Maurizio Cattelan’s Hitler Sculpture Leads Christie’s $78 Million Sale

A giant stick of butter and a crucified frog also generated buzz.

Maurizio Cattelan, Him (2001)
Image: Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.

Bruce Nauman, Henry Moore Bound to Fail (Conceived in 1967 and executed in 1970)
Image: Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.


Christie’s jumpstarted a jam-packed auction week in New York this evening with its “Bound to Fail” sale. Organized by Loic Gouzer, deputy chairman of postwar and contemporary art, the sale realized $78 million, edging toward its $81 million high estimate. Of 39 lots on offer, all but one was sold, making for a 97-percent sold-by-lot rate, and a 98-percent sold-by-value rate. But despite the strong overall results, activity and bidding in the sale room frequently seemed strained and sluggish throughout the sale.

Several new auction records were set, including for John Armleder, Maurizio Cattelan, Paola Pivi, Neil Jenney, Rebecca Horn, and Daniel Buren. The remaining two “records” were medium-specific, i.e. a video record for Bruce Nauman ($1.63 million) and for a sculpture by Richard Prince ($2.7 million).

The only real action of the evening happened during bidding on the final lot, Maurizio Cattelan’s creepy, kneeling mannequin, Him (2001), which the viewer first sees from behind. A frontal view of the work reveals that it is a model of a mini-Adolf Hitler.

Once the work, which was estimated at a hefty $10 million to $12 million, reached $10 million, Gouzer, who has previously spearheaded other themed hybrid sales at Christie’s, went head-to-head with private art dealer Philippe Segalot, who was seated in the sale room. Though bidding had been moving in $200,000 increments, momentum suddenly picked up. After Marianne Hoet, international director of postwar and contemporary art (who was on the phone with a client), jumped in, the bidding moved quickly to $13.2 million.

After the Brussels-based Hoet battled Gouzer’s client for several more minutes, Hoet won the work for her client on a hammer price of $15.2 million. With premium, the final price is $17.2 million.

The price far exceeded Cattelan’s previous record of $7.9 million, set in 2010, for an untitled installation that featured a sculpture of the artist emerging though the floor.

Martin Kippenberger, Feet First (1990)Image: Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.

Martin Kippenberger, Feet First (1990)
Image: Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.

The second highest lot of the night was a far quicker affair. When Jeff Koons’s One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J Silver Series) (1985) came on the block (the unpublished estimate, which was revealed to us by a Christie’s specialist at the auction, exceeded $12 million), bidding opened around $9 million. It ended quickly when a Christie’s specialist bidding for a client on the phone won it for $13.5 million with seemingly only one competitor: a client bidding, again, via Gouzer. The final price, with premium, was $15.3 million.

A typically irreverent work by Martin Kippenberger, Feet First (1990), depicting a crucified frog, sold for a premium-inclusive $1.3 million, compared with an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000.

Based on paddle number, the same client purchased at least one other work tonight, Robert Gober’s giant hyper-realistic sculpture of a stick of butter, Untitled (1993-94), which sold for $2.3 million.


Jeff Koons, One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr.J Silver Series (1985)Image: Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.

Jeff Koons, One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr.J Silver Series (1985)
Image: Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.

The centerpiece and inspiration for the sale was Bruce Nauman’s contextually-loaded bronze work, Henry Moore Bound to Fail (1970), which was the third highest lot of the night, after Koons. Following bidding competition between Gouzer and a Christie’s specialist standing next to him who was clearly taking instructions from a client in the front of the room, the piece sold for just under $7 million, against an estimate of $6 million to $8 million.

Maurizio Cattelan, Him (2001)Image: Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.

Maurizio Cattelan, Him (2001)
Image: Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.

A Richard Prince “Joke” painting, Drink Canada Dry (1991) sold to Christie’s contemporary head Brett Gorvy, bidding for a phone client, for $3.6 million, compared with an estimate of $3 million to $4 million.

Glenn Ligon, Malcolm X (version 1) #1 (2000)Image: Courtesy of TKTKTK

Glenn Ligon, Malcolm X (version 1) #1 (2000)
Image: Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.

Glenn Ligon’s Malcolm X (version 1) #1 (2000), sold for just over $1 million, landing in the middle of the $800,000 to $1.2 million estimate.

Though, as usual, much of the bidding came by clients over the telephone, we did spot West Coast film producer and collector Stavros Merjos bidding authoritatively on Kerry James Marshall’s large, commanding canvas, Untitled (Pin-up) (2014), which he won for $680,000 at hammer, or a premium inclusive $821,000 (estimate: $650,000 – $850,000).

“It was a challenging sale,” Gouzer told reporters at a post-auction press conference. “We all knew it was. The name said it, because we explored works by artists that were not central works, done deals or market darlings. And it did very well, testifying not only to the strength and breadth of the contemporary market but also the capacity of collectors to collect widely.”

Jussi Pylkkanen, auctioneer of the evening and global president of Christie’s, was enthusiastic about the impact and potential of these “curated” sales. Following the sale, he told artnet News that they are “interesting and inspiring” for collectors and specialists alike because of the range of works offered.

For seasoned collectors, as far as price points go, he said, “You don’t just collect things in the millions.”

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