Saatchi's bricks fail to find a buyer: Geraldine Norman reports from New York on Sotheby's most unsuccessful sale since 1990

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The Independent Online
Charles Saatchi, the advertising tycoon and art collector, failed to sell 120 firebricks at Sotheby's in New York on Monday night when no one would bid over dollars 200,000 ( pounds 127,400).

The bricks come from the same series of sculptures by Carl Andre as the Tate's Equivalent VIII. Otherwise known as 'the Tate bricks', the latter sculpture has been the subject of non- stop controversy and hilarity ever since it was purchased for pounds 6,000 in 1972.

The kind of price that Saatchi was hoping to get for Equivalent VI - it was estimated to fetch between dollars 300,000 and dollars 350,000 ( pounds 191,200- pounds 223,000) - demonstrates how cleverly the Tate got in on the ground floor of a great artistic reputation. Andre is now hailed as one of the key figures of Minimalism. He made eight sculptures in the Equivalent series; each of them comprises 120 firebricks arranged in a different way. The media had not previously spotted that Saatchi had one, though he loaned it anonymously to the Tate Gallery, Liverpool, in 1989-90.

Failure to sell the bricks was only one in a succession of disasters at Sotheby's, who described it as their most unsuccessful sale since November 1990 - when the 1980s boom finally collapsed. There were 77 lots on offer and 37 unsold, equivalent to 48 per cent of the sale. An Artschwager Chair, an arresting formica and wood construction, for which Saatchi paid dollars 203,500 in the November 1990 sale, scraped a buyer at dollars 178,500; most of his other offerings went unsold.

It was Andy Warhol, however, who was at the heart of the evening's troubles. His close friend, business manager and executor Fred Hughes had sent 10 Warhols for sale. Hughes now has multiple sclerosis and desperately needs money for medical bills but he chose to sell some very indifferent Warhols. They were unsigned and looked like studio left-overs that had been squirreled away; Warhol only signed paintings after they were on a stretcher and these had presumably not been stretched before he died.

They were presented as rare treasures in a special dollars 10 ( pounds 6.37), fully illustrated, catalogue. The bidders indicated that they did not think much of them by leaving all but two unsold; an Old Telephone of 1961 found a buyer at dollars 552,500 ( pounds 352,135) where dollars 600,000-dollars 800,000 had been estimated and a Portrait of Princess Diana of 1982 got dollars 57,500, ( pounds 36,647), also below estimate. Since Warhol's screenprint worked from a black and white photograph, she has black hair with green highlights.

Two paintings that had recently been offered for sale by the colourful New York dealer Larry Gagosian had found their way into Sotheby's auction; but the bidders did not want pictures for which so prominent a dealer had been unable to find a buyer. Franz Kline's Sabro, a big black caligraphic mark on a 6ft canvas, was left unsold at dollars 1,150,000 (estimate dollars 1.5m-dollars 2m) and Robert Rauschenberg's Stop and Rebound was unsold at dollars 230,000 (estimate dollars 400,000- dollars 500,000) - the latter had been offered at Sotheby's last May when it was unsold at dollars 225,000.

A few pieces which the cognoscenti considered 'seminal' in a particular artist's oeuvre stirred competitive bidding. A Willem de Kooning Black and White Abstraction in enamel on paper, painted in 1949-50, was driven to almost double estimate at dollars 975,000 and an Untitled set of 10 stainless steel boxes by Donald Judd, dating from 1967, made dollars 233,500.