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With Summer Over, Auction Houses Heat Up

Items ranging from Frank Gehry's octopus chandelier to a romantic Chagall fantasy will be auctioned off in a busy October.

September 27, 1998|Suzanne Muchnic | Suzanne Muchnic is The Times' art writer

Fall is here, bringing a predictable flood of exhibition openings at local museums and galleries--and an unusual spurt of shopping opportunities. A series of art auctions in October--some conceived as commercial ventures, others as fund-raisers for nonprofit institutions--offers everything from blue-chip paintings to recent works by young Southern California artists to the hip decor of the defunct Rebecca's restaurant in Venice.

Want an octopus chandelier designed for Rebecca's by architect Frank Gehry? It could be yours for, say, $100,000 to $150,000--or maybe much more, depending on the competition. Is Alexander Calder's sculpture more to your taste? A couple of his mobiles are being offered by Christie's auction house, with estimated prices ranging from $50,000 to $200,000. But you don't have to be a big spender to score at the October sales; lots of prints and unique works by lesser-known artists can be purchased at benefit auctions for a few hundred or a few thousand dollars.

The biggest event, money-wise, is at Christie's in Beverly Hills. Sixteen months after opening its West Coast headquarters on Camden Drive and five months after making a big local splash with a $2.8-million sale of California, Western and American art, the auction house is launching a program of twice-yearly modern and contemporary art sales. The inaugural auction, Oct. 14 at 6 p.m, will feature more than 200 artworks valued at a total of $4 million to $5 million.

A romantic fantasy by Marc Chagall, a 1975 painting called "The Bride and Groom With a Bouquet of Flowers," is expected to bring the sale's top price of $500,000 to $700,000. Another valuable work, "Woman With Yellow Flowers," painted in 1958 by Bay Area Expressionist Elmer Bischoff, is valued at $80,000 to $100,000.

Also going on the block is "Honey . . . I Twisted Through More Damned Traffic to Get Here," Ed Ruscha's archetypal L.A. painting, with the standard apology for tardiness writ large on a sky that fades from midnight to pale blue. It was sold in a New York auction for $297,000 in 1989--at the peak of the market. In the October sale, Christie's has estimated the selling price of the work at a far more modest $70,000 to $90,000.

As for the Calder mobiles, there's a red-and-black hanging piece with a 6-foot span ($180,000 to $220,000) and a relatively small work with discs on rotating wires mounted on a red, yellow and blue tripod ($50,000 to $60,000). Prints and multiples by Roy Lichtenstein, Vija Celmins, Sam Francis, David Hockney and Edward Kienholz also will be offered.

Although Christie's is banking on an array of appealing artworks to bring in buyers, the auction house also is counting on the talents of its head of West Coast operations and star auctioneer, Andrea Fiuczynski. Characterized as having a voice like "velvety merlot" in an article on "Podium Power" in Art & Auction magazine, she has attracted international attention with her impeccable style and multilingual facility.

The sale is too big for all the items to be displayed at Christie's, so the auction house will present a preview exhibition at the Murray Feldman Gallery at the Pacific Design Center from Oct. 10-14. Among other promotional events is a study program focusing on art collecting and California artists, with visits to the studios of Ruscha and Gehry. Information: (310) 385-6689.

In sharp contrast to Christie's sale--which breaks new ground for the auction house's local operation but follows a traditional format--an upcoming sale of 20th century decorative and fine art, modern design and artworks by architects is decidedly offbeat. L.A. dealers Robert Berman and Peter Loughrey, owners of Santa Monica Auctions and Los Angeles Modern Auctions, respectively, have joined forces to present the event, Oct. 25 at noon, at I.M. Chait Gallery in Beverly Hills.

The attention-getting centerpiece--bracketed between about 300 pieces of modern furniture and decorative items, and 25 works by Surrealist artist Man Ray--consists of the artful contents of Rebecca's. Designed by Gehry and known for its lively bar scene, the space is being converted into a club.

Rebecca's was conceived as a Mexican restaurant, but Gehry injected an underwater motif into an environment decorated with vibrant colors, copper and onyx. The huge (19 1/2-by-15-by-7-foot) chandelier, in the shape of an octopus, is covered with glass beads. Also suspended from the ceiling were a pair of life-size metal-scaled crocodiles, which Berman expects to sell in the range of $80,000 to $150,000. Fish lamps designed by Gehry are valued at $40,000 to $60,000.

Among other artists' works commissioned for Rebecca's are a 40-foot painting on velvet by Peter Alexander, windows with tarantula motifs painted by Ed Moses and doors by Tony Berlant. Berman expects the group of works from Rebecca's to bring a total of $400,000 to $500,000.

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