Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Words To Live By

A young painter who cannot liberate himself from the influence of past generations is digging his own grave.

---Henri Matisse

Picasso Sells at Record Auction Price

NEW YORK - A 1932 Pablo Picasso painting of his mistress has sold for $106.5 million, a world record price for any work of art at auction.
"Nude, Green Leaves and Bust," which had a pre-sale estimate of between $70 million and $90 million, was sold at Christie's auction house on Tuesday evening to an unidentified telephone bidder.
There were nine minutes of bidding involving eight clients in the sale room and on the phone, Christie's said. At $88 million, two bidders remained. The final bid was $95 million, but the buyer's premium took the sale price to $106.5 million.

Conor Jordan, head of impressionist and modern art for Christie's New York, said he was "ecstatic with the results."
"Tonight's spectacular results showed the great confidence in the marketplace and the enthusiasm with which it welcomes top quality works," he said.
The striking work of Picasso's muse and mistress Marie-Therese Walter has been exhibited in the United States only once, in 1961 in Los Angeles to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Picasso's birth. The painting, which measures more than 5 feet by 4 feet, shows a reclining nude figure with an image of Picasso in the background looking over her.
The painting had belonged to the late California art patron Frances Lasker Brody, who bought it in the 1950s. It had been kept in her family since then.
Part of the sale proceeds will benefit the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, Calif., where Brody was on the board.
The previous record for a work of art at auction was $104.3 million for "Walking Man I," a sculpture by Alberto Giacometti sold on Feb. 3 at Sotheby's in London. The previous high price for a Picasso work was $104.2 million for "Boy With a Pipe (The Young Apprentice)," attained in 2004 at Sotheby's New York.
On Wednesday, another rarely seen Picasso is slated to sell at Sotheby's auction house. "Woman in a Hat, Bust" is a 1965 work inspired by Jacqueline Roque, the last love of Picasso's life. It is estimated to sell for $8 million to $12 million.
The work hung for 50 years in the Manhattan apartment of Patricia Kennedy Lawford, a sister of former President John F. Kennedy. It's being sold by her estate.

By Ula Ilnytzky
The Associated Press.

NEW YORK — On Tuesday night, a painting dashed off by Picasso in just one day in 1964 became the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction as it rose to $106.5 million.

It took Christopher Burge, Christie’s premier auctioneer, eight long minutes to raise the picture, dubbed “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust,” above the hitherto unattainable $100 million barrier. Mr. Burge opened the bidding by calling out $58 million and raised the stakes by $1 million increments. From $77 million, four new bidders, sitting in the room or operating over the phone, jumped into the fray. From $86 million on, the contest was confined to two telephone bidders. They fought it out until Mr. Burge brought down his hammer on a $95 million bid made under the paddle number 1709, which, with the sale charge, raised the full price to $106.48 million, to be precise.
Spectacular as it may seem, this figure was not entirely unexpected. Only moments before the auction began, Christie’s specialists were confidently quoting an estimate set at $70 million to $90 million. That estimate had not varied for weeks. This is in marked contrast with what often happens in the auction world, when excitement grows among potential buyers as the auction day approaches, leading auction houses to revise their expectations upward.
Indeed, there was a precise reason for the unwavering assurance displayed by the auction house specialists. A full “third party guarantee” had been negotiated by Christie’s that duly warned prospective bidders, as the law requires. This legal phrase means that the minimum price demanded by the owner consigning the work of art, which remains undisclosed, will be paid to the consignor whether the work sells or not. The financial commitment is made not by the auction house, but by the “third party” willing to have a flutter at the poker game that auctions have become. If the work sells above the guarantee, the difference is shared by the auction house and the third party in question according to variable proportions. These are freely negotiated before the sale and specified in the contract signed by the auction house and the third party, but they are never disclosed to the public.
This complicated arrangement alters the nature of the auction. It is no longer a free contest where the vendor takes his chances and the buyer fights off spontaneous competitors equally wanting to acquire the work.
The first 27 lots in Christie’s auction consigned from the collection of Mrs. Sidney F. Brody were all covered by a guarantee. However, with the exception of the Picasso, this was an ordinary third-party guarantee in which the auction house and the third party jointly shoulder the guarantee according to proportions contractually stipulated but not publicly released.
This did not inhibit buyers. The Brody collection was a phenomenal success. Its lots added up to $224 .17 million. The session was only into its second lot when Georges Braque’s “La Treille” set a world record for the painter at $10.16 million, far above the highest expectations.
Two lots down, the bronze figure of a cat by Alberto Giacometti, cast in 1955, exceeded an estimate that seemed very optimistic, selling for an extravagant $20.8 million. A Marino Marini bronze of a rider, “Piccolo cavaliere” followed at $2.32 million, also more than the highest estimate, and it was then that the record Picasso came up.
The wave of enthusiastic bidding had paved the way for it. The symbol informing bidders that the guarantee had been entirely financed by the third party warned them that Christie’s felt uncertain about the possible outcome at the huge level at which the Picasso was “estimated” and was unwilling to take any financial risk, should the painting not sell at the minimum level that had persuaded the consignor to let go of her property.
The fact that the Picasso did so well, exceeding by $5 million the $90 million upper end of the estimate, says everything about the irrepressible wave of enthusiasm that carried art buyers on Tuesday night. Christie’s specialists candidly admitted that they had worked very hard at vaunting the merits of their offerings to prospective buyers. These are apparently unfazed by the thought that they are effectively made to pay what the vendors want.
The problem is that the method employed artificially whips up prices. It sets the market on the same dangerous inflationary course that precipitated two decades ago an abrupt crash followed by a slump, from which it only recovered gradually after many painful years.
Several other works in Christie’s auction Tuesday were covered by full third-party guarantees, betraying the auction house management’s private jitters about their own ambitions. On the whole they worked satisfactorily.
Alberto Giacometti’s bronze “La main” cast in 1948, climbed to a staggering $25 million, nearly 50 percent more than the high estimate. Later Picasso’s “Femme au chat assise dans un fauteuil,” painted in 1964, brought $18 million, exceeding the high estimate by 10 per cent.
But there were some bad hiccups. Edvard Munch’s “Fertility” painted around 1899-1900 in a wild Symbolist style that lacks the energy of his later Expressionist phase never stood much chance of making it to the astonishing $25 million to $35 million (plus the sale charge) estimate printed in the catalogue. “Fertility” failed to sell as Mr. Burge called out in vain “$23 million.”
Christie’s enjoyed a fantastic success, raking in $335.54 million at the end of the day and thus posting the highest total since 2006. It would be a pity if auction house managers ignored the warning not to overplay their cards that the failure of the Munch and of a few other works, adding up to almost 20 percent of the lots, amounts to.

by Souren Melikian
New York Times

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