Little Bo Peep lost her sheep and now it’s floating in a tank of formaldehyde

The spring Contemporary and Impressionist auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s just wrapped up and now that they’re over, none of these pieces will ever be seen in public again. In many cases, that’s okay. I saw someone describe this season’s offerings at a solid B+ and I’d have to agree. Aside from a Rothko, nothing really blew my sox off. I’ll keep my pithy remarks to a minimum. As always, feel free to heartily disagree.

Damien Hirst
Away from the Flock
Glass, painted steel, silicone, acrylic, plastic, lamb and formaldehyde
Est: $4,000,000 – 6,000,000
Sold for: $4,412,500

It’s a lamb. Floating in a tank of formaldehyde.

He’s pulled this sort of thing before. He did it with a great white shark and even a cow cut in half. Art as a spectacle. $4.4M. Hirst is currently at his estate laughing his ass off.

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Flesh and Spirit
Oil stick, gesso, acrylic and paper on canvas
Estimate Upon Request
Sold for: $30,711,000

A huge piece. I am slowly coming around to Basquiat. I still hold him in contempt for throwing it all away on an O.D. but am beginning to see some value in his work. It’s the same urban Lower East Side environ I spent so many years in.

David Hammons
Maternity
Wood mask and cotton nightgown
Est: $1,400,000 – 1,800,000
Sold for: $975,000

A nighty tacked to the wall. You can’t see it in the pic but there’s a chunk of painted wood underneath. What does it mean? Can anyone tell me? $975K would put both my daughters through school with enough left over to buy myself a snow cone machine.

David Hockney
Piscine de Medianoche (Paper Pool 30)
Est: $5,000,000 – 7,000,000
Sold for: $11,743,800

A vivid, beautiful piece. Interesting for its construction. Made from colored and pressed paper pulp. Much more tactile in person. I liked the deckle edges of each section.

Arman
Grande Poubelle (Large Rubbish Bin)
Plexiglas box, painted wood, accumulated studio refuse
Est: $60,000 – 80,000
Did not sell

It’s garbage from the artist’s studio. I think I took about $2,000 worth of art to the curb last night. Didn’t sell, which fills me with hope for the human race.

Jackson Pollock
Number 32
Est: $30,000,000 – 40,000,000
Sold for: $34,098,000

Magnificent (to me). Nice and bright. Pollock’s color displacement is better in some works than in others and this is one of the best I’ve seen.

Jeff Koons
Play-Doh
Polychromed aluminum
Estimate on Request
Sold for: $22,812,500

It’s an aluminum mountain of Play-Doh. My sweet Lord. Where would you put something like this? Playful, yet, dumb.

Robert Gober
Untitled
Bronze, wood, brick, beeswax, human hair, recycling pump, water, latex paint
Est: $6,000,000 – 8,000,000
Sold for: $7,287,500

Gober is my bête noire. A fake. A charlatan. What’s with all the drains in his work? This includes a pump that circulates running water. He is also currently at home laughing his ass off.

Mark Rothko
Untitled
Oil on paper mounted on canvas
Est: $7,000,000 – 10,000,000
Sold for: $18,856,500

I like Rothko and my fondness for his work has grown over the years. This was beautifully lit. It glowed. I could live with this. Forever. A shame about the $18M+.

Robert Rauschenberg
Sacred / Universal No. 7/3 Times (Cardboard)
Cardboard and tape on plywood
Est: $250,000 – 350,000
Sold for $225,000

Cardboard boxes affixed to the wall. What’s the appeal? Perhaps it’s the way they’re arranged?

Vincent Van Gogh
Vue de l’asile et de la Chapelle Saint-Paul de Mausole (Saint-Rémy)
Est: $35,000,000 – 55,000,000
Sold for: $39,687,500

Thick and juicy. Mainstream popularity be damned; I’m still enamored with his work. That poor bastard died broke. He’s not at home laughing.

Jeff Koons
Balloon Rabbit (Red), Balloon Monkey (Blue), Balloon Swan (Yellow) [Three Works]
Est: $20,000 – $30,000
Sold for: $81,250

Adorable. Easier to display than his monstrous balloon dog. More affordable, too (relatively speaking).

Two fun stories about two odd paintings

Everyone was out on Friday evening so instead of going home to an empty house I walked over to MoMA. There’s a modest Jackson Pollock exhibit.

Jackson Pollock
Full Fathom Five 1947

Pollock1

This is considered to be one of his first ‘drip’ paintings. What a mess! But I like it. I wonder what possessed him to take his canvas off the easel and lay it on the floor? He used traditional oil paint but he also used house paint. He threw a lot of other junk in, too. You have to get close to see the other stuff. So close that you’ll be yelled at by the museum guard. Take it from me. It’s like a treasure hunt. Within the folds of paint you can find:

A skeleton key.

Pollock2

Paint tube caps.

Pollock5

Coins.

Pollock4

Some nails.

Pollock6

A cigarette and another coin.

Pollock3

Pushpins and thumbtacks.

Pollock7

The title was suggested by Pollock’s neighbor. It’s a quote about a shipwreck from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

“Full fathom five thy father lies
Of his bones are coral made
Those are pearls that were his eyes.”

Isn’t that beautiful? People stopped paying attention to him after the drip paintings. It’s as if Led Zeppelin sang ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and nothing else. Poor Jackson. It drove him mad. He wrapped his car around a tree in a drunken fit. Is it better to have known greatness, only to have it snatched away? Or are you better off never knowing?

Robert Rauschenberg
Canyon 1959

canyon1

He used a little bit of everything. Oil, paper, metal, photos, fabric, wood, canvas, buttons, a mirror, a pillow, cardboard and, yes, a taxidermied bald eagle. It’s a combination of painting, collage and sculpture all balled into one using found objects. He called these pieces Combines. He’d walk around downtown New York (we’re talking 1959 downtown) and pick up items that inspired him. Clearly, the centerpiece is that bald eagle.

canyon2

It was given to him by fellow artist Sari Dienes. She found it in a hallway of the Carnegie Hall studio building. The rumor is it was killed and stuffed by one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. I wonder how it got to Carnegie Hall?

Bald eagles are a protected species, so selling this would be a felony. Consequently, when the owner passed away and bequeathed it to her children, the appraisers valued it at $0. The IRS disagreed and said it’s worth $65 million and they wanted $29.2 million in inheritance taxes, thank you very much. To get the IRS off their backs, they agreed to donate it to MoMA and MoMA agreed to always have it on display for the public to enjoy.

Four people sitting on a bench texting.

moma1

And where is this bench? In front of this:

moma2

Why bother to let one of Monet’s most vibrant tryptics wash over you when social media beckons? I wish I could report that they were absorbed MoMA’s museum app but, sadly, they were not. They were texting.

The bigger question here is: What the hell is wrong with me? Why am I in their lives? They’re not blocking my view of the painting. Why do I give a damn what they’re doing? This is the opposite of Zen detachment. I feel like a bitchy old man complaining about those damn kids and their newfangled technologies.

It is a shame, though. If I could un-invent mobile phones I’d do it in a second.

It was the last weekend for the monumental Picasso sculpture exhibit so it was pretty crowded. I’d like to propose a new rule: If you have a stroller, you can’t come into an art museum. They banned selfie sticks. Why wouldn’t the ban strollers?

Pablo’s clever guitars on a table.

Cardboard

Picasso guitar2

Metal

Picasso guitar1

Mixed media

Picasso guitar3

ART is MONEY. MONEY is ART. The spring auction report.

“There’s something slightly boastful wanting to own these things. And there’s a prevalent sense that this is also about asset gathering, not just collecting.”

Abigail Asher
Art Consultant

Well, that’s the understatement of the year. I don’t imagine this post will get a lot of play, but I find this stuff endlessly fascinating. It was a record week at the spring Contemporary and Impressionist art auctions. Christie’s alone sold over $1 billion worth of art. As always, a splendid time was had by the 1%.


Alas, poor Vincent. Only sold one lousy painting his whole life. And that was to his brother. He’s doing okay now. This was a great piece. The blue was more vibrant than what you see here.

Vincent Van Gogh
L’Alle des Alyscamps

Estimate on Request, but believed to be +/- $40,000,000.
Sold for $66,300,000

van goghIt’s hard to look at this and feel indifferent. People either love Pollock or hate him. I understand why folks might have a problem with this, but I liked it.

Jackson Pollock
Number 12, 1950
Estimate: $15,000,000-20,000,000
Sold for $18,282,000

pollockI’ve just recently developed an appreciation for sculpture. Late to the game. If I could have this piece on this pedestal with this lighting, I’d take it.

Alberto Giacometti
Buste de Diego (Amenophis)
Estimate: $6,000,000-8,000,000
Sold for $12,794,000

giacomettiContemporary art snobs disparage the Impressionists as being about as challenging as a Hallmark greeting card. Well, screw them. I like it. Art snobs should remember: Impressionism is a gateway drug. A few years of these guys and the next thing you know you’re curious about the Pre-Raphaelites. In the comic strip Doonsbury, prototype slacker Zonker Harris won $23 million in the lottery and spent $1 million on a Monet. He hung it above his refrigerator but subsequently sold it to purchase a royal title in the British aristocracy.

Claude Monet
Nympheas
Estimate: $30,000,000-45,000,000
Sold for $54,010,000

monet_waterliliesA smattering of contemporary pieces.

Keith Harring
Dog (Three Works)
Estimate: $500,000-700,000
Sold for $1,690,000 

Robert Indiana
Love
Estimate: $400,000-600,000
Sold for $538,000 

Barbara Kruger
Untitled (Provenance)
Estimate: $120,000-180,000
Sold for $394,000

harringYou’ve got to hand it to Jeff Koons. He has a talent for making wealthy people look foolish. Three Hoovers in Plexiglas with fluorescent lights. The lot description said this was executed in 1980-1986. This took six years?!

Jeff Koons
New Hoover Deluxe Shampoo Polishers
Estimate: $5,000,000-7,000,000
Sold for $5,765,000

koons2This Rothko was described as being unusually bright. That’s putting it mildly! Rothko’s color palate trends towards deathly earth tones. This was owned by Bunny Melon. Pronounce her name with a clenched jaw. You can’t get Waspier than that.

Mark Rothko
Untitled (Yellow and Blue)
Estimate: $40,000,000-60,000,000
Sold for $46,450,000

rothkoI’m posting this Mondrian right after a Rothko intentionally. Rothko famously fumed that, “I am not a formalist. I have no interest in Mondrian. My paintings do not deal in space. Mondrian divides a canvas; I put thing on it.”

Piet Mondrian
Composition No. III with Red, Blue, Yellow and Black
Estimate: $15,000,000-25,000,000
Sold for: $50,565,000—a world record for a Mondrian

I love both the Rothko and the Mondrian. If I could, I’d buy both and hang them next to one anotheer. Heh.

Spooky and rich. This feeds both my desire to own an Impressionist masterpiece and my bottomless pit of Anglophilia.

Claude Monet
The Houses of Parliament at Sunset
Estimate: $35,000,000-45,000,000
Sold for $40,485,000

monet_westminsterThis Lichtenstein is thought to have missed the estimate because, believe it or not, it doesn’t contain one of his trademark comic book speech bubbles, which can add millions to a piece. WTF, art world?

Roy Lichtenstein
The Ring (Engagement)
Estimate on Request, but thought to be around $50,000,000
Sold for $41,690,000

lichtensteinAll of Gerhard Richter’s works are an insult to the brushes he loaded with paint and the canvases he dragged them across. A giant mess.

Gerhard Richter
Abstraktes Bild
Estimate on Request
Sold for $28,250,000

richterHere’s another in a series of nothings from Jean-Michael Basquiat. He threw his life away on heroin addiction. Stupid ass. A door painted on two sides.

Jean-Michael Basquiat
Untitled
Estimate: $3,000,000-6,000,000
Sold for $3,610,000

basquiat-door1This O’Keeffe is being offered in the May 20th American Art auction but included it here because I think it’s magnificent. O’Keeffe was angry that people interpreted her flower paintings as female genitalia. That was never her intent.

Georgia O’Keeffe
White Calla Lily
Estimate: $8,000,000-12,000,000

I hadn’t intended to include this Rothko. I was afraid of Rothko-overkill and the photo doesn’t do it justice. This was hung in a side gallery. The lights were dim and there was a bench set in front of it. I sat down and realized there was also relaxing spa music playing at a barely-audible level. I got kind of lost in the canvas. I had an out-of-body experience, which is what I believed Rothko intended. It sold for an extraordinary amount of cash.

Mark Rothko
No. 10
Estimate on request
Sold for $81,925,000

rothko n0 10I showed this to a friend who’s an artist. He’s a master at watercolor. His comment was, “Nice flesh tones.” Well, that might be true but I couldn’t look at this hanging on my wall every day. Fun fact: Lucian Freud was the grandson of Sigmund Freud.

Lucian Freud
Benefits Supervisor Resting
Estimate: $30,000,000-50,000,000
Sold for $56,165,000

freudI like Anish Kapoor’s work. This concave disk is made of stainless steel and gold. It was mounted in a small room and smacked you as soon as you turned the corner. It’s all in the lighting, folks.

Anish Kapoor
Untitled
Estimate: $750,000-1,000,000
Sold for $905,000

kapoorHere’s what happens when you stand too close to it.

FullSizeRender(5)I wasn’t going include this Damian Hirst butterfly-wing piece because I’ve done a few of them in the past and I hate being redundant, but this is a particularly striking example so I couldn’t resist.

Damian Hirst
Freedom
Estimate: $500,000-700,000
Sold for $629,000

hirst1 hirst2Here’s a funny one. Oh, golly, you’re going to laugh and laugh! These are words painted on a wall. How big it is depends on you. The lot description reads:

“Any size as suits the needs and desires of the receiver.”

Which, I guess, means Weiner comes to your house and paints this on a wall. Now, THERE’S a piece that can be easily forged.

Lawrence Weiner
Balls of Wood Balls of Iron
Estimate: $80,000-120,000
Sold for $185,000

weiner2

This means when the auction is over and Christie’s paints that wall, they’re painting over a $185,000 “masterpiece.”

You are looking at $181,770,000 worth of art. I walked through this gallery with my backpack on. One false turn and you’d have read about me in the paper.

Mark Rothko
No. 36 (Black Stripe)
Estimate: $30,000,000-50,000,000
Sold for $40,485,000

Alberto Giacometti
L’homme au Doigt
Estimate on Request
Sold for $141,285,000

rothko_giacometti


corridor

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.

rothkio

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.

warhol.mao_

Mao. $3,000,000–5,000,000
Sold for $3,525,000

warhol.mercedes1

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.

warhol.brillo

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.

warhol.coke_

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?

wood

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.

lichtenstein.seductive

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.

pollack

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.

koons

Balloon Dog (Orange). $35,000,000–55,000,000
Sold for $58,405,000

koons1

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.

basquait.untitled

Untitled. $25,000,000–35,000,000
Sold for $29,285,000

Jean-Michel Basquiat sucks eggs.

basquait.peso_

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.

basquait.head_

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!

bacon1

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.

bacon2

bacon3

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?

monet

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.

giacometti

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.

dekooning

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.

hopper1

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.

hopper1

I’M TOUCHING YOUR PAINTING!
I’M TOUCHING YOUR PAINTING!
I’M TOUCHING YOUR PAINTING!