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
Untitled
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
Untitled
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

~~~~~~~~~~

bins

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?!

beeswax, oil and human hair

Anyone interested in what rich folks spent in the fall Impressionist and Contemporary art auctions at Christie’s?

The pickings were slim this season. The theory is that the the U.S. election caused uncertainty among sellers. Nobody wanted to risk cosigning their most valuable pieces in a potentially disastrous economic downturn due to a Trump victory. The stock market has set records since the election so they all guessed wrong. Next spring you’ll see more compelling pieces.

Let’s start with my nemesis. This guy does more to give contemporary art a bad name than anyone else.

Robert Gorber
Untitled
beeswax, wood, oil and, yes, human hair
Est: $2,500,000-3,500,000
Did not sell

gober_butt

In order to be a successful, wealthy artist, you need proper gallery representation. There isn’t a gallery rep on earth who could convince me this has any artistic merit whatsoever.

Jean-Michael Basquiat
Untitled
acrylic and enamel on blanket mounted on tied wood supports with twine
Est: $5,000,000-7,000,000
Sold for $5,847,500

basquiat

Basquiat is another guy I don’t respect. He held the world in the palm of his hand and threw it away on an O.D. Idiot. I find most of his work overly-simplistic and sophomoric, but I like his use of a blanket instead of canvas. I like the textures. His balance of black and red are perfect. He could’ve gone too far in either direction but it works for me.

Are you ready to get creeped out? I walked into a darkened corner of a gallery on Christie’s second floor and was greeted by this beauty:

Isn’t she scrumptious? They’re three white orbs with images projected on each.

Tony Oursler
Woo
fiberglass sculpture, master cassette tapes, 2 DVDs, DVD player and projector
Est: $30,000-40,000
Did not sell

It’s a shame it didn’t sell. I think it’s a creative use of new media. My daughter turned away and couldn’t watch it.

Here’s the big ticket item. God, it was beautiful. It really glowed in person.

Claude Monet
Meule
Estimate on Request (thought to be +/- $45,000,000)
Sold for $81,447,500

monet

Works from Monet’s haystack series rarely come to market. And this is a particularly striking example. They’re as iconic as his water lily series. While typing this section of the post, I kept mistyping “Monet” as “Money.”

Back to the present.

Damien Hirst
Do You Know What I Like About You?
household gloss and butterflies on canvas
Est: $900,000-1,2000,000
Sold for $1,039,500

hirst1

When I first encountered these butterfly paintings I thought it was cruel to kill these beautiful living things for the sake of commerce and art.

hirst2

I still don’t approve but I’ve made peace with it.They’re pretty. He has some pieces with just the wings that are fashioned into cathedral windows that are particularly fetching.

Dan Colen
To be titled
rock and acrylic paint
Est: $7,000-9,000
Sold for $5,000

colen

A rock painted like a green peanut m&m for $5,000. Go ahead. Have your say.

This is a nice Picasso. Its weirdness is easy to decipher.  It’s just different views of the same face. Click on it and look at how thick, bright and juicy his brush strokes are. That’s Picasso’s girlfriend. “Look, honey! I painted a picture of you!” No cuddles that night.

Pablo Picasso
Buste de femme (Dora Maar)
Est: $18,000,000-25,000,000
Sold for $22,647,500

picasso

This guy is a favorite of my brother. I didn’t see the merit in Kandinsky’s work until a big retrospective at the Guggenheim a few years ago. I can’t explain it but you occasionally get these ah-ha moments whereby a body of work suddenly makes sense.

Wassily Kandinsky
Rigide et courbe
oil and sand on canvas
$18,000,000-25,000,000
Sold for $23,319,500

kandinsky1

You read that right. He used SAND. it gave the piece a beautiful depth and texture. I’m thinking he must’ve worked with the canvas resting on the floor. How else could’ve he achieved these fine separations?

kandinsky2

~~~~~~~~~~

I was in Disney World over the election. You barely knew anything political was happening. Disney works HARD to keep the outside world outside. They don’t want the happy bubble they’ve cultivated ruptured by reality.

On election day, we inadvertently found ourselves inside the Hall of Presidents. We hadn’t planned on going but we were inside the Magic Kingdom with time to kill and there was no line, so we went in.

One by one, the audio-animatronic ex-Chief Executives spoke of the gravity of the office and their love of our country. With the weight of election day pressing down, I found myself unexpectedly deeply moved by all this (as opposed to bored to sleep, which is what I anticipated). There were representations all the way up to President Obama. Think what you want about Obama, that guy is a hell of a speaker.

Do you realize they’re going to have to make an animatronic Donald Trump? His words and voice are going to pour from it. Can you imagine? I hope that guy surprises everyone. It can happen.

The Horror. The Horror. More Art Auction Results.

Here’s another batch of results from the November contemporary art auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. While some of these pieces are quite striking, I don’t know that you can consider ANY of them worth what they sold for. They’re trophy pieces that say more about the purchaser than the piece itself, which I believe is by design.

Here’s one of Louis Bourgeois’ beautiful spiders. Christie’s always exhibits a giant sculpture at the entrance. It’s usually one of Jeff Koons’ balloon animals but this wild arachnid does nicely. Another inspiration from the animal kingdom.

Louise Bourgeois
Spider
Estimate on Request
Sold for $28,165,000

bourgeois1

It was unintentional, but I like the juxtaposition of the spider looming over a submissive Modigliani hottie. That’s a pretty raw poster for a public sidewalk, don’t you think? It’s right across from Rockefeller Center! There are little kids all over the place!

bourgeois2

Speaking of…Here’s another Modigliani beauty. The painting reproduced above fetched +$170 million. This one, a modest +$42 million. Modigliani died when he was just 35 from meningitis. He was flat broke.

Amedeo Modigliani
Paulette Jourdain
Estimate on Request
Sold for $42,810,000

modiglianni_paulette

Time for some whimsy. Guess what this is? If you guessed an 85 inch (216 cm) piece of yarn painted three colors and tacked to the wall, give yourself a cookie.

sandback3

Fred Sanderback
Untitled Wall Construction
Estimate: $60,000 – $80,000
Sold for $106,250. Exceeded expectations. Must be quality yarn.

sandback4

I can’t say I’m crazy about this piece but I have a lot of respect for the effort that went into it. You probably think it’s a tapestry but you’d be WRONG. Give the cookie back.

lou1

This is made from tiny, *tiny* glass beads tacked to an aluminum panel.

lou3

Scroll back up and look at the first photo. Imagine the physical act of constructing this. It’s big. 72 x 36 inches (183 x 91 cm). What exacting, tedious, painful work.

Liza Lou
Ofensive (sic)/Defensive
Estimate: $200,000 – $300,000
Did Not Sell. What a pity.

lou2

Balloon swan! C’mon. You’ve got to like this stuff. It’s so NOT serious. Barely qualifies as art, really. That comes as a great relief to me sometimes. Too much serious art gives me a pounding headache.

Jeff Koons
Balloon Swan (Yellow)
Estimate: $15,000,000 – $25,000,000
Sold for $14,725,000

koons

Here are two spectacular Rothkos. There’s such a sameness to his work that you’d think I’d grow tired of looking at this stuff but I never do. I’m convinced you all think I’m nuts but you have to see these Rothkos in a gallery setting. These canvases GLOW. My photos are crap. Don’t trust them.

Mark Rothko
No. 6/Sienna, Orange on Wine
Estimate: $20,000,000 – $30,000,000
Sold for $17,610,000

rothko_sienna

Especially this one. It was set off in a dark corner. The walls surrounding it were painted black and the lighting was perfect. This thing throbbed. I stood there a long time saying hello and goodbye.

Mark Rothko
Untitled (Lavender and Green)
Estimate: $20,000,000 – $30,000,000
Sold for $20,410,000

rothko_lavender

This is one of the last Blue Period Picasso paintings in private hands. Personally, I think it’s kind of ugly although Christie’s insists it’s “striking.” Picasso was broke when he painted it. (He didn’t stay broke for long.) Like many broke-ass painters, he used both sides of the canvas.

picasso_gommeuse1

Christie’s mounted the painting so you could see both sides. You had to walk around a wall constructed in the center of the gallery.

picasso_gommeuse2

The verso illustration was painted upside-down from the front so they set up a mirror that allowed you to view it right-side up. This is Picsso’s friend and flatmate Pere Mañach. It was considered too ribald by Picasso’s early dealers and covered up. This second painting wasn’t discovered until 2000.

Pablo Picasso
La Gommeuse
Estimate on Request
Sold for $67,450,000

picasso_gommeuse3

A piece of stone held up by two iron brackets. On the stone is a little pile of bread, a little pile of sugar and some water. That’s it.

Giovanni Anselmo
Trespolo
Estimate: $100,000 – $150,000
Sold for $122,500

anselmo

Hey, remember Claes Oldenburg’s giant typewriter eraser from the previous auction report? Well, here’s his giant clothespin. Number two from an edition of three. Maybe the fact that there are only two others makes you feel better about spending +$3,000,000 for a giant clothespin. I make fun but I like it.

Claes Oldenburg
Clothespin Ten Foot
Estimate: $1,200,000 – $1,800,000
Sold for $3,637,000. Well done, Claes. 

oldenberg_clothespin

Hey, remember the piece of yarn from above? Same guy. I’m not talking about the yellow cube on the white pedestal. That’s a different piece by a different artist. I’m talking about the piece of red yarn tacked to the floor and wall.

sandback1

Curious. It doesn’t have a title. Can someone suggest a title for this piece?

Fred Sandback
Untitled
Estimate: $200,000 – $300,000
Sold for $221,000

sandback2

I was so thirsty. I turned the corner and was happy to see a water fountain. What a relief! A nice, cool drink…oh…wait…not so fast. It’s made of graphite. Like a pencil? That kind of graphite? Is this like one of Duchamp’s readymades? So lazy.

Adam McEwen
Font
Estimate: $100,000 – $150,000
Sold for $293,000. Well above the estimate. Imagine that.

mcewen

This is from Picasso’s Blue Lobster period. Ha. See what I did there? I only included this painting so I could crack that joke and sound clever. But I do like it. Blue lobsters are rare but real. There’s an aquarium on a New Jersey boardwalk that has one. They’re beautiful.

Pablo Picasso
Le Homard Dans un Panier
Estimate: $1,500,000 – $2,500,000
Sold for $2,165,000

picasso_lobster

Oh, dear. This is Damien Hirst’s medicine cabinet filled with drugs. In his “Pharmaceutical Heaven,” he described the piece as like a body. Originally, he was going to place the remedies for your head on the top shelves, the guts in the middle and those for your feet at the bottom.

hirst1

In the end he went with a pleasing color scheme. That’s what I would’ve done, too.

Damien Hirst
Lies
Estimate: $400,000 – $600,000
Sold for $545,000

hirst2

It has occurred to me that most of the pieces in this review can be considered a joke. Actually, art being subjective, ALL of them could be considered a joke. I usually try to mix the good with the bad but pointing your finger is such delicious fun, isn’t it?


We trimmed our Christmas tree. These two ornaments are my favorites.

shakespeare

The World’s Most Expensive Urinal

I don’t imagine this will be of interest to everyone but I find the subject endlessly fascinating. This is my fall contemporary art auction report. These auctions were held two weeks ago here in New York at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Prior to the auctions, you can visit the galleries and view the lots for free. It’s important to take it in because after the auction, they pass into private collections, never to be seen again.

My last post ended with a cliff-hanger so why don’t we address that first?

Robert Gober
Three Urinals
Estimate: $3,500,000 – $4,500,000
Lot Sold: $3,525,000

gober_urinal_sm I checked my local hardware store and you can get three urinals for about $1,000. I should have peed in one and said I was making an artistic statement and demand payment for my “work.”

I really like Francis Bacon. I came around to him rather late in life. Better late than never. It doesn’t say so explicitly in the title but this is a Pope. Or a Cardinal. I forget which.

Francis Bacon
Seated Figure
Estimate: $40,000,000 – $60,000,000
Lot Sold: $44,965,000

baconWarhol + Harry = LOVE IT. Warhol used metallic paint for many of these celeb paintings and the accent colors really POP when you see them in person. This was also signed by Debbie Harry. I wonder if that played into its value? [Fun fact: Debbie is performing her first show as a cabaret artist in the legendary Café Carlyle this spring. Yup. It’s come to that.]

Andy Warhol
Debbie Harry
Estimate: $2,500,000 – $3,500,000
Lot Sold: $3,077,000

Warhol_harryFor a long time, my least favorite artist was Jean-Michel Basquiat. I still don’t like his work (I’ll keep trying) but Robert Gober is my new least-favorite artist. He’s a charlatan, a fake and a flim-flam man. See that piece on the wall next to his urinal? Guess what that is?

drain1It’s this.

Robert Gober
Drain
Estimate: $300,000 – $500,000
Lot Sold: $293,000

drain2aThat’s it, folks. A drain stuck in the wall. A $293,000 drain. What a fraud.

Here are the two monsters. The ones that made it to the front page of The New York Times the next morning.

Andy Warhol
Triple Elvis [Ferus Type]
Estimate Upon Request
Lot Sold: $81,925,000

Andy Warhol
Four Marlons
Estimate Upon Request
Lot Sold: $69,605,000

warholEstimate Upon Request means they ain’t fucking around. There was a bench situated in front of these and I sat and stared for a while. Little did I suspect that I was looking at $150,000,000 worth of artwork.

This one was in the paper as well because it sold well beyond its pre-auction estimate. The peculiar thing is that unlike the oversized, big-ticket Warhols and Rothkos, this was a relatively small piece measuring just 11 5/8″ x 17 1/2″ (29.5 x 44.4 cm). I don’t mind it. It was vibrant. But not for that much.

Jasper Johns
Flag
Estimate: $15,000,000 – $20,000,000
Lot Sold: $36,005,000

johnsThis piece is huge. It measures 112 x 142 x 66 in. (284.5 x 360.7 x 167.6 cm). You don’t think this is supposed to be a gigantic…naaaa…no way.

Robert Morris
Vetti V
Estimate $150,000 – $200,000
Did Not Sell

morrisAnd speaking of Did Not Sell…this piece is from Damien Hirst, the fella who brought us a giant great white shark in a tank of formaldehyde and paintings made from butterfly wings.

Damien Hirst
Dog Days
Estimate: $500,000 – $700,000
Did Not Sell

hurst1Would you like to know what’s on all those shelves? It’s these:

hurst2I consider El Anatsue a bit of a genius. He’s a Ghanaian sculptor who makes these beautiful, flowing wall pieces. The Brooklyn Museum exhibited his work a couple of years ago and I still haven’t caught my breath.

El Anatsue
Man’s Cloth II
Estimate: $700,000 – $1,000,000
Lot Sold: $989,000

anatsui1Here’s what his pieces are constructed of:

anatsui2He collects thousands of aluminum bands from wine and beer bottles and painstakingly connects them using copper wire. He’s very intentional about the distribution of color and texture. His work shimmers.

I’ve always been a fan of Mark Rothko and this is one of the best pieces I’ve ever seen by him. I stood there and just let it wash over me. Sometimes, bigger IS better.

Mark Rothko
No. 21 (Red, Brown, Black and Orange)
Estimate Upon Request
Lot Sold: $44,965,000

rothkoPart of what fascinates me about these auctions is just how subjective they are and how some super-wealthy people can be talked into liking works with questionable merits. This is by Chinese artist/dissident Ai Weiwei, who I’m actually a fan of, but maybe not so much in this instance. It’s a pile of…

Ai Weiwei
He Xie
Estimate: $600,000 – $800,000
Lot Sold: 605,000

wiwi1…porcelain crabs, of course..

wiwi2I’d been indifferent towards Adolph Gottlieb’s work, neither liking nor disliking it, but I turned a corner and was gobsmacked with this. The photo is inadequate. It’s the perfect balance of color and shape, one playing off the other. I love when this happens. When an artist’s intent is suddenly revealed to you. I’ll have to reconsider my indifference.

Adolph Gottlieb
Red and Blue
Estimate: $2,000,000 – $3,000,000
Lot Sold: $2,165,000

gottliebI’ve got a few more but I’ll stop with this lot. I think it’s an appropriate coda. It’s by Christopher Wool and even though he didn’t title it, I think we can surmise from the content, what someone paid for it and the overall spirit of these auctions what the title should be.

Christopher Wool
Untitled
Estimate: $12,000,000 – $18,000,000
Lot Sold: $14,165,000

fool


Bonus Track. I accidentally took this while walking through Sotheby’s. I flipped the pic 180° and like the effect. I look like I’m walking towards myself. How meta.

Estimate Upon Request.

feet

Art auction addendum: A piece that disgusts me

Typically, I don’t do back-to-back auction posts but there are extenuating circumstances. Some of the galleries at Christie’s were vacated after an auction last week so they put more pieces on display from this week’s Post-War and Contemporary Art auction. Here are a few more high (low?) lights and one piece that I found deeply offensive and depressing.

This frivolity is by Maurizio Cattelan.

cattelan-e1384199032450

Frank and Jamie. $1,500,000–2,500,000
Sold for $965,000. What a deal!

This was good for a laugh but, again, I have to wonder about the practicality of a piece like this. Where would you put it? In the foyer? The estimate may provide the biggest laugh.

But this isn’t the one that offended me.

This beauty is by British bad boy (no, not Banksy) Damian Hirst

hirst_lg1-e1384199279628

Inviolability. $900,000–1,200,000
Sold for $1,205,000

I saw one of these in the Cleveland Museum of Art over the summer. A security guard yelled at me for taking a picture of it. You know what is is made of, don’t you? Butterfly wings.

hirst_lg2-e1384199247141

Thousands and thousands of butterfly wings. He breeds them specifically for these pieces. Here’s the center.

hirst_lg3

The materials used are listed as “…butterflies and household gloss on canvas mounted on panel.” Here’s another piece that’s smaller.

hirst_sm1

Psalm 28: Ad Te, Domine. $150,000–200,000
Sold for $305,000

And the detail.

hirst_sm2

They’re beautiful but cruel. Yet, they didn’t offended me.

This sculpture is by Antony Gormley and I loved it.

gormley-e1384199332942

Domain LXVI. $400,000–600,000
Sold for $545,000

There’s something about the way it stood in a pool of light and glistened when you walked by that really worked for me. It somehow manages the trick of being both slight and powerful at the same time. Obviously, this isn’t the one that offended me.

I was offended by this.

murakami_11-e1384199202199

3-Meter Girl. $2,000,000–3,000,000
DID NOT SELL. Of course, it didn’t.

Horrible. This ugly objectification of women is courtesy of Takashi Murakami. Do you know how you’re supposed to respect other cultures and not criticize what they might consider art? That it’s okay to not like something, but to condemn is it in poor taste? Well, in the words of Le Clown, fuck that noise. Can anyone tell me what’s wrong with Japanese men? They seem to have a proclivity towards sex-up little girls. Do they feel threatened and intimidated by adult women?

murakami_2-e1384199113975

All I kept thinking was that I’ve got two beautiful daughters at home and how, no matter what age, I wouldn’t want them looking at this. I wondered what it would do to their body image and self esteem.

murakami_3-e1384199075589

Or, do I just need to lighten up? Go ahead. You can tell me. I can take it. I do like how this last photo came out, though. Good composition and shadowing.

murakami_4