"Amongst the foremost figures of American Abstract Expressionism, Still’s influential role within that movement cannot be overstated, especially as one examines the impact of his paintings when first unveiled in New York in early 1946 – mere months before the creation of the present work. Within PH-399, the limitless ground, rugged silhouettes, and saturated hues of the artist’s mature production are already fully expressed, creating a composition at once explosive and elegant, raw and refined; in comparison, the paintings of Still’s contemporaries within the New York school offer only tantalizing glimpses of the aesthetic choices that would eventually define their mature and revolutionary styles. Painted years before Motherwell’s first Elegy or de Kooning’s first Woman, PH-399 is an early and masterful realization of Still’s distinctive vision, presenting its viewer with the full depths of the artist’s innovative abstract vernacular. Underscoring Still’s commitment to independent aesthetic evolution, the artist would eventually withdraw from the pressures and influences of the New York art establishment several years later, in pursuit of a more individualized practice. In the wake of this departure, Still maintained relationships with only a select group of trusted curators and institutions, including Gordon Smith, the director of the Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York. In 1959, Smith invited the artist to organize and curate his own exhibition there, granting him complete control over the exhibition’s content, design, and installation. For this seminal show—the artist’s first large-scale survey, and his first exhibition since ending ties with commercial representation in 1951—Still personally selected PH-399 as one of the 72 paintings to be included. After the exhibition, Still made a landmark gift of 31 paintings to the museum; speaking about the gift, the artist noted: “To all who would know the meaning and responsibilities of freedom, intrinsic and absolute, these works are dedicated.” (The artist quoted in Exh. Cat., Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Clyfford Still: Thirty-three Paintings in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1966, p. 18) Echoing Still’s unwavering commitment to creative freedom within its compelling abstract forms, PH-399 stands as enduring monument to the aesthetic originality which has, over the intervening decades, come to define Still’s singular contribution to twentieth-century art.
"In every way exemplary of Still’s radical creative vision, PH-399 is a stirring testament to the steely intensity and unwavering purpose with which the artist approached his abstract canvases, never faltering in his determination to express the inexpressible. In his introductory essay for an exhibition of Still’s work, Ben Heller eloquently describes the essential qualities of Still’s practice: 'Color, surface, edge, scale, shape, verticality, pressure, tension, relaxation, movement, grandeur–these are the painter’s tools. To speak of them as subjects for paintings is but a way to draw attention to Still’s ingenious and highly personal manipulations of these tools, to his fusion of technique, image and power, the means by which he acts upon our feelings, the essence of his mystery and greatness.' (Ben Heller in Exh. Cat., New York, Mary Boone Gallery, Clyfford Still: Dark Hues/Close Values, 1990, n.p.) Exemplary of this apt summation, PH-399 is archetypal of Still’s most compelling canvases; while resolutely abstract, Still’s suggestive forms project a narrative based not on figural representation, but on a spellbinding synthesis of color, contour and painterly dynamism. As with the greatest examples of Rothko’s exquisite hovering forms, or of Barnett Newman’s precise yet profound linear zips, Still’s fields of unfettered expression elicit deep and instantaneous emotions. While Rothko and Newman’s iconic canvases draw immense power from their saturated hues, the purest intention—and ultimate power —of PH-399 lies within the compelling contours of Still’s searing abstract forms. Heller describes: 'The subject of these paintings: Edge. Not the edge of the canvas, but the torn, jagged, moving edge which defines shape. Still’s edge is his particular, his singular trademark. It is line, it is form, but it is also more than simply line, does more than just traverse. It is his carrier of movement; it creates direction, speed, and activity. It is rough and even; it upsets and soothes. It sets pace by creeping or swiftly thrusting, by penetrating and bisecting. It is irregular; it twists and turns. It can be smooth and clean as a knife.' (Ben Heller in Ibid., n.p.) Juxtaposing his stygian crags against a creamy ground, Still achieves a riveting tension between light and dark, aperture and expanse, action and stillness; while the inky tendrils seem apt to spread across the silvery fields, their jagged perimeters are contained within delicate seams of scarlet and yellow pigment that, while never making contact with their darker counterparts, structure the composition to create an exquisitely balanced whole.
"Within Still’s revered corpus of canvases from this period, PH-399 achieves a formal elegance within its abstract forms that is rivaled by only the artist’s best-known masterworks. The dominant monochrome of the canvas enacts a stark simplicity reminiscent of a sweeping arctic tundra or plunging cavernous abyss, as Still articulates a gripping visual drama within the most essential of artistic means. Exemplified by PH-399, Still’s paintings of the later 1940s are notable for the artist’s use of white paint, rather than raw canvas, to contrast his darker forms; in her essay for the catalogue of Still’s 1979-1980 show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, scholar Katharine Kuh reflects: “In [Still's] work white is no less important than black. Sometimes a canvas is painted white; or, in reverse, bare canvas is allowed to interact with painted areas. In neither case, whether covered with pigment or left partly exposed, does any work by Still depend on a conventional background. All elements are interrelated and share equal validity. Breaking accepted rules, the artist forces normally receding colors to advance and advancing colors to recede.” (Katharine Kuh in Exh. Cat., New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Clyfford Still, 1979-1980, p. 12) Indeed, against the stark intensity of Still’s white ground and dominant black forms, his selective use of saturated color—electrifying orange, yellow, and scarlet pigment—is all the more searing for its restraint. Kuh describes: “Beneath opaque blacks and other nocturnal colors [Still] compressed energies that finally fermented into a molten existence of their own. With him pigment and color were already one, but it was the surging undercurrents that turned his paintings into living organisms. He seemed to squeeze light out of black. His canvasses no longer represented nature, but, charged with the immutable laws of nature, asserted their own physical identity.” (Katharine Kuh, 'Still, the Enigma,' Vogue, February 1970, p. 183) Even within his darkest and lightest forms, Still’s canvas hums with a tense equilibrium between a velvety matte black contrasted with glossier ebony, a snowy white shadowed by silvery dimples of dappled gray. In every nuanced daub, PH-399 is profoundly representative of Still’s extraordinary painterly spirit, presenting its viewer with a glimpse into the depths of his extraordinary brilliance and enduring as a physical measure of his unrivaled artistic magnitude. Describing the significance of Still’s output in terms highly fitting for the present work, Kuh concludes: 'The man is his work. The two cannot be separated. I doubt if anything could have sidetracked Clyfford Still. And one feels the same way about his paintings. Majestic, serious, sometimes somber, sometimes exhilarating, they seem to grow of their own free will. Nothing contains them, nothing stops them. How exactly they were painted seems irrelevant; it is their total impact that counts. These canvases are not built on themes about life; they are an extension of life, a key to ourselves, to our pierced universe, and, above all, a key to Clyfford Still.' (Katharine Kuh in in Exh. Cat., Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Clyfford Still: Thirty-three Paintings in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1966, p. 11)"
a separate catalogue essay, appropriately entitled "Explosive," David
Anfam notes that "two snaking blood-red lines - evidently applied
straight from the tube - become vectors that signal forces at once
beyond the canvas limits and hurtling inward." "The same applies
to the black 'life-line' at upper left and the yellow vertical that
traverses the full height of the picture, albeit also leaning toward
the major black/gray upright axes. Taken together, these elements
establish a visceral presence that owes nothing to Cubist space and
everything to Still's remark that he used 'texture to kill a color,
color to kill space."
The lot has a very modest estimate of $12,000,000 to $18,000,000. It sold for $24,926,900 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.
Lot 26, "Blue Over Red," by Mark Rothko, oil on canvas, 64 by 35 inches, 1953
Lot 26 is a great, vibrant abstraction by Mark Rothko (1903-1970) entitled "Blue Over Red." It was offered November 8, 2005 at Christie's in New York with an estimate of $4,500,000 to $6,500,000 and sold then for $5,616,000. This time its estimate is $25,000,000 to $35,000,000. It sold for $26,461,000.
The catalogue provided the following commentary:
"For its vibrant coloration, transcendent aura, tonal variation, and pivotal date of execution, Blue Over Red stands as a superb and iconic example from the incomparable painterly oeuvre of Mark Rothko. Painted in 1953, Blue Over Red marks the apex of the Rothko’s most critical period of development in the first half of the 1950s, during which the artist pioneered his signature mode of abstraction. Testifying to the importance of this period in Rothko’s career, ten of the sixteen paintings the artist executed in 1953 reside in permanent museum collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Formerly in the collection of Harold Diamond, Blue Over Red is one of just seven masterpieces by Rothko that Diamond owned at various points in his lifetime; of those seven, three are now in museums: the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and the Ho-Am Art Museum in Seoul. Held in the same private collection for over a decade, the present work emerges not only as an iconic touchstone of Rothko’s oeuvre, but also as an incontrovertible masterpiece of twentieth-century art. Presenting the mesmerizing summation of the artist’s signature methods, the positively radiant canvas of Blue Over Red heralds the spectacular union of color and form that has defined Rothko’s singular and enduring legacy in the history of art.
"1953 marked a pivotal year of transformation for the artist that resulted in some of his most revered canvases; one year prior, in 1952, Rothko moved to a new studio on 53rd Street, just steps from the Museum of Modern Art. Perhaps most significant to Rothko’s embrace of pure color as vehicle to an emotional experience was Henri Matisse, whose own practice had so radically redefined the relationship between form and color only decades prior; as Robert Rosenblum noted: “…it dawned on many of Rothko’s admirers that his dense seas of color might not have existed without the example of Matisse, a point the artist himself acknowledged by entitling a painting of 1954 Homage to Matisse. And clearly, the presence at the Museum of Modern Art of such masterpieces as Matisse’s Blue Window and Red Studio could provide the most solid and beautiful touchstones for any artist who would explore the possibility of creating paintings from resonant color alone.” (Exh. Cat., London, The Tate Gallery, Mark Rothko: 1903-1970, 1987, p. 22) Rothko’s descriptive titling of the present work, Blue Over Red, further underscores the artist’s commitment to color and serves as tribute to Matisse’s two masterpieces, both of which would have been easily visible to the artist at his new location next to the Museum of Modern Art. From Matisse’s abstracted interiors and exteriors, Rothko pushed further, dissolving the edges between passages of color until they billowed into one another as feathered whisks that veritably breathe with life upon the surface of the canvas, and indeed, Rothko considered his paintings, with their multiple containers of color to be living things: “They are unique elements in a unique situation. They are organisms with volition and a passion for self-assertion. They move with an internal freedom, and without need to conform with or to violate what is probable in the familiar world. They have no direct association with any particular visible experience, but in them one recognizes the principle and passion of organisms.” (The artist in “The Romantics Were Prompted,” Possibilities 1, Winter 1947-48, p. 84)
"Indeed, these paintings of the early 1950s astonish in their supple surfaces, the melding of diaphanous veils of color, and complex compositions that both retain an architectural program, yet vault into pure abstraction. Rothko conjures an emotional tension through his strategic use of color, the uplifting and warming glow evoked by orange and red contrasted sharply with the blue band; although the painting comprises overwhelmingly blazing hues, the blue asserts itself intensely, existing ‘over’ the fields of red and orange. Such elemental colors harbor primal connotations of light, warmth, and the natural world, but inasmuch as they invoke liveliness and light, they also insinuate the inevitable cycle of dawn and dusk. Of this chromatic dance, Anfam espouses: 'In the 1953 Blue Over Red, irregular textures reiterate symmetry. Not only is the leftward lateral lemon strip unique, but it is also uniquely glossy and its reflective grain is mimicked in the light weave of the canvas that shows through the extreme thinness of blue above. The latter also has an asymmetrical gold surround that is wider on the left, as though it were a shadow – except of course for its brightness – cast by the dark bar from an external, rightward light source. The blue leaps out in inverse proportion to how the orange rectangles at top and bottom are instead scarcely distinguishable from the orange ground.' (David Anfam, Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas, Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1998, p. 85)
"Executed in a richly saturated palette of orange, red, and yellow, dramatically offset by one luminous blue band, Blue Over Red exemplifies the incandescent splendor for which Rothko has become best known. Comprising a conflation of sumptuous color and blazing light, the present work confronts us as the summation of its creator’s deeply philosophical practice, wherein he staged some of the most moving, transcendent, and utterly breathtaking unions between material and support ever realized within the grand, centuries-long tradition of oil painting. Three radiant zones of color, simultaneously drawn together and held apart by the nearly imperceptible boundaries of gold pigment, dominate the canvas. Cast against this smoldering background of fiery embers, a brilliant band of royal blue anchors the composition in the painting’s upper register, creating a magisterial chromatic concert with the exact complementary color of vivid orange beneath it. The thickest of the yellow bars is situated at almost exactly the halfway point across the canvas, creating an elegant and sophisticated horizon that separates the pulsating expanses of color above and below. Hazy in their edges, yet easily readable as rectangular forms, these zones of pure color reveal varying methods of execution; as noted by Irving Sandler: “Rothko built up his rectangular containers of color from lightly brushed, stained and blotted touches which culminate in a chromatic crescendo.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Pace Gallery, Mark Rothko: Paintings 1948-1969, 1983, p. 8) Here, Rothko attains that ‘chromatic crescendo’ through the meticulous aggregation of translucent veils of brushed pigment, with especially close attention paid to the gaps between forms and the edges of the canvas itself. The accumulated layers of pigment concurrently hover indeterminately as three-dimensional floods of chroma in front of the picture plane, while also reinforcing the materiality of the painted object through the insistence of paint soaked into the canvas weave. These thin laminae of color succeed in evoking a degree of luminosity, gesturing to the brilliantly captured light of Rembrandt, whom Rothko deeply admired. Conflating the starkly rendered light and dark suffusing Rembrandt’s still iconic paintings with the color-laden canvases of Matisse’s canon-shattering practice, Rothko reshaped both of his forebears’ artistic innovations to create the blazing paintings that rank among the most important works of the twentieth century.
"By the time he painted Blue Over Red, Rothko had been working as a painter for thirty years, building an inimitable practice that reflected styles and sources as disparate as the realist trend in American art and such Surrealist masters as Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí in Europe. Rothko first committed himself entirely to abstraction in 1947 when he began his series of Multiform paintings, a natural bridge between the biomorphic and organic forms of his Surrealist-inspired works and the flooded fields of color that would dominate what have become his most exceptional and iconic gateways to the sublime. Although Rothko’s abstraction was entirely unparalleled, his search for transcendence through a conflation of light and color was rooted in historical precedent; indeed, from the Romantic landscape painters J.M.W. Turner and Caspar David Friedrich to the Luminists Pierre Bonnard and Henri Matisse, the grand legacy of prior artists in search of a transcendent experience profoundly informed the new type of painting Rothko initiated in mid-century New York. Rothko’s arrival at his mature style, which in retrospect reads as the inevitable conclusion of his quest for a reinvigorated abstraction, was the result of a calculated and concentrated purge and stripping away of compositional superfluity in an effort to privilege the pure experience of the painting itself. The distinct zones of color that make up the dreamlike Multiforms here coalesce into an impenetrable totality, wherein all elements engage in a choreography of endlessly flickering light and color. Blue Over Red stands as the crowning achievement of Rothko's declaration in 1948: 'The progression of a painter’s work, as it travels in time from point to point, will be toward clarity; toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer…To achieve this clarity is, ultimately, to be understood.' (The artist quoted in Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, 15 Americans,¸1952, p. 18)
"Following the crucial turning point of 1949-50, when Rothko resolved an abstract archetype out of the preceding Multiform paintings, the artist entered what David Anfam, the editor of Rothko’s catalogue raisonné has called the ‘anni mirabilis,’ the first half of the 1950s, during which the artist developed his mature and signature style. At the precipice of a decade during which Rothko would redefine the very essence of his brand of abstraction, he wrote the following words: 'A picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token.' (The artist quoted in “Statement,” Tiger’s Eye, New York, December 1, 1947, p. 44) Rothko thus asserted a fundamental equation between the artwork and its beholder, whereby the true potential of his painting could not exist without the presence of the viewer; indeed, it is the viewer and his or her visual experience that completes the artwork, a tenet beautifully embodied in Blue Over Red. In an oft-cited letter that Rothko co-authored with peers Adolph Gottlieb and Barnett Newman, these titans of Abstract Expressionism stated: 'We favor the simple expression of the complex thought. We are for the large shape because it has the impact of the unequivocal. We wish to reassert the picture plane. We are for flat forms because they destroy illusion and reveal truth.'” (Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko (in collaboration with Barnett Newman), 'Letter to the Editor,' The New York Times, June 13, 1942, section 2, p. 9)
"A veritable treatise upon the absolute limits of painterly abstraction, the luminous canvas of Blue Over Red transmits an aura of the ethereal that is enthrallingly immersive, engulfing the viewer entirely within its utterly captivating compositional dynamism and chromatic intensity. As succinctly summarized by Robert Rosenblum: '…he was, after all, not only a seeker of spiritual truths, but first and foremost an artist who loved to paint beautiful pictures; and indeed, within his career, we often sense a struggle between a desire to create sheerly seductive paintings, in the nineteenth-century tradition that would make the cult of beauty a religion in itself, and a need to check these sensuous urges with the impulses of an artist-monk who had taken vows of pictorial chastity.' (Exh. Cat., London, The Tate Gallery, Mark Rothko: 1903-1970, 1987, p. 29) Blue Over Red reveals Rothko’s deft painterly ability both to create ‘sheerly seductive paintings,’ while also preserving his so-called ‘vow of pictorial chastity,’ replacing the subject matter in art with a meditative, all-encompassing experience of existential awe, wonderment, and the ever-elusive sublime.
"Introspective and somber, his gaze cast down as if to shield himself from the incessant drizzle of rain, the solitary Yves-Marie strides over the Pont des Arts, his steps muffled by rainfall. Streaks of rain jog across the painted surface in quick, fleeting zigzags of blue and white brushstrokes that recall the vigorous scribbles of Cy Twombly’s blackboard paintings and obscure the narrative beneath. Beyond the sight line of the bridge, the city of Paris dissolves into a rainy abyss of blurred pinks, greens, and blues. Flattening form and simplifying figuration, Hockney renders Yves-Marie in his signature reductive draftsmanship, the artificiality of his figure establishing an emotional distance between the viewer and his subject which, coupled with the lack of clear narrative context, heightens the painting’s psychological intrigue. Rendered in muted reds and yellows, the warm hues of Yves-Marie’s clothing sharply contrast against the cool blues, whites, and greens that dominate the rest of the composition, further isolating and emphasizing the lone figure. In contrast to his soft rendering of Yves-Marie, Hockney meticulously hones in on each ornate detail of the Pont des Arts. The precise geometry of the bridge, coupled with the streaks of rain that traverse the canvas, imbue the composition as a whole with a sharp organizational structure and strong sense of geometric line; this pervading geometric abstraction is reinforced by the reflective surface of the wet bridge, which echoes the bridge’s sharp lines.
"While Hockney had already received significant international acclaim by the early 1970s – he enjoyed his first well-received retrospective exhibition in London in 1969 – the young artist entered this second decade of his career mired in introspection and plagued with doubt regarding his artistic practice. Seeking clarity and resolution, Hockney fled the London art scene and moved to Paris in the fall of 1973. His time in France proved immensely restorative, providing Hockney with the space he needed to reevaluate his artistic intentions and reground himself. It was in Paris where Hockney, influenced and inspired by the rich culture and heritage of the city, established for himself a new pictorial vocabulary that fused art historical precedent with innovative creativity, informing the revolutionary artistic legacy that Hockney would continue to forge for decades to come. Reflecting on his time spent in Paris, Hockney recalls: 'What I was doing [in Paris] was looking back, reading and looking at pictures. I spent a lot of time in the Louvre and got to know it quite well. […] I lived quietly in Paris, drawing friends, sitting in cafes” (David Hockney, That’s the Way I See it, London 1993, p. 17). Drawing inspiration from his activities in Paris - often with Yves-Marie as a companion - Hockney approached his work at the time with a newly refined grasp of his art historical precedent; indeed, his immersion into French culture led Hockney into conversation with his artistic forebears, and his paintings from this period owe a great debt to such painterly masters as Georges Seurat, Vincent van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso. Hockney recalls that through his regular visits to the Louvre: 'I was, in a way, looking at art of the long past, and at early modern art, which of course was made in Paris. And then, of course, there was constantly the thought of Picasso.' (David Hockney, That's the Way I See It, London, 1993, pp. 19-20). In his biography of the artist, Peter Webb writes of present work 'of Yves-Marie walking across the Pont des Arts to the Louvre in the pouring rain shows a strong influence from Seurat.' (Peter Webb, Portrait of David Hockney, New York, 1988, pp. 38-39) Thematically and stylistically, Yves-Marie in the Rain is indebted to the post-Impressionists; Hockney’s concern with capturing the fleeting, momentary essence of rainfall as an emotive, atmospheric quality recalls his predecessors’ interest in conveying on canvas such ephemeral, transitory qualities as fog, steam, and rain to enhance the viewer’s impression of a specific moment and place; indeed, the setting of a Parisian bridge was adopted by numerous 19th century Parisian painters before him who were interested in capturing the modern zeitgeist of the city.
"Hockney’s paintings of people - especially those of his most intimate lovers and friends - form a crucial element of his practice, integrated into his shifting palettes, styles, and modes of production over the course of his decades-long career. Yves-Marie in the Rain is from arguably the most significant period of Hockney’s portraiture and was executed simultaneously with a suite of seven large-scale double portraits painted between 1968 and 1975 that have come to stand among the most iconic and significant paintings in the artist's oeuvre. Aside from being a portrait of Yves-Marie, the present composition also provides an extraordinary example of what is arguably Hockney’s most iconic motif, water. As was his standard practice in approaching his large-scale portrait paintings, Hockney methodically conceptualized and composed the present work, first by taking numerous photographs and then planning out the final composition through preliminary sketches. In Yves-Marie in the Rain, Hockney’s reliance on photographic source material anchors the narrative in the mimetic world. Yves-Marie recalled of the present work: “Hockney was planning a painting which would sum up the romance of Paris, and made [me] pose on the bridge in the rain for endless photographs.” (Peter Webb, Portrait of David Hockney, New York, 1988, pp. 38-39) Through a conflation of photographic source material and emotional experience, an acute awareness of perspective, and an attention to art historical precedent, Hockney creates a painting that is wholly mesmeric, saturated with a sense of nostalgic yearning and psychological depth that draws the viewer irresistibly into its web of sensorial and visual allusions. It is this genius in expertly translating the complexity of human emotion and place onto canvas, conceiving of landscape and narrative through the prism of memory, that distinguishes Hockney as one of the greatest artists of the Post War period."
lot has an estimate of $8,000,000 to $12,000,000. It was passed at $6,800,000.
"In addition to reviving German Expressionism, a movement that sought to challenge society, and instead privilege the individual’s feelings and psychological interiority, Lichtenstein pays homage with Dr. Waldmann to a significant touchstone of modern European culture: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Although an English author, Mary Shelley sets a large part of her story in Germany, an environment that serves as the fountainhead for the titular character’s creativity. While studying in Germany, Dr. Frankenstein spends time with and becomes inspired by his professor Dr. Waldman, a name carefully chosen for its etymology; ‘Wald’ means forest or wood, and juxtaposed with man, evokes an individual tethered to nature. Themes of nature and creation permeate the story, just as they permeate the movement of German Expressionism, and are nodded to here in the subject matter and title, Dr. Waldmann.
"Articulated in a minimal palette of yellow, blue, black, and red, Lichtenstein brings together his iconic Benday dots and Pop sensibility with the technique and geometric angularity of the German Expressionist woodblocks. The head of Dr. Waldmann dominates the composition, unfurling in a collision of facets that reveals Lichtenstein’s foray into Cubism by suggesting multiple flattened points of view. Lichtenstein articulates his subject's face with his signature use of graphic black lines, here employed to delineate between the various planes that crash together to build up his subject. Diagonal lines of an Yves Klein-esque blue and rich red angle downward in sharply rendered striations, recalling the grain of wood inherent to the original German Expressionist prints. The passages of unmodulated color and slants of woodblock-like orthogonals bring to life the doctor’s craggy countenance of strong jaw, furrowed brow, and deep-set eyes; however, Lichtenstein denies any true perspective or depth by bringing his subject right to the fore. Aside from a hint of a window overlooking a calm seascape, the hermetic doctor’s surroundings are entirely illegible. Fundamental to portraiture of past centuries are the accoutrements and symbols that bring to life the sitter’s status or position; here, Lichtenstein adorns Dr. Waldmann with the head mirror so prototypical of an early twentieth-century audience’s understanding of the medical profession. The white band affixed to the mirror slants across Dr. Waldmann’s head, creating a sharp line that contrasts with the rounded form of the mirror itself, which recalls Lichtenstein’s earlier series of Mirror paintings. The abstracted mirror, which is the only passage featuring Lichtentein’s iconic Benday dots, refers to the canonical use of mirrors throughout art history as well as the artist’s own frequent inclusion of mirrors as compositional elements in his earlier paintings. Offering an updated articulation of the roles of vision and perception within art, here, Lichtenstein’s mirror serves as a signifier of the sitter’s profession, while simultaneously emphasizing the artist’s own backward glance at artistic precedent.
"German Expressionism exploded onto the scene of European Modernism early in the twentieth century; spearheaded by such masters as Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, George Grosz, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Franz Marc, and Emil Nolde, the movement initially represented a call to return to nature, with many of the movement’s best-known images featuring a reinterpretation of pastoral scenes and animal life. Following the atrocities of World War I, however, the bent of the movement shifted to a new, more psychologically charged artistic language that comprised distorted forms, harsh, jagged lines, and a bold use of color. As Lichtenstein looked to reinvigorate the past, so too the German Expressionists sought to bring life to the timeless subjects of portraiture and landscape through the use of the woodblock. Within this fascinating tableau of reimagined Modernism, however, Dr. Waldmann pays unique and reverential tribute to the celebrated oeuvre of Otto Dix, in particular the artist’s masterpiece from 1926, Dr. Mayer-Hermann, which resides in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Dix’s painting similarly offers an intense psychological portrait of a doctor lost in thought; Dr. Mayer-Hermann slouches forward, his environment slightly more descriptive, but ultimately dislocated in a room of unidentifiable machinery. His head mirror features prominently, signaling his profession and echoing the rounded orbs of machinery and the sitter’s rotund body. In stark contrast to the paunchy and softened expression of Dr. Mayer Hermann, Dr. Waldmann thrusts outward, forcing himself to the surface of the picture plane, and confronts the viewer with a violent collision of line, color, and jagged angles reminiscent of the German Expressionists woodblocks. Lichtenstein himself, however, denied any direct correspondences between his German Expressionist paintings and singular sources of inspiration; in his own words: 'I began to work on a series of paintings inspired by German Expressionism. I didn’t quote specific pieces as I had done with earlier works derived from Monet and Picasso; but I did keep in mind such artists as Karl Schmidt-Rotluf and Erich Heckel. In a certain sense, I have always tried to eliminate the meaning of the original. If I had actually kept in mind German Expressionism in my latest series of paintings, then my work would have seemed to be expressionist. But for my own subjects I make use of a style rather than a specific painting.' (The artist quoted in an interview with Philip Jodido in Connaissance des Arts 349, March 1981, n.p.)
"With Dr. Waldmann and his German Expressionist works, Lichtenstein engages art history as his subject matter with striking prowess, systematically reimagining this critical twentieth-century movement to compose his own, utterly original masterwork. Diane Waldman writes: '…it is German Expressionism that connects most directly with Lichtenstein’s interest in issues of painting and style. German Expressionist pictorial innovations led him to expand his ideas into sculpture and into a series of landscapes and figurative paintings that are arguably his answer to Abstract Expressionism, which was indebted in no small way to the pioneering movement in early twentieth-century Germany.' (Diane Waldman in Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (and travelling), Roy Lichtenstein, 1993, p. 253)
lot has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It sold for $5,959,000.
"Sun Woman I is one of the largest and most important paintings from this crucial series. Included in Krasner’s pivotal 1983-85 travelling retrospective and featured on the front cover of her solo presentation at Robert Miller in 1982, the work is positioned adjacent to Seasons, arguably the artist’s greatest work, in the catalogue raisonné. Leaving evident the circular movements of the arm that delineated the composition, the work nods to the action painting of Krasner’s late husband but has an explosive ebullience that sets it apart from the work of her contemporaries. The measured play of color and form, pigment and canvas, scumbled and opaque paint creates what Griselda Pollock has described as “a dancing space…not like the literal dance performed by Pollock around his canvas and mythicized in photo session and film by Hans Namuth…[but rather] a created effect, a produced illusion, made through the play of color, the energy of line, the ebullient fullness of the image on the canvas.” (Griselda Pollock, “Killing Men and Dying Women,” in Mieke Bal, ed., The Practice of Cultural Analysis: Exposing Interdisciplinary Interpretation, Stanford, 1999, p. 100)
"Indeed, Sun Woman I, to an even greater extent than the other works in the Earth Green series, can be read as a refutation of Pollock’s myth and the prevailing machismo of the age. After all, a huge part of Pollock’s appeal lay in his wild masculinity, and the fashion in which that was reflected in his painting. As Budd Hopper reputedly said, in a telling assessment following the artist's death: 'He was the great American painter. If you conceive of such a person… he had to be a real American, not a transplanted European. And he should have big Macho American virtues – he should be rough and tumble American…and he should be allowed the great American vice, the Hemingway vice, of being a drunk… Everything about him was right.' (Budd Hopper quoted in Ibid., p. 86) What does this piece of adulatory mythologizing tell us about the reception of Pollock’s art? Determinedly American to the point of mild xenophobia, ruled by ungovernable urges and forces to reveal an inherent genius (at this juncture the Drip Paintings were thought of as gestures of wild abandon rather than highly energized but nevertheless controlled compositions that they are now considered to be), and most importantly, powerfully and overwhelmingly masculine; indeed, Pollock embodied the American ideal of the muscle-bound cowboy. In this context, the insistent femininity of Sun Woman I appears defiant. Undulating curves delineate breasts, buttocks and lips before giving way to green shoots in the upper left corner representing new life. As Barbara Rose observes in her essay for the 1984-85 retrospective, stalk-like limbs draw the composition up the canvas, lining up vertically with the framing edges, and the “heads and arms suggest flowers in an even further hybridization of form.' (Exh. Cat, New York, The Museum of Modern Art (and travelling), Lee Krasner: A Retrospective, 1983, p. 108) This conjoining of the human realm and the plant kingdom leads Hobbs to conclude that these were “hybrids that were intended to be living forms in a state of metamorphosis.” (Robert Hobbs, Op. Cit., p. 70) Sun Woman I is a work dedicated to fecundity, growth and reproduction, inspired in part by Krasner’s enduring love for the Paleolithic Venus of Willendorf, with the very title signaling this opposition of male and female. Casting itself in binary opposition to Pollock’s Moon Women from the early 1940s, ominous totemic specters that positioned women as entities to be feared, Sun Woman I rejoices in its femininity. Just as the sun is reborn at winter solstice to initiate the new year, the present work represents Krasner’s rebirth as an artist, her declaration of independence.
"Pivotal to our understanding of this proclamation of artistic identity is the abrupt incorporation of calligraphic signatures in Krasner’s work. Starting with Listen (1957), she began to incorporate a steadily more abstracted signature in the bottom right corner of the composition, to the point that it would become “an armature for the entire painting.” (Robert Hobbs, 'Lee Krasner,' in, Exh. Cat. Los Angeles Museum of Art (and travelling), Lee Krasner, 1999, p. 130) This inclusion was in diametric opposition to the prevailing trend, which saw the Abstract Expressionists largely omit to sign their works, allowing their signature image – Gottlieb’s burst, Pollock’s drip, Newman’s zip – to speak for their artistic identity. Krasner’s inclusion of a signature can thus be read as both a rebellion and a parody of the idea of a signature image, especially in the context of an artist who was constantly reinventing her practice. However, it is also an invocation of self-hood, not, as Hobbs argues, 'a holistic sense of self,” but rather fragments of the artist's persona in the form of both the signature and the emergent forms. This reflects the other key undertone of the Earth Green series – as much as they are a declaration of artistic identity and a radical break both formally and conceptually, they were also cathartic works following the death of her husband. Speaking years later, the artist recalled: 'I can remember that when I was painting Listen which is so high keyed in color…it looks like such a happy painting… I almost didn’t see it, because tears were literally pouring down.' (Lee Krasner quoted in Ibid., pp. 130-37)
"Although the Earth Green series undeniably saw Krasner grapple with Pollock, making explicit reference to his earlier works, the other painter with whom she had to contend was Willem de Kooning, whose Women from the early 1950s were some of the defining images of the era. Retaining a powerful indexicality to the bodily intensity of de Kooning’s gesture and movement, the Women are monstrous creations replete with blood-red smiles and wide staring eyes, imbued with the sensation of both violence and sexuality. They could not be ignored, and as Griselda Pollock observes, presented a serious challenge: 'de Kooning was not only the other big name on the current New York scene to be dealt with. He was the painter of Woman… For an artist of Krasner’s, namely his, generation, that dominance… could not be avoided.' (Griselda Pollock, Op. Cit., p. 100) Needless to say, the contrast between the two representations of women is pronounced. In place of de Kooning’s violent and jagged application of pigment come Krasner’s looping lines, and in place of any objectification comes adulation. The figure is not sexualized so much as she is sexual and fertile, a reclamation of the body from male representation. This is described as 'a joyful revelation of body schema on a canvas…a play around presence and absence that is pleasurable because it does not index an obsessive repetition of mastery (Pollock) or the need for violence (de Kooning).' (Ibid., p. 100)
"Epitomizing the pervasive sense of life and growth that characterizes the Earth Green series, Sun Woman I is one of Lee Krasner’s masterpieces. Providing the immediate foundation for The Seasons, where the figurative elements of the composition further abstract into an assortment of body parts, the present work is clearly of foundational importance to Krasner’s oeuvre, as evidenced by the extraordinary echo of its bulbous forms and lips in Gaea from 1966 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Conceptually rigorous and aesthetically astounding, Sun Woman I rightly takes its place as one of the most influential, written about and accomplished paintings of Krasner’s career, and gives weight to her friend Edward Albee’s glowing review of her oeuvre in the catalogue for her show at Robert Miller Gallery: 'I will book no interference when I assert that Lee Krasner is not only the finest woman painter the U.S. has produced in this century but – since sex is not really the vital matter here – is right in the top of the pile of the great 20th century American artists, period.' (Edward Albee, "Considering Krasner," Exh. Cat., New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Lee Krasner Paintings 1965 to 1970, 1991, n.p.)"
lot has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000. It sold for $7,382,750.
"Here we see the rectangles that would become his signature slide in and out of focus, mirage-like, noticeably present but not yet consolidated the formal geometric motif of his late work. These 'slabs' of color, as Hofmann called them, grew out of his desire to 'push and pull' depth out of the picture plane. A way of creating space without concealing the flatness of the canvas’s surface, the concept was promoted by Hofmann not only in his decades of teaching but also in his own work. The notion gives way to a unique visual sensation. As the artist explained: '...push and pull is a colloquial expression applied for movement experienced in nature or created on the picture surface to detect the counterplay of movement in and out of depth. Depth perception in nature and depth creation on the picture-surface is the crucial problem in pictorial creation.' (The artist quoted in Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art (and travelling), Hans Hofmann, 1990, p. 177) In Terpsichore, depth is created through texture and color in an elegant painterly two-step. Hofmann’s use of both heavy impasto and thin brushstrokes creates an ethereal richness that leaves his working methods visible, imbuing his canvas with the lingering presence of his creative process. Furthermore, Hofmann amplifies the intensity of his atmospheric tones by placing them alongside contrasting colors – cool with warm, light with dark, primary with secondary – to produce an added layer of visual depth.
"Indeed, the powerful and explosive hues of Terpsichore attest to the crucial importance of color in Hofmann’s work. His enveloping depths of brilliant pigment bear the legacy of the Fauvist penchant for vivid, concentrated, and dissonant tones, adding an emotional charge to the composition. Moreover, the calculated interplay of complementary and contrasting hues injects a dynamic rhythm to the work, each transition playing across the surface like a sheet of music. Flashes of luminescent white emerge from streaks of fuchsia, plum, and scarlet, while bars of lush green fold into swathes of warm golden orange. Here, Hofmann’s commanding colors become his subject, brought into focus by his masterfully varied strokes and shapes. As Frank Stella, whose work owes much to his teacher Hofmann, explains: 'We revere Hofmann, as Pollock did and Rauschenberg does, for proving that the straightforward manipulation of pigment can create exalted art. To put it simply, Hofmann’s ability to handle paint, to fuse the action of painting and drawing into a single, immediate gesture, carried colored pigment into the viewer’s presence with the force of a bomb. The power of this visual explosion catalyzed the bond of European and American art, cementing the first half of twentieth-century art inseparably to the second half.' (Frank Stella, “The Artist of the Century,” in James Yohe, Ed., Hans Hofmann, New York 2002, p. 308)
"Widely acknowledged as the crucial bridge between the School of Paris and the Abstract Expressionist movement as Stella implies, Hofmann began his career surrounded and influenced by great modern masters: after arriving in Paris in 1904, he frequented the legendary Café du Dôme in the company of artists such as Picasso, Braque, Léger, and Rouault. When Hofmann came to the United States in 1932, he sought to create an international style that drew from a variety of sources. Equally, he served as a crucial source of inspiration to such esteemed next generation artists as Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, Larry Rivers, Lee Krasner, and Louise Nevelson. It is evident in a painting such as Terpsichore that Hofmann shaped a new kind of painterly expression, enthusiastically incorporating elements of Fauvism, Cubism, and Abstract Expressionism, while also asserting his own uniquely modern vision. Fauvism in particular would play a prominent role in Hofmann’s practice, and indeed, the present work reveals daring tonal contrasts, overlapping blocks of color, and strong brushwork reminiscent of Henri Matisse. The architectonic structure of Open Window, Collioure almost serves as a template for Terpsichore, the shutters, windowsill, and swathes of color comprising the potted flowers collapsing into bricks of saturated color in Hofmann’s work.
"Characterized by these features, the muscular surface of Hofmann’s masterpiece displays a joyous energy and symphonic presence. Even the title of this work alludes to the pleasure in motion that is inherent to Hofmann’s best work, as he christens the piece after one of the nine Greek Muses: Terpsichore, or 'delight in dancing,' is the goddess of dance and chorus. Gracefully tying together several historical influences with a powerful modern sensibility, Hofmann produces a gleeful composition of colors that waltz across the canvas. With Terpsichore he delivers a harmonious summation of his unique vision, drawing together a lifetime of extraordinary experience into a canvas of alluring vitality."
lot has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It was passed at $3,100,000.
In its grand scale, chromatic brilliance and profound rearticulation of the picture plane, Number Two exemplifies Marden’s unwavering commitment to and rigorous examination of the most fundamental elements of painting: color, shape and form. Evincing Marden’s singular capacity to endow a single hue with inimitable complexity and depth, each monochrome panel of Number Two is in fact built up of innumerable layers of paint which Marden would repeatedly brush on then scrape smooth with a palette knife, the culmination of which coalesces into washes of deep hues whose subtle imperfections and gestural irregularities endow the panels of color with a sculptural dimensionality that marvelously defies the flatness of the paint itself. Unlike his contemporary Ellsworth Kelly who privileged a purity of color, Marden perceived monochromatic colors as rich in allusions and expressiveness, foregoing the preciousness championed by the Minimalists, and instead embracing the gestural, physical capacity of color. This aligns Marden in a gestural tradition with respect to the intense physicality with which he approaches his paint; an impassioned approach to color akin to Rothko and his brand of Abstract Expressionism. The sculptural presence of Number Two is further intensified when the twelve architectonic panels of Number Two are conjoined together in their final construction; mounted upon the wall, Number Two becomes itself a sculptural relief, exuding and vibrating with the physical energy, purity and formal elegance of a monumental Richard Serra sculpture. In his The New York Times review of Marden’s critically acclaimed exhibition at Pace Gallery, art critic John Russell specifically praises the present Number Two, writing that: “It is in paintings like Number One and Number Two that Marden's ambition finds overtly spectacular expression. What makes us look and look at these paintings to see how they can possibly have been made is partly the fact that none of the colors are quite what they seem. These reds, blues, yellows and greens are compounds of color, mixed and re-mixed, layered and re-layered, until they have subsumed 'all of everything.' After that has been done, they still have to work together. There have to be color chords the like of which we have not experienced before. And those chords have to establish connections for us that we could not have established by ourselves. They will vary from person to person, but they have to do with the interaction between difference and propinquity.'...While remaining committed to pure abstraction, Marden subverts the cool detachment of Minimalism for the ethereal effect of painterly expression, imbuing the seemingly formalist concerns of color, shape, and form with a deeply personal and poetic resonance. Indeed, despite the refined subtractions and stringent compositional syntax of Marden’s painterly technique, Marden nonetheless retains in paintings like Number Two the capacity to elicit emotional response.
"Constructed as a triptych in three vertical segments, Number Two furthers Marden’s investigation of the spectral progression of color - the separation of light, and therefore color, into its constituent parts. Within each segment, panels of complementary colors – red and green, purple and yellow, blue and orange – are arranged in a T-shaped structure. In working with panels of pure color which are then arranged into a composite unit, Marden allows himself to explore and experiment with color relationships without compromising the purity of the color itself and without the hindrance of imposing any sort of figure-ground tension on the composition, since each canvas remains a single hue. In 1981, Marden dispensed with the wax-based painting technique that had preoccupied him since the 1970s because it imparted a fragility to the painted surface; instead, he sought a medium that would most directly convey color without interference from reflective shine produced by varnish and oil paint. To this end, Marden developed a new technique of mixing terpineol with oil to produce a pigment that dries as flat to the surface as possible, which allowed the viewer to apprehend pure color with a physicality previously unseen in his paintings. By utilizing a sophisticated economy of means, Marden addresses the nature of the painted canvas as a structured object, not a field of painterly gesture, with isolated impactful colors entirely shifting our perceptions of space. Reconciling the stringent reductionism of Minimalism with the painterly impulses of Abstract Expressionism, Marden’s Number Two seamlessly integrates the dual movements, illuminating the artist’s unique ability to wed objective materiality and poetic subjectivity in a single composition. Dispensing entirely with considerations of figure and ground, Marden resolutely declares the preeminence of color, shape, and form; and yet, while abandoning any adherence to illusionistic depth or perspectival space in favor of pure abstraction, Marden retains the emotional facet of painting....
"Composed of twelve architectonic panels and rendered in six richly painted monochrome hues, Number Two also reflects Marden’s interest in numerology, revealing the centrality of the number six in his oeuvre. Fascinated by the deeply nuanced cross-cultural symbolism associated with the number six, Marden intentionally chose this number — and multiples of it — as an axis that would inform the construction and execution of his paintings; in Number Two, Marden uses six different hues and twelve panels. Associated with equilibrium and harmony, the number six holds a central position in world-religion: in Buddhism, the universe is associated with the number six; in Christianity and Judaism, the six days of creation...."
lot has an estimate of $10,000,000 to $15,000,000. It sold for $10,920,600.
"Playfully wedding masterful realism with painterly abandon, Vignette 19 captivates the viewer’s imagination with its unmatched visual delight. Symbols of springtime revelry frame the central narrative sequence of the present work: red robins whirl about, singing their cheery song; crisp white dogwood branches blossom into the fore; and cartoonishly large purple daisies with wildly verdant leaves embrace the figures within a fantastical space of romantic bliss. Further drawing the viewer inward, Marshall delicately encrusts the heart-shaped frame around the figures with golden glitter and borders the composition with bold slashes of bubblegum pink pigment. Nature overflows with passionate excess, enveloping the lovers in a hyperbolic terrain of resplendent beauty.
"Completely consumed by their love, the three couples who form the centerpiece of Vignette 19 exist separately of each other, each unique in their expression of care. The left-most couple hold hands in embrace, looking toward each other, faces nearly touching, as the man’s hand rests gently on the woman’s lower back. The woman of the central couple lies against a tree trunk, as her male lover looks out toward the viewer, acknowledging their presence, as he comes from behind her to greet his patiently waiting partner. The rightmost man beckons his companion, leaning forward against the bench upon which she sits. His intent pose and her elegant gesture recall Fragonard’s The Meeting, one of the four panels of The Progress of Love, which depicts a garden tryst with dramatic fancifulness. Marshall places a dog, a longtime symbol of faithfulness and devotion, between his two figures, which calls to mind the ultimate art historical wedding portrait, Jan van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Wedding. Though celebratory in nature, the present work’s emphasis on intimacy between black subjects carries a sociopolitical heft. As curator Abigail Winograd explains: 'The Vignettes are part of Marshall’s ongoing effort to create narrative paintings that eschew images of the black figure contending with violence or trauma in favor of an almost Rockwellian normalcy, defying expectations to create a new sense of black domesticity.' (Ibid, p. 192) Within the panoply of chromatic and textural excess, the deliberate and dramatic darkness of Marshall’s figures casts the abysmal exclusion of black bodies from canonical art history into radical relief.
"Marshall showcases his complete mastery over his chosen medium through the present work’s deft combination of painterly abstraction and careful figurative rendering. With the triumphant gusto of an Abstract Expressionist, Marshall builds up his forest floor with a rich and complex layering of line and color: swaths of olive green lie atop strokes of lime green; tawny brown intermixes with shades of auburn and chocolate. Fast, cross-hatched strokes of burnt orange and crimson create a fiery band of dense surface in the foreground, while tones of cool blues blend together in the background to create an atmosphere of idyllic calm. In terms particularly evocative of the present work, art historian Kobena Mercer describes the impact of such variegation on Marshall’s compositions: 'Marshall’s enigmatic compositions, with their figures often in pairs or groups, suggest potential scenes of dramatic action, but any straightforward access to narrative content is intercepted by a rich ensemble of painterly effects in which various drips, dots, strokes and scumbles are scattered throughout the textured surfaces that are so distinctive to Marshall’s paintings.' (Kobena Mercer, 'Kerry James Marshall: The Painter of Afro-Modern Life,' Afterall: A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry 24, 2010, p. 81)
"At once a critique of the history of painting and an embrace of the medium’s utmost possibilities, Vignette 19 embodies the radically transformative power of Marshall’s artistic project. Arresting in its graphic splendor and lavish ornamentation, the present work pulses with sensual tenor, basking its couples in a magical aura that befits their love. Speaking about the significance of depicting black beauty, the artist states: 'if I don’t do it, or if other people like me don’t do it, we will be condemned to celebrate European beauty and Europe’s artistic achievement in perpetuity.' (The artist quoted in Exh. Cat., Antwerp, Museum Van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen, Kerry James Marshall, Painting and Other Stuff, 2013, p. 28)
lot has an ambitious estimate of $6,500,000 to $7,500,000. It sold for $18,488,000, an absolutely
"Meeting the viewer’s gaze over her bare shoulder with inscrutable intensity, the unnamed subject of Small Pin-Up (Lens Flare) is at once entirely anonymous and acutely specific: while much of her silhouette and face are veiled in partial shadow, Marshall renders the details of her playful headband of pink hearts, the crimson facets of her gemstone earrings, the iridescent green of her polished thumbnail with exceptional care. Evident in all of Marshall’s Pin-Up paintings, these particularized details evoke the 1950s and 60s tradition of the ‘Pin-Up’ girl, in which beautiful, scantily clad women engage in seemingly mundane—yet highly specific—everyday activities. Describing the impetus behind the series, Marshall reflects: 'This continues my over-arching project of representing aspects of Black Culture rarely made visible in contemporary picture making… I am also interested in foregrounding the black figure in popular genres of painting not usually associated with the socio-political frame in which much African American art is seen through. For example, in the big coffee table book survey, The Great American Pin-Up...not one of the sexy, dream girls is Black.' (the artist cited in Nicole J. Caruth, 'Kerry James Marshall in Southern California,' ART21 Magazine, September 2008, n.p.) Unable to find a single black or Asian woman in the various magazines and beauty pageants he looked at, Marshall’s Pin-Up paintings rectify this absence by painting exactly that which has been excluded. Unlike traditional pin-up girls however, whose frivolous endeavors and commercial trappings depict women as the vapid embodiments of a sexualized American ideal, Marshall’s Pin-Ups stand poised and erect, recognizing the viewer’s voyeuristic presence with their own unblinking gaze. Small Pin-Up (Lens Flare) harnesses in all its subtlety and elegance the power of a woman whose body, despite her revealed skin, is not that which first catches our eye.
"Achieving a fascinating interplay between color and form, light and shadow, figure and ground, Small Pin-Up (Lens Flare) emphatically testifies to the virtuosic technical abilities that have distinguished Marshall as amongst the most gifted figurative painters working today. Framed within a halo of light, the gleaming darkness of the central figure is all the more striking; invoking the work of great abstract painter Ad Reinhardt, the deep hues of Marshall’s ground and figure at once engage and offset each other to create a painting in which the subtlest highlight acts as crucial compositional element. Against the chromatic theatrics of the shimmering light flare, the deliberate and dramatic darkness of Marshall’s figure casts the artist’s extraordinary examination of the color black into exhilarating relief. In her essay for the 2016 Mastry catalogue, scholar Helen Molesworth remarks, 'Blackness is not presented by Marshall as an afterthought or as a form of special pleading; it is offered as a radical presence that shows how the very notions of beauty and truth that paintings and museums hold to be self-evident are premised on exclusions that are ethically, philosophically, and aesthetically untenable.' (John Keene, Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Kerry James Marshall: Mastry, 2016, p. 37) When questioned about the uncompromising blackness of his figures, the artist himself remarked, 'Extreme blackness plus grace equals power. I see the figures as emblematic; I’m reducing complex variations of tone to rhetorical dimension: blackness.' (The artist quoted in Ibid., p. 59) Offset by the cascading shower of light and hue, there is indeed an indisputable grace to the inarguable darkness of Marshall’s figure; simultaneously, the flare of light emphasizes its own status as a captured image continually reiterating the painting's status within the very same rarefied visual culture it addresses."
The lot has an
estimate of $2,500,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for $5,503,400.
"Within White’s extraordinary output, Ye Shall Inherit the Earth is an exceptionally poignant embodiment of the artist’s championing of civil rights causes and, in particular, black feminist causes. Perhaps the ultimate embodiment of White’s dedication to these aims, Ye Shall Inherit the Earth represents the figure of Rosa Lee Ingram, an African-American woman who, in the late 1940s, became the subject of one of the most explosive capital punishment cases in American history – a key moment in the history of civil rights activism. In 1947, Ingram, a widowed mother of fourteen, and two of her sons were accused of killing their neighbor, a white sharecropper, after enduring years of his harassment and abuse. Although all three were initially sentenced to death, the public outcry was so immediate and vigorous that the three sentences were commuted to life imprisonment. The continued protest against the incarceration of the Ingrams became a central catalyst for African-American women across the political spectrum and served as a rallying cry and key cause for such groups as the Women’s Committee for Equal Justice and the Sojourners for Truth and Justice. In 1954, following years of continued widespread protest against the Ingrams’ imprisonment, the Women’s Committee for Equal Justice organized a letter writing campaign centered on the image of the present work. Timed to coincide with Mother’s Day, two sets of postcards were sent: one, featuring a photograph of Ingram and her sons, was sent to the Georgia governor to demand their release, while the other, illustrating Ye Shall Inherit the Earth, was sent to Ingram, assuring her of the continued efforts being made on her behalf. Selecting his title from the well-known Biblical verse, White chose these words to underscore Ingram as a potent symbol not only for marginalized African-Americans seeking civil reform, but also for the plight of women within a male-dominated society. Although it would be another five years of fervent campaigning before Ingram and her sons were released, Ye Shall Inherit the Earth is powerfully emblematic of White’s dedication to the civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century.
"Underscoring the significance of the work, Ye Shall Inherit the Earth was featured as the main image in a portfolio White published in 1953 titled Six Drawings; at the time, this portfolio was moderately priced so as to be accessible to a wide audience. White's desire to make his art more attainable was a concern shared by other artists of the era and attests to their determination to have their art brought to those sidelined by steep gallery prices and exclusive museum exhibitions. Testament to the success of this portfolio, White later learned that a small group of workers in Alabama combined their savings to purchase Six Drawings, and agreed to share the pictures among themselves - a beautifully touching conclusion to the creation of this important portfolio.
"Gazing out at the audience with a quiet dignity, White’s totemic figure clutches her child to her breast, her left hand draped protectively over his head. While her pose suggests the statuesque solemnity of a Madonna, the figure is rendered in soft and tender shades of charcoal, allowing sinuous lines, gentle highlights, and the smooth grisaille palette to imbue the work with a quiet and restrained elegance. Her nondescript hat and clothing replace the Virgin Mary’s traditional lapis garb, positioning her in the contemporary agricultural setting of 1950s America. Half-swaddled, her cherubic infant leans against her breast, safely enclosed within her caring grasp. When the present work was exhibited in 1953 at ACA Galleries, Harold Zilberg wrote of its emotive power: '…a mother stands holding her child, and as she looks out of the picture with a determined steady gaze, seems plainly to be saying, ‘We are going to change this world and make it a better place for our children to live in.' (Harold Zilberg, “Charles White’s Exhibit: A Warm Tribute to Negro People’s Struggle,” Daily Worker, February 19, 1953, p. 7)
"Exemplified within the present work, White’s distinctive approach to portraiture communicates universal human themes while simultaneously exploring intensely personalized narratives, ultimately creating a body of work that continues to resonate deeply today. His contribution to the course of twentieth-century art history cannot be understated, not only as a supremely talented artist and social historian, but also as a mentor and teacher to some of today’s best-known artists. In the preface of the exhibition catalogue for Charles White: A Retrospective, former student Kerry James Marshall writes of his beloved teacher at the Otis Art Institute of Los Angeles County: 'The labor, the work, in Charlie’s drawings is palpable. One can follow the process through his technique and understand exactly how the image came to be on the page or the canvas. His most accomplished drawings achieve true perfection. The effect is dazzling, efficient, and never extravagant. An atmosphere of stillness and quietude envelops the space in and around the work. I can’t help remembering a Shaker motto I read somewhere that governs their sense of piety and discipline: ‘Hands to work, hearts to God.’ The terms art and work gain embodied meaning in the best of his pictures.' (Kerry James Marshall, “A Black Artist Named White,” in Exh. Cat., Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago (and travelling), Charles White: A Retrospective, 2018, p. 19)"
lot has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $1,790,000.
"Rendered with ferocious intensity, the searing figurehead of Brown Eggs is a riveting embodiment of the instinctive and unrivalled brilliance which distinguished Jean-Michel Basquiat from the earliest years of his career. Executed in 1981, Brown Eggs exemplifies a selection of drawings that, in their haunting and unique renderings of skull-like heads, powerfully embody the extraordinary intensity, focus, and drive which fueled Basquiat at this pivotal moment in his burgeoning career. Within this rarefied corpus, the present work is remarkable for its saturated surface and exceptional diversity of mark-making; rendered in layers of furiously scrawled hazel and orange pigment, overlaid with furious incisions of black, scarlet, yellow, and blue, the frenzied intensity of Basquiat’s variegated strokes is contained only by crisp boundary of the sheet itself. Scrawled below the glowering figure, the inscribed title is irresistibly enigmatic, suggesting loaded commentary while evading clear translation. Vibrantly and densely-layered, the frenetic collision of mark, color, word, and form is, within Basquiat’s drawing, somehow transformed into a singularly sizzling composition that exemplifies the young artist’s effortless creative genius.
"In its talismanic rendering of a skull, the present work is a paradigmatic example of the artist’s most iconic motif; compelling as both idiosyncratic self-portrait and shamanistic totem, the fierce character summoned in Brown Eggs would prevail as a primary graphic anchor for Basquiat throughout his career, appearing in and dominating the majority of his best-known masterworks. Rising wraithlike from the paper before us, the visage of Brown Eggs serves as an aesthetic premonition, invoking such later paintings as Untitled (Skull), in The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection in Los Angeles, and Untitled, in the collection of Yusuku Maezawa, both painted the following year. Part self-portrait and part racial allegory, Basquiat’s heads fuse an explosive new style of expressionistic portraiture with a charged, underlying current of socio-political symbolism; although subtly referenced in the present work, the nuanced racial commentary of Brown Eggs is specifically echoed in one of the artist’s later paintings, Eyes and Eggs from 1983, in The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection in Los Angeles. In that work, a black figure dressed in waiter’s garb holds a pan of sizzling eggs aloft, his eyes wide and searching as they fix the viewer’s own gaze. Here, emblazoned without narrative, the titular scribble of BROWN EGGS acquires the enigmatic significance of muttered prophecy, suggesting legibility while persistently evading the viewer’s attempts at comprehension. Describing the virtuosic manner in which Basquiat combined text and imagery in his drawings in terms highly reminiscent of the present work, art historian Robert Storr reflects: 'His earliest images on paper show the same authoritative handwriting of his pseudonymous street tags… Heads, often skulls, chant his words. Or rather inhale and exhale them through gritted teeth, as if sucking in the variously dense or diffuse atmosphere they create.' (Robert Storr in Exh. Cat., New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Jean Michel Basquiat: Drawings, 1981–1988, 1990, n.p.)
"The explosive mark-making and scrawls across the surface of Brown Eggs emphatically testify to the equally fierce artistic drive that propelled Basquiat’s meteoric rise to unprecedented success during his breakout year. Executed in 1981, Brown Eggs stands at a turning point in Basquiat’s short but prolific artistic career: in February of the same year, the artist was included in the multi-disciplinary show New York/New Wave at MoMA P.S.1 in Queens, marking beginning of the artist’s transition from the streets to galleries, to museums, and eventually, into the highest echelons of the international art world. In September, the gallerist Annina Nosei offered Basquiat the basement of her eponymous gallery in SoHo to use as a studio, granting him the funding and materials he needed to begin his critical and commercial ascent. In these landmark works from 1981, Basquiat's abundant talent and fluent command of paint, figure, and form are powerfully redolent. Despite his remarkably young age, Basquiat here displays his mature aesthetic vocabulary, emphatically demonstrating the signature figuration, Fauvist mastery of color, and unparalleled intensity of mark-making that would come to define his output. As he fixes the viewer with his multicolored gaze, the ferocious face demands recognition of Basquiat’s instinctive and lauded abilities as one of the greatest draughtsman of the twentieth century."
lot has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It sold for $5,389,500.
"Scorched upon the surface of the paper with electrifying immediacy, the four bristling craniums of Famous Negro Athletes confront the viewer with the full force of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s singular graphic vernacular and artistic mark. Executed in 1981, the present work marks the pivotal early moment directly preceding the then-unknown artist’s meteoric ascent to international acclaim; here, Basquiat summons the searing graphic intensity which defined the monumental scrawls of his downtown alter-ego, graffiti-poet SAMO©, to infuse his page with the exhilarating intensity and unfiltered grit of 1980s Lower Manhattan. Even at this early date, Famous Negro Athletes testifies to the young artist’s extraordinary command of both image and text as charged tools within his graphic arsenal, Basquiat deftly manipulating culturally loaded signs, symbols and phrases to create his own potent calling card. Within his rarefied output from this seminal early date, the origin story of Famous Negro Athletes is truly extraordinary: initially emblazoned as a graffiti mural in downtown New York, Basquiat executed Famous Negro Athletes on paper as a gift for Glenn O’Brien, legendary art critic and famed luminary of New York City’s creative underground of the 80s and 90s. A key advocate for Basquiat in the early years, O’Brien was amongst the first to recognize the young graffiti poett’s virtuosic formal abilities, and would go on to become a close friend of the artist over the course of the 1980s. When asked how he discovered Basquiat in those early years, however, O’Brien remarks: 'It’s like talking about who discovered that the atomic bomb happened. He was unavoidable. I mean, he was so forceful that it wasn’t a matter of discovery. He discovered himself. He was a force of nature. He was determined to get there.' (Glenn O’Brien cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Deitch Projects, Jean-Michel Basquiat 1981: The Studio of the Street, May 2006, p. 15) Testifying to the significance of the present work, Famous Negro Athletes has been included in a number of seminal exhibitions of Basquiat’s output, including The Jean-Michel Basquiat Show, organized by the Fondazione La Triennale di Milano in 2006-2007, the exhibition Basquiat, organized by the Fondation Beyeler, Basel and Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris in 2010-2011, and, most recently, Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks, organized by the Brooklyn Museum, the High Museum of Art, Atlanta and the Pérez Art Museum, Miami in 2015-2016.
"Held in Glenn O’Brien’s personal collection since its execution in 1981, Famous Negro Athletes serves as enduring testament to the creative partnership forged between Basquiat and O’Brien over the course of the 1980s. Recalling his first introduction to Basquiat’s work, O’Brien describes: “I had seen SAMO written on walls and doors all over the place, and I was doing a piece about graffiti art and graffiti for High Times, so I interviewed him. It was early 1979 I think. I had already talked to Ali and Lee and Fred and various so-called [graffiti] writers, but I wanted to talk to SAMO, because what he was doing was different. It wasn’t just a tag; it had content.” (Glenn O’Brien, Ibid., p. 14) At the time, O’Brien was the host of the weekly public-access television program TV Party, a late-night variety show that introduced its teenage audience of insomniacs to figures like Robert Mapplethorpe, Debbie Harry, Chris Burden, and, eventually, Jean-Michel Basquiat, among other iconic downtown figures. In 1980-81, O’Brien hired Basquiat to star in the now-legendary film project Downtown 81 as, fittingly, a charmingly struggling young artist in New York City. Describing Basquiat's magnetic appeal, O’Brien reflects: 'He was fun. A delight. A riot… Just when you thought he couldn’t get any better: boom, something came over the work, and he had a whole new way of drawing a head, or a mask, or he’d tackle some new theme.' (Glenn O’Brien cited in Ibid., pp. 176-177)
as both idiosyncratic commentary and skull-like talismanic icon, the
motif of the ‘black athlete’ which dominates the present work appears
as a key conceptual anchor throughout Basquiat’s oeuvre. Countless of
Basquiat’s paintings and works on paper – particularly from these early
years – make visual and textual reference to famous black athletes of
the time, from Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) to Jersey Joe Walcott,
Jackie Robinson to Hank Aaron. Within Basquiat’s graphic lexicon,
the familiar names and images of these figures function as
quasi-canonized icons of popular culture; simultaneously, the
inscrutable faces of Famous
Black Athletes engender a powerful scrutiny of a society
which offers so few professions in which marginalized groups are
permitted to excel. Glenn O’Brien notes: 'The piece was political in
the sense that it presented so simply how society expected black people
to be athletes and not painters.' (Glenn O’Brien cited in Exh. Cat.,
New York, Deitch Projects, Jean-Michel Basquiat 1981: The Studio of the
Street, May 2006, p. 19) Exemplifying the virtuosic manipulation
of signs and symbols that has come to define his extraordinary
artistic legacy, the deliberately misspelled scrawl of ‘ATHELETES’
emphasizes Basquiat’s manipulation of words as both graphic and phonic
elements, as the artist simultaneously draws upon the word’s function
as recognizable signifier and satirizes its subsequently implied
meaning. Poised on the brink of his own meteoric rise to critical and
commercial acclaim, it is fitting that the young Basquiat was
considering the myriad paths, promises, and pitfalls of fame, in all
its guises. As so eloquently concluded by O’Brien, however: 'He wasn’t
out to get rich –he was out to win. He painted for the world title:
heavyweight champion of the world and grandmaster.' (Glenn O’Brien,
“Basquiat: The Show Must Go On,” 2013, n.p.)"
"This unique approach is above all else informed by the materials Bradford uses. While his works are categorically considered within the realm of painting, by both himself and the larger artistic community, his works cannot be described as painting in the traditional sense. He eschews brushes of any size or shape; similarly, paint in its various forms – oil, acrylic, watercolor – plays little to no role in the surfaces of his expansive canvases. In lieu of these conventional media, Bradford’s labyrinthine compositions are a direct result of the artist’s immediate surroundings. Working from a deliberately concentrated area directly adjacent to his studio, Bradford gathers a compendium of found materials, primarily paper, which determine the parameters of each distinct work and serve as the building blocks of his intricate and engaging final paintings. The materials he uses are also deeply personal – a principal ingredient of his early collages in particular were hundreds of used end papers, an intimate reference to a youth spent working in his mother’s hair salon in Los Angeles.
"Lying at a crucial juncture of Bradford’s practice, when he moved away from using end papers to create richly built up topographical surfaces, the abstracted expanses of Mark Bradford’s works are visually evocative of the urban sprawl that spawned them. A dense cluster of color and form towards the center, abounding with bright flashes of green, orange and red, gives way to an arterial network of shadowy ridges and furrows which coalesce to form a mesmerizing cartographic structure which invites the viewer to interpret, or project, a sense of place. After all, Spinning Man is a work that seeks to both obscure and revel in process. The layers of material that make up the work are instruments of transparency. Gaps in the paper reveal what lies beneath, and colors are permitted to reveal themselves through translucent paper, showing the viewer what they were, are, and could be. As Bradford puts it: 'It's like watching people use a sledgehammer to dig up concrete and then there's nature underneath. I thought I was retrieving some of my own work beneath the surface.' (The artist quoted in Michele Carlson, "Mark Bradford Brings Mainstream to the Fringe," Art in America, March 15, 2012)
lot has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It sold for $5,845,100.
"Bradford's process results in a saturated urban arrangement, at once levied by and with geography. Large spreads of paper are left untouched and act like undeveloped land that encloses the edges of constructed layouts. The visual networks that Bradford has created here are buttressed by the socioeconomic systems that are represented by the merchant posters and papers of his Los Angeles community. Like Julie Mehretu, Bradford examines architecture and urban planning as an analogue through which to interpret social change; unlike his contemporary, however, there is no attempt to invoke a direct reality, simply a transitory sense of place. The rivulets across the surface of Spinning Man do not correspond to a city grid, but rather can rather be read as fractures that signal the fragility and vulnerability of the tight knit communities that Bradford knows and loves in the face of the homogenizing effects of consumer capitalism. Drawing on a revolutionary technical legacy inaugurated by the Dadaist collages of Kurt Schwitters and Cubist works by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, and later by Mimmo Rotella and the Nouveau Réalisme movement, Bradford turns away from the mainstream newspapers and movie posters to harness the expedient metamorphosis of a specific, local consumer culture. These linguistic and visual signifiers expose what Philippe Vergne describes as 'the benchmarks of a very active ghost economy that exists next to the official, dominating one.' (Philippe Vergne, "No More Fire, the Paper Next Time" in Exh. Cat., Aspen, Aspen Art Museum, Mark Bradford: Merchant Posters, 2010, p. 19)
"Drawing on an artistic arsenal composed of literal fragments of urban life, Bradford is celebrated as one of the most influential and vital artists of his generation. The subject of widespread critical and public acclaim, Bradford has enjoyed major institutional support in recent years, including international solo shows at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. in 2017 and a major solo presentation at the U.S. Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale entitled Tomorrow is Another Day. Like Norman Lewis and Jack Whitten, whom Bradford cites as inspirations, his paintings are deeply aware of their place in history, but unlike his predecessors, Bradford is telling a story that is deeply personal as opposed to universal. In the artist’s words: 'I like to walk through the city and find details and then abstract them and make them my own. I’m not speaking for a community or trying to make a sociopolitical point. At the end, it’s my mapping. My subjectivity.' (The artist quoted in “Market>Place,” Art21, November 2011)"
lot has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It sold for $5,845,000.
"At once hypnotically tumultuous and exactingly constructed, Julie Mehretu’s monumental masterpiece Rise of the New Suprematists from 2001 is a provocative synthesis of abstract hieroglyphic symbolism and architectural visual vocabulary. Through a distinctively informed pictorial language, Mehretu superimposes incendiary emotive marks and calligraphic ciphers upon an intricately rendered blueprint of an imagined public space, with gesture and geometry clamoring for attention. Her explosive graphic explorations of space attempt to articulate the power structures and methods of mapping that define the contemporary urban landscape, as well as her own place within them. Honored as a recipient of the U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts in 2015, and currently the subject of a major retrospective co-organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and The Whitney Museum of American Art through 2020, Mehretu has garnered widespread acclaim as one of the most influential artists of her generation. Testifying to the caliber of the present work, Rise of the New Suprematists was one of two paintings by the artist included in the 2004 Whitney Biennial; the other, Empirical Construction, Istanbul (2003), is now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The gravitas of her conceptual ideology coupled with the skill and dexterity of her mark-making, as magnificently exemplified by the present work, have established Mehretu as a modern master and uniquely articulate voice of a socially, culturally, and politically wary generation.
"Rise of the New Suprematists, as a model of Mehretu’s unbridled visual and symbolic layering, requires excavation. Beneath the immediate explosion of free-form scrawls and kinetic vectors lies a subtly rendered architectonic assemblage, anchoring the composition in formal geometric terms, yet resisting any ready legibility. As esteemed critic and curator Franklin Sirmans noted of Mehretu’s work in a review for The New York Times: 'Her action-packed scenes of virtual cities incorporate classical examples of architecture with a psychogeography that collapses time – from the prehistoric to the present – to create a dreamy yet eerily grounded picture of contemporary life. In the painting Rise of the New Suprematists, groups of small marks identify a determined procession of people in an environment suggestive of urban development on a sprawling global scale.' (Franklin Sirmans, “Mapping a New, and Urgent, History of the World,” The New York Times, December 9, 2001, p. 41) In this sense, Mehretu’s markings capture the fragmented experiences and stimuli of a collective cityscape; at once universal and highly personal, her work not only maps an imagined world but also attempts to reconcile the artist’s own identity within it. Reflecting her view that constructed spaces serve as metaphors for complex power structures and political realities, each of her script-like strokes is informed by its interaction with the linear foundation underneath and the other symbols around it.
Lot 17 detail
"Similarly, Mehretu conceives her works in globalized terms, drawing from diverse historical movements as well as her own disparate heritage. Born in Ethiopia, raised in Michigan, educated in Senegal and Rhode Island, and now based between New York and Berlin, her paintings are built from the juxtaposition of different styles of marking, each with their own character, identity and history. In Rise of the New Suprematists, Mehretu underlines her canonical lineage to Kazimir Malevich and Lyubov Popova, referring to their manifesto declaring the supremacy of pure artistic feeling over the literal depiction of objects. The linear vectors that propel the eye outwards also reference the dynamic explorations of motion that characterize the Italian Futurists’ urban celebrations of modernity, while the overlapping streaks and smudges recall the schismatic personal expression of Cy Twombly, and, when viewed from a distance, the composition as a whole echoes the graphic power of Roy Lichtenstein’s comic Pop explosions. Evincing Mehretu’s artistic genius, these deeply discordant sources are filtered through her own cultural consciousness and meticulous approach, harmonizing into a uniquely resonant style of history painting, updated for the modern age.
"Demonstrating a singular conceptual clarity and technical virtuosity, Rise of the New Suprematists forcefully and stunningly describes the complex and multivalent experience of the contemporary urban landscape. As critic Christopher Knight noted in identifying the present work as a highlight of the 2004 Whitney Biennial: 'Incoherent chaos and excruciating control are balanced on a metaphorical knife-edge by the explosive linearity” of this cartographic canvas. (Christopher Knight, “Binary Days at the Biennial,' Los Angeles Times, April 11, 2004, p. 43) Indeed, Rise of the New Suprematists fuses the cartographic logic of architectural mapping with the expressiveness and apparent irrationality of the impulsively-made mark, their electrifying union displayed on a monumental scale. Engaging with art historical iconography while activating an intimate personal vocabulary, Mehretu’s painting offers a new language of abstraction as a way of articulating the inherent paradox of order and disorder that defines the complex nature of our shared experience."
lot has an estimate of $3,500,000 to $4,500,000. It sold for $4,820,000.
"A perpetual student at heart, Lewis participated heavily at the Harlem Community Art Center in the 1940s and 1950s, where he met writers, musicians, and artists, including Jack Whitten. Lewis’s ongoing self-education, which included this engagement within his Harlem community, was supplemented by trips to the Museum of Modern Art, where he viewed the European masters like Vincent van Gogh and Wassily Kandinsky, and a fierce commitment to African-American social causes. Files in Lewis’s studio included everything from color charts, books on art, philosophy, and race, to postcards from his travels, and clippings from TIME magazine, testifying to his broad interests, inexorable curiosity, and myriad inspirations. The 1960s, however, were a turning point for the artist, when he began to focus in profound way on the subjects of race and civil rights; the most powerful and provocative paintings from these years are the Ku Klux Klan paintings, which – both in image and title – refer to the white supremacist group gaining momentum throughout the 1960s in the United States. In response to the Ku Klux Klan, Lewis and other black artists formed Spiral, an activist group founded on a commitment to supporting the Civil Rights Movement and combatting the racism and threats posed by the Ku Klux Klan. Spiral held one group exhibition in 1965 at 147 Christopher Street in New York, the exhibition catalogue for which included a foreword that described the group’s goal: '…we hoped with our art to justify life… What is most important now, and what has great portent for the future, is that Negro artists, of divergent backgrounds and interest, have come together on terms of mutual respect…to fashion art works lit by beauty, and of such diversity.' (Exh. Cat., New York, Christopher Street Gallery, Spiral, May – June 1965, n.p.)
"Undeniably ‘lit by beauty,’ Ritual is a veritable feast for the eyes, engulfing the viewer in a stunning blue vista punctuated by complementary brushstrokes of yellow, red, and orange. Eddies of blue, teal, and navy pool together in watery swathes, building layer upon layer of deep color. The overwhelmingly royal blue composition reveals shadows of deep green, puddles of indigo, and lighter washes of a brighter hue, evoking a reflective body of water that recalls Monet’s waterlilies. Strokes of burnished orange hover at the top of the composition, balancing the arc of vibrantly dashed paint below. Staccato marks of red, orange, yellow, and pink collect to form a crescent shape stretching across the canvas. Although entirely abstract, these marks are intended, loosely, to represent figures, more specifically, members of the Ku Klux Klan. Ruth Fine writes: 'These Klan paintings are dominated by Lewis’s broad calligraphy, with the gestures signifying figures intermixed with field. Layered paint creates interactive color surfaces far more complex than that of a simple figure/ground relationship… Thematically related, Ritual is painted fluidly, suggestive of light and atmosphere, with figures in a fiery semi-circular procession, and a moon hovering in a centrally important position overhead.' (Ruth Fine, “The Spiritual in the Material,” Exh. Cat., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (and travelling), Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis, 2015, p. 80) Upon closer inspection, certain red daubs can be read as faces, yellow rhomboid forms as cloaks, and strips of orange as arms; however, these suggested figurative elements never entirely cohere, their colors merely suggesting or evoking moods: blue signifying beauty, yellow embodying possibility, and red representing the spark of rebellion. Among these socially acute and politically critical paintings of the early 1960s, Ritual marks the apex of Lewis’s artistic practice. According to Jeffrey Stewart, the dashes and hatches comprising abstract figures “…are unrecognizable, except from a few obvious hints, but who distinguish themselves by being crowds, congregations of hate or love, change of resistance, that form powerful circles and enclosures designed to arrest the mind or liberate it.” (Jeffrey C. Stewart, “Beyond Category: Before Afrofuturism There was Norman Lewis,” Ibid., p. 180)
"Although politically motivated, Lewis adheres to a language of abstraction and beauty, which belies a quiet hum of energy. Lewis himself is quoted as saying: 'Art is a language in itself, embodying purely visual symbols which cannot properly be translated into words, musical notes or, in the case of painting, three-dimensional objects, and to attempt such is to be unable to admit the unique function of art or understand its language. The artist must have an idea with which to begin but it must be an aesthetic idea and it must be developed from the unconscious experience, through conscious associations and technical knowledge to become a complete, aesthetic experience for both the artist and the viewer.' (The artist quoted in Ruth Fine, “The Spiritual in the Material,” Ibid., p. 99) Nevertheless, this aesthetic experience reverberates with the soft yet powerful voice and vision of one of the twentieth-century’s most socially engaged artists."
"The present work pays homage to William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, an American sociologist, historian, and civil rights activist; best known for authoring The Souls of Black Folk and Black Reconstruction in America, Du Bois rose to prominence as the leader of the Niagara Movement and determinedly campaigned for equal rights for black people in America. Whitten not only idolized Du Bois for his political activism, but also felt a personal connection to the notion of ‘double consciousness’ that pervades many of the essays in The Souls of Black Folk and is best described in Du Bois’s own words: 'One ever feels his twoness – An American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.' (W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, reproduced in Exh. Cat., Baltimore, Baltimore Museum of Art (and travelling), Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture 1963-2017, 2018, p. 31) Black Monolith, VII Du Bois Legacy: For W.E. Burghardt embodies this ‘twoness,’ embracing both painting and sculpture, harking to a European tradition while honoring an American one, and alluding to cultural heroes while insisting on its own materiality.
Lot 42 detail
"The process by which Whitten constructed his Black Monoliths is characteristically unique and shatters conventional boundaries between artistic media. Rather than ‘painting’ these works in the traditional sense, Whitten created them by pouring acrylic paint into molds made from found detritus, such as bottle caps, corrugated cardboard, bubble wrap, and discarded fragments of plastic. Once dry, he released the hardened acrylic chips, ribbons, and scraps and then affixed these tesserae onto the canvas in a kaleidoscopic mosaic that calls to mind practices as disparate as Mediterranean tile work and religious stained-glass windows. This method – part painting, part collage, part sculpture, part bricolage – reflects the tenuous, complex, and multi-layered nature of African-American identity. Richard Schiff notes: 'Because analogous units of acrylic constitute every discernible element, each acquires equivalent existential status, whether ‘representing’ the texture of an object, the quality of paint itself, or the immaterial essence of a human soul.' (Richard Schiff, “Off the Wire” in Ibid., p. 168) Disparate pieces accumulate into one unit, each fragment representative of a different cast object or facet to an individual, all coalescing to one dynamic but uniform whole. An ovoid bejeweled mass shudders across the matte black canvas in striations of black and white, bright tessellations of purple, bricks of teal and shards of electric yellow, bordered by trails of multicolored fragments. A gathering of ivory pieces, like abalone shells clustered in a tide pool, create a luminous halo-like effect at the top of this amorphous stele. Scholars have read the shape of this mass as a bird’s eye view of a Mediterranean island, an abstract silhouette of Du Bois’s bust, a prehistoric landscape, or, in the artist’s own words 'a loaf of ciabatta [referring to] the custom of breaking bread.' (The artist in conversation with Richard Shiff, September 8, 2017, Ibid., p. 172) Whitten viewed the present work as an abstract and theoretical means of engaging with his hero, as if breaking bread with Du Bois himself across his artistic medium. Light crashes against dark, black abuts white, positive space builds atop negative space, and the present collides with the past.
"In its exceptional presence – much like an ancient stele – Black Monolith, VII Du Bois Legacy: For W.E. Burghardt embodies the most crucial tenets of Whitten’s endlessly innovative practice and remains today a resounding testament to this inimitable artist. Of this momentous series, Whitten wrote: “I could spend the rest of my life adding to my series of Black Monolith paintings. There are so many Black Monoliths in the history of African-Americans. Our history of survival in America is defined both by the heroic deeds of the collective, and the independent activists working in a variety of disciplines.” (The artist in an unpublished note, Black Monolith X (The Birth of Muhammad Ali), November 2016, reproduced in Ibid., p. 112).
lot has an estimate of $80,000 to $1,000,000. It sold for $1,220,000.
The City Review article on the
Fall 2012 Impressionist & Modern
Art auction at Sotheby's New York
See The City Review article on the Fall 2012 Impressionist & Modern Art day auction at Sotheby's New York
See The City Review article on the Spring 2012 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2012 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2011 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2011 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2011 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2011 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2010 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2010 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2010 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2010 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2009 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2009 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2009 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2009 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2008 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2008 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's