Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Uneven Sales at Sotheby's ; among the Offerings: Basquiat, Warhol, Glenn Brown and a Blue Sponge

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Uneven Sales at Sotheby's ; among the Offerings: Basquiat, Warhol, Glenn Brown and a Blue Sponge

Article excerpt

A Basquiat, some Warhols, a Glenn Brown and a blue sponge were among the items on the block.

Things did not go quite as smoothly on Tuesday evening at Sotheby's as they did only a few months ago.

Tobias Meyer, the head of the auction house's international department of contemporary art, conducted the sale in a fairly creditable performance given the threatening economic environment. The auctioneer managed to sell 69 of the 79 lots that came up for Pounds 69.3 million, or $108 million.

A world auction record was even set for the English artist Glenn Brown with a huge canvas, more than three meters, or about 10 feet, long, that looks a bit like a spoof. "The Tragic Conversion of Salvador Dali (After John Martin)," as its title indicates, is the interpretation of a picture done in the late 1840s by Martin, "The Great Day of His Wrath."

The picture was much in evidence in Mr. Brown's Turner Prize exhibition in 2000 and, more recently, in his 2009 retrospective at the Tate gallery in Liverpool. For good measure, it also appeared at Tate Britain in the show "John Martin: Apocalypse," held in 2011- 2012. It thus benefited from high-level museum exposure, which is important for contemporary art, reassuring potential buyers who do not trust themselves to determine what is really "art" as opposed to fanciful experiments.

Vigorous competition sent Mr. Brown's work shooting up to Pounds 5.19 million, far above the Pounds 2.2 million to Pounds 2.8 million estimate, plus a sale charge of more than 12 percent.

Another painter with prankish inclinations, Jean-Michel Basquiat, rose to even greater height. "Warrior," painted in 1982, brought Pounds 5.59 million. Huge as it is though, the price, not surprisingly, did not quite match the lower end of the estimate, Pounds 5 million plus the sale charge. The estimate must have seemed wild to those who had the curiosity to inquire about the price that "Warrior" had previously realized. When seen at Sotheby's London in June 2007, it had cost a more modest Pounds 2.82 million.

Only one bidder apparently felt it worthwhile to go for the picture.

Other paintings and three-dimensional works similarly found takers at the low estimate, if not even below.

Right at the beginning, a natural sponge dipped in synthetic resin and colored a deep blue with dry pigment was credited to Yves Klein. The sponge is stuck on a pole and, untitled, is registered in the Yves Klein Archives under the number SE 269. Uninformed viewers might not otherwise instantly realize that the blue sponge is the work of a well-known artist. The blue object brought Pounds 313,250.

A little later, an Andy Warhol, "Flowers," dated 1964, again sold at the low estimate as it made Pounds 881,250. The dark, black and blue color scheme did not help.

Immediately after, it was the turn of one of the blue chips of contemporary art to sell with great difficulty. …

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