat, a few weeks ago at Glamis castle here in Scotland. It’s more unusual than you’d think, seeing Jesus in a hat. And I sat in the corner of a private chapel where they said the ghost nearly sits, and everyone on the tour turned around and smiled at me, which felt weird — they actually saw me.
    Thanks for the advice on the audio tours though, I can sometimes be cheap about that but you’re right, especially to get Cubism. Museums with kids under 10 though, blows.

    • Did you take a pic of that Jeebus painting? I don’t recall seeing it. That’s actually pretty awesome, if you think about it. How’d he squeeze the hat on top of his halo?

      Sometimes, the audio tours are included with the admission ticket. It makes a big difference to a dope like me. No formal training, so I have to pick it up where I can.

  6. Hi Mark! I love these posts you do! It just blows my mind to see the selling prices here! The Fontana is my favorite. I was kind of mesmerized by the “95 million dollar nurse,” trying to figure out her expression. It seems to fit many feelings, which is unsettling to me, and also very captivating. It immediately drew me in… maybe because of things I’ve seen and things she’s seen…maybe that is what the artist was trying to capture – I don’t know. But it really had an effect on me. Will look forward to your next post with more art!

    • You are the first person I thought about when I saw that nurse painting go for $95M. I thought I MUST include this in the post. You’re right about that expression. It looks like she’s standing on the threshold of some bad news.

      I’m glad to hear enjoyed the post. These auction posts are actually a lot of work. I take dozens of pics and only a few make the cut. Then I crop them, load them and write the content. I love doing it but it’s nice to hear my efforts are appreciated.

      • That’s awesome of you to say. And remember…there’s never a fee.

        P.S. I’m in Clevo in two weeks. Visiting that Impressionist exhibit the day after Thanksgiving with daughters and nieces and brothers, etc.

      • It’s the Painting the Modern Garden exhibit, right? It’s here until Jan. I will see it for sure with my daughter who paints – she loves the garden classics!

      • Yep – all part of the renaissance I guess! Check out the east bank of the flats when you come – good restaurants down there (but avoid The Social Punch Bowl… cool place, bad food… but I’ve only been there once, so I probably shouldn’t say that… it has bowling alleys in it that your girls and family might like!

  7. I don’t know why Modigliani’s naked woman is worth so much less than the rest. I’m glad the model isn’t alive – it would have made her feel so cheap! Funny how she looks so much more real than the models in Playboy.

  8. I love the window on this world you give me. I know so little – as proven most of my estimates of either estimate or final sale price being so far out. The 1917 nude is interesting in your view that all our forebears were these goody twoshoes … well a quick run through my family tree finds me a long line of bastards so frankly the Victorian and Edwardian ages of restraint clearly passed my ancestors by. Then you read about the Bloomsbury set who were decided on the other side of the street from my rag tag bunch of brickfield labours and dockyard workers and to me… all a load of old crap! Honestly I think the first few years after the second world war were those with most restraint probably as a reaction to the atrocities carried out throughout Europe in the 39-45 conflict.

  9. I love the art education you give us with these posts. With the green candy, are they glued together or just loose? At first I assumed loose, and I thought – how do you keep that clean without disturbing it? And how do you move it to the buyer’s home? Is the position of each candy very particular and needs to be recreated exactly? Or is it random as long as it fills the rectangle? Then I figured they must be glued together right? But then I looked back at your description and saw that it said “Overall dimensions vary with installation”, so it’s just random spilled candy then? In which case, I go back to how do you keep that clean? A careless slip of the vacuum cleaner nozzle near it, and a few thousand $ worth of art is gone! So I won’t pick that one. I think I would pick the Lichtenstein interior, as long as I was living somewhere with a big enough wall.

    • Thank you, Vanessa! That’s very kind of you to say. The candies are just loose and strewn about the floor. The actual exhibit size is dictated by the buyer although there’s an “ideal” size as envisioned by the artist. A lot of thought went into nothing. I can’t tell you how tempted I was to take one, unwrap it and pop it in my mouth. I’m probably not the first person who thought that, either. The Lichtenstein is a good selection. I could live with that one, too. Well done.

  10. I love Monet so I get that being worth a shed load but is any piece of art really worth this much? It makes me laugh how value is created.

    Also like the Georges Braque – it’s interesting.

    The Francis Bacon isn’t my cup of tea. It scares me.

    Spilled candy…WTF? I’m sorry…actually no I’m not. That’s just STUPID. Did not sell? Shocker.

    I like Warhol generally but again….££££

    I like the latter Bacon better. That doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable. They’re like the masks of men.

    Love Vincent’s Paysage.. his work is so emotive. Shame he couldn’t have got that pretty penny for it back in the day, eh?

    Modigliani yes, Lichtenstein, no not for me.

    Picasso yes.

    French litter is a long way off French letter.

    Sorry you didn’t win your bet. I’d go for the Van Gogh.

    • I love Monet, too! To hell with the world. We’ll take our Monets and laugh at the haters. And, no, it’s not worth that much. The Braque looks spiffy in person. All grainy and whatnot. And I’m pretty sure that Bacon would be pleased to know he frightens you. Scares me, too! The spilled candy sold, my lovely. For $7.6 MILLION. The trash bin failed to sell. Poor Vincent sold all of ONE painting in his lifetime. I kind of hope he doesn’t know what ‘s happing in his name.

  11. You know i used to paint naked women with no arms and no heads in my early twenties, mostly done on cardboard or whatever i could find, all with huge bushes like the 70’s porn i grew up on, of course my talent was minimal but in the art world what does that matter right? they were titled American Pussy and numbered, i believe some are still around, i’ll have to tell my friends that when i’m gone they’ll be worth a fortune… everything is more valuable when the dead can’t take their cut.

    • In all seriousness, the only thing you were missing was a good agent or gallery representation. That’s often the only thing that separates the people who can make a living with their art from those who struggle. You need talent but that alone isn’t going to ring the cash registers.

  12. Well it’s going to completely unbalance my present décor – but if I must – the sandy Braque and the nurse for old time’s sake. I often felt like that.

    • Nurses don’t wear those old-timey hats anymore, do they? $95 million is a lot. Don’t do it.

      Last night I saw King Charles III on Browdway. A fantastic plot. A Shakesperian take on the modern-day royals. Big his in the West End, it’s doing moderately well here. Loved it.

    • That would be so festive for the holiday! Someone told me that picking up a piece, unwrapping it and eating it is part of the installation. I wish I’d known that. I thought about it but was afraid I’d get tossed out.

  13. My favorite piece on the post is your photo of the typewriter erasers, Mark. Bravo capture. I can’t wait for iPhone photography to take off in value. You’ll be able to make some cash with your art world and architecture images, I believe. To toot my own horn, I like what I did with my resume tilt close-up and phone-as-alarm-clock dark-out on my post today. Tell me what you think of those if you get a second.

  14. It seems like things didn’t sell for as much as they had thought they would. Except for the candy! Uh, no! I truly could do that one. Anything I can do, I don’t think is good art. There, that’s my standard. And I can scribble with the best of them. You got to love that description of the Cy Twombly. If you say so! It looks like the the naked lady wins. I’m not surprised one bit, except that’s a whopping price tag!! I find it all fascinating. When you’re there do you have any notion of who the buyers are? Are they around? Just curious.

    • That’s an astute observation. Most of the sales came in on the low end of per-auction estimates or didn’t sell at all. I still think they considered it a successful auction. Maybe not a record-breaker, like they seem to have a lot of in the recent past, but solid sales. I have the same standard as you. If something looks so easy that ANYONE can do it, does it deserve accolades? Not in my book. As far as the buyers, billionaires are everywhere, although many of the high-end auction and real estate markets have been driven by Asian currency.

  15. I always enjoy your Art Auction Report.
    The naked lady looks great until you get to the thighs. What makes a woman’s body sexy is how the appendages are connected. Flowing, with no seams and proportional to the rest of the parts.
    Lichtenstein paintings are unique. I can’t describe them. They don’t look like an art painting, but an Archie comic drawing. Just so different.
    I wonder how much time and thought Arman put into arranging the trash in that bin?
    The Van Gogh has a 3 D appearance.
    I agree with Amy, if I could do it, it’s not Art.
    Thanks for these pics and prices.

    • Glad you enjoyed it. There’s a voyeuristic thrill to following these auctions. It goes beyond the aesthetics of the work and its focus becomes the wealth. I’ve got enough left over for another post which I will do in a couple of weeks. Some of the lots are just as outrageous as these. Wait till you see the piece of yarn attached to the wall.

  16. Once again, you’ve mysteriously disappeared from my email subscription notices and my reader. I thought you’d taken a break. Ha! Saw you on another blog and realized you’re still doing your thang.

    I love your art posts. Although I could do without that Picasso. It’s vile! The up-close of the Braque actually looks to me like the top of a tiramisu. I make yummy tiramisu, by the way.

    • Thank you, dear, for your kind words. The electronic bits and bytes in the ether are conspiring to keep us apart. What other explanation can there be?

      Tiramisu, you say? I just scrolled up for a re-look and, damn, if you aren’t right on the money. It is. How do you do it? Where do these words and ideas come from? Nice volley.

  17. art and tour guide! yes, please. 🙂 xoxo

    (i thought i’d left a comment earlier, but i guess it just in my mind. anyway, i’ve just been a little lost these last few days.)

  18. Great post. I like most of it except the scribbles and the trash bin. The Monet is great. I like the Modigliani one most of all.

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