$17 Million for Work : Records Fall for Second Day at Art Auction

Times Art Writer

The second night of a week-long series of art auctions seemed to support the contention that records are made to be broken. Only 24 hours after the contemporary art market made a vigorous show of strength at Christie’s auction house, a Thursday night sale of contemporary art at Sotheby’s ran up even bigger sales totals and broke brand new records.

Sotheby’s sale of 12 paintings from the Sally and Victor W. Ganz collection totalled $48.5 million, almost double the $25.8 million fetched by the Burton and Emily Hall Tremaine collection the previous evening at Christie’s.

Immediately following the Ganz auction, Sotheby’s sale of 74 lots of contemporary art brought an additional $50 million. The evening yielded $66 million in sales of contemporary work and $32 million in modern art.

New York Art Dealer


The most spectacular event at Sotheby’s was New York art dealer Larry Gagosian’s purchase of Jasper Johns’ 1959 painting “False Start” for $17.05 million (including the standard 10% buyer’s commission), part of the later sale of contemporary works.

The audience gasped in disbelief as bidding soared past the pre-sale estimate of $4 million to $5 million, then climbed above the $7 million paid Wednesday night for Johns’ “White Flag,” which had set a record for highest auction price for a contemporary artwork.

In addition to bringing the highest auction price ever for a contemporary work, the sale of “False Start” more than doubled Johns’ auction price record.

“Some people were surprised at the price, but I wasn’t,” said Lucy Mitchell-Innes, head of Sotheby’s contemporary art department. She called the splashy red, yellow and blue canvas “a major masterpiece of contemporary art, the equivalent to Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch.’ ”


“False Start,” which challenges perceptions of color by mismatching stenciled names of hues with patches of pigment, is considered a seminal work, leading Johns from depictions of real objects such as targets and flags to more conceptual abstractions.

Doubled Record Price

Pablo Picasso’s 1923 Cubist painting, called “The Bird Cage,” sold to a New York dealer for $15.4 million, more than double the record $7.6 million paid for a work by the artist a year ago for “Remembrance of Le Havre.”

“The Bird Cage,” which epitomizes the late, decorative phase of the Cubist period, was the highlight of the Ganz collection, which included five other Picassos and two works each by Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Frank Stella.

Rauschenberg’s 1955 “combine” painting “Rebus,” an oil, pencil, fabric and paper collage on canvas, sold to a telephone bidder for $6.3 million, easily outstripping his year-old record of $814,000.

The late Andy Warhol’s serial-image painting “Marilyn Monroe (20 Times)” set a record for the artist when it sold to an anonymous New York collector for $3.96 million. An unidentified New York collector also paid a record $1.65 million for Abstract Expressionist Barnett Newman’s painting, “The Promise.”

Other highlights included Johns’ “Gray Rectangles,” which sold for $4.29 million, Picasso’s “Femme Nue Assise,” which brought $6.05 million, and Rauschenberg’s “Winter Pool,” which went for $3.74 million.

Every work in the Ganz collection sold, all but two of them exceeding their high estimates. Only six works in the second auction failed to find buyers.


Earlier sales. Calendar, Page 1.