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?!

I am not the enemy, ladies.


April 6, 1992

Should I feel guilty about having fun at the pro-choice rally in D.C.? I believe in the cause wholeheartedly. It’s a matter of life and death. But Suzanne asked me to go with her and her friends and I wanted to seduce her. It was mayhem, as expected. The crowd was estimated at a half million people. How can they know for sure? Regardless, I think we got our point across.

I thought it was going to be a gentle, rolling sea of delightful bachelorettes but it was actually a raging tsunami of pissed-off political militants. There were portions of the rally that were downright anti-man. I felt like the enemy. I am not the enemy! I’ll tell you what it was a sea of: lily white faces. 100% Caucasian. Where was the minority representation? It’s their cause, too.

Planned Parenthood sponsored a special non-stop train there and back. I stopped at the Middle Eastern bakery on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn the night before to load up on snacks for the trip. I bought dried apples, cashews, dried bananas, peanuts, dried apricots, yoghurt covered raisins, some breads and a big bottle of water, the total of which weighed about 70 pounds. I got the gold medal for snacks. A fun, healthy, politically progressive combo. By the end of the day my body ached for a thick, undercooked cheeseburger. They all brought boring stuff to eat and glommed off my stash.

We got to the Washington Monument late in the morning. Bella Abzug spoke as well as the editor of Ms. Magazine and a bunch of other women. No men. None of them said anything new or inspirational. I was disappointed. You’d think a crowd that size would light their words on fire but each speaker was as boring and predictable at the next. Peter Paul & Mary sang “If I Had a Hammer.” Seriously? It’s not 1968, you idiots. Do something relevant.

We moved to the stepping-off point for the march and waited, literally, an hour before we could walk. It was that crowded. We were packed pretty tight and Suzanne started to have a panic attack so I told her to close her eyes and rest her head on my chest. I got excited. They had a bunch of boring, stock protest chants so I wrote this one on the spot:

I wish Bush could ovulate.

We finally moved and marched past the White House, which I’d never seen in person. It’s tiny. It’s like a toy model of the real thing. El Presidente made damn sure he was in Camp David for the weekend.

The march ended at the other end of The Mall by the Capitol Building. More bad speeches. Cindi Lauper sang a pretty song. There were a bunch of neo-hippies banging bongos, congas and drums with broken skins. At one point, Suzanne and I were sitting on a curb resting. I was spinning my web when, suddenly, bunch of them formed a drum circle around us and started drumming and chanting. There was some freeform interpretive dance that made me laugh very hard (inside). They resembled dying poultry.

There were so many different agendas being addressed that I began to feel disengaged from the core reason for the march. There was a feminist speaking (screaming, actually), calling for a new political party composed of just women, gays and minorities and with that voting bloc, they would take the White House this fall. Let me know how that works out, dreamers. Oh, and by the way, thanks a lot. Part of her speech was an attack on Middle America. You know, where my family is from. She screamed, “They don’t want US, so WE DON’T WANT THEM!” That’s a marvelous approach to our problems. Build those bridges, cupcake.

We got back to Penn Station about 11:30 at night. Everyone was exhausted, dirty and quiet. On the way up the escalator I thought the girl in front of me looked an awful lot like Mary Stewart Masterson. In the Times this morning, it said she attended, so I suppose that was her. Pretty.

I spoke to many, many people throughout the day and at some point in a conversation, I was eventually asked, “So, where did you go to school?” I like the look of disbelief on people’s faces when I tell them I’ve never stepped foot on a college campus. It allows me a brief respite from my self-loathing, which usually returns in fairly short order.


There’s a great Stuart Davis exhibit at the Whitney. He’s one of my favs. He plays to my graphic design sensibilities.

On June 23, 1964, after watching a French film that ended with ‘fin,’ Davis added it to the painting on his easel before going to bed.


That night, he had a stroke and died in the ambulance on the way to New York’s Roosevelt Hospital. That’s how I’d like to go. Do the thing I love the most, go to bed and never wake up.


Two from Christie’s contemporary art auction a few months ago:

Christopher Wool
And If You
Enamel on aluminum
Est: $12,000,000-18,000,000
Sold for $13,605,000

Jeff Koons
Mirror-polished stainless steel
Est: $6,000,000-8,000,000
Sold for $6,885,000


That Christopher Wool is such a fraud. But Jeff Koons! What an innovator! Only $6 million?

Kidding. What does either piece mean? Anything? The lobster was interesting in that it looked exactly like an inflatable pool toy. You didn’t know it was metal unless you rapped it a few times with your knuckle.

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.