Contemporary Art Market: Abstract Expressionism dominates New York sales

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The Independent Online
CHRISTIE'S and Sotheby's will be taking the temperature of the contemporary art market in New York this week. Their major auctions in November and May provide a record of what is happening to the prices of big ticket art.

Christie's has attracted more important art, and offers a group of major works of the Abstract Expressionist school. A painting by Arshile Gorky, 'Year after Year', of 1947, is an early marker of how the style grew out of Surrealism. Colourful and just over 3ft across it is a rarity and Christie's are hoping for dollars 3m-dollars 3.5m ( pounds 2m- pounds 2.35m).

Christie's also has a 4ft canvas splashed with black paint by Jackson Pollock in 1951 for which it are hoping to get dollars 800,000-dollars 1m ( pounds 540,000- pounds 670,000).

An 8ft painted steel sculpture by David Smith in 1960, also at Christie's, is one of the most important examples of his work on the market for some time. It is estimated at dollars 700,000-dollars 900,000. While Smith can be regarded as the greatest sculptor of the Abstract Expressionist movement, there are not many collectors interested in his work and it looks comparatively cheap.

Both houses are giving the British school a good show. Christie's has a 6ft canvas by Francis Bacon, 'Study for Portrait of Lucien Freud', painted in 1964, modestly estimated at dollars 700,000-dollars 900,000. It was originally a wing of a triptych but the three paintings have been split up. Bacon paints his fellow artist and friend with a naked torso, angst apparent in his distorted face.

Sotheby's is offering David Hockney's first view of California which also dates from 1964. It is titled 'California Art Collector' and has a woman art collector in the foreground and the very first of Hockney's swimming pools. The picture has been in the same collection since 1964 and Sotheby's are estimating dollars 600,000-dollars 800,000.

Both houses are hoping for great things from paintings by Cy Twombly, the American who settled in Italy and has made a highly successful career from calligraphic scribbles. Sotheby's is hoping to get dollars 1.5m-dollars 2m for an 8ft work from 1969 with pencil scribbles and splotches on a white background; Christie's think it will get dollars 1.8m-dollars 2.2m for a 9ft blackboard of the same year with chalk scribbles.

The most charming work on offer is perhaps an Alexander Calder mobile from 1942 called 'Fish'. It is has a simple red outline with wire scales, 3ft long and 15ins high. It is being sold with a series of letters from Calder and his dealer to the fish's first owner, Mrs Fritz Bultman. 'As you are an expectant mother,' Calder writes. 'I think it is only fitting that I make some concession' on price. In the course of the correspondence the price drops from dollars 750 to dollars 400. Tomorrow it is expected to fetch dollars 300,000-dollars 400,000.

(Photograph omitted)