54 Stories of Old Ireland

November 3, 2008


54 Stories of Old Ireland” (2003-2008), TIFF, 20″ x 16″

Click on the image for a better view.

The Sale Ends

November 3, 2008

renoirSince our last report, a $2 million Chagall, a $10 million Cezanne, another $3 million Pissarro, and a $20 million Monet all failed to sell.  Renoir’s beautiful Portrait de Nini made $5.5 million, within the estimates range, but his portrait of Louise Benzel made only $3.4 million, more than half a million below the low estimate.

The Surrealists were, quite rightly, all over the place.  A delightful Dali miniature sold for $542,500 (see image left), well within its estimate, but a strange little statue of his failed to sell.  A Klee was below estimate, but a Jean Arp work and one by Rene Magritte both climbed above the minimum bar.

daliThe second half of the evening didn’t see any improvement for Picasso.  His Nus Masculins sold for $1.8 million, well under the $2 million pre-sale minimum estimate, and Le Modele dans l’atelier was bought in.

A total of $224 million was paid — and a quarter billion can’t be a bad haul in these straitened times.  But still, a lot of canvas didn’t get on the moving van.  The catalogued minimum for the show didn’t include the Malevich (sold for $60 million), Munch’s Vampire ($38m.) or Danseurs au repos ($37m.)  Deducting those amounts from the take leaves just $89 million actual against the minimum estimate of $218 million for the balance of the catalogue.  Not so great.

Update: The New York Times today has a review of the sale that comes to much the same conclusions as me.  However, it includes good details about price guarantees the auction house has to honour to its cost, and the “irrevocable bid” — the only bid, in fact — that pushed Malevich to such heights.


The Sale Begins

November 3, 2008

The Impressionist and Modern Art Sale at Sothebys in New York has just begun.  And the Henti Matisse that started the sale went for $902,000, well positioned within the range of pre-sale estimates.   So far so good.

The next three lots (Kandinsky, Vlaminck and Beckman with a minimum aggregate estimate of $6.5m) seemed not to have sold.  A small Picasso with a pre-sale estimate of $6m – $8m hammered out just below $5m.  But then….

A work called “Supremacist composition” by Kasimir Malevich has sold for $60 million!   It had a pre-sale estimate that was not made public, so I guess they knew something like this was likely to happen.  Extraordinary for a work of this type (see image at right).

A $7m – $10m Van Gogh just went by without selling, as did a $1.5m estimate Sisley.   Some Monets are up next.

Two Monets, a Pissarro and the first of the Degas fetched at or just below their minimum estimates.  But Degas’ Danseuse au repos fetched $37m against a private estimate.  Two more Degas have just come in a touch below expectations, and two others, with minimum estimates of $10.5m to $14m went unsold.

These failures were followed by another Monet and another Pissarro, both of which hammered down at about 10% below minimum estimates.   This seems to be about the level this sale is reaching.   I wonder if the Malevich was a surpise or expected or whether it, too, failed to meet its private expectations (hard to imagine at $60m for a non-household name).

Edvard Munch’s evocative Vampire has sold for $38m.  The pre-sale estimate was private, so it is hard to guage the success of this particular lot (see image at left).

A colourful still life by Matisse ($8m to $10m) went unsold, but Toulouse-Lautrec’s Bal masque made $4.5m, half a million above its minimum estimate.

The big Modigliani is up next with an estimate of between $18m and $25m.    But — it passes unsold, along with a $6m Picasso, a $12m-$18m Matisse, and a $7m Giacometti.

The Picasso’s also continue to under-perform, with Bouteille de bass et verre missing the $1.2m minimum by almost $300,000, while a Matisse portrait of a woman sitting has crept $200,000 over its $4m minimum.

Now there are three works by Boris Grigoriev that, together have done rather against estimates.  The first made $3.7m (estimated $2.5-3.5m), the second $3.2m ($4 -6m), and the third $1.1m ($600,000-800,000).

…continuing coverage…

The Assassination of Painting

November 3, 2008

I have to be honest up front and say that I have never liked or appreciated the work of Joan Miro.  However, the critical analysis surrounding a major new show — “Joan Miró: Painting and Anti-Painting 1927-1937” — at MOMA, New York, has done its work and gotten me interested.

The exhibition illustrates, step by step, exactly how Miró stalked and attacked painting — zapped its conventions, messed up its history, spoiled its market value — through 12 distinct groups of experimental works produced over a decade. If, in the end, painting survived, that’s neither here nor there. The story’s the thing. Crisp, clear and chronological, the show reads like a combination of espionage yarn and psychological thriller set out in a dozen page-turning chapters,

says Holland Cotter in the New York Times.  The first seven pieces in the show display Miro getting rid, more or less, of paint.   The next set shows what Cotter calls the elimination of “skill”:

The wood panel used as a support in a piece called “Spanish Dancer I” is covered with a sheet of colored paper. A small rectangle of plain sandpaper is tacked on top of it. Glued to the sandpaper is a tiny cutout image of a woman’s shoe. That’s about it: no paint, almost no image, almost no artist.

Cotter notes additional series seemingly aimed at destroying standard notions of art history, collages and sculpture.

By 1934, collage, assemblage, drawing and painting had blurred together into freakish hybrids that seem products less of objective experiment than of pathological obsession. Two drawing-collages on reflective paper from this time have an unhinged, fun-house look. A third, of uncertain date, combines ripped paper-doll figures with tied-on cardboard paint tubes resembling cartridge shells. The whole piece looks derelict and must have even when new.

Another set of over-sized pastels are followed by colourful painted miniatures.  Then:

He makes just one more murderous lunge at tradition, in a series of paintings on Masonite panels from 1936. The attack is very physical and feels a bit desperate. In many ways this series brings him back to 1927. The pictures are abstract; he leaves the Masonite surface mostly bare. But what he adds has changed: oil stains, vomitlike substances and fecal-looking hunks of tar and dirt. In addition he hacks away at the surface, stabbing and gouging and leaving deep ruts and splintery scars.

Cotter makes an interesting point:  As durability was one of the attributes that Miro struggled against, one has to wonder whether he expected or wanted any of these works to actually survive.

The critic completes the exhibition and declares it a marvelous tour de force.  It is not

the blockbuster slog but the experience of one artist’s creative process and the experience of an exhibition as a form of thinking. Like reading a book, the process makes you part of the trip, not just a witness to it. In this case the trip is fairly demanding but one I suspect that audiences with even a casual interest in how art is conceived and made will enjoy.

He is probably right.  I would enjoy the show for what I can learn about technique and meaning rather than from a new enjoyment of the works themselves (which I still don’t like).  And it is hard to ask more of an exhibition than that.