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).
Est: $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.
Est: $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.
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.
Est: 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.
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.
Est: $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?
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.
Est: 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.
Here’s a detail of the third painting.
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.
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.
Are 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).
Est: $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.
Est: $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.
Est: $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.
Est: $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.