Friday, November 16, 2007

Phillips [London]: Nov 20 Preview

Before I get into the meat of the sale, I have to make sure one thing is clear. The absolute best picture in this sale is Lot #21, Helmut Newton's Jerry Hall Spitting (GBP8K). Nothing even comes close to it. Supermodel Jerry Hall is photographed spraying an arc of water on an unknown woman's bared breast. If I owned this piece, I'd make sure it was in a position of honor in the room, and I wouldn't take it down when the parents (or even grandparents!) came to visit.

But, for pure celebrity fun, it does have close competition from two more images. First off is Fergus Greer's Damien Hirst above Formaldehyde Tank (GBP7K). A naked Damien Hirst lies
above a tank of dead animals. No doubt he's not thinking about death. But he's probably thinking about the smell. Compositionally, it's tight and elegant; the board Hirst is lying on is a great contrast to the organic shapes both in the tank and the fetal position Hirst is in. Online, the color is not great, but it is hard to tell if that's a problem with the original or the reproduction. Second in the running is Steven Klein's David Beckham series. There are two lots in the sale, 156 and 157, (both GBP9K) but I'm only going to talk about 157, because it has the best view of Beckham's butt. It's also 50 x 55in, which means you can have a nearly life-size C-print of Becks in your very own home. The back-story on this print is probably impressive, given how down-market the bed and the chair are. And what's up with the tan line? Isn't he rich enough to be able to own an island where he and Posh can sun themsleves totally nude? But both of these are really just celebrity portraits. They might work well in a magazine, or (barely) a book, but it is hard to imagine, in twenty years, still learning something new from the image.

On the other hand, there are some items that even after fifty years, I can imagine learning something new from. Shimon Mizrahy's "Reflection" series (Waddesdon Manor, and Arbury Hall, both GBP2.5K) are those kinds of images. Especially Waddesdon Manor, with the hint of a statue, possibly a person through the window in the lower right; there are at least three entire worlds to contemplate in the image: modern, ecological Cool Britannia reflected in the window, the world of English Empire that built the window itself, and then the fleeting
hints of another world, still going on inside the building itself. With a high estimate of GBP2.5K, these are not horribly expensive. I've never heard of Mizrahy before these images, but I'd like to see a book of his. These two are an amazing start.

I'm going to group the next set of three works together because they seem to be cut from roughly the same fabric. There are important differences, but there also seem to be similarities: Muniz, Parkeharrison, and Beard. First, the Vik Muniz, Youth (Gaspar), from
the Pictures of Soil series. I promise I won't mention Muniz again for a while, unless the Elizabeth Taylor done in diamonds shows up. Again, technically, he's one of the most amazing artists I've seen recently (photographer or otherwise). And he manages to represent both
ephemerality and solidity so deftly: images of Brazilian youth done in dirt and twigs. A breath could destroy it. With a high estimate of GBP3K, it is well priced compared to the works in the Contemporary Art sale in New York. Next, another constructed photograph, Robert Parkeharrison's Breathing Machine. Parkeharrison greatly appeals to me, especially his (their?) images from the "Architect's Brother" series. They speak of a land where magic was possible, a land ravaged by that possibility, and the now muggle inhabitants are
struggling to understand the world. Unfortunately, this isn't one of his better images. It seems indistinct, and almost incomplete. The polish I associate with his work simply isn't there, and I wish there were a better example, especially with a GBP5K high estimate. Finally, the Peter Beard. He has a few pieces in this sale, but Giraffes in Mirage seems the best example. With his own annotations, paint, and ink it's a unique print, with three almost other-worldly giraffes floating across the Taru desert.

Finally, to wrap-up, a grab bag of images that also caught my eye. I continue to be entranced by Bien-u Bae's Pine Tree, this instance has a very subtle color to it that the web actually manages to show. I just wish it were not GBP50K. Kim Joon's We-BMW, has an erotic component is hard to ignore, but just as eagerly engages issues of commercialization, branding and commoditization. (Of course, it costs about as much as a used BMW at GBP7K.) A warning though, a male cannot hang it in his bedroom without essentially regressing back to age 16, so be careful. There's a nice Burtynsky, Manufacturing #16 (GBP5K) and an enigmatic
Sultan (is there any other kind?), Boxers. (GBP12K, which seems very high to me) Finally, just because I'm still learning here, another Brancusi, Femme se regardant dans un miroir, but nowhere near as impressive as the example at Sotheby's a few days ago (and more expensive at GBP15K). And, lastly, a bit of lesbian action from Newton in Paris, and some male action from Ritts, Tony with Rope (not a platinum print; now that I know he did them, I don't think a silver print would have the same impact.)

No plans to bid in this auction.

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