AO Auction Preview – New York: Post War and Contemporary Sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips de Pury, May 7–9, 2012

May 8th, 2012


Andy Warhol,  Double Elvis [Feris Type] (1963)

On the heels of a tireless and groundbreaking week in the New York art world, the fervor continues with the major auction houses hosting their Contemporary Art Sales—beginning tonight at Christie’s. Last week’s Impressionist and Modern Art Sales saw unforeseen prices and several world records set, namely the near $120 million paid for Edvard Munch‘s The Scream. In tandem with both the Frieze Art Fair and NADA Art Fairs’ inaugural New York editions—both held this past weekend—the Contemporary Sales possess an auspicious platform this season. The strength of last week’s sales proves the collectors’ attention to the trophy market, with many big ticket and highly recognizable works on the block this week.


Francis Bacon, Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror (1976)

Among the ‘sure bets’—an expression deemed for artwork that is at once significant and iconic, by the Wall Street Journal’s Kelly Crow in an interview with Art Observed—are works by Mark Rothko, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Yves Klein, Cy Twombly, Francis Bacon, Gerhard Richter, and Willem de Kooning. All project estimated price tags upwards of ten million dollars.


Andy Warhol, Mao (1973)

The highest estimate is $30–50 million for Warhol’s Double Elvis [Feris Type] at Sotheby’sa notable $20 million gap between the low and the high estimate. This silk screen with spray paint on canvas was created in 1963, and shown in LA’s Ferus Gallery that same year. It is a quintessential example of Warhol’s style and celebrity-centered body of work. Sotheby’s is also auctioning off Warhol’s Ten-Foot Flowers for an estimated $9–12 million dollars. This mammoth painting was created specifically for Warhol’s first retrospective in Europe in 1968. At Phillips de Pury, one of their highlights is Warhol’s Mao, which is also expected to earn $9–12 million. All three works are excellent representations of Warhol’s various reoccurring themes inherent throughout his body of work.


Mark Rothko, Orange, Red, Yellow (1961)

The second highest estimate is found at Christie’s for Mark Rothko’s Orange, Red, Yellow set at $35–45 million. This large sunset hued canvas painted in 1961 is a spectacular example of his contribution to Abstract Expressionism. According to Christie’s catalogue “red was the predominant color of Rothko’s art,” and according to Crow “gold and red do well.”


Roy Lichtenstein, Sleeping Girl (1964)

There is a three way tie for the third highest estimate at this season’s Contemporary Art Sales at $30–40 million: Yves Klein’s FC1 (Fire Color 1), Roy Lichtenstein’s Sleeping Girl, and Francis Bacon’s Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror, which is not far behind the two leading prices. All three works are exemplifications of each of the artist’s mature oeuvre. Christie’s proclaims FC1 (Fire Color 1) is “one of the great masterpieces of Yves Klein’s diverse, mystical and enormously influential art.” Lichtenstein’s Sleeping Girl was created during the peak of his work (1961–65), and has not exchanged hands since it was purchased by philanthropists Beatrice and Phillip Gersh in 1964. Sotheby’s calls it “the clear masterpiece among the single-figure, square format paintings of women from 1964.” Also at Sotheby’s, Bacon’s Figure Writing Reflected In Mirror, an iconic portrait of George Dyer, the artist’s lover and muse, is declared “… among the most painterly, thematically and emotively outstanding works of Francis Bacon.” In 1977, it was at Galerie Clude Bernard exhibited alongside Triptych, which fetched $86.3 million in 2008 at Sotheby’s—a record price paid for a contemporary work at auction.


Cy Twombly, Untitled (New York) (1970)

At Christie’s, a noteworthy work on the block is Jackson Pollack‘s Number 28 from 1951, which is expected to achieve between $20–30 million. This all-over abstract painting is one of the artworks that define his peak period, right after his departure from the Black and White series. At Sotheby’s, another all-over Abstract Expressionist work expected to attain a high estimate of $20 million (with a low of $15 million) is Cy Twombly’s Untitled (New York). Painted in 1966, this is one of the finer examples of his blackboard works, which, like Pollack, were spurred by his abandonment of color. According to Kelly Crow “anything worth over $20 million is something to watch.”


Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild (798-3) (1993)


Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild (768-2) (1992)

There is a flurry of Richter’s in all three houses with a total of ten of his paintings being auctioned this week. Christie’s has the most expensive on Abstratkes Bild (798-3) priced at an estimated $14–18 million. At Sotheby’s his Abtratkes Bild (768-2) is hoped to reach between $8–10 million. Both paintings carry the highest price tag for the most contemporary work in all of the sales, being that they were both created in the early 90s. Additionally, both are lush and colorful examples of Richter’s squeegee colorfield abstractions.


Willem de Kooning, Untitled VI (1975)

Lastly, at Phillips de Pury, their major highlight is Willem De Kooning’s Untitled VI, priced at $10–15 million. This painting is an exceptional example of de Kooning’s gestural bravado coupled with flawless color theory.

According to Crow, “there is so much energy fueled into contemporary art,” and over the next couple of days we will see just how much money is invested in it.

—A.Roemer

Related Links:

Post War and Contemporary  Art Sale [Christie’s]
Contemporary Art  Evening Auction [Sotheby’s]
Contemporary Art Evening Sale [Phillips de Pury]
Christie’s seeks out art lovers with serious money to burn [Daily Post]