NEW YORK—A color screenprint by Ed Ruscha, Standard Station, 1966, was the sleeper hit of Bonhams & Butterfields’ recent sale of prints, held simultaneously in the auction house’s Los Angeles and San Francisco salerooms on May 4. The work sold for $194,000, far exceeding the $60,000/80,000 estimate and setting a new auction record for a print by the artist. Consigned by a southern California collector, the work was purchased by an anonymous private buyer.
The Ruscha outperformed what Bonhams officials had expected to be the star lot of the sale, Albrecht Dürer’s engraving Adam and Eve, 1504. That work brought the second-highest price of the sale, $122,000, at the top of the $80,000/120,000 estimate. The Dürer had been consigned by a Milwaukee resident who had inherited it, and it was purchased by a New York art dealer.
Other strong performers at the sale included Robert Rauschenberg’s lithograph Breakthrough I, 1964, which sold for $73,200, within the estimate of $60,000/80,000; Madame Butterfly, 2000, a woodcut by Helen Frankenthaler, which sold for $73,200 against an estimate of $50,000/70,000, and Figure 7, 1968, a color lithograph by Jasper Johns from his “Black Numeral” series, which sold for $61,000 against an estimate of $30,000/50,000. Burning Elegy, 1991, a color lithograph by Robert Motherwell, sold for $57,950 against an estimate of $30,000/50,000; Personnage au costume rouge, 1961, a color lithograph by Jean Dubuffet, brought $42,700 against an estimate of $35,000/50,000, and Mao, 1971, a screenprint by Andy Warhol, sold for $41,480, just topping the $30,000/40,000 estimate with premium.
Among the lower-priced prints that did not sell were Rembrandt’s etching The Circumcision, 1636, which had a $12,000/15,000 estimate.
Judith Eurich, director of Bonhams’s prints department, told ARTnewsletter that the auction house had expected to do well, but added that “you just never know where it’s going to end up.” In all, 257, or 75 percent, of the 340 lots in the sale found buyers, and the auction realized a total of $2million, which fell within the overall estimate of $1.7million/2.4million. “If we look back at 2009, which was dismal, we think we’re doing reasonably well,” Eurich said. “People are still buying conservatively, and they won’t go out on a limb if there are condition issues.”
This auction continued Bonhams’s sale of the art collection of the San Francisco–based Heller Ehrman international law firm, which filed for bankruptcy in December 2008 in the face of unsecured loans of $232million. There were 55 prints from that collection in this sale, including the Frankenthaler and Motherwell, as well as three 1980s color lithographs by David Hockney (which sold for $13,420, $27,450 and $15,860, respectively). In all, the Heller Ehrman prints fetched $262,000. To date, the firm’s collection has brought $1million, against an estimate of $610,000/1million. Eurich noted that the Heller Ehrman pieces “appealed to a lot of private collectors.”