Nauman’s work changed the game, but has been far less present on the auction market in recent decades. The unique bronze Fox Wheel (1990) is an extremely appealing sculpture from one of his most sought-after bodies of work and made on a domestic scale (by an artist who tends to work on an institutional scale). And yet, it sold for the relatively modest price of $1.3m (est. $1.2m-$1.8m).
Later this year, a major retrospective, “Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts”, will consider more than 50 years of Nauman’s output at the Schaulager in Basel (17 March-26 August 2018) and then at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (21 October 2018-17 March 2019), an event which should create context for a new generation of collectors who have simply not seen enough of his work.
There was a new record set for a work by Vija Celmins with Lead Sea #2 (1969), which sold for $4.2m (est. $1.5m-$2.5m) at Christie’s. This was a big price for her work and a jump from the previous record of $3.4m for Burning Plane (1965), which was set at Sotheby’s in 2014.
There is a growing awareness of this artist’s importance: all of the top ten prices for the artist have been set in the past five years. Lead Sea #2 comes from her most coveted series of drawings (those of the sea), drawing having been her principle medium for decades. While diminutive in scale, these powerful and meditative works go toe-to-toe in importance and impact with work by the major Minimalists such as Judd and Serra.
One of the most important artists of his generation, Ruscha has nonetheless had a spotty auction market. His work is included in most evening sales but often finds mixed reception. He is one of those artists whose work is clearly undervalued: we are waiting for that moment when the market will begin to acknowledge that.
This season was, in part, a step in the right direction. Works from the 1990s have not tended to perform well at auction but, last week, there were clear signs of renewed attention being paid. At Sotheby’s, Brave Man’s Porch (1996) became the third most expensive work by the artist to sell at auction for $6.6m (est. $4m-$6m).
High-five for connoisseurship
Drawing is a medium that has not attracted much attention from newer buyers, but the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Collection of true masterworks performed extremely well, with multiple bidders on most of the 24 lots on offer in the Contemporary evening sale, all of which sold.
A new record was set when Shattered Light (1954) sold at Christie’s for $5.5m (est. $1.8m-$2.5m). More people have recently been paying attention to this highly significant artist who has nonetheless been somewhat invisible on the market. This Krasner dates from 1954: a Pollock of equivalent size and quality would sell for north of $75m.
Two similarly scaled Bourgeois bronze sculptures of spiders came to auction last week, with identical estimates of $10m to $15m. Spider II (1995) sold at the low end of its estimate for $11.6m at Christie’s.
The following evening, Spider IV (conceived in 1996 and cast in 1997) sold for $14.7m to a bidder from Asia. Spider IV has a strong sculptural presence and shows real style in how the legs cling to the wall. In a famous portrait of the artist, which was also used as the cover of a major book, Louise stands below Spider IV with her arms flung upwards in exhilaration.