NEW YORK—It was not until lot 58 of Christie’s 79-lot evening sale of Postwar and contemporary art (including the collection of the late Michael Crichton) that a lot was passed, eliciting an exaggerated collective sigh from the crowd. By the end, lot 58—Claes Oldenburg’s sculpture Soft Pay-Telephone (Ghost Version), 1963—was one of just five unsold lots in a sale that brought in $232million, well above the high estimate of $207million.
As is usual at these sales, American Postwar art was in demand. Andy Warhol’s double panel Silver Liz, 1963, reportedly from the collection of Melvin Estrin in Washington, D.C., sold for $18.3million to Dominique Levy of L&M Arts, New York, on an estimate of $10million/15million. Another Warhol diptych, Self Portrait, 1964, which had last sold for $2.6million, at Christie’s New York in November 2002, sold to the Mugrabi family of dealers for $5.7million, the hammer price being right at the bottom end of the $5million/7million estimate.
A later Warhol, Multicolored Retrospective Painting (Reversal Series), 1979, also brought a hammer price close to the low estimate, selling to dealer Larry Gagosian for $1.87million with premium on an estimate of $1.5million/2million. The catalogue cover lot, Warhol’s nine-panel painting of the dealer Holly Solomon, had a weaker performance, however. Although it doubled its earlier $2.1million price (it had sold at Christie’s New York in November 2001 to Andrew Fabricant of the Richard Gray Gallery, acting, it is believed, for Chicago collector Richard Hedreen), bringing $5.5 million, the price was well below the $7million/12million estimate. The lot sold to Jonathan Colby, a medical-malpractice attorney based in Miami, who was new to the saleroom. Colby also underbid Levy on Warhol’s Silver Liz.
Among the noted collectors selling works, though he was not listed in the catalogue, was hedge fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen, who, as if to complement the Crichton examples, had consigned two small early works by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. Johns’s Figure O, 1959, acquired from a private New York collection, sold for $4.1million (estimate: $3million/4million), and Rauschenberg’s Combine Untitled, 1954, bought from a collector in Potomac, Md., brought a healthy $4.6million from Luhring Augustine co-owner Roland Augustine (estimate: $3.5million/4.5million).
There were only two guaranteed works: Roy Lichtenstein’s Untitled Composition, 1974, sold for $10.2million to dealer Daniella Luxembourg (estimate: $4.5million/6.5million), and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Man Struck by Lightning–2 Witnesses, 1982, sold for $4.8million to the Mugrabis (estimate: $3.5million/4.5million). Another Basquiat work, Extra Cigarette, 1982, sold to art adviser Michele Quinn for $1.1million on an estimate of $800,000/1.2 million.
Records were set for Sam Francis, whose Middle Blue, 1957, sold for $6.3million to San Francisco dealer John Berggruen (estimate: $3million/5million), and for Christopher Wool, whose large enamel on aluminum Blue Fool, 1990, sold for $5million against a $1.5million/2million estimate. The price of the Wool painting represented a 29.8 percent annual gain on the $35,000 it cost the consignor, reportedly Emily Fisher Landau, in 1991 at Luhring Augustine. Augustine was one of the underbidders on the work.
The selection of European art was led by Yves Klein’s large “Anthropometry” painting ANT 93, Le Buffle, 1960–61, from the collection of Pamela and Richard Kramlich, which sold for $12.4million on an $8million/12million estimate.
Apart from the Wool, there were no knockout prices for contemporary works. Jeff Koons’s “Popeye” painting Saddle, 2003, struggled to meet its boom-time-level estimate of $3million/4million. It sold for $3.3 million, just within the estimate, but still far from the record for a “Popeye” painting of $5million, set at Christie’s London in June 2006. Nonetheless, the price was an improvement on the $2million another “Popeye” painting fetched at Christie’s London in February 2009.
Gerhard Richter’s Kopf (Skizze), 1997, sold for a healthy $2.3million to Jeffrey Deitch, in what may have been his last auction purchase as a dealer before taking the helm at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (estimate: $1.2million/1.8million). But Chris Ofili’s large Dead Monkey–sex, money and drugs, 2002, just missed its $1 million/1.5 million estimate, selling to dealer David Zwirner for $962,500. Photographs seemed to be weakest, with works by Richard Prince and Jeff Wall failing to sell.
Reflecting both the composition of the sale and weakness of the euro, 73 percent of buyers were from the United States, and just 16 percent from Europe. With stock markets taking some dramatic falls during the series, there was a consensus that art was a safe place to be. “This was a quintessential American sale,” said Amy Cappellazzo, Christie’s cohead of Postwar and contemporary art.