Warhols, Judds Drive $143M Sale at Christie's

Warhols, Judds Drive $143M Sale at Christie's
The art market’s high-octane performance continued tonight at Christie’s marathon Post-War and Contemporary Art sale, securing $143,187,200 compared to pre-sale estimates of $113 to $160 million.

The tally is second only to last November’s Post-War and Contemporary record $157.4 million result.

Only eight of the 91 lots offered failed to find buyers this round, while 40 lots sold for more than $1 million.

Ten artist records were set, including for Damien Hirsts grisly confection, Away from the Flock, Divided [lot #62] from 1995 that made $3,376,000 (est. $3-3.5 million). It sold to New York dealer Dominique Levy of L&M Arts.

Though a few expensive lots bombed, including Francis Bacons large-scale but strangely unconvincing Man Carrying A Child from 1956 (est. $8-12 million), which carried a financial guarantee, the market absorbed a whopping amount of material.

Christie’s financial gamble of guaranteeing a large trove of Donald Judd works from the Judd Foundation apparently paid off as all but one of the 26 works sold for a total of $24,468,800, topping the $21.7 million estimate.

The evening action continues at Sotheby’s on May 10.


1. Lot #3—Andy Warhol, Small Torn Campbell’s Soup Can (Pepper Pot); Sold for: $11,776,000 (est. $10-15 million)

At just 20" by 16", this oil-on-canvas still life from 1962 may be one of the most expensive per-square-inch Post-War works ever sold.

The elaborately drawn and hand painted soup can, based on a black-and-white photograph by Warhol collaborator and lover Edward Wallowitch, is decidedly distressed.

The bare metal of the can is visible in parts and the famous red-and-white brand label is exquisitely torn and peeled, investing the image with convincing tromp l’oeil effect.

Guaranteed by Christie’s for a sum in the region of $10 million, the painting had been in the collection of art dealer Irving Blum for 39 years. Blum acquired the painting in a trade with New York collectors Eugene and Barbara Schwartz, who happily took a larger-scaled Roy Lichtenstein stretcher-frame painting.

“Irving Blum wanted it desperately,” recalls Barbara Schwartz, “and we thought we were getting a terrific deal.”

Blum and his storied Los Angeles Ferus Gallery are noted for many firsts, including the debut of Warhol’s 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans in 1962, which the Museum of Modern Art acquired in 1996 in a combination gift/purchase from Blum for a reported $15 million. That sounds like a downright steal these days.

The only comparable work at auction was the sale of Big Torn Campbell’s Soup Can (Pepper Pot), also from 1962, that sold at Christie’s New York in May 1997 for $3,522,500 (est. $1.5-2.5 million).

New York dealer Larry Gagosian, bidding on behalf of Los Angeles mega-collector Eli Broad who sat next to the dealer, outgunned the competition.

2. Lot #54—Willem de Kooning, Untitled; Sold for: $10,096,000 (est. $8-10 million)

Unlike his famously angst-ridden work of the 1950s, the artist’s Abstract Expressionist style mellowed a bit in the early 1960s as both fame and fortune made his life considerably cushier.

This large-scale oil on canvas from 1961 seems to celebrate the sun and the sea, redolent of his increasing time spent in the Springs of Eastern Long Island, far removed from Manhattan.

Much of that frenetic city life disappears in this glowing composition. Though no figures are articulated in any recognizable way, the flesh-colored tones of the juicy brushstrokes convey a sense of joyous figures cavorting in the landscape.

In fact, de Kooning told the painting’s first owner, Virginia Dwan, that the untitled, 80” by 70” work could be easily titled Flesh.

Bidding opened at $4.5 million and instantly became a ping-pong battle between Andrew Fabricant of New York’s Richard Gray Gallery and Dominique Levy of L&M Arts. Fabricant prevailed.

3. Lot #50—Willem de Kooning, Two Women (Study for Clamdigger); Sold for: $5,728,000 (est. $3.5-4.5 million)

A luscious and relatively small-scaled work from 1960-61, featuring a pair of Ruben-esque nudes in the landscape, this painting represents one of de Kooning’s most celebrated themes.

Distorted yet voluptuous, the figures effortlessly float in the bucolic space.

Once again, L&M Arts wore down the competition with London’s Timothy Taylor winding up as the underbidder.

The picture last sold at Sotheby’s New York in May 1989, near the height of the ’80s art boom for $715,000. It sounds like a pretty good investment.

4. Lot #37—Andy Warhol, S&H Green Stamps (64 S&H Greenstamps); Sold for: $5,168,000 (est. $1-1.5 million)

Warhol’s market continues to dazzle as evidenced by this evening’s bravura performance of this 20” by 16” acrylic and pencil on linen from 1962, which set off a furious bout of auction fever.

Pre-dating his move to mechanically aided silkscreen compositions, Warhol devised a pair of carved, art gum erasers bearing the S&H stamp logo to ‘print’ his paintings.

Like the Campbell’s Soup Cans, the stamps’ origins are humble as they too hailed from the supermarket. The more you shopped at the Sperry & Hutchinson chain of supermarkets, the more redeemable stamps you’d receive.

This version was included in the artist’s major retrospective in 1989, less than two years after his death.

Five bidders were still in the fray even as bidding went over $2 million, including four New York dealers (Neal Meltzer, Larry Gagosian, Jose Mugrabi and Andrew Fabricant), before they all lost out to an anonymous telephone bidder identified by Christie’s as an “American Private.”

5. Lot #45—Yves Klein, RE 46 (SS11); Sold for: $4,720,000 (est. $4.5-6.5 million)

This 1960 painting is a spacey assortment of dry-pigment-permeated sponges punctuating a pebbly and identically hued monochromatic blue background. It truly resembles a strange, planetary landscape and represents one of Klein’s most mystical and iconographic subjects.

As Klein once told an interviewer about his discovery of the sponges as a "working instrument": “It is the sponge’s extraordinary capacity to impregnate itself with anything fluid that attracted me.” He also referred to the sponges as “living, savage material.”

The color, IKB (for International Klein Blue) was actually patented by the artist prior to his premature death at the age of 34 in 1962.

Though rare and reportedly in tip-top condition, it didn’t come close to the previous Klein mark, which was set at Christie’s New York in November 2000 when RE I from 1958 fetched $6,716,000 (est. $4-5 million). This one sold to an anonymous telephone bidder.


Lot #37—Andy Warhol, S&H Green Stamps (64 S&H Green stamps); Sold for: $5.1 million (est. $1-1.5 million)

A genuine Pop Art classic, certainly worth its weight in gold, Warhol’s 1962 mini-masterpiece still looks pristine and studio fresh. There seems to be no limit for works considered exceptional, especially when compared to the pre-sale estimates.


“No comment,” said the gray-haired gentleman with long sideburns and an accompanying blonde companion, buttonholed after buying Jean-Michel Basquiats M [lot #63] for $2,928,000 (est. $2.5-3.5 million)

“The real performer tonight was Donald Judd,” said New York dealer Philippe Segalot, “because very few artists could have carried the sale of 26 works with such high estimates and gotten away with it. Judd’s market, and Minimalism in general, are extremely solid.”

“A work that sold for $280,000 in 2000—and I was the second underbidder tonight at $1.5 million. That is simply unbelievable,” said New York dealer Nicholas Maclean, referring to Joan Mitchells Untitled abstraction [lot #55] from 1969 that sold for $2,032,000.

Andy Warhol drives the market and everything of his offered tonight sold for very substantial prices,” said Joel Wachs, president of the Andy Warhol Foundation.

“We tried to buy the Christopher Wool unsuccessfully,” said New York dealer Roland Augustine, “but we did get a beautiful drawing by Alberto Giacometti for a great collector.”

[Giacometti’s double-sided drawing in graphite and charcoal, Femme Debout and Groupe de Personnages [lot #74], from circa 1947, sold for $1,584,000 (est. $400-600,000). It was one of seven works sold by retired art dealer Duncan Mac Guigan that made a total of $5.7 million against a high estimate of $3.7 million.]

“It’s a strong and deep market across the board and people are willing to pay serious money,” said New York dealer Barbara Mathes.

“The market is very selective but goes very high for desired artists,” said Citibank art advisor Mary Hoveler.

“Mr. Broad owns twenty major Warhols from the 1960s, and he decided to go for it,” said Joanne Heyler, director and chief curator of the Broad Art Foundation, describing her boss’s position on the Small, Torn Campbell’s Soup Can (Pepper Pot). “The price? That’s the market today,” she observed.

“I don’t know what happened,” said London dealer Alex Apsis, “my plane was late and I missed the action.”