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?!

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
Estimate on Request
Sold for $28,165,000


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!


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


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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


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


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


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.


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.


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


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


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. 


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.


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

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


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


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


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.


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

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


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.


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


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


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.


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


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.”


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


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


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


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
Estimate on Request
Sold for $95,365,000


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.

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


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


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


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


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)


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.