ARTnewsletter Archive

Record Total Set at Christie’s Contemporary Auction

Christie’s $157 million sale on Nov. 8 was the highest total for any contemporary art sale. Only four of the 70 lots offered went unsold, and record prices were claimed for 18 works—among them Mark Rothko’s Homage to Matisse, 1954, which fell for $22.4 million, among the highest figures paid at auction for any

NEW YORK—Christie’s $157 million sale on Nov. 8 was the highest total for any contemporary art sale. Only four of the 70 lots offered went unsold, and record prices were claimed for 18 works—among them Mark Rothko’s Homage to Matisse, 1954, which fell for $22.4 million, among the highest figures paid at auction for any postwar work. Approximately 82 percent of the buyers were American, 5 percent European, auctioneer Christopher Burge reported.

De Kooning Takes Unexpected $10.6M

The sale, which gave Christie’s the market share in this area, had been pretty much sewn-up back in May when, after cracking the $100 million barrier for the first time, the house took on three major consignments within the space of a few weeks. The first, the estate of entertainment attorney Lee V. Eastman, contributed 17 works by Willem de Kooning (1904-97) and his contemporaries to this sale, totaling some $30 million. The top price from this source was de Kooning’s Untitled, 1977, an important late painting that was bought for $10.6 million—flying way above its $6 million high estimate—by L&M Arts for a collector after a shoot-out with dealer Larry Gagosian.

Other buyers of Eastman consignments were art adviser Abigail Asher, who paid $2.5 million (estimate: $1/1.5 million) for a 1960 oil on paper by Mark Rothko—a works-on-paper record for the artist; British collector Edward Lee, who outbid Asher to take de Kooning’s small gouache Untitled #10, 1957-58, for $1.1 million, above its $900,000 high estimate; Manhattan dealer Edward Tyler Nahem, who snagged a late 1960s oil on paper by de Kooning for $744,000, below its $1 million low estimate; PaceWildenstein, which paid $576,000 for de Kooning’s small bronze Variant (Clamdigger Bust), 1972, considerably more than its $400,000 high estimate; and Oslo’s Astrup Fearnley Museum, which, bidding through New York’s Luhring Augustine gallery, fought off competition from dealers Neal Meltzer and Dominique Levy to secure a de Kooning 1957 oil on paper, Untitled, for $1.3 million, again above the high estimate of $900,000.

The Oslo museum also acquired a 1986 self-portrait with fright wig by Andy Warhol, from the Caldic Collection, the Netherlands, for $3.3 million, just below the high estimate of $3.5 million; and Jeff Koons’ sexually explicit Blow Job-Ice, 1991, against no competition for $408,000 (estimate: $400,000/600,000).

The second major consignment was from Los Angeles collector Edward R. Broida, whose eight offerings in this sale totaled some $46 million. Top among these was Rothko’s record- breaking Homage to Matisse, which fell to an anonymous phone bidder for $22.4 million (estimate: $15/20 million). Two other Broida works set records: Alice Neel’s Nazis Murder Jews, 1936, sold to a phone bidder for $408,000 (estimate: $300,000/400,000); and David Smith’s bronze Jurassic Bird, 1945, took a double-estimate $4.9 million from L&M Arts. The gallery also acquired Philip Guston’s 1957 abstract work The Mirror for $3.1 million (estimate: $3/5 million).

Other buyers of the Broida properties were dealer David Rogath, who snapped up Francis Bacon’s 1961 canvas Two Figures for $2.4 million, just under the low estimate; U.S. collector Wade Thompson, who bought Franz Kline’s unusual Painting in Black and White and Color, 1959, for $5.4 million (estimate: $2.5/4 million); and Andrew Fabricant, of the Richard Gray Gallery, who took Guston’s Zone, 1953-54, at a mid-estimate $5.5 million.

Elsewhere in the sale Fabricant picked up an Andy Warhol drawing, One Dollar Bill, 1962, for $1.2 million (estimate: $600,000/900,000), a record for a work on paper by the artist; and Jeff Koons’ marble bust Self Portrait, 1991, from the Caldic Collection, for $3.9 million (estimate: $2/3 million).

Lichtenstein Work Lends Cachet

The third consignment Christie’s had taken early on was Roy Lichtenstein’s classic In the Car, 1963, from the collection of the artist’s son Mitchell Lichtenstein. Estimated at $12/16 million, it broke the record for Lichtenstein when it fetched $16.2 million from L&M Arts. After winning that consignment, Christie’s could pretty much take its pick as vendors queued up to sell in the artist’s company.

The sale was remarkable for the number of records set for both older and younger artists. Besides those already mentioned, the former category included Francis Bacon’s Study for a Pope I, 1961; sent for sale by German collector Gunter Sachs, it was bought by Heinrich zu Hohenlohe, the Berlin representative for Dickinson/Roundell, for $10.1 million (estimate: $7/9 million); Hans Hofmann’s Stardust, 1959, from the Katharine and Morton G. Schamberg collection, which won $1.6 million (estimate: $500,000/700,000); Robert Smithson’s tentlike sculpture Untitled, 1964, from the Dakis Joannou collection, which earned $710,400 (estimate: $300,000/400,000); Robert Indiana’s The Great American Love, 1972, which was purchased for $856,000 (estimate: $700,000/900,000); Gilbert & George’s Red Morning (Hate), 1977, which made $856,000 (estimate: $400,000/600,000); and Walter de Maria’s Large Rod series. Circle/Rectangle 5,7,9,11,13, 1985, which realized a below-estimate $240,000.

Younger-generation artists to hit new auction highs were Bill Viola, with Witness, 2001, a three-panel video that sold for $374,400 (estimate: $120,000/180,000); Kiki Smith, with an untitled 1992 wax sculpture of a crouching woman that went to art adviser Kim Heirston for $284,800 (estimate: $150,000/250,000); Christopher Wool, with Rundogrundogrun, 1990, which sold for $1.2 million (estimate: $500,000/700,000) to property developer Harry Lis; Elizabeth Peyton, with her Portrait of Colin de Land, 1994, last sold in 2001 for $77,000 to Hauser &Wirth, and now going to Goff + Rosenthal for $856,000 (estimate: $400,000/600,000); and Richard Prince, with his Untitled (Cowboy), 1989, which broke the $1 million barrier for a photograph at auction when it fetched $1.2 million from dealer Stellan Holm.

Other buyers at the sale: Real estate developer Aby Rosen bought Maurizio Cattelan’s 1998 taxidermic animal sculpture The first, they said, should be sweet like love . . ., for $665,600, below the low estimate of $700,000; Christophe van de Weghe took the 1982 painting Untitled, by Jean- Michel Basquiat, for $2.5 million (estimate: $1/1.5 million); Larry Gagosian acquired Koons’ 1985 sculpture Three Ball 50/50 Tank for $486,400 (estimate: $400,000/600,000); collector David Ganek outbid Gagosian to buy Prince’s Intimate Nurse, 2004, for $912,000 (estimate: $600,000/800,000); and Jose Mugrabi won Koons’ painting St. Benedict, 2000, for $1.2 million (estimate: $1/1.5 million). This work had previously sold at Christie’s in 2004 for more, but the buyer was unable to consummate the purchase.

If there was any fragility in this sale, it was in Koons’ less iconic work. His 1991 glass sculpture Violet-Ice (Kama Sutra) went unsold (estimate: $800,000/1.2 million). His editioned aluminum sculpture Split Rocker, 1999, also failed to sell (estimate: $350,000/450,000).