Auctions: Testing the Moderns

The muse notwithstanding, art in the Western world is a commodity. In U.S. dollars, the timely tabulation takes place in the high temple of auctioneering, Manhattan's Parke-Bernet Galleries. When the collection of the late Wall Street stockbroker Ira Haupt went under the hammer last week, the question was: How fare the moderns?

Right from the start the mood was bullish. First up were European blue chips: a Kandinsky watercolor went for $7,200, a Salvador Dali watercolor reached an extraordinary $11,500, and a fine 1921 Mondrian peaked at $42,000. Then Russian-born Nicolas de Staël, who jumped out his studio window in 1955,...

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