WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Over the past few years, the team at Palm Beach Modern Auctions (PBMA) has witnessed a shift in the types of merchandise most in demand at its carefully curated modern and contemporary design events. Their 490-lot auction held on February 20th made the argument rather convincingly that the “best names” in modern furniture will continue to set records for them in the foreseeable future, but it’s modern art that will capture the lion’s share of prices realized.
“The formula for our growing success with art has been simple – we try to take a realistic approach,” said PBMA co-owner and auctioneer Rico Baca. “We’re selective and offer artworks by noteworthy twentieth-century artists, but we also make sure that expectations are reasonable, both with the estimates and the reserves. We evaluate and catalog our consignments in such a way that bidders stand a good chance of acquiring a quality artwork at the right price, while consignors can feel confident their art will sell at a profit. There’s a fine line, and we respect where that line is drawn, from both sides of the equation.”
PBMA obviously struck a happy medium between buyers and sellers on February 20th, as their 490-lot offering grossed $875,000 (inclusive of 22% buyer’s premium) – an average price of $1,750 per lot. It was one of the company’s largest sales to date and drew 125+ in-house bidders and more than 1,400 Internet bidders from 16 countries. Five phone lines buzzed with activity throughout the day.
The star of the sale was Lot 845, a large and early original painting by Jim Dine (American, b. 1935-) titled Room Painting. Artist-signed and dated 1958, the 48¾-inch-square abstract oil breezed past its estimate to finish at $45,000.
“Jim Dine is hugely collected,” Baca remarked. “He’s considered both modern and esoteric, and he and his contemporaries, Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning and Robert Rauschenberg, all influenced each other. What a great cross-pollination of talent.”
Lot 87, a Larry Rivers (American, 1923-2002) signed original painting on canvas measuring 23¾ by 30 inches, came with an extensive line of provenance that originated with Rivers’ assistant, John Dyke, who received the work as a gift from the artist. It was claimed by a new owner for $16,250 against an estimate of $6,000-$8,000.
Tom Wesselmann’s (1931-2004) art might be described as the classic American dream in primary colors. “His images are of the girl with the perfect body and the man who has the girl with the perfect body – a little bit naughty, but in a humorous way. His work is very collectible, and you’ll see it on many Palm Beachers’ walls,” Baca said. At the February 20th sale, PBMA auctioned a signed 1989 Wesselmann lithograph, number 20 of an edition of 100, for $12,500, the midpoint of its auction estimate.
Two 1981 geometric watercolor/pencil-on-paper paintings by Sol Lewitt (American, 1928-2007), Lots 353 and 354, each measured less than 12 inches square but made a big statement when they powered their way to $11,250 and $10,625, respectively.
Sculptures were in demand throughout the session. Lot 495, a signed bronze nude by Larry Mohr (American, 1921-2013), came to PBMA from the artist’s estate. The 21½-inch depiction of a female torso sold for a record $10,000, with proceeds benefiting the Larry Mohr Scholarship Fund.
“We started selling pieces from Larry Mohr’s estate a few years ago, and the prices have only gone up since then,” said Baca. “Larry Mohr’s work is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and many other prestigious institutional collections. He is the only artist who has had a one-hundred-percent sell-through rate at our auctions. We offered ten estate pieces this time, and all ten sold.”
Sculptural works by op and kinetic artist Jesus Rafael de Soto (Venezuelan, 1923-2005) also continued their winning streak at PBMA. Two signed, limited-edition works were entered as consecutive lots, 224 and 225. The former, a 1979 metal and screenprint on Plexiglas piece titled La Escalera Azul, ed. 32/110, 1979, rose to $10,000; while the latter, Hannover, ed. 188/200, 1968, settled at $7,750.
Auction records were set for many furniture forms, Baca said. They included: Lot 54, a versatile
Gabriella Crespi coffee table with four retractable leaves, $27,500; Lot 118, a pair of George Nakashima wall-mounted nightstands, $13,750; and Lot 131, a Paul Evans Studio for Directional “Stalagmite” coffee table, $5,625. Yet another auction record was set when Lot 120, a Pedro Friedeberg full-size Butterfly and Foot chair, flew off to a new home for $8,125; while Internet bidding carried an Arredoluce “Triennale” triple-globe floor lamp all the way to $7,500 against an estimate of $3,000-$5,000.
Decorative art highlights included Lot 339, a small Carlo Scarpa for Venini “Tessuto” vase, $5,937; and Lot 468, a set of 12 Piero Fornasetti “Eve Plates,” $3,750.
As always, PBMA co-owners Rico Baca and Wade Terwilliger made sure their gallery guests were treated to valet parking and a catered luncheon. “This time for our lunch buffet we went for comfort food, since the weather had been a bit cool,” Baca said. The menu’s entrees included macaroni-and-cheese balls, chicken on cheddar and green chili cornbread muffins, mini chicken potpies, grilled cheddar and apple sandwiches with tomato basil soup shots, and meatloaf “cupcakes” with whipped potato topping. The feast was displayed in a country-style setting of wooden crates with colorful pots of spring herb plants. Tempting desserts and a full complement of beverages were served, as well.
Palm Beach Modern Auctions is currently accepting consignments for an April or May 2016 auction. For additional information, call 561-586-5500 or e-mail email@example.com. Online: www.modernauctions.com.