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artnet Newsletter December 2010
The Top Ten on artnet Auctions 2010
by Walter Robinson, editor of artnet Magazine

artnet Auctions scored over US $12 million in sales in 2010, a sizeable increase over the preceding year. Buyers hailed from around the globe, ranging from Texas and New York to Islamabad and Hong Kong. They love artnet Auctions’ fast turnaround on sales, which can be finalized in a few weeks, compared to the six months or a year required by the brick-and-mortar art auctioneers. artnet Auctions routinely sees works by blue chip modern and contemporary artists sell in the five- and six-figure range. As 2010 draws to a close, let’s take a look back at the top ten lots of the year.

1. In February a painting by Richard Prince titled Last Week (1999) sold for US $295,000 (prices exclude the 15 percent buyer's premium). Combining childish drawings of stick figures and daisies set at an animated angle against a sensuous green ground, the work is captioned with a classic Henny Youngman-style joke with Oedipal overtones: "I said to my mother-in-law, my house is your house. Last week she sold it."

2. More recently, a rare and complete series of 30 prints by Agnes Martin, On a Clear Day (1973), sold for US $130,500. Printed in gray on cream-colored paper, the much sought-after print marks a threshold in Martin’s œuvre, when she abandoned the cosmopolitan artistic life in favor of the selfless serenity of the desert. A landmark of Minimalism, On a Clear Day was shown in its entirety at the Museum of Modern Art in the year that it was made. The price is an auction high for this work.

3. Andy Warhol is the lingua franca of the art market, and in April, Warhol’s beatific Venus (from "Details of Renaissance Paintings") - Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus, 1482 (1984) sold for US $93,500, a high price for a good impression of this serigraph, from an edition of 70, which is signed and numbered in pencil.

4. Another rare work brought a high price in May, when Sol LeWitt’s Lines in All Directions (1993) sold for US $76,500. The ca. 60 x 60 in. gouache on paper, whose title explains exactly the rules used to generate the image, is emblematic of the artist’s immensely popular marriage of lively and colorful design with idea-based Conceptual and Minimal art. The work is signed and dated.

5. Earlier this year, in recognition of the almost feverish interest in modern and contemporary design, artnet launched its new Design Marketplace. That heated demand for design masterpieces extended to artnet Auctions as well, with the sale in October of Ron Arad’s dramatic Blo Void 1 (2005), a mirror-polished and woven aluminum seating unit, for US $73,500. The work is the signed and numbered, from an edition of 20.

6. The sixth highest lot from 2010 was a pair of Andy Warhol Mao prints from the 1972 portfolio that sold for US $64,000. Inspired by U.S. President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China that same year, Warhol drew a pointed parallel between Hollywood celebrity in the U.S. and the cult of Mao in China. These prints are also the first to include Warhol’s signature background scribbles, a motif that anticipates the graffiti movement as it looks back to Abstract-Expressionism.

7. Something special happened when the Abstract-Expressionists made sketches and even paintings on pages of newspaper -- their swashbuckling vision became even more urgent, and sent their roots deeper into the bohemian poverty of their era. So it wasn’t so surprising that artnet Auctions sold in May Willem de Kooning’s Untitled (landscape) (1973), an oil sketch on the New York Times (now laid on canvas), for US $60,001. The woman-as-landscape motif features de Kooning’s signature pink flesh hue.

8. Among the motifs made famous by the great Pop artist Jim Dine, who gave a revealing interview to artnet Magazine not too long ago, is the red valentine heart (first used by the artist in 1965 as part of a stage set for a San Francisco production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream). In the heat of the summer, artnet Auctions sold Dine’s The Fall from Grace (4th Version) for US $60,000. In this small (36 x 24 in.) oil on canvas, however, the artist embellished the central heart image with a spooky Surrealist eye, making the timeless emblem of love seem more otherworldly than ever.

9. As one can see with a quick glance at the artnet Decorative Art Price Database, the Moscow-based, late 19th-century artisan Pavel Ovchinnikov, who can be placed with the School of Fabergé, made beautifully decorated Orthodox Christian icons as well as elaborate presentation tea sets and other commemorative items. In February, one such work -- a Massive Russian Gilded Silver Punchbowl and Matching Ladle -- sold on artnet Auctions for US $60,000.

10. Despite the continuing dominance of the art market by male artists, women are well-represented, and occasionally break the top ten. This year, along with the Agnes Martin suite mentioned above, the mystic Japanese Yayoi Kusama earned a spot on the list when her Pumpkins (2006), a portfolio of five prints from an edition of eight, sold for US $55,000.

As the year draws to a close, artnet Auctions continue to offer a wide variety of near-irresistible artworks. Take a look.

Richard Prince, Last Week

Richard Prince
Last Week, 1984
Sold on February 1, 2010 for
US $295,000 € 224,819

Andy Warhol, Venus (from Details of Renaissance paintings)- Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus, 1482

Andy Warhol
Venus (from Details of Renaissance paintings)- Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus, 1482, 1984
Sold on April 20, 2010 for
US $93,500 € 71,256

Sol Lewitt, Lines in all Directions

Sol Lewitt
Lines in all Directions, 1993
Sold on May 5, 2010 for
US $76,500 € 58,300

Ron Arad, Blo Void 1

Ron Arad
Blo Void 1, 2005
Sold on October 21, 2010 for
US $73,500 € 56,014

Pavel Ovchinnikov, Massive Russian Gilded Silver Punchbowl and Matching ladle

Pavel Ovchinnikov
Massive Russian Gilded Silver Punchbowl and Matching Ladle, ca. 1900
Sold on February 9, 2010 for
US $60,000 € 45,726


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