To laugh or weep: contemporary art auction results

I’m sure many of you read about the Basquiat that sold for $110 million to Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa. He relayed his bids to a Sotheby’s specialist on his iPhone, which I find quaint for some reason. The work was listed as ‘estimate on request,’ but nobody expected it to sell for that much. That’s Picasso and Monet territory.

To his credit, Maezawa plans to open a museum in his hometown of Chiba, Japan, to showcase his sizeable collection. He told The New York Times, “I want to show beautiful things and share them with everyone. It would be a waste just to keep it all to myself.” Good on you, sir.

That’s the drama of this season’s auctions. Are you ready for the comedy? Let’s kick the door open and break the hinges with these excruciating exercises in pomposity. On the left, the word “PLEASE” stenciled six times onto a sheet of aluminum. On the right, four shop vacs in a Plexiglas case with neon lights.

Christopher Wool
Estimate: $15,000,000-20,000,000
Sold for $17,159,500

Jeff Koons
New Shelton Wet/Drys 10 Gallon, New Shelton Wet/Drys 5 Gallon Doubledecker
Estimate: $7,000,000-9,000,000
Sold for $7,863,500


What’s the intrinsic value of a piece of red yarn tacked to a wall?

Fred Sandback
Untitled (Diagonal Cornered Construction)
Estimate: $70,000-100,000
Sold for $60,000

I can’t poke you with a sharp stick throughout the entire post with terrible art. I’m not a complete curmudgeon. I’ve gone hot and cold over Roy Lichtenstein over the years but this piece was bold and stark. Estimate on request always kills me. It sounds like a dare.

Roy Lichtenstein
Nude Sunbathing
Estimate on request
Sold for $24,000,000

I’m no fan of Basquiat. I think his stuff is infantile. Plus, I don’t respect him for throwing it all away on an OD. Poor, tortured, artist. Boo hoo. Idiot. But this is nice. I like Lester Young.

Jean-Michael Basquiat
In The Wings
Estimate: $5,000,000-7,000,000
Sold for $5,975,000

Ugly and violent. I turned the corner and this was high on the wall. It looked very real.

Maurizio Cattelan
Estimate: $1,000,000-1,500,000
Sold for $1,507,500

This was one of the showcase lots. I happen to like Francis Bacon but I can understand it if you don’t.

These are based on photos of George Dyer. Dyer was the great love of his life but the relationship was a bouillabaisse of alcohol, abuse and dysfunction. They met when Dyer, a small-time cat burglar, broke into Bacon’s studio in the middle of the night to rob him. Bacon caught him and said if he didn’t go to bed with him, he’d call the police.

Francis Bacon
Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer
Estimate on Request
Sold for $51,767,500

Speaking of British eccentrics:

There’s always one that defies commentary.

Damien Hirst
Dog Days
Glass, wood, paint, cigarettes, cigars, ash and lipstick
Estimate: $350,000-450,000
Sold for $468,500



April 27, 1993

I was sitting on the sofa finishing Barry Gifford’s Wild at Heart—wonderful—when suddenly, someone in the hallway started screaming at the top of their lungs, “HELP! HELP! MURDER! HELP ME!” It was the most God-awful, horrible thing I’ve ever heard. The hair on my legs stood up. The first thing I did was turn the lights off because, believe me, you don’t want to get involved in this neighborhood. I’ve read one too many stories about good Samaritans getting the shiv. [Note: What a hero I was. What a man of action.]

I looked out the peephole and the guy across the hall poked his head out the door but didn’t go into the hallway. Someone must’ve called the cops because in about ninety seconds the place was filled with them. They all piled into the apartment next door where those two gay guys live. Two minutes later two cops casually walk out talking about the softball league. Meanwhile, my heart is hammering in my chest.

About ten minutes after that, the cops escorted someone out who was carrying a suitcase. I didn’t recognize him. He must’ve been a weekend guest or something.

What must it be like being a cop? They arrive expecting bloody murder and they’re met with a bunch of gay guys having a domestic dispute. But it could’ve just as easily gone the other way. What a job! Those guys are fucking idiots. You don’t scream bloody murder on this block unless you’ve got someone with a gun on the other side of your door trying to get it. I called Lynne in the front office this morning and she didn’t know anything about it. Didn’t hear a thing. How is that possible?!

70 thoughts on “To laugh or weep: contemporary art auction results

  1. Today’s art samples leave me cold. The woman is truly horrible — i can’t imagine turning the corner to that. And the cigs? Gross. Just gross.

    As for your reaction, when you live in a dangerous neighborhood you become hardened to it, in the same way when we’re used to seeing homeless people beg it tugs at our heartstrings less.

    • I went to the auction preview with a girl from my office and she couldn’t stand to look at that sculpture of the woman hanging up on the wall. It was so, so realistic. So brutal and cold. Who would hang such a thing???

      I was definitely desitized. Crime was all around me and I wanted no part of it. I didn’t need to be a hero. I thought just getting home from the subway at night in one piece was heroic enough.

      • So agree. I would be concerned about the person who bought something like that – the police need to keep an eye on that sort of person…in between non-issue emergency calls because two lovers have a spat.

  2. Oh dang, I’m on my phone and none of the pictures are showing up. I’m out of town without a laptop, so I’ll have to save this post and check it out when I get home. I always love looking at the artwork you show. And hearing how much they cost. 😳

  3. Oh. My. Is that supposed to be string theory? Yikes. And the cigarette “art”? Yuck.

    When I was in the military I was posted to a war zone and just became desensitized to it all. I would think that it’s pretty similar for the police.

    I love your art posts. 🙂

    • There were some very beautiful pieces but what’s the fun in that? It’s a more interesting post when I throw-up the more outlandish pieces. Cig butts! Can you imagine?!

      I definitely became desensitized by living on the Lower East Side. You have to. It’s an element of survival. I wasn’t kidding about good Samaritans paying with their lives.

  4. I laughed at the auction results. The contemporary art scene is crazy. Basquiat would be crackling away in the grave. Just think how many drug addicts and homeless people that $110 could help. That story about the man with the suitcase is chilling. Domestic violence is terrifying. Maybe the $110 would be best spent to educate people about domestic violence and to help the vi victims establish new lives.

    • That’s why I post them! Because they’re outrageous! There are loads of beautiful works but where’s the fun in that? You can’t goof on real art. Just this jokey stuff.

      Why give that $110M to poor people. They’d just waste it on stupid stuff like housing, education and rehabilitation. Better to hang it on the wall, don’t you think?

      • Yes, those poor people would just waste the money on food and somewhere to live!

  5. Isn’t it illegal to blackmail someone into having sex with you? The police should have arrested both of them.

    Are you sure none of your neighbours got assaulted? I would have guessed someone got a bitchslap at least.

    • That’s funny. I thought blackmail was a legitimate aspect of foreplay. Are you saying it’s not?

      Once I found out it was just a bunch of gay guys having an overly-dramatic dust-up (I mean, NOBODY was being murdered), I wanted to be in the room to watch it all. Dinner and a show!

  6. I want to teleport a Sioux County Iowa cattle farmer to an art exhibit and sale such as the ones you describe. I’d have to teleport, for there would be no way in Hades that person would voluntarily go. But, if I could, I would. I’d also opt to be invisible so I could drink in the comments. Thanks for feeding my fantasies with your observations. I’ve a notion to submit a shit-caked cow from one of our many feedlots, trim into its fur the word “real” and submit to an exhibit.

    • Glad you enough it. Awful stuff, no? If you had proper gallery representation, you could probably make a fortune selling shit-caked cows to gullible wealthy folks. That’d be pretty funny if it weren’t true.

  7. If only the top of that yarn was down and to the right about 5 degrees, I’m sure it would have sold in the estimated range. Dumb mistake. (Or bad estimate.)

    • That’s so funny! I have the EXACT same though. At *least* give it a title. And then you have, like that dumb string piece above, “Untitled” with a parenthetical title after. So silly, this world.

      • With regard to the string piece … Do you get to keep the whole wall? The whole corner? Because I would think those were intrinsic to the overall artwork. After all, it would have a COMPLETELY different effect under, say, a popcorn ceiling. Or on wallpaper.

  8. I can’t imagine living in those conditions, ever. You are very brave or were having such a great time back then. The Art pics are amazing. Was it possible to move a cigarette butt? Would that change the whole dynamic of the presentation? I can’t believe the M Cattlelan didn’t use a real female for this display! I saw some upright vacuums on display by Jeff Koons at the old Whitney Museum a few years ago. Even I am starting to see reruns in the Art World. Like you say, good representation!

    • Sir, I was having the time of my life. I had that veneer of invincibility that only the young and naive can have. There was danger all around but I never gave a moment’s thought to actually being a participant. I always thought I’d only ever be an observer. And so I was.

      The cig butts must be fastened, right? Otherwise, they’d all fall over when you tried to move or mount the piece. That female was a mannequin but it looked plenty real enough. The component description listed human hair. Ick. I saw that Koons exhibit at the Whitney as well. I loved it! Except for the pornographic stuff. I couldn’t bring my daughters because of that.

      • I remember that pornographic stuff too. Before that, I only thought JK did balloon dogs in metal. All the foreigners recognized his bride in that giant size poster.

  9. I never understood your deep lightning-rod-all-that-wrong-with-art hatred of Basquiat. But I’m right their with you on the Koons. I’d rather have a piece of string in the corner of my room than an effing flippant Koons.

    That all said, the Basquiat fetched way too much… but nothing should fetch that much. I’d rather see 100 young artists careers celebrated and fortified than this Wall Street-like value for values sake.

    • Art, as we all know, is subjective. I’ve soften my stance on Basquiat a bit in the last year or two but still think the majority of what he produced is lazy, thoughtless scribblings. And I really do have a hair up my rear about the OD. That guy had New York City in the palm of his hand. A dream come true and he threw it all away. It clouds my enjoyment of his work. I can’t separate the man’s actions from his art.

      • I wonder if you’d excuse the personal tragedy if you had liked the work. But I think I see your point: there are plenty of artists with demons (or monkeys…pick your analogy)…and in some cases the demon unleashes the brilliance…but how many are actually brought down by them? Pollock should have died of liver failure. Coltrane, like JMB, of heroin, etc. etc.

      • I can tell you for a fact that much of my resentment is rooted in envy. Yeah, that’s right. Envy. I’ll never experience a fraction of the success these people callously tossed aside. Is that their fault? Nope. I’m not mad at them, really. More sore at myself for never trying.

  10. God, the nude sunbathing seems almost reasonable in comparison.

    I used to live in an apartment in DC very similar to how you’ve described this place here and in past posts. It took me years to move away because even though it was in an awful neighborhood, everything else I liked at seemed comparatively worse. At least in my price range, which was pitifully low. In hindsight, I can’t believe I just didn’t go out further into the burbs. – Marty

    • Saturate yourself with these prices long enough and $24M starts to look ‘reasonable.’ That’s either the sound of one hand clapping or comfortably numb.

      I loved that apartment, inherent dangers notwithstanding. It was big, with a step-down living room. And CHEAP. Outside the building you were really taking your life in your hands but it was great. Eventually, the neighborhood gentrified and the apartment flipped to condo. It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me.

  11. I have to comment on the mannequin… do you have any idea what that’s about? Or is the whole piece simply intended to be unsettling? Or, since it doesn’t represent just one thing, maybe that’s the point… just trying to understand it’s artistic “value,” shocking seems too trivial.

  12. String. really. Are people this stupid?

    The only art I like there is Bacon. The rest is utter shite. There’s more art in two gays shouting bloody murder. Or…maybe one of them left in the suitcase, if you know what I’m sayin’…..

    • Ha! I mistook your comment to mean you liked bacon. The breakfast meat. That you thought it was a work of art.

      I wish I’d recorded that fight. It was pretty scary stuff at the time but now it looks like a bitch-slap contest was all. Pity.

  13. I’m interested in the process of dismantling and transporting the “art” that is a single piece of string. Does the artist have to do that so it stays exactly the same? Does he go to the buyer’s apt to reinstall it? And what if it isn’t exactly the same as in the gallery – could the buyer say, “That’s not what I bought. I want my money back. It was poetry that spoke to my very soul because it was at a 15 degree angle…now it’s crap!”

    • Never mind the string. It looks like those cigarette butts are just resting on the shelf. What happens when they take it off the wall? Do they all tip over? Surely they’re fastened to the boards, no? That’s a bad picture of the yarn. I should’ve pulled back to see the entire corner. Much more dramatic and, hence, sillier.

    • As I just mentioned above, I wish I could retake that photo. You had to see it in context of the entire space. It would have made you laugh very hard. $60K. I could buy a car for that much. Two!

  14. Way back in my modelling days I used to get migraines and I always imagine Bacon painted with one so his vision was skewift. – distorted.

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