Issue #108  7/17/2006
Contemporary Auctions Set New Records: Christie's Post-War and Contemporary Sales Net $225 Million This May and June

By Stephen Perloff
Editor of The Photograph Collector

Where to begin? At Sotheby's impressionist and modern art sale on May 3, a previously unknown Russian buyer paid $95.2 million for Picasso's "Dora Maar au Chat", second only to the $104.5 million spent on another Picasso, "Garcon a la Pipe", which sold at Sotheby's in 2004.

And in June the cosmetics magnate Ronald S. Lauder purchased the dazzling gold-flecked 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt for the Neue Galerie in Manhattan for $135 million, the highest sum ever paid for a painting. (The painting was the focus of a years-long restitution battle between the Austrian government and a niece of Mrs. Bloch-Bauer who argued that it was seized along with four other Klimt paintings by the Nazis during World War II. In January all five paintings were awarded to the niece, Maria Altmann, and other family members. Some stories do have good endings!)

What is happening in the art market--and especially the contemporary art market--can perhaps only be explained in the world of Lewis Carroll's Alice. We have stepped through the looking glass where things seem relatively familiar but behave much differently. And where Alice followed the White Rabbit to begin her adventures, we seem to be following the two rabbits in Adam Fuss's Cibachrome photogram Love. Its $90,000 selling price in the sale of the Refco collection at Christie's not only more than doubled its high estimate, it came close to doubling the previous highest price for any Fuss at auction. Record total and individual prices, selling prices at two, three, even ten times the estimates. Is this real or will we, like Alice, one day wake up from a reverie?

Christie's achieved a total result for post-war and contemporary art of $224,789,800 for the spring season of 2006. This is the highest total ever for the field, although it included numerous sales: First Open on March 16, the Refco collection of contemporary photography on May 5, the post-war and contemporary art evening sale on May 9 and the day sales on May 10.

First Open, Christie's mid-season sale devoted to contemporary art and contemporary collectors, took place on March 16 and at $9,584,560 nearly doubled the result of the inaugural First Open sale a year before. In all, 20 new artist records were set at this sale.

On May 5, Christie's organized the evening sale of the Refco collection of contemporary photography, which totaled $5,372,800 and doubled pre-sale expectations. The top lot of the sale was "Beach Scene / Nuns / Nurse (with Choices)" by John Baldessari ($150,000-200,000), which realized $744,000 and set a new world auction record for the artist.

Sigmar Polke's "Interior", 1984, a hand-colored silver print ($80,000-$120,000) leapt to $464,000. Andreas Gursky's "Avenue of the Americas", 2001, ($250,000-$350,000) went into the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago for $374,400.

Thomas Demand's "Collection", 2002, ($80,000-$120,000) set a world auction record for the artist at $262,400. Other records were set for Olafur Eliasson's "The River Raft Series", 2000, 42 color coupler prints mounted on board in artist's frames ($120,000-$180,000) at $240,000; Ed Ruscha's "Gasoline Stations", 1962, printed in 1989, ten gelatin silver prints mounted on board ($60,000-$80,000) at $192,000 (a record for a photographic work by the artist); Eva Hesse's "Untitled", circa 1958, unique gelatin silver print photogram ($25,000-35,000) at $186,000; and Rodney Graham's "Welsh Oaks (#3)", 1998 ($70,000-$90,000) at $168,000.

Other significant prices were achieved for Charles Ray's "Untitled", 1973 ($120,000-$180,000), documenting his performance where he tied himself to a tree branch for several hours, at $168,000; and Gabriel Orozco's "Atomists: Making Strides", 1996, a computer-generated plastic-coated print on paper sheets mounted on two aluminum panels ($40,000-$60,000) at $162,000.

The evening sale of Post-War and Contemporary Art on May 9 totaled $147,235,200, just above the mid-point of the pre-sale estimates, the second highest total for a sale in the field. Twelve new world auction records were set. The highlight of the evening was Andy Warhol's "Small Torn Campbell Soup Can (Pepper Pot)", 1962, from the collection of Irving Blum, which realized $11,776,000 and set a world auction record for a painting of the Campbell Soup Can series. A group of works by Donald Judd, sold by the Judd Foundation to create an endowment, realized $24,468,800.

The photographic highlight of the Evening Sale was Mike Kelley's "Ahh…Youth", 1991, which sold to Peter Brant, the newsprint magnate and art collector, for $688,000, a world auction record for the artist.

The morning session, which did not included any photographs, achieved $40,746,200, against a pre-sale estimate of $22.6-$32 million, and set eight new world auction records. The afternoon session realized $21,851,040 and set 16 new records. Also included was a group of 95 photographs from the Refco collection.

Highlights of the afternoon session were Hiroshi Sugimoto's "English Chanel, Fecamp (T)" ($80,000-$120,000), which swam to $240,000, and Barbara Kruger's "Untitled (We Are the Objects of Your Suave Entrapments)" ($100,000-$150,000), which garnered a bid of $132,000.

The third and final installment of the Refco collection totaled $2,403,840--$800,000 above the pre-sale high estimate, with Bernd & Hilla Becher's "Watertowers (Typology)" ($40,000-$60,000) at $114,000 leading the way. Combining this total with the previous two auctions held on April 25 and May 5, the final figure for the Refco collection reached an astounding $9,709,120--over $3 million more than the highest of pre-sale expectations.

In the course of the three-auction, 321-lot sale, over 50 new world auction records were set for a wide array of international artists, some new to the market, others already firmly established. Amy Cappellazzo, international co-head of Christie's post-war and contemporary department, and Joshua Holdeman, international director of Christie's photographs department, said, "The sale of the Refco collection caused much excitement when announced two months ago. This highly influential international review of contemporary photography was eagerly received by the market, and Christie's has been honored to have been entrusted with its dispersal. We were particularly pleased with offering so many new and emerging artists to the secondary market--and were delighted with the final total and the numerous records set."

(Copyright ©2006 by The Photograph Collector.)

My thanks to Steve Perloff and The Photograph Collector Newsletter for giving me permission to use this information. The Photograph Collector, which is a wonderful newsletter that I can heartily recommend, is published monthly and is available by subscription for $149.95. You can phone 1-215-891-0214 and charge your subscription or send a check or money order to: The Photograph Collector, 340 East Maple Ave., Suite 200, Langhorne, PA 19047. Or to order The Photograph Collector Newsletter online, go to: http://www.photoreview.org.