Miami, I love you but give me Park Avenue (at least during auction week)

2011 Contemporary Auction Week in New York City

Anthony Japour (AJ) is an independent curator, private art dealer and owner of AJ Japour Gallery. The gallery deals in contemporary art with a focus on the Chinese Contemporary Art Movement and its relationship to the pillars of Western Contemporary Art. Since 2003, AJ has produced numerous art exhibitions and installations in Miami and South Florida. In addition, the Gallery’s secondary mission is to support organizations dedicated to the health, education, and welfare of children. AJ has served on the Fine Arts Board and the Cultural Arts Council of the City of Miami Beach.

Elaine Sturtevant, Lichtenstein, Frighten Girl, 1966 Oil and Graphite on canvas 45½ x 63¾ IN signed “Lichtenstein, Frighten Girl”, E. Sturtevant, Antibes/Paris, 1966 on reverse Estimate: $250-350,000 Sold: $540,000 Hammer, w/ Buyer’s Premium: $710,000 Philips de Pury & Company, 450 Park Avenue, New York, New York

The May and November contemporary art auctions are traditionally the most important financial events for the major auction houses – and this year they are rolling in cash from smart investors pulling money out of a “yo-yo” stock market and real estate and investing in contemporary art.

My New York trip began at the plush new space of Philips de Pury auction house on Park Avenue and wended its way through Christie’s in Rockefeller Plaza, uptown to the Park Avenue Armory and ended at Maurizio Cattelan’s solo exhibition at Guggenheim Museum and a jewel of a show exhibiting René Magritte.

Born in Lakewood Ohio in 1930, Elaine Sturtevant’s entire career has been devoted to making copies of other artists’ works. So I was somewhat caught by surprise at the Phillips de Pury Contemporary Art Auction Day sale to see what I believed to be a “Lichtenstein” going for only a half-million dollars. I asked my new associate, Alexa J. Coulton (also known as “AJ”) the year of the “Lichtenstein” work when she informed me that it was not Lichtenstein at all, but Sturtevant!

While the POP artists of the 1960s were appropriating images from mass media and POPular culture, Sturtevant was appropriating art works by other POP artists. Apparently, Andy Warhol recognized Sturtevant’s genius by immediately responding to her request to have one of his Flower series sent over to her studio for her to copy.

Roy Lichtenstein, 1961 I Can See the Whole Room!...and There’s Nobody in it! signed “rfl” lower right, oil and graphite on canvas 48x48 IN Estimate: $35-45,000,000 Sold: $38,500,000 Hammer With Buyer’s Premium: $43,202,500 Christie’s, 20 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020

What is also remarkable about Sturtevant aside from her technical skill in reproducing copies of identical works by her contemporaries, but also her clairvoyant ability to pick the artists who would become important. Sturtevant was honored this year with the Golden Lion lifetime achievement award at the 54th Venice Biennale.

The Christie’s Evening Sale raked in a whopping $220 million dollars and included a genuine Lichtenstein fetching over $40 million. This one sale raised the evening’s take 20 percent. Two other Lichtenstein’s were offered that evening. Still Life with Sculpture, with an estimate of $4.5-6.5 million, went unsold when the bidding stopped at $4 million; and Interior with Painting and Still Life sold at $4.5 million, one-tenth the price of I Can See the Whole Room.

Occurring contemporaneously with Contemporary Auction Week in New York was the first edition of “Pavilion of Art & Design New York”, a spin-off of the London art and design fair. This new and exciting spin-off included such dealers as Ben Brown Fine Arts and Paul Kasmin showcasing the works of François-Xavier Lalanne.

François-Xavier & Claude Lalanne, Jean Royère, Ron Arad, Scott Campbell Pavilion of Art & Design New York Park Avenue Armory at 67th Street, New York, New York

Cristina Grajales exhibited and sold among the most expensive sofas in the world, Jean Royère’s Yo Yo sofa, 1950, for over $500,000 and Barry Friedman exhibited Ron Arad’s amazing steel and stainless steel bookcase, Restless, 2007 (Edition of 8) also for over $500,000. And speaking of money, the Zurich-based Galerie Gmurzynska on a pre-Art Basel-Miami Beach tour exhibited Scott Campbell’s Sworn to Fun, 2011 made of sheets of genuine United States dollar bills.

In one of the most highly anticipated exhibitions in contemporary art history, the Guggenheim Museum has once again outdone itself with All, Maurizio Cattelan’s retirement salvo of 128 works of art suspended in air in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed rotunda in a Christmas ornament arrangement. Not since the Guggenheim’s exhibition of Cai Guo-Qiang’s Innopportune: Stage One, 2004 of seven Chevrolet Metro sedans meant to simulate the stages of a bomb explosion has the museum attempted such a daring feat. Mind you, these 128 sculptural works are not replicas of his original works but the actual works themselves; constituting virtually his entire artistic output of 21 years – all hanging by a thread. The owners’ willingness to lend their works by Cattelan with full knowledge of the risks (and the benefits of including a Guggenheim Museum show in the work’s Provenance) is a testament to the faith in the engineering expertise the Guggenheim possesses (along with a hefty insurance policy I’d hope).

Maurizio Cattelan, All Guggenheim Museum, Fifth Avenue, New York, New York

Beyond the engineering feat, I respectfully disagree with Roberta Smith of the New York Times who felt the installation “initially startling but ultimately disrespectful and perverse”; I found the installation fascinating – though the artworks themselves are a bit startling and kind of disrespectful and perverse. But that is the point. Love it or hate it, if you find yourself in the Big Apple between now and Jan 22, 2012, this is a Do Not Miss exhibition.

At the conclusion of the auction week and despite bidding fatigue on behalf of her clients, my friend and colleague, private art dealer Lillian Heidenberg, brought me to a hidden gem of a show tucked away in the Carlyle Hotel, the inaugural exhibition of a new Uptown gallery Blain Di Donna, Dangerous Liaisons, featuring a survey of paintings, gouaches and drawings on paper, and objects by Belgian Surrealist René Magritte. The title is drawn from Magritte’s sem

René Magritte, Dangerous Liaisons Blain Di Donnaat the Carlyle Hotel 981 Madison Avenue New York, New York
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