NEW YORK—Sotheby’s Part One auction of contemporary art on May 10 took $68 million for 73 lots offered, just above its low presale estimate of $63 million. The figure was on a par with the Sotheby’s sale last May that contained only 58 lots, but well below its $93.4 million Part One sale in November. Although 60, or a healthy 82 percent, of lots were sold, including most of the highest-estimated lots, some art world observers said Sotheby’s was over-optimistic with many of the estimates, and 20 lots were knocked down at hammer prices on or below the low estimates.
The top lot was Andy Warhol’s Liz, 1963, sent for sale with a guarantee by dealer and collector Irving Blum. It fetched $12.6 million (estimate: $9/12 million) from London collector Lawrence Graff, bidding on the phone against Swiss dealer Doris Ammann in the room. The previous high for a Warhol portrait of Elizabeth Taylor was $4.4 million in November 2000, but this portrait on a crimson background is considered the best of the series.
Eight works were sold from the collection of deceased designer Gianni Versace, raising $11.4 million. These included the second-highest-selling lot, Blue Nude, 1995, by Roy Lichtenstein, which made the best price for a late work by the artist, selling for $5.3 million (estimate: $2.5/3.5 million) to a European collector bidding against London dealer Thomas Gibson.
The third-highest lot was an early Photorealism portrait, John, 1971-72, by Chuck Close, which sold below estimate for $4.8 million to collector Eli Broad bidding against dealer Jeffrey Deitch. It was one of eight pieces being sold by Beatrice Mayer, the widow of Robert B Mayer, which raised
$7 million in total. Included in the Mayer property were two works that fetched record prices: Marisol Escobar’s The Cocktail Party, 1965-66, brought $912,000 (estimate: $400,000/600,000); and Volkswagen, 1967, by Red Grooms, went for $96,000 (estimate: $40,000/60,000).
Other sellers included London dealer Anthony d’Offay, who had obtained a guarantee on the Jeff Koons painting Cake, 1995-97 (from his “Celebration” series), which made a record for a Koons painting when it went for $3 million (estimate: $2.5/3.5 million) to Deitch; and U.S. collectors Kent and Vicki Logan, who had obtained guarantees on two sculptures by Robert Gober. One of these, Untitled Leg, 1990, fell to Michael McGinnis, of Phillips de Pury and Co., for a record $912,000 (estimate: $750,000/950,000), while the other, Two Urinals, 1986, failed to sell (estimate: $750,000/950,000).
More record prices were set for: Andreas Gursky’s May Day 1V, 2000, which made a within-estimate $632,000; Tom Friedman’s swarm of 94 clay-and-plastic bees, Untitled, 2001, which went below estimate to Alberto Mugrabi for $352,000; and Kara Walker’s The Battle of Atlanta, 1995, which chalked up $329,600 (estimate: $150,000/200,000) from collector Marion Lambert.
Prices for paintings by Marlene Dumas appeared to be on hold all week. At Sotheby’s a four-part canvas, The Messengers, 1992, fell to a lone phone bidder on its bottom estimate for $912,000; and her less-convincing Fishbowl Country, 1987, was bought in (estimate: $600,000/800,000). Other paintings by currently hot artists Dirk Skreber and Richard Pettibone, which also were bought in, were considered overpriced by some dealers. The strongest prices for younger artists were: the $352,000 paid by dealer David Zwirner for Luc Tuymans’ TV Set, 2000 (estimate: $150,000/200,000); and the $352,000 given by Larry Gagosian for Glenn Brown’s You Take my Place in This Showdown, 1996 (estimate: $100,000/150,000). Gagosian also purchased a late Willem de Kooning ribbon painting, Untitled, 1987, for $1 million (estimate: $1/1.5 million); and Lichtenstein’s bronze Ritual Mask, 1992, from the Versace collection for $486,400 (estimate: $300,000/400,000).
Other buyers at the sale were: dealer, Jack Tilton, who bought the Martin Kippenberger sculpture Badewanne, 1990, for $204,000 (estimate: $200,000/300,000); dealer Charles Cowles, who won Duane Hanson’s Woman Eating, 1971, from the Mayer collection, for $284,800 (estimate: $300,000/400,000); art adviser Thea Westreich, who won a 1970 horizontal copper-wall progression by Donald Judd for $856,000; and White with Black Triangle, 1972, by Ellsworth Kelly, for $856,000 (estimate: $700,000/900,000); London consultant, Manfredi della Gherardesca, who acquired Frank Stella’s Wado, 1966, for $856,000 (estimate: $700,000/900,000); and C&M Arts’ Bob Mnuchin who took Close’s 1990 portrait of Eric Fischl, Eric, for $3 million (estimate: $2.8/3.5 million).