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Art Market Gets a Boost from Sotheby’s, Warhol

Posted on Nov 12, 2009
Warhol painting
AP / Sang Tan

A visitor last month stands in front of “200 One Dollar Bills,” a painting by Andy Warhol on display in London, prior to its sale at Sotheby’s New York outpost on Wednesday.

Sotheby’s enjoyed a windfall Wednesday when the auction house’s New York HQ nearly doubled its estimated high of $67.9 million for its contemporary art bid-fest, in which Andy Warhol’s works figured prominently among the biggest-selling successes of the evening. One Warhol silk-screen painting in particular was the focus of furious bidding and featured a somewhat ironic image (especially considering the dollar’s ongoing struggles on the world market).  —KA

The New York Times:

Just a year after the art market was in the doldrums with the world’s financial markets, buyers with deep pockets were not shy about stepping up for tried-and-true artists. The sale topped Sotheby’s expectations, totaling $134.4 million, well above its $67.9 million high estimate. Of the 54 works on offer, only two went unsold. The evening also eclipsed Christie’s auction of postwar and contemporary art on Tuesday night, which brought in $74.1 million. While both sales featured big-name artists, Sotheby’s had just enough blockbusters to make for a successful evening.

In pristine condition, “200 One Dollar Bills” was enticing to any Pop Art collector. Add to that the provenance — it had once been part of the celebrated collection of Robert C. Scull, the taxi tycoon — and it was irresistible.

[...] Warhols of all ages and subjects brought strong prices. A 1965 self-portrait with a top estimate of $1.5 million sold to Laurence Graff, the London jeweler, for $5.4 million ($6.1 million with Sotheby’s commission). Warhol himself gave the work to Cathy Naso, who as a teenager in the mid-1960s worked after school in his legendary Factory.

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By NYCartist, November 16, 2009 at 1:48 pm Link to this comment

Shenonymous:enjoyed reading your comment.  Especially your suggesting I put the passion I show online into my art.  So man-like, or is it just professorial?
(I’m married to a science professor who is also a man.)

I’m closing in on 70.  Everything I do is passionate.
Art, yes.  A professional artist since age 24 or 25, depending on how it’s counted.
THANK YOU for reading my comments.  And replying.

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By Shenonymous, November 16, 2009 at 7:08 am Link to this comment

NYCartist, Berger’s book, Ways of Seeing, is one I always have listed on my
syllabus as a must buy for students.  But my favorite art philosopher is Arthur
Danto.  We devour his books, eating one page at a time to savor his deep
perceptions not only of the art world but what art is about.  It is not about what
it is popularly thought to be, imitation of life, but rather to give insight into the
promise of life, whether it be good or bad.  The Transfiguration of the
Commonplace is a good one to start with to learn about contemporaries such
as Warhol and Koons!  Don’t discount Koons just because he is a destroyer of
traditional ideas.  Don’t discount any artist who is, because that is the path to
learning the power of art. 

For a sharp description of Guerrilla Girls check out Cynthia Freeland’s, But is it
Art.  For these somewhat anarchistic ladies, grand ladies in the art world as far
as I am concerned, I invited them to our campus some years ago and the
auditorium was packed, mostly with women students but a respectable number
of men as well.  They speak about the depreciation of women in the arts but it
is really a commentary on the wretched caste women have suffered since the
cave!  Put the kind of passion you show on these forums into your art and there
is no doubt you will join the pantheon of recognized artists if there is a dollar
in it or not.

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By NYCartist, November 16, 2009 at 6:54 am Link to this comment

  Appreciate your comment.  As an artist, I’m a maker of art and an observer.  I knew one artist who was selling in a gallery: Nell Blaine.  It’s a business and still rough for women.  (See Guerrilla Girls stuff online for laughs in the midst of our pain.) 

    No, I don’t “count” on money trickling down in the art world, any more than money trickled down in re bailouts, voodoo economics.

    As I marvel at nearing a big decade number at the end of February (it will be my 17 1/2 Leap Year birthday), with CFS/ME too, I remember the words of
octogenarian painter Raphael Soyer, when asked by
American Artist Mag. for his advice to young artists,
    “Live a long time.” said Raphael Soyer.  An artist should live a long time.  So many got some recognition and sales around 80, if they lived long enough.  I am thinking of Louise Bourgeous, and Louise Nevelson, who couldn’t get a gallery show between age 40 and 70 (and didn’t sell anything at the show when age 40).  I remember that some men, sculptors, didn’t sell much, including Alexander Calder didn’t sell anything at a show in the 1950s.

    Art is an old boys network.  And it’s a business.  Fashion business.  The best way for an artist to get into a gallery is to know someone in a gallery.  And one gets into a gallery if the “suits” as you put it, decide it’s sellable.

    I have my file in the NMWA, National Museum of Women in the Arts.  I’ve gotten other women to start files, or I started files for them.  I urge folks to tell every woman artist to visit the NMWA website and START A FILE:  It’s easy and cheap.  I was a history major before being able to make the break to art and I have two pieces of advice for artists (and anyone):

    Write as much of your own history as you can, if you want to keep down the distortions that will come when some biographer starts psychotripping on your work.  (Darned if I can figure out why that’s been happening in art bios for the last few decades.)  Get into archives.  Make the art you want to make.  Find good ways to support your career.  Ignore the silliness.

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By NYCartist, November 16, 2009 at 6:38 am Link to this comment

I like your last paragraph:the one to me.  Thanks.
On art as investment: I like John Berger’s books on art, as well as his fiction.  As an artist, a woman, I urge folks to check out Guerrilla Girls online.  google.

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By lani, November 15, 2009 at 12:47 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Has anyone else seen a film by British art critic Ben Lewis on the art bubble. It is a riot and a must see and makes one very suspicious of this latest art market action. I think they are buying the work themselves propping up their prices.

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By Anarcissie, November 13, 2009 at 8:54 pm Link to this comment

NYCArtist—that is an excellent web site!

I don’t know that much about the art world, but I’ve read a couple of amusing memoirs* about buying and selling art, and I’ve hung out with some major art gallery suits and watched them do their thing, greasing the prospects.  I’ve also traipsed around to galleries with people who had, in my opinion, really good work, and watched them get turned down by everyone.  The problem is that, in order to be recognized as art, an art work has to have one of those suits in front of it intoning This is Art.”  For those who don’t have a suit, it’s like not getting a job because you don’t have experience, and not getting experience because you don’t have job.

The influx of money to known big deals like Warhol, though, isn’t because a lot of people have suddenly fallen in love with Andy’s work, it’s because funny money is coming around again and $1000 bottles of champagne can’t account for it all.  I would not count on much of the moolah flowing down to the lower orders….

* Here’s a review of one:

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By Shenonymous, November 13, 2009 at 4:47 pm Link to this comment

Big money for artworks has always been around.  The Nazis knew what
treasures artworks were.  Cardinal Mazarin certainly knew what was
collectable having carted off dozens of Roman and Greeks works to his
mansion.  And Lord Elgin was famous for his theft of the Greek treasures. 
Having been professionally involved in the artworld in many different ways, one
of my lower level academic degrees is in art history and museum studies. 
Southeby’s, Christie’s, Bonhams & Butterfields, are only three of the major
auctions houses.  There are actually over four hundred fine art auctions houses
in the world.  In one of its incarnations, fine art is a business and these houses
make money.  Even if it isn’t newsworthy to MSM, it still goes on in private

Yes, most of the better fine art that is collected are nominees for investment.  The end of the 70s and up to the mid-80s, an artworld scam similar to the Ponzi was going around.  It was called the pyramid scheme back then.  I recall vividly being invited to meeting with a lawyer, I was the director of a fairly reputable gallery at the time, and he wanted to make an investment in artworks and wanted to get my opinion of certain works.  He opened his desk drawer that was in his office on the 15th floor of a skyscraper in Southern California, and in the drawer filled to the top was cash, money in 20 dollar bills!  I was shocked having never seen that much money in my life! outside of a bank (not even in a bank! perhaps in a movie.  Never saw such a thing again either by the way.  Nevertheless, apparently he was involved in a pyramid scheme and wanted to put his “made” money into a different form of financial investment, an equity investment, i.e, real estate, gems, artworks.  I declined to be involved and did not offer my professional advice.  He was prepared to pay me for it, but I declined.  It was unethical in a couple of ways.  Unless an artist is a big name, a small sized investment is one with no return and is particularly risky if the
investor has no or barely an understanding of art.  All things thought to be artworks are not really of much value within the domain of investment art.

While there are artists who have potential, it is difficult to predict who will
become big investment artists.  I always advised my clients who had little
money or those who were really afraid to make the leap to big name artists
(mainly because they could not sustain the investment and one painting just
does not do it really if that is the plan) to buy what they liked to hang on their
on walls and to make investment in gold, fixed interest investments, or
investment funds and to seek the advice of trustworthy investment companies. 
Well we all saw what happened with that industry, to wit Bernie Madoff and
company. How does one know who is trustworthy, now or even then?  Having
property of value is both a blessing and a curse. 

Regarding the Warhol:  it would be almost a priceless (well there is a price on it
but for all tense and purposes it could be called priceless) marketable item
regardless of the financial state of any particular country.  The world of finance
is more arcane than imagined.  Most people think in terms of small potatoes. 
The upper eshelons of wealth, in the Gates category, or Warren Buffet, Carlos
Slim Helu, Lawrence Ellison, et al of the 1,125 billionaires in the world today,
have a whole different way of thinking.  The state of any economy does not
affect them.  Nor does politics.

NYCartist, I too make art and have for about 4 decades as well besides being
involved in academia for twenty years.  And even though I have been involved
in the business end of art, I never wanted to be involved in the show circuit.  It
is a grind and a lot of pretentiousness.  If my works ever attain any status it
will most likely be after I’m dead.  Besides I have other intellectual interests.

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By NYCartist, November 13, 2009 at 3:42 pm Link to this comment

Anarcissie:you seem to know the art world.

Another artist who didn’t make money alive:
News: the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, has put all of
  Van Gogh’s letters online, free.  Not the easiest
  site to use for someone low-tech as me, but I’ve
  begun playing with it (day 2):  Have fun!

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By Anarcissie, November 13, 2009 at 9:17 am Link to this comment

I imagine the big money for the Warhol piece has more to do with the funny money now being supplied to the rich by the Federal government than anything specific to the art market, Andy Warhol, Sotheby’s, etc.  During the most recent funny-money era, a few years ago, collectibles were a favorite repository for the stuff, after equities and real estate.  That’s where the boost is coming from.

The collectibles market doesn’t have a whole lot directly to do with art as such.  There was a recent article in the New York Review of Books about disputes over the authenticity of certain works of Warhol’s.  The works in question are formally and materially indistinguishable from those which are accorded authenticity, but because Warhol used industrial methods, e.g. silkscreening, the degree of his participation in some of them is questioned; merely designing an item and signing it later apparently don’t confer the aureole, since the hands-on physical work of fabrication might have been done by an assistant.  It is not the art that matters but the egos of the participants in the auctions.  They might as well be collecting rare bottlecaps.  Warhol understood the scene well, having come along as a commercial artist; he spent a good deal of time and energy publicizing himself and his work and chasing celebrities.  However, unlike another famous monument of the 20th century, he didn’t start his art career by hiring a publicist.

(For some reason the hands-on thing doesn’t seem to apply to the abominable Koons.)

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By NYCartist, November 13, 2009 at 8:45 am Link to this comment

Big money not for the artists.  I’ve never made money at my art and supported my art career at “outside” jobs until too ill with CFS/ME.  Never cared as I made the art I want to make, for over 4 decades.

I came to post this, but stopped to read the first comment first. Do you know how Andy Warhol died?
He was given an injection of penicillin after bladder surgery.  The doctor prescribed it, despite the “Allergic to penicillin” on chart and the nurse gave it.  The nurse was the only one “punished”, although the (NY)hospital was given a $5000. (yes, five thousand dollar) fine for the killing error.

(Source was New York Magazine at the time of the fine.  I remember because I’m very allergic, and an artist.)

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By Shenonymous, November 13, 2009 at 5:33 am Link to this comment

It is beyond interesting that there is always money, big big money available for
artworks of the bold and beautiful of the artworld.  It is especially made poignant
(let us say “acute”) given the fact that the world is in an historic financial funk. 
Doesn’t it seem ironic, downright cynical that those who are concerned about the
conditions of the poor in this country of ‘Merka’ and then, of course secondly, the
world are eclipsed always by the ‘real’ world of entertainment and the arts?  I, who
am with every fiber of her body in support of the arts, do find it paradoxical if not
implicatively mandarin of who is concerned with the conditions of the common
population and who has distanced themselves from that part of reality.  Viva Andy
Wharhola, viva Andy Warhol, viva 200 One Dollar Bills, as that is about as much a
savings as any in the poor sector would ever be able to save in their whole,
wharhola life, if not 2 cents.

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