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?!

The spring art auctions: money amok

It’s the time of the season when we turn our beer-soaked attentions towards the modern art world and gaze, in dumbfounded disbelief, at what hedge fund princes, Russian oligarchs and Sheiks of Araby spend on what they are assured by gallery owners and auction houses to be Beautiful and Important objects d’art.

This spring’s Impressionist and Modern Art auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s were fairly staid affairs. There were no earth-quaking pieces that set me all aquiver. That’s happened, you know! I’ve turned corners and have been confronted with canvases that looked alive to me. That didn’t happen this time.

I’m going to start with the piece that’s likely to insult the most number of people. There was a WARNING posted outside the small gallery where this was displayed that some people might find the content upsetting.

A dark room with a spotlight trained on a small sculpture of a kneeling man/boy. What could possibly be so offensive about that, you might wonder?

him1

A visitor knelled beside him for perspective.

him2

Walk around to the front of the sculpture and all is revealed.

Maurizio Cattelan
Him
wax, human hair, suit, polyester resin and pigment
Estimate: $10,000,000 – $15,000,000
Sold for $17,189,000

him3

Oh. That guy. You can see how this might meet with some disfavor. There was a guard posted and only a few people were allowed in at a time. Part of the reason it sold for above the high estimate is that Maurizio Cattelan is The Hot Shit right now. He’s about to install a working 18-karat, solid-gold toilet in the bathroom of the Guggenheim. I’m going to poop in it. I am!

This following piece is more playful and easier to digest. I’ve seen these before and actually think I could put one in the corner of my living room and enjoy it. It’s suspended in sodium chloride reagent and distilled water.

Jeff Koons
One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J Silver Series)
Estimate on Request
Sold for $15,285,000

koons ball1

I didn’t like Jeff Koons for a long while but I became so exhausted with hating stuff that I decided to give in and enjoy it. Plus, it does this cool refraction trick when you look at it from an angle.

koons ball2

Look at this lovely Monet. If you’re familiar with his work, you might be wondering about its unusual dimensions. You’re not going to believe what I’m about to tell you.

Claude Monet
Le bassin aux nymphéas
Estimate: $25,000,000 – $35,000,000
Sold for $27,045,000

monet

This is only half the painting. An unscrupulous dealer divided the canvas sometime before 1944 because, you know, two painting sell for more than one. This is the right half. The left half is in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. I think they should’ve bought it and hung it next to its missing half.

If the Tel Aviv Museum of art couldn’t come up with $27M for the other half of their Monet, perhaps they could’ve coughed-up $2M for this gigantic stick of butter:

Robert Gober
Untitled
Estimate: $1,500,000 – $2,500,000
Sold for $2,285,000

butter

I can’t stand Robert Gober. What a fake What a charlatan. It’s crap like this that turns contemporary art into a punchline.

This might prove to be divisive but I like Francis Bacon. Art is so subjective (although not subjective enough to qualify a giant stick of butter legitimate art). These are self-portrait studies. Wouldn’t it be awesome if you met him and his face was all smeared like that?

Francis Bacon
Two Studies for a Self-Portrait
Estimate: $22,000,000 – $30,000,000
Sold for: $34,970,000

bacon

I usually save my harshest barbs for Jean-Michel Basquiat. He passed his scribbles and half-baked canvases off as finished work. They’re lazy affairs. And aside from that, his dreams came true and he threw it away on drugs. What a stupid ass. But I finally, after all these years, found a piece of his to admire in this gigantic canvas. He rarely worked this big. You’ve got to grudgingly hand it to him on this one. I intentionally waited until that lady walked in the frame for perspective.

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Untitled
Estimate on Request
Sold for $57,285,000

basquiat

There was a shocking dearth of Rothkos offered for sale. These auctions typically feature a few juicy pieces. This season, we only had this one and another smaller piece to choose from. This is another painting I think I could live with, although I’d have to buy a much bigger house to accommodate it.

Mark Rothko
No. 17
Estimate: $30,000,000 – $40,000,000
Sold for $32,645,000

rothko

I took this group shot and realized that, individually, they’re interesting enough but if you bought ALL THREE and displayed them just as you see here, you’d really have something to drive the neighbors insane with envy.

Roy Lichtenstein
Sunrise
Estimate: $300,000 – $400,000
Sold for $418,000

Andy Warhol
Campbell’s Tomato Juice Box
Estimate: $300,000 – $400,000
Did Not Sell

Keith Harring
Untitled
Estimate: $450,000 – $650,000
Sold for $745,000

roth_andy_keith

When I walked into the gallery I was instantly drawn to the pile of white objects on the floor. From a distance, you really couldn’t tell what they were.

Christian Marclay
Boneyard
Estimate: $600,000 – $800,000
Sold for $550,000

boneyard1

In memoriam:

[Brrring] the phone rang and she said
“Whoever’s calling can’t be as cute as you”
Right then and there I knew I was through

“The Ballad of Dorothy Parker”
Prince

boneyard2

Damien Hirst is another guy who raises a lot of rankles but I find some of it clever enough. People seem particularly bothered by the raw cruelty of raising butterflies in order to use their wings for paintings, but they’re quite beautiful. If you saw this in person you might have a change of heart.

Damien Hirst
Psalm 46: Deus noster refugium
Butterflies and household gloss on canvas
Estimate: $80,000 – $120,000
Sold for $161,000

hurst

I’ve got more that’ll make you grind your molars to dust and question the direction contemporary art, not to mention all of humanity, is taking but I’m pushing 1,000 words and I don’t want to break my own Cardinal Rule of Blogging so I’ll leave you with these; one I like and one that deserves scorn heaped upon it. I leave it to you to decide which is which.

Jeff Koons
Smooth Egg with Bow (Magenta/Violet)
Estimate: $7,000,000 – $10,000,000
Sold for $7,445,000

koons

Cady Noland
Chicken in a Basket
Twenty-seven elements, wire basket, rubber chicken, boxes, bottle, flags, baster, bungee and beer cans
Estimate: $350,000 – $450,000
Sold for $305,000

chicken

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

monet

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

braque1

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.

braque2

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

bacon_green

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.”

torres1

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

torres2

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

warhol_oldenberg

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

fontana

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
Nurse
Estimate on Request
Sold for $95,365,000

lichtenstein_nurse

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.

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

arman

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

picasso_femme

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

picasso_homme

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

twommbly

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)

lichtenstein_glass

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.

Wall Decor for the 1%

It’s time for my semi-annual Modern and Impressionist art auction review. In the spring and fall I visit Christie’s gallery at Rockefeller Center to view the beautiful/horrible art up for auction. Thank Fog for pre-auction public viewings. These pieces are passing from one private collection to another. Once the auction is over, they’ll be squirreled away above a mantle in Beijing or Moscow or Dubai, never to be seen in public again. So you’ve got to look when you have the chance. Lets get right to it. I’ll start with the stuff I like and finish with the junk. As always, feel free to agree or disagree (if you must).


I dig Modigliani. I never tire of his hollow, empty eyes. If I could have anyone paint my portrait, I’d choose him. Jeune homme roux assis (1919).

modiglianiEst: $8,000,000-12,000,000. Sold for $17,637,000. Not bad.


This was one of the big-ticket paintings. Nymphéas by Monet (1907). One of his rare water lily paintings, it hung in the dining room of a reclusive heiress, unseen, for EIGHTY YEARS.

monet1Est: $25,000,000-35,000,000. Sold for $27,045,000

I dragged Daughter with me. We visited Christie’s before seeing a play starring her heartthrob, Daniel Radcliffe. That was the bait. She wanted to see Harry Potter on stage, I wanted to expose her to Martin McDonagh, my favorite contemporary Irish playwright, and show her some art. It was a fair exchange.

monet2


This is Jim Beam—J.B. Turner Train by Jeff Koons (1986). He’s nutty. In the good way. This is the same guy who made those giant balloon dog sculptures. This is made from stainless steel. It was mounted on a pedestal in the middle of a room with black walls. Bright lights beamed down on it. It was very shiny.

koonsEst: On Request. Oh, really?! Sold for $33,765,000


Portrait de femme (Dora Maar) by Picasso (1942). I tried to explain to Daughter how these are different views of the same woman. A composite. I don’t think she was buying my art-speak bullshit but you’ve got to try. The auction catalog said this was painted in one day. August 5, 1942.

picasso

Est: $25,000,000-35,000,000. Sold for $22,565,000


Tangotee by Ernst Kirchner (1919-21). I like this guy a lot. A good German expressionist painter. Kirchner is a recent discovery. I attended a Kirchner exhibit at the Guggenheim a couple of years ago and have been smitten ever since.

kirchnerEst: $1,000,000-1,500,000. Sold for $2,045,000


I’ve started to pay more attention to sculpture. This startling figure is Main crispee gauche avec figure implorante by Rodin (1907). Seems this woman is in peril. I wonder who the hand is supposed to be?

rodin

Est: $50,000-70,000. Sold for $50,000


Every auction has at least one fetching Rothko painting. Untitled (1952). I’d like this hanging on my wall at home. A lot of this stuff is nice to look at, but I couldn’t live with it. This piece would calm my ass down.

rothkoEst: On request. Egads! Not again!? Sold for $66,245,000


Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards by Francis Bacon (1984). Bacon is hot. [Ha. I did that on purpose.] Last fall, his triptych of Lucian Freud sold for $142,400,000, so now everyone who owns a Bacon thinks it’s a good time to sell. This is one of those pieces I love to look at but couldn’t live with.

bacon1

Here’s a detail of the third painting.
bacon2

Est: On Request. It’s an epidemic! Sold for $80,805,000. That’s a lot.


There’s always a healthy representation of Warhol. This is Race Riot (1964). It’s considered one of his more important works because of its serious subject matter. No celebrity glitz or transsexual fun here. Just a group of Birmingham cops setting the dogs lose on a lone black man. Red, white and blue. Same as old glory.

warhol

Est: On Request. All these ‘estimate on request’ pieces are giving me an inferiority complex. I can’t even ask what it costs?! The last thing I need is a new benchmark for my own mediocrity. Sold for $62,885,000.


From the left, Chagall’s La Fenêtre ($3,133,000), Miró’s L’étoile insaisissable ($3,637,000) and Léger’s Grande nature morte ($2,165,000). Daughter in the middle: priceless.

sam2Are you guys ready for some crap? Or, perhaps you feel you’ve already seen some. No matter. Onward. This is the stuff that makes me laugh. Once again, here’s proof positive that wealth is a lousy barometer for good taste. Hang in there for the shocking conclusion.

I’m going to try—like I do at every auction, year after year—to appreciate Jean-Michael Basquiat’s work. I’m going to wipe the slate clean reject all my preconceived notions, take a step back and study this. I’ll give it serious consideration. Untitled (1981).

basquiat2Est: $20,000,000-30,000,000. Sold for $34,885,000. Nope. Didn’t work. It’s still CRAP.


Untitled (1964) by Cy Twombly. Signed and dated ‘Cy Twombly 64’ lower center. WHERE?! I don’t see it.Oh…wait…I think I see a ‘4’. It’s crap.

twomblyEst: $5,000,000-7,000,000. Sold for $7,445,000


Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (712) (1990). Oh, how I hate Richter’s work. The very first time I laid eyes one of his paintings I hated it. And I don’t like this one, either. It’s lazy slop without any rhythm or emotion. I don’t understand it. I don’t want to understand it.

richterEst: $22,000,000-28,000,000. Sold for $29,285,000


Here it is, brothers and sisters. The one you’ve been waiting for. The worst of the worst. And that’s saying something. This is The Silent Sink (1984) by Robert Gober. The medium is plaster, wire, wood and semi-gloss enamel paint. It’s a sink. A fucking sink.

sinkEst: $2,000,000-3,000,000. Sold for $4,197,000. I have no witticisms for this. It makes me kind of sad, actually. It seems you can get to a point where you have so much money that you lose touch with reality. Four million. Give me a break. Thank God they didn’t give any of that money to poor people. They’d have just wasted it on stupid stuff, like food or housing.