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Sotheby’s Contemporary Lands High and Wide if Somewhat Softly

Sotheby’s Part One Contemporary sale on Nov. 14 realized $125 million—its second-highest total ever for contemporary art. The sale, which was 91 percent sold by lot, wound up in the middle of its presale estimate of $109/145 million. However, it included significantly more lots than usual—83, compared with 66 last May.

NEW YORK—Sotheby’s Part One Contemporary sale on Nov. 14 realized $125 million—its second-highest total ever for contemporary art. The sale, which was 91 percent sold by lot, wound up in the middle of its presale estimate of $109/145 million. However, it included significantly more lots than usual—83, compared with 66 last May.

Twenty-three offerings were guaranteed with a combined low estimate of $45 million. Including the buyer’s premium, these realized a total of $38.3 million. The major casualties were Head-Yellow and Black, 1962, by Roy Lichtenstein (1923-97), consigned by New York dealer James Goodman and estimated at $8/10 million; and Au Centre, 1969, by Brice Marden (b. 1938), estimated at $3.8/4.5 million. Trade sources say the latter was one of several guaranteed lots in the sale consigned by New York’s L&M Arts. Still, including post-auction sales, the guarantees were covered, said Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s worldwide head of contemporary art.

The sale kicked off with 27 works from the little-known Roger and Josette Vanthournout collection, Belgium, which was 100 percent sold, bringing $42.1 million. The sale established eight record prices, including $1.1 million from L&M Arts for a painted polyester sculpture by Niki de St Phalle (1930-2002), Ana Lena en Grèce, 1965-67 (estimate: $500,000/700,000); $2.3 million for an untitled alabaster sculpture by Anish Kapoor (b. 1954), estimated at $350,000/450,000; $2.6 million for a Piero Manzoni (1933-63) pleated canvas, Achrome 1959 (estimate: $900,000/1.2 million); and $15 million (estimate: $9/12 million) for the oil-on-canvas Version No 2 of Lying Figure with a Hypodermic Syringe, 1968, by Francis Bacon (1909-92). Four bidders were in contention for the latter as it raced past the artist’s previous high of $10 million before falling to an anonymous phone bidder.

The Bacon work was the top lot of the entire Sotheby’s sale, followed by a 1977 Willem de Kooning (1904-97) painting, Untitled XXX, which fell to the same anonymous buyer, bidding against Larry Gagosian, for $10.6 million (estimate: $7.5/9.5 million). The three de Kooning works in the sale brought a total of $15.7 million with his sculpture Hostess, 1973, selling below estimate but for a record $3.9 million.

The only artist to sell for more was Andy Warhol (1928-87), whose eight works brought $19.7 million. These were led by a 48-inch Flowers, 1964, which topped the $4/6 million estimate to sell for $6.8 million to a bidder on the phone against Heinrich zu Hohenlohe, of Dickinson Roundell. A 20-by-16-inch Self-Portrait from 1964 made the highest price to date for that particular image, selling for $3.7 million (estimate: $3.5/4.5 million) to dealer Alberto Mugrabi, bidding against collector Peter Brant. And Cagney, 1964, made a record for a work on paper by Warhol, selling for $2.5 million to collector Stavros Merjos (estimate: $1/1.5 million).

Another record for a work on paper by a Pop artist fell when Lichtenstein’s Study for ‘Good Morning Darling’, 1964, went to Barbara Castelli for $1.1 million (estimate: $400,000/600,000).

The sale also saw a crop of strong prices for minimalist artists, though some would be surpassed the following night at Christie’s. From the Vanthournout collection came records for Josef Albers (1888-1976), $912,000; Carl Andre (b. 1935), $912,000; and Robert Mangold (b. 1937), $430,400. From another private European source, a 1968 red-and-yellow fluorescent light sculpture, Untitled (estimate: $400,000/600,000), by Dan Flavin (1933-96), fetched a record $744,000 from Cologne dealer Rafael Jablonka.

Leading the field of living American artists was Jeff Koons (b. 1955) with Ushering in Banality, 1988, which was last sold in 2001 for $1.87 million. Shown at Art Basel 37 in June (ANL, 7/5/06, p. 5) by L&M Arts, it was underbid by Gagosian before falling to a phone bidder for $4 million, outpacing its $3.8 million high estimate.

Riding a resurgent price wave, a 1991 collage by John Baldessari (b. 1931), Eden: with Ascending and Descending Figures . . ., tripled estimates to sell for $688,000; and an acrylic on celotex in three parts with metal frames by Richard Artschwager (b. 1923), Destruction I, 1972, doubled estimates, going to British collectors Edward and Agnes Lee for $665,600.

Sculpture records tumbled last year when the fiberglass Your Dog, 2002, by Yoshitomo Nara (b. 1959), sold for $374,400—it now fetched $576,000; and the white marble sculpture The Sky, executed in 1964 by Isamu Noguchi (1904-88), flew past its high $700,000 estimate to make $1.25 million.

Recent paintings also produced a slew of records. Heartbreak Ridge, 2002, by Barnaby Furnas (b. 1973), was being sold under guarantee by former Hollywood agent Michael Ovitz; it sold within its $400,000/600,000 estimate for $520,000. Ovitz then picked up an early painting by Peter Doig (b. 1959), Bob’s House, 1993, below estimate for $968,000. A huge painting by Jenny Saville (b. 1970), Still, 2003, shown at Gagosian’s solo show that year, topped the million-dollar mark for the first time, selling near the low estimate for $1 million. And Glenn Brown (b. 1966), another British artist from the Gagosian stable, continued his meteoric, record-breaking run with Bertrand Russell at the BBC, 1999, which sold far above estimate for $688,000.

German artists to hit new records were Martin Eder (b. 1968), whose Bonjour Tristesse, 2003, more than tripled its $150,000 high estimate to sell for $520,000; and Jonathan Meese (b. 1977), whose triptych Alex de Large . . ., 2001, nearly trebled its $90,000 high estimate to sell for $251,200.

Between these strong results, however, nearly 30 percent of the lots sold at or below their low estimates. Buyers to take advantage of the lack of competition were the Vedovi Gallery, Brussels, which took hand-colored gelatin silver prints in 12 parts, Red Youth, 1982, by Gilbert & George (b. 1943 and b. 1942), for a mid-estimate $329,600 (estimate: $300,000/400,000); San Francisco dealer Anthony Meier, who bought the oil-on-canvas Maria, 1983, by Gerhard Richter (b. 1932), for $2.37 million (estimate: $2.5/3.5 million); New York dealer David Zwirner, who secured a work in wet pulp paper on canvas by Chuck Close (b. 1940), Phil (Portrait of Philip Glass), 1983, for $3.2 million (estimate: $3/4 million); and New York art adviser Kim Heirston, who bought an oil on canvas, Conversation, 1994, by Lisa Yuskavage (b. 1962), for $520,000 (estimate: $650,000/850,000). Buyers were not just being selective; they were holding back for the Christie’s sale the next evening.

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