Little Bo Peep lost her sheep and now it’s floating in a tank of formaldehyde

The spring Contemporary and Impressionist auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s just wrapped up and now that they’re over, none of these pieces will ever be seen in public again. In many cases, that’s okay. I saw someone describe this season’s offerings at a solid B+ and I’d have to agree. Aside from a Rothko, nothing really blew my sox off. I’ll keep my pithy remarks to a minimum. As always, feel free to heartily disagree.

Damien Hirst
Away from the Flock
Glass, painted steel, silicone, acrylic, plastic, lamb and formaldehyde
Est: $4,000,000 – 6,000,000
Sold for: $4,412,500

It’s a lamb. Floating in a tank of formaldehyde.

He’s pulled this sort of thing before. He did it with a great white shark and even a cow cut in half. Art as a spectacle. $4.4M. Hirst is currently at his estate laughing his ass off.

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Flesh and Spirit
Oil stick, gesso, acrylic and paper on canvas
Estimate Upon Request
Sold for: $30,711,000

A huge piece. I am slowly coming around to Basquiat. I still hold him in contempt for throwing it all away on an O.D. but am beginning to see some value in his work. It’s the same urban Lower East Side environ I spent so many years in.

David Hammons
Wood mask and cotton nightgown
Est: $1,400,000 – 1,800,000
Sold for: $975,000

A nighty tacked to the wall. You can’t see it in the pic but there’s a chunk of painted wood underneath. What does it mean? Can anyone tell me? $975K would put both my daughters through school with enough left over to buy myself a snow cone machine.

David Hockney
Piscine de Medianoche (Paper Pool 30)
Est: $5,000,000 – 7,000,000
Sold for: $11,743,800

A vivid, beautiful piece. Interesting for its construction. Made from colored and pressed paper pulp. Much more tactile in person. I liked the deckle edges of each section.

Grande Poubelle (Large Rubbish Bin)
Plexiglas box, painted wood, accumulated studio refuse
Est: $60,000 – 80,000
Did not sell

It’s garbage from the artist’s studio. I think I took about $2,000 worth of art to the curb last night. Didn’t sell, which fills me with hope for the human race.

Jackson Pollock
Number 32
Est: $30,000,000 – 40,000,000
Sold for: $34,098,000

Magnificent (to me). Nice and bright. Pollock’s color displacement is better in some works than in others and this is one of the best I’ve seen.

Jeff Koons
Polychromed aluminum
Estimate on Request
Sold for: $22,812,500

It’s an aluminum mountain of Play-Doh. My sweet Lord. Where would you put something like this? Playful, yet, dumb.

Robert Gober
Bronze, wood, brick, beeswax, human hair, recycling pump, water, latex paint
Est: $6,000,000 – 8,000,000
Sold for: $7,287,500

Gober is my bête noire. A fake. A charlatan. What’s with all the drains in his work? This includes a pump that circulates running water. He is also currently at home laughing his ass off.

Mark Rothko
Oil on paper mounted on canvas
Est: $7,000,000 – 10,000,000
Sold for: $18,856,500

I like Rothko and my fondness for his work has grown over the years. This was beautifully lit. It glowed. I could live with this. Forever. A shame about the $18M+.

Robert Rauschenberg
Sacred / Universal No. 7/3 Times (Cardboard)
Cardboard and tape on plywood
Est: $250,000 – 350,000
Sold for $225,000

Cardboard boxes affixed to the wall. What’s the appeal? Perhaps it’s the way they’re arranged?

Vincent Van Gogh
Vue de l’asile et de la Chapelle Saint-Paul de Mausole (Saint-Rémy)
Est: $35,000,000 – 55,000,000
Sold for: $39,687,500

Thick and juicy. Mainstream popularity be damned; I’m still enamored with his work. That poor bastard died broke. He’s not at home laughing.

Jeff Koons
Balloon Rabbit (Red), Balloon Monkey (Blue), Balloon Swan (Yellow) [Three Works]
Est: $20,000 – $30,000
Sold for: $81,250

Adorable. Easier to display than his monstrous balloon dog. More affordable, too (relatively speaking).

54 thoughts on “Little Bo Peep lost her sheep and now it’s floating in a tank of formaldehyde

  1. The sign says “vent central”so I’m venting.
    Once in a while I’ve exchanged a piece of my work for some chump change.Not complaining that Sothebys weren’t beating at my door.But…mostly, the people who spend this sort of money on art they probably don’t understand just want to be seen having spent the money.

    I shant go on.

    But I do, as always, thank you for giving us the low-down.

    • You’re work is fantastic. I’ve seen it. The only difference between you and that stuff at Southeby’s is those artists have powerful agents and gallery reps. It’s got NOTHING to do with quality, that’s for sure.

  2. I know nothing about art other than what I’m told by people who know about art, but I don’t think there’s anything you can tell me about old cardboard nailed to a wall that will convince me it’s worth the price of the cardboard. Those boxes are ruined now. The Basquiat is kind of captivating for reasons I can’t articulate. And I like the balloon animals. They look heavy.

    • Man, you don’t need to know anything about art in order to comment, love, hate, appreciate, understand our be baffled by it. Things like chemistry, medicine or mathematics have absolutes. Not art! It’s a free for all! Just look. Some dumb-dumb paid $225K for some cardboard boxes. It’s great!

  3. The nighty is the worst, in my opinion. At least the others offer up a bit of discussion, but the nighty is ridiculous. The cardboard boxes are a close second. 😄

    • It’s hard to pick a worst when there are so many that qualify. Some of these pieces I really admire. But what’s the fun in just discussing those? I have to throw in the awful ones as well. It’s more colorful that way.

  4. I love the Pollock and the Van Gogh. But those ridiculous boxes (both sheep encasing and cardboard)? Are you feeling boxed in? Yikes. And the nightgown with mask? Is that supposed to represent voyeurism? Or does my negative attitude mean that I’m old and/or poor?

    Great post though. Got me thinking.

    • I wonder if someone sat the two of us down and explained the artist’s intent we’d ‘get it?’ There must be some thought behind a nighty hanging on the wall. What could it be? You should click on that Van Gogh and really look at the brush strokes.

  5. Thanks Mark for these pics and descriptions. I hope you have more to show. I remember the first time I saw a ROTHKO at the old Whitney Museum. I thought how simple. Now I recognize his work instantly, because it all has the same look. Kind of like recognizing the music from Man of La Mancha, all the same staccato melody. These are not negative comments, just my thoughts. You have showed me stuff I would of never imagined and relating it to other forms of Art. Keep this blog going.

    • Rothko did one thing well and apparently didn’t see the need to deviate from that. Jackson Pollock tried to deviate from his drip paintings and it ruined him. Go with what you know. I have tons more pictures but I thought adding more would be overwhelming and people would click out. Seeing them in person is a cheap, free thrill. Now they’re gone. Poof!

  6. Thank you for that run through…as you said in your reply to Dinahmow all depends on the agents and gallery reps…Hirst was one of those taken on by Saatchi who made a market in his stable of ‘artists’. Interestingly enough – well, to me – his warehouse in London suffered total loss from fire…presumably the stuff even he couldn’t persuade rich dumbos to buy…

  7. Wait! Did I just run into the recycling center?

    I like the Van Gogh, but not much else. Certainly not at those prices! But the lamb is just nasty.

  8. Your art posts have always been my favorite! I’m really disgusted by the sheep. It tells me there are too many billionaires in the world and it makes me want to start a rebellion. Wretched. I’ve always loved Pollock and I always get in trouble for saying this but…I don’t understand why his work is so popular? I’ve seen similar artistic designs from second graders. Koons’ work simply reminds me of the magical world of Dildos–so that’s always nice 😀

    • I didn’t even like the sheep from an aesthetic standpoint, much less from a view of it being cruel. But I have to admit, he had a great white shark in formaldehyde tank in the Met for years that always gave me a thrill. I can’t tell you why I like Pollick so much. Rothko, either, for that matter. I look at them and I react and that’s all I require. I try not to overthink it. I’m sure Koons would be quite pleased with your interpretation!

  9. I might have appreciated the Arman if museum officials allowed patrons to toss their trash of the day alongside the piece as an interactive element. Sheesh. What a charade for art, indeed. For some reason, the mountain of Play-doh ticked my inner 1960s kid. I can even remember the taste when for some reason I had to stick a bit of the crap in my mouth to experiment. It was salty. The texture was nowhere as pleasing as Silly Putty.
    Thanks for sharing with those of us who can’t get there, Mark.

    • You are so right! Play-Doh IS salty. We all know that from shared experience. And silly putty is WAY more tactile then Play-Doh. Nice that you recalled all these commonalities. It’s the bright filament the ties us all together. I’m just glad the garbage failed to sell. Maybe people aren’t so gullible after all.

  10. This is the worst…. no, that one has to be.” And on and on it went for me. I guess the enclosed heap of trash probably wins, but you do indeed have quite a few runners-up here. I’m in charge of taking out to clothes from the dryer in our home before they get wrinkled, so I guess I can practice my own “art” occasionally.

    The untitled Rothko is probably my favorite.

    • It’s hard to pick which is truly the Most Awful of All when there are so many contenders to choose from. Make no mistake; the auctions included some genuine masterpieces. Perhaps I should post more of those so people don’t lose faith. It’s just that these are so much more fun.

  11. Basquiat and Hockney are growing on me. Pollock (yes!) and Rothko are old names to me, but I’ll veer towards their art if I’m in the building. Aah, and Saint Vincent. The rest? To quote an oft-used and over-used expression: “Meh.” Critique on! I’m reading!

    • Hockney is so accessible. Nice, bright colors. Easy to identify imagery. Basquiat is just a mess but I’m beginning to appreciate the messiness. I’m still pissed that he OD’d. He was on top of the mountain. Got to do what he loved for a living. That’s rare air. Most of us end up regular. ‘Meh’ is a legitimate category.

  12. I don’t need art to make me feel queasy but if you insist I’ll take the Hockney. The colours remind me of Australia and the Great Barrier Reef. Also David is a nice Yorkshire lad.

    • Hockney might’ve started in Yorkshire but he is the consummate Los Angeleno now. His work screams that west coast art sensibility. I like it very much. He did some great collages using Polaroids but they’re fading away. Can’t do anything to save them.

  13. The Basquiat, Hockney and Rothko’s are great. I don’t have enough inner joy to let go and like Koons’ work. Not a fan of the Rauschenberg, but not opposed to the use of found material, carefully arranged to amuse the eye. I just don’t think this one is that captivating. You never can get lost enough in it to forget it’s just cardboard. No need to make remarks on the balance. But glad to see that you’re finding enjoyment in J-MB’s work…

    • I love Rauschenberg’s found pieces as well but this one stinks. What is that? So boring. Do you want to see a great one? Click below. It includes a stuffed bald eagle and a great story. There was a big Hockney retrospective at the Met recently. His palate is fruity California hues. That exhibit was on the same floor, right next door, to the epic Michelangelo show they had. Talk about compare and contrast. Yeah, I guess I’m enjoying Basquiat’s work a little more. But I’m still plenty angry at him.

      • Yea. RR was being a bit slack this time round. Hockney is not a natural fit with me, but I love his range, from traditional canvases of the 70s/80s, to photo collages, to iPad ‘paintings’, to this. This one you shared, in particular, triggered an association with Matisse’s later work…for the balance between pure abstract arrangements and objective work, celebratory and positively edifying. J-MB: I understand…maybe one day I’ll find a ‘way in’ to Koons’ work too.

        Have you seen the roof installation at the Met yet?

  14. this post reminds me of the first time I took my kids to see modern art. They just walked around saying “I don’t get it”…they would be beside themselves about those boxes. HA! The grate…super creepy. I kinda like it.

    • Hey, you’re new! How about that! Thanks for taking the time to read an comment. Much obliged.

      I don’t get much of this stuff, either. I respond on a purely visceral level. I look at it and it either moves me or it doesn’t. Does it have pretty colors? All the better. When I read articles in ArtNews about the artist’s intent, I zone OUT. So dull. That’s why I’m not much for political art. I only want to look. I don’t want to think, thank you very much.

      • I’ve been reading your posts for a while and I always find them interesting. Some blogs bore the pants off of me, but I always enjoy reading about city life (as a former city dweller in Chicago) as I now live in the country.
        Thinking too hard about art can give one a headache. My youngest kid still likes to just see the naked paintings at art museums!

      • That’s an incredibly nice thing to say. Thanks, so much. Do you miss Chicago? I would. My Indians whipped your Cubs last night. Heh.

        Do you know what that makes your youngest kid? Normal.

  15. Thanks for reinforcing my long held opinion that almost all modern art is crap. I do enjoy your comments, but I wonder, really wonder about the sanity of people that pay millions for such puerile rubbish.

    • What to my wondering eyes should appear? Is that you? You can disappear for a few years but you can’t be forgotten. Sorry!

      I’d like to think that if I had that kind of money there’s no WAY I’d pay those kind of prices for crap like that. But you know what they say about money; it corrupts. I have no idea what I’d be capable of if given unlimited funds. I might pay $60K for someone’s trash. It could happen.

      • I have always enjoyed your observations, and I think you have too much common sense to do something as daft as that, but if you absolutely feel the need to get rid of $60K, send it my way.

  16. Hurrah, an art post! Next time I’m in a charity shop and see a nightie I’m going to buy it and pin it to my wall with a bull’s skull (I have one thanks to the Mr.) peeking from beneath its hem. Try as I may I can’t defend that particular Hirst offering, I do like my art to have taxed the artist, this just seems lazy. As for the Rauschenberg, what was he thinking? I usually love his work. The Pollock’s my favourite, or is it the Basquiat…?

    • You have an actual bull’s skull? Is it bleached like on of O’Keeffe’s animal skulls? Because you could definitely do something with that.

      I find so much of contemporary art just LAZY. It’s why people make fun. A load of rubbish?! What are they thinking when they promote that stuff!? I hope it doesn’t cause them to overlook a beauty like the Rothko’s’. Some folks would call that lazy–just banding colors–but I think they’re fetching. Maybe it’s better appreciated in person.

      Rauschenberg has WAY better stuff than the above. Even Babe Ruth struck out on occasion.

  17. Your Blog inspired me to have a look at young and upcoming New Zealand artists at a major exhibition in Wellington. SWMBO and myself went along, and were really tempted to buy a couple of pieces.
    One by Jamie Stewart (Golden Shepherd $850) and one by an artist I can’t see in the display, but a very striking impressionist (I think) of a jazz group, full of restrained motion and excitement, about $1200.
    In the end we didn’t, but it was close.
    Have a look yourself, there is some real and improving talent out there, among the usual, rather sad untalented crap.

    • It’s astonishing that I would inspire anyone to do anything! If I could inspire my kids to keep their rooms tidy I’d consider that a major victory. But I’ll take what you’ve gleaned from this post gratefully, thanks.

      You can get some great art for not very much. It’s just the show-offs and rich people with low self esteem who need to spend this kind of money.

  18. Is the one to the left of the Amand rubbish bin an Ellsworth Kelly? Now, if I *did have the millions for one of his, I’d dedfinitely buy it. I do’t know why something so simple can be so endlessly satisfying, but that’s the limit of my brain I suppose. I like his stuff because it’s anti-craft. These pieces that take years to make and those pieces where if you look closely they’re made of some unlikely material — don’t appeal to me as much as two blocks of canvas both painted in one uniform secondary colour.

    • I don’t think it was a Kelly although I can see why you’d think it was. Not a lot of nuance to canvas painted just one shade. I like them in a museum setting but I don’t think I could live with one. My eye would become saturated with just one color.

  19. How did I miss this post? If I’m not here, come fetch me! I mean it! Damn WordPress. Anyway, the sheep…ummm…what? No. Give me the Rothko and the van Gogh, thank you very much.

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