Bound to Fail at Christie’s New York

Sale of failure-themed art starts the week of spring auctions

Christie’s New York opens its annual week-long series of springtime auctions that follow Frieze with a tightly curated capsule auction of modern, postwar and contemporary art that addresses the theme of commercial failure. Under the title Bound to Fail, 39 works by artists ranging from Duchamp to Kippenberger will be up for sale from around $30,000 on Sunday May 8 (and on display preceding that). The sale takes it name from Bruce Nauman’s sculpture Henry Moore, Bound To Fail (third picture, estimate $6m-$8m), a cast of the artist’s bound hands, representing the anxiety of constrained artistic expression.

The auction house highlights two sculpture installations that it predicts will be the most sought-after lots. The first is Jeff Koons’ 1985 piece One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (first picture, estimate on request), which features a basketball hovering unfeasibly in the middle of a tank filled with water, in an intriguing combination of the familiar and the seemingly impossible. Christie’s considers it to be a canonical work for postmodern art.

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The second comes from Maurizio Cattelan. The 2001 piece Him (second picture, estimate $10m-$15m) is his most recognisable work, a sculpture of Hitler on his knees, in prayer or submission, in a soft spotlight that implies both the eye of God and the focus of an interrogation chamber. It comes from Cattelan’s series that reimagines public figures such as John F Kennedy and Pope John Paul II in challenging contexts, in a bid to shed light on the dark corners of humanity and power.

The themed auction was conceived by Loic Gouzer, Christie’s deputy chairman of postwar and contemporary art, who has organised and curated auctions at Christie’s, including the record-breaking Looking Forward to the Past in May last year. Commenting on the significance of the headline works by Koons and Cattelan, he says: “They confronted the concept of failure head on and accomplished the impossible. Koons managed to defy the laws of gravity by suspending a basketball in water without any visible means of support. And Cattelan defied the taboos of representation, by disguising evil incarnate under a cloak of innocence.”

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Discussing his thinking behind curating a sale around the subject of failure, Gouzer expands, “So much has been written about the commercial success of the auction market in recent years, we felt it was time to explore the flip side of that from a curatorial standpoint. Taken together, this capsule auction shines a spotlight on works that have purposefully pushed the envelope of what the art market would be willing to call ‘successful’ in the pursuit of creating something new and ground-breaking.”

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