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November 6, 2008

The Mystery of Value


Above right, John Chamberlain's 1964 sculpture "Spike," carrying an estimate of $900,000 to $1.2 million at an upcoming Christie's auction.

On the left is the same sculptor's 1964 "Ca-D'Oro," estimated to bring $1.8 million to $2.2 million when it goes on the block at Sotheby's.

Carol Vogel explored this differential in a piece which appeared in last Sunday's New York Times Arts & Leisure section, and follows.

    A Puzzle

    Why are these two 1964 sculptures by John Chamberlain, roughly the same size and made the same year, priced so differently?

    Christie's estimates that "Spike," from the estate of the philanthropist Alice Lawrence, the widow of the Manhattan real estate developer Sylvan Lawrence, will bring $900,000 to $1.2 million. "Ca-D'Oro," which is being sold by an unidentified Midwestern collector at Sotheby's, carries an estimate of $1.8 million to $2.2 million.

    Both of these colorful crushed metal sculptures are from the artist's prime period, when he used everyday objects, like abandoned car parts. He often sprayed as many as 100 coats of lacquer on the steel to achieve the surface he desired.

    Estate property is generally more reasonably priced, and Christie's has given the Lawrence heirs a guarantee. That means the auction house rather than the estate can set the prices. The one at Sotheby's seems to have been estimated at the whim of an auction house expert — or possibly a hungry seller.

November 6, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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In comparison to this 'prime year art', I've seen better works of art next to the dumpster...

Posted by: Jesse | Nov 7, 2008 10:26:31 AM

The answer leaves me wondering what the artist's works could possibly have looked like during his off-prime years. My untrained instinct rushes to a slightly different medium, 6-packs.

Posted by: Dino | Nov 7, 2008 2:03:37 AM

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