By Carter B. Horsley
Of all the 20th
Century artists who have worked in New York, perhaps no one better
captures the energy and chaos, empathy and pathos, humor, high
spirits and hell of the city than Red Grooms (b. 1937).
Lot 182, "Joltin' Joe Takes a Swing,"
is a good example of Grooms's wacky/delirious visions, an acrylic
on wood sculpture that is 61 inches high. Executed in 1985-1988,
that has a conservative estimate of $70,000 to $90,000. Grooms's
figures are not anatomically correct, nor politically correct.
They are, however, attitudinally correct. The umpire here is fearsome
and decisive. The catcher is full of concentration behind his
mask and big glove. Joltin' Joe looks not at all like Joe Dimaggio
with his steroid biceps and enormous shoulders, but his visage
is rather beatific, which is in keeping with the worship of Yankee
fans and the begrudging respect of his opposition. Grooms has
caught the moment even if the ball is not yet in the catcher's
glove and the umpire has raised his hand and voice Striiiike!
Many of Groom's urban reconstructions are huge with crowded subways,
stuffed cabs and raucous traffic, a phantasmogoria of riotous
cacophony. Here, he has monumentally paid respect to a famous,
mythic New York figure and brings us to the edge of our seats
to await the next pitch.
To see the non-existent crowds in the stands
perhaps one should look at Lot 118, "Untitled (Ahab)"
by Lee Krassner (1912-1984). Unlike her husband's often sprawling
unfocused "drip" paintings, Krassner's work always seem
to have more structure the fans may be wild but they are standing
or sitting at their organized seats/perches in the stadium. Ahab
and Dimaggio are probably kindred spirits of a sort. The one obsessed
with revenge at any costs and the other with seeking personal
peace. Krassner's oeuvre has been overshadowed by her husband's
notoriety, but her talents clearly were a very good, perhaps very
influential, match for his work. This is a very strong work. Painted
in 1965, it is a 22 5/8-by-31-inch gouache and acrylic on paper
mounted on board and has a conservative estimate of $20,000 to
$30,000. It has been widely exhibited at such venues as the Corcoran
Gallery of Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Peggy Guggenheim
Collection in Venice.
A good penant for the Krassner is Lot 126,
"Bouteille, assiete, cafetière et tasse," by
Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985), which despite its title could well
be a bunch of Yankee-pinstrip-clad fans jubilantly celebrating
a homer by Joltin' Joe. The 23 ½-by-28 ¾-inch acrylic
on canvas was also painted in 1965 and has an estimate of $120,000
Lot 134, "Shards III (1X-b)," is
a riotous wall relief by Frank Stella (b. 1936) of acrylic and
oilstick on aluminum that carries forward the rickety convulsions
of the worlds of Red Grooms, Krassner and Dubuffet. Executed in
1983, the 34 ½-by-40-by-9-inch relief is raucous and has
an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. Stella has several other works
in the auction including Lot 201, "Playskool Bobbin,"
a 35 ¾-by-47-by-33 ¼-inch wall relief of acrylic
on cast bronze, wood, etched honeycomb aluminum, fiberglass, balsa
wood laminate, plastic and masking tape. Obviously someone else
was using the kitchen sink, but not matter, this is a nice and
relatively small Stella relief and has a modest estimate of $30,000
to $40,000. For those who like larger Stellas, Lot 189 is a 109
½-by-110 ¾-by-23-inch wall relief that is colorful
and organic and was executed in 1982 and has an estimate of $180,000
to $220,000 and Lot 180, "Vemish," is a 71 5/8-by-120
1/8-inch acrylic, paper collage, plaster and color pencils on
canvas that was executed by Stella in1985 and has an estimate
of $150,000 to $200,000 and may tempt some viewers to don sunglasses
and/or helmets. In the later part of his career, Stella's visions
are explosive and kaleidoscopic in dramatic comparison with his
Another artist who switched his styles late
in his career was Philip Guston and Lot 156, "Roma,"
is an excellent oil on paper laid down on panel that measures
19 ¾ by 27 ¾ inches. Executed in 1971, this lot
is used as the catalogue's endpapers and has a conservative estimate
of $50,000 to $70,000. Guston's late work is simple, but intense
and almost child-like and this is a fine work.
Lot 169, "Two Seated Figures I" by
Lynn Chadwick (b. 1914) is a fine abstract bronze sculpture that
is 70 ½ inches high. Executed in 1973, it is number four
of an edition of six and has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000.
"Chadwick," the catalogue notes, often classified as
a follower of Henry Moore, trained as an architect and "was
among the group of British artists who made a triumphant appearance
at the Venice Biennale of 1952. Chadwick's `watchers' and predatory
figures typify the imagery of British sculpture in the 1950s,
where the fears and hopes of Post-War society were incorporated
into the cultural atmosphere of the time. Indeed, Two Seated
Figures I has a commanding presence; the scale is at once
architecturally monumental and personally accessible. The closeness
of the figures, nestled but not touching, invites the viewer into
an intimate space which belies the grandeur of their size."