Warhol Heats Up Christie’s Auction
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Andy Warhol reigned supreme at Christie’s sale of Postwar and Contemporary art last night. His “Small Torn Campbell’s Soup Can (Pepper Pot)” (1962) sold for $11.8 million to dealer Larry Gagosian, leading the house’s sale to a booming total of $143 million, with 91% of the 91 lots sold.
The total was the second highest for any auction of Postwar and Contemporary art, behind the $157 million Christie’s earned last fall, when the house’s sale was propelled by works from the blue-chip Lee Eastman collection. In contrast, there was no single high-value collection on offer this spring. Other than a wide selection of sculptures by the minimalist Donald Judd, the house had to consign and place works one by one. Overall, it paid off.
The Judd works were being sold by the artist’s foundation, with a presale high estimate of $21 million for the group. It was a gamble to unload them all at once, but Christie’s sold 25 of the 26 boxy, aluminum-and-Plexiglas pieces for a total of $24.5 million.
Five works by Warhol together brought even more, earning a total of $25.3 million.The artist has been an auction favorite for several years running, but the hand-painted torn soup can and “S &H Green Stamps”(1962),which sold for $5.2 million, have special provenances and appeal.The can comes from the collection of Irving Blum and can be seen as a precursor to Warhol’s deathand-disaster works, which are favored by critics and collectors alike.
“S&H,” an acrylic-and-pencil work, was acquired directly from the artist by collector Betty Asher, who wanted to consign the painting in a sale side-byside with the can. “They were good solid, 1960s Warhols that are not so easy to find,” Rachel Mauro, president of Dickinson Roundell Gallery, said.
“It’s a trophy-driven market,” Christie’s co-head of Postwar and Contemporary art, Brett Gorvy, said. “The interest is in works that are beautiful rather than intellectual. Buyers want easy and impactful work that’s digestible.”
The evening was not without its flops. Three big postwar works met with few bids and failed to sell.A scratchy Dubuffet painting; a craggy,dun-colored Smith sculpture; and a dark Bacon with none of his famous popes or lovers were perhaps too dour and crusty for a buying room looking for glamour and polish.
“The Smith has got to be a big disappointment,” Ms. Mauro said. “It was a fantastic sculpture.” The unsold Bacon and Dubuffet were intellectual works of art, Mr. Gorvy said.
Auction stalwarts Willem de Kooning, Jeff Koons, Marlene Dumas, Richard Prince, and Mike Kelley attracted multiple bids and sold strongly. De Kooning’s “Untitled” (1961) sold for $10 million to Andrew Fabricant of the Richard Gray Gallery, while his oil-on-paper “Two Women (Study for Clamdigger)” (1961-62) surpassed its high estimate by $1 million and sold to Dominique Levy of L&M Arts.
Mr. Gagosian had a busy night, picking up a 1989 Prince joke painting for $1.4 million, which set a record for the artist at auction, and Mr. Koons’s “Aqualung” (1985) for $4.6 million.
A new market at auction seemed to be made when four of five works by the mid-century European conceptualists Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana, and Piero Manzoni sold well above their presale estimates.”Everything we’ve sold in the past was vindicated by these prices,” said Angela Westwater of Sperone Westwater, which represents Fontana and Manzoni. “They’ll go higher.”
STAR LOTS OF LAST NIGHT’S SALE
Andy Warhol, Small Torn Campbell’s Soup Can (Pepper Pot) (1962)
Presale estimate: $10 million to $15 million.
Sold for: $11.8 million
Warhol hand-stenciled and handpainted this diminutive can based on a photograph. This deeply evocative image of a fraying Pop artifact comes from the collection of Irving Blum, who organized Warhol’s first one-person show at his Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, in which this painting was included.
Willem de Kooning, Untitled (1961)
Presale estimate: $8 million to $12 million
Sold for: $10.1 million
If you squint, this peachy mid-career abstract painting looks like a nude reclining on a beach. Painted just a few years before de Kooning moved his studio to East Hampton, it reflected a yearning for a simpler, gentler landscape than New York.
Willem de Kooning, Two Women (Study for Clamdigger) (1961-62)
Presale estimate: $3.5 million to $4.5 million
Sold for: $5.7 million
The figure crept back in to de Kooning’s work in this oil on paper, where the two women are light, airy, and almost coquettish, rather than, as in earlier “Woman” pictures, toothy and aggressive predators.
Andy Warhol, S&H Green Stamps (64 S &H Green Stamps) (1962)
Presale estimate: $1 million to $1.5 million
Sold for: $5.2 million
Along with the soup cans, the green stamps were the first objects Warhol repeated serially, establishing a form that would work for him for the next two decades. In this early piece, he copied the image by using gum erasers as master stamps, a technique that would eventually lead to his use of the silkscreen.
Yves Klein, RE 46 (SIII) (1960)
Presale estimate: $4.5 million to $6.5 million
Sold for: $4.7 million
Klein’s works have been selling well lately, and the “RE” series – all blue with bulbous sponges and pebbles affixed – is among his most desirable. This large work resembles a lunar landscape, or perhaps the bottom of the ocean.
Jeff Koons, Aqualung (1985)
Presale estimate: $2.5 million to $3.5 million
Sold for: $4.6 million
This bronze version of a diver’s vest is the second of an edition of three, made in 1985 as part of the “Equilibrium” series.
Yves Klein, Ant 127 (1960)
Presale estimate: $3.5 to $4.5 million
Sold for: $4.0 million
The curving streak of IKB (International Klein Blue), with two round dots and a fin-like tail punctuating each end, was the product of a naked woman pressing herself against paper, which was then laid on canvas.
David Hockney, A Neat Lawn (1967)
Presale estimate: $3.5 million to $4.5 million
Sold for: $3.6 million
Painted during Hockney’s third year in California, when he was in thrall to the region’s happily oblivious utopias, this picture of automatic sprinklers before a sun-bleached apartment building is a tidy escapist fantasy full of clean-cut circles and squares.
Damien Hirst, Away from the Flock, Divided (1995)
Presale estimate: $3 million to $3.5 million
Sold for: $3.4 million
This bisected sheep is the first entire animal in formaldehyde by Hirst to come to auction, and set a new record for the artist at auction.
(Final prices include the auction house’s commission, which is 20% of the first $200,000 of sale price, plus 12% of the remaining price.)