The catalogue entry provided the following commentary:
Warhol’s Liz is an iconic
tribute to one of the major silver screen goddesses in the artist’s Pop
pantheon. Painted at the height of Elizabeth Taylor’s fame, Liz is a unique painting from
a group of thirteen colorful portraits of the actress that Warhol
executed in the fall of 1963. In this cerulean blue portrait, Warhol
immortalizes the actress as an embodiment of the cult of celebrity.
Closely related to the candy-colored Marilyn paintings that he executed
in the previous year, Liz shows
Warhol’s genius for color in full force. The brilliant blue background
offsets Taylor’s luminous skin, as well as her trademark scarlet lips
and violet eyes, magnifying the most characteristic features of her
celebrated beauty. Although Warhol employed the mass media technique of
screen printing, he brought a high level of personal involvement to
the Liz series,
carefully embellishing her skin, eyes and make-up with hand-applied
"As perhaps the greatest cinematic icon of the silver screen in the latter half of the twentieth century, Elizabeth Taylor was clearly a fitting subject for Warhol’s celebrity-oriented art. For a man who—ever since boyhood—had held an almost obsessive fascination for the glittering allure and glamour of Hollywood and for young female starlets like Shirley Temple and Natalie Wood, it would seem in retrospect only to have been a matter of time before such a major iconic presence such as Liz Taylor entered the Warholian canon. Indeed, of all the many famous stars that Andy Warhol knew and painted, he seems to have held Elizabeth Taylor in especially high regard, seeing her throughout his life as the absolute epitome of glamour. When asked once in 1964 if he would like to meet her, he immediately became coy and bashful, cooing ecstatically in response, “Ohhhh, Elizabeth Taylor, Ohhhhh. She’s so glamorous” (A. Warhol quoted in K. Goldsmith, I’ll be your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews, New York, 2004, p. 26). When later in life Warhol met Taylor, growing to become friends with her in the late 1970s and 80s, he was famously heard to quip how as a choice of afterlife, he would like to be reincarnated as a “big ring” on Taylor’s finger. Not only was Elizabeth Taylor one of the great screen goddesses of her age and an enduring icon of glamour, it was her history as a child star, her many marriages and, in the early 1960s, the relatively recent tragedy of the death of her husband Mike Todd and rumored scandal of her romance with Richard Burton, that led to her status as a superstar who was seldom out of the gossip columns and her image rarely out of the papers.
"Created at approximately the same time as his depictions of electric chairs and car crashes, Warhol’s full-face images of Marilyn, Jackie and Liz followed on the heels of deaths and disasters in all three of his subjects’ lives: Taylor’s catastrophic illness in 1961, Monroe’s suicide in August 1962, and John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963. Indeed, during the early to mid-1960s, Liz was a frequent subject of media attention for her flourishing career, fragile health and complicated romances. Warhol depicted her in numerous roles, both personal and professional. She first appeared in one of his tabloid paintings, Daily News, a painting documenting her catastrophic illness of 1961, which had interrupted the filming of Cleopatra. She resurfaced in allusion only, in The Men in Her Life, a work based on a 1957 photograph, which included both her current husband, Mike Todd, and her future one, Eddie Fisher. Most often, however, Warhol was intrigued with Liz as Hollywood starlet: he multiplied images of her characters in National Velvet and Cleopatra, or more simply portrayed her celebrated beauty in numerous full-face portraits, as in the present work. Of his 1963 portraits, Warhol claimed, “I started those a long time ago, when she was so sick and everybody said she was going to die. Now I’m doing them all over, putting bright colors on her lips and eyes” (A. Warhol, quoted in After the Party: Andy Warhol Works 1956-1986, exh. cat., London, 1997, p. 69). In this respect, the present painting is outstanding, and indeed recuperative in many respects. This example not only incorporates a blue background, which reprises the dominant color of Warhol’s earlier Cleopatra image, but it also includes a deep violet hue in Liz’s irises, reproducing Taylor’s actual eye color, a most characteristic feature of her celebrated beauty.
"As a canonization of the actress and as a comment on the manufactured nature of fame, Warhol achieved his desired aesthetic effect in the iconic Liz by employing silkscreen. As a process that he had begun on an experimental basis in 1962, Warhol recognized both the instant electricity and underlying artificiality it generated; indeed, the inky superimpositions of photo-derived screens on the bright, hand-painted hues epitomized Pop in their brand-like distinctness. Using the Duchampian methodology that he brought to his previous celebrity portraits such as the Marilyns, he created Liz using a publicity image of the actress, later cropping the bust-length image just below the chin, and sizing the screen to an enlargement of this detail.
"Basing his process in the “readymade” and in he mechanical nature of the silkscreen, Warhol nonetheless brought a personal involvement to his portraits from the mid-sixties compared to some of his later more removed adaptations. With works like Liz, he started with a preliminary application of the screen on black canvas. Then, he brushed on background colors and each area of local color, such as the skin tone, eye shadow and lips, by hand in a rough appliqué of patterns. Finally, he added the black frame of the face to the colored map of the under painting. The effect, which is visible in the present work, was one of forced flatness, at once seductively alluring and shallowly artificial—keenly in keeping with the glamorous facade of Hollywood. In the present portrait, Liz’s luminous soft pink skin, green-shadowed eyes, and arresting scarlet lips are of unrivaled beauty.
"Despite the compositional crafted nature and forced flatness, Liz bears a poignant touch of humanity. While Warhol famously quipped, “I think everybody should be a machine,” his silk screening process eschews the potential for machine-like perfection and instead relishes in premeditated misalignments and compositional irregularities (A. Warhol, quoted in G.R. Swenson, “What is Pop Art? Answers from 8 Painters, Part I,” Art News62, no. 7, November 1963, p. 26). The intended effects, insinuate a physical dissolution that evokes a fleeting presence, indicating the inherent transience of fame: “The silkscreened image, reproduced whole, has the character of an involuntary imprint. It is a memorial in the sense that it resembles memory -- sometimes vividly present, sometimes elusive, always open to embellishment as well as loss” (T. Crow, “Saturday Disasters: Trace and Reference in Early Warhol,” After the Party: Andy Warhol Works 1956-1986, exh. cat., Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, 1997, p. 22). Warhol’s insistent link between fame and nostalgia, in fact, is the very basis of these works, which are often generated from old photographs; the one used to create present work, for example, is a publicity photograph from 1950, which predates the painting by some thirteen years.
"Inspired at a time when Elizabeth Taylor suffered bouts of debilitating sickness, Liz is an extraordinary instance of Warhol’s celebrity portraits that both captures and transcends the vagaries of life. Seen here, more than forty years after its creation, Liz stands as an enduring icon of American culture and a symbol of feminine beauty. Created shortly before Warhol’s serialized reproductions of the Mona Lisa, Liz can be thought of as a latter-day version of enigmatic feminine appeal."
lot has an estimate of $20,000,000 to $30,000,000. It sold for $19,343,000.
Lot 5, Buffalo II," by Robert Rauschenberg, oil and silkscreen ink on canvas, 96 by 72 inches, 1964
Lot 5, "Buffalo II," is an oil and silkscreen ink on canvas by Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) that measures 96 by 72 inches. It was painted in 1964 and was consigned by the Mayer Collection.
catalogue provides the following commentary:
of the largest of Robert Rauschenberg’s iconic silkscreen
paintings, Buffalo II is
an epic work which brings together the world of art and politics.
During a particularly fertile period between 1962 and 1964,
Rauschenberg produced a series of canvases in which he assembled
seemingly disparate images—ranging from the familiar to the
mysterious—to capture the social, political and artistic zeitgeist of
the age. John F. Kennedy, a bald eagle, the Coca-Cola logo, space
travel and the downtown landscape are all featured here, yet
Rauschenberg’s silkscreen paintings are as much about artistic
innovation and the way we look as they are about capturing the
cacophony of modern urban life in the 1960s. “His self-proclaimed aim
was ‘to make a surface which invited a constant change of focus and an
examination of detail,’ a surface sufficiently rich in form and concept
to reward scrutiny by both the eye and mind,” writes curator Roni
Feinstein (R. Feinstein, Robert Rauschenberg: The Silkscreen
Paintings, 1962-64,exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York,
1990, p. 23). Many smaller examples of the artist’s silkscreen
paintings are included in major museum collections, making this one of
the last major examples to remain in private hands. Exhibited at the
XXXII Venice Biennale in 1964, Buffalo II was part of a group
exhibition of young American painters for which Rauschenberg became the
first American to win the coveted Grand Prize in Painting.
"At over eight feet tall, this imposing canvas is filled with an ostensibly incongruent array of images, spanning the iconic to the mundane. Dominated by a large image of John F. Kennedy, photographed when he was a senator and presidential candidate, Rauschenberg assembles an eclectic range of motifs that, for him, define the optimism and challenges of America: famous politicians, the space race, the military, familiar consumer products and patriotic symbols of America are interspersed with anonymous images of the urban landscape and more personal objects. A pioneer of the silkscreen technique (along with Andy Warhol who had begun using the technique just a couple of months earlier), Rauschenberg appropriates images he collected from newspapers and other publications (including Life magazine)—along with his own photographs—to produce a portrait of a country during the social and political upheaval of the 1960s. Yet, this painting is much more than an historical snapshot of the sixties; it also marks a pivotal point in Rauschenberg’s artistic development and bears witness to his own radical inventiveness and attentiveness to the news of the day. By bringing together pre-existing images from popular culture with an array of drips and painterly gestures, Buffalo II also acts as bridge between the declining dominance of Abstract Expressionism and the new burgeoning world of Pop.
"Rauschenberg had the photograph of Kennedy—taken during the second presidential debate with Richard Nixon in October 1960—transferred onto a screen before the President was assassinated in November 1963. As such, between the time Rauschenberg appropriated the image and when he used it in the silkscreen paintings, the context had changed and now carried much more emotional weight and resonance: “Photographic images acquire new meanings and associations over time, including in Kennedy’s case, tragic ones,” writes Richard Meyer in the catalogue to the artist’s recent major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. “Rather than offering his source photographs as vehicles of ‘pure’ meaning, Rauschenberg embedded them within complex fields of visual information where past and present, history and the contemporary moment, seem to coexist” (R. Meyer, “’An Invitation, Not a Command,’ Silk-Screen Paintings,” in L. Dickerman & A. Borchardt-Hume (eds.), Robert Rauschenberg, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2017, p. 191). Thus, the former American president became one of the most enduring motifs of the silkscreen paintings, appearing in no less than eight canvases, many of which are now included in major museum collections including Retroactive I (1963), Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford; Retroactive II (1963), Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Skyway (1964), Dallas Museum of Art; Untitled (1963), The Broad, Los Angeles.
"While the image of Kennedy might be said to represent a particularly dark period of modern U.S. history, American progress is represented by the photograph of an astronaut—a NASA image reproduced in Life magazine in September 1963—which is located just below the politician, in the lower right quadrant of the painting. Suspended by what looks to be a large silver parachute, the helmet of the spaceman is just visible along the extreme lower edge. 1964, the year Buffalo II was painted, marked the height of the international space race when Russian and American scientists were challenging each other to go deeper and farther into the dark recesses of space. While often dealing with contemporary events, Rauschenberg also looked back, as can be seen in the delicate image of a detail from Peter Paul Rubens’s Venus in Front of the Mirror (circa 1615), the goddess’s face turned clockwise by 90 degree. Other motifs that appear across the surface of this painting include an army helicopter (a nod to the ongoing U.S. involvement in Vietnam and the burgeoning war), a bunch of keys from a Bendix car radio ad, a downtown cityscape, some illustrations of birds, and finally a series of dotted lines and a diagram of a three-dimensional box (which some scholars have linked to the work of Josef Albers, whom Rauschenberg studied under while at Black Mountain College in the 1950s). The proximity of the perspectival object to the Rubens quotation in this painting evokes the art historical development of the illusionistic picture plane, a tradition that Rauschenberg boldly disrupts with the silkscreen paintings.
"While some of the objects are instantly identifiable, others are not, sometimes becoming indistinguishable when subsumed in a melee of painterly gestures. In Buffalo II, it appears that some of the silkscreened images have been disturbed either by a paintbrush disrupting the image or a cloth being wiped over the newly laid down image. This may be in part due to Rauschenberg’s insistence that his paintings not be didactic; rather they are a collection of motifs that lead the viewer on their own journey, and are subject to the viewer’s own thoughts, perceptions and feelings. “He did not merely hold a mirror up to the world’s multiplicity; rather, he exploited multiplicity to reveal something universal and profound about consciousness in an urban, industrial world. Although not didactic, his art demonstrates how to receive and process information and how to find order and connectivity in an apparently haphazard and discontinuous environment” (R. Feinstein, Robert Rauschenberg: The Silkscreen Paintings, 1962-64, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1990, p. 23).
"While social and political concerns did interest Rauschenberg, another major interest for him was the idea of how movement can be portrayed on a static, two-dimensional canvas. This was of particular concern during this period as the silkscreen paintings were completed during a time when he spent part of the year touring with the dance company of his close friend Merce Cunningham, acting as the resident set, costume, and lighting designer. Buffalo II investigates this sense of movement in two ways; firstly, in the images themselves, but also in the way that the arrangement encourages the eye to wander across the surface of the painting. The gesture of JFK’s pointing (included in this work twice for added emphasis), the dotted lines, the whirling of the helicopter blades, and the gestural disturbances of the artist’s hand also engender the painting with a dynamic sense of energy.
"Rauschenberg found that the silkscreen process perfectly suited the direction in which he wanted his art to go. Although ostensibly designed to produce identical images over and over again, the artist found that he was able to adapt and embrace the subtle imperfections in the process to his advantage. Rauschenberg was first exposed to silkscreen in a fine art context when he was taken to visit Andy Warhol’s studio by the curator Henry Geldzahler and within a month he began to incorporate this new way of working into his own practice. Yet the results were very different from Warhol, as Roni Feinstein, the curator of the first large-scale retrospective of the artist’s silkscreen paintings points out, “…in [Rauschenberg’s] hands, a mechanical process ironically became malleable, sensitive, and personal, open to improvisation and the touch and motion of his hand” (R. Feinstein, Robert Rauschenberg: The Silkscreen Paintings, 1962-64, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1990, p. 47). The critic Calvin Tomkins visited Rauschenberg’s studio during this innovative period and witnessed firsthand how the artist embraced this new method to stretch his artistic practice to new heights. “The technical difficulties and uncertainties of the silkscreen process were made to order for him,” Tomkins writes, “because they kept the process from becoming too familiar. The materials he was working with stubbornly asserted their particularity. He had the sense… that he was collaborating in a process over which he did not exercise complete control, and that the results might therefore turn out to be more interesting and surprising than they could have been otherwise” (C. Tomkins, “The Sistine on Broadway,” in R. Feinstein, Robert Rauschenberg: The Silkscreen Paintings, 1962-64, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1990, p. 15). Rauschenberg began his series of silkscreen paintings in October 1962, and continued for just over a year until the spring of 1964, making a total of eighty paintings. Upon winning the Grand Prize in Venice in June 1964, he had all the screens destroyed in an effort, he claimed, to force himself to move on and find the next innovation in his art making practice.
"In many ways, the silkscreen paintings were the natural progression from the artist’s earlier Combines (1954-1964) with which he had first made his name. Beginning in 1954, Rauschenberg brought together a wide range of everyday objects and images to produce works of art that defied the traditional categorization of painting and sculpture. Initially at least he began working with ‘flat’ objects (pieces of colored paper, clippings, pieces of fabric etc.), but he soon began embracing larger, more unconventional materials—including bedding (Bed, 1955, Museum of Modern Art, New York); wooden cabinets (Short Circuit, 1955, Art Institute of Chicago); and even taxidermy (Canyon, 1959, Museum of Modern Art, New York) to produce works that came to define a revolutionary period of artistic innovation. Virtually eliminating all distinctions between historic artistic categories, with these works Rauschenberg endowed new significance to ordinary objects by placing them in the context of art.
"The silkscreen paintings took this sense of innovation one step further, investigating the increasing power of the mass media. His chosen images were converted to commercially prepared screens, and in another break from artistic convention, he worked directly on the floor, composing each canvas spontaneously. At first, he tried to utilize the mechanical precision that the silkscreen process tried to replicate, but eventually Rauschenberg learned to embrace the imperfections that he soon discovered were inherent to the process. Initially too, he was wary of employing color, working solely in black and white, but he soon adopted the industrial four-color separation process, using differently colored screens to render each image in all its vibrant glory. “I know how to describe this kind of color,” the artist declared, “…delicious! It’s so glamorous. Every color is trying to be a star” (R. Rauschenberg, quoted by C. Tomkins, “The Sistine on Broadway,” in R. Feinstein, Robert Rauschenberg: The Silkscreen Paintings, 1962-64, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1990, p. 14).
"Rauschenberg’s silkscreen paintings are pivotal to his career as one of the leading and most innovative artists of his generation, and to the canon of postwar American art more generally. They are among the first paintings to use mass media techniques to examine the increasing saturation of mechanically reproduced images in society, along with what it meant to be an American during one of the most turbulent times of the 20th century. It also offered the artist a new channel to continue his innovative practice, one which would subsequently have a fundamental impact on the direction of his future career. In the 1980s, Rauschenberg would return to using silkscreen, finding it to be the ideal means for transferring his own photographs onto paintings, often made on unconventional supports. As Feinstein points out, “For Rauschenberg, the nature of the silkscreen process also changed the formal and conceptual nature of his art” (R. Feinstein, Robert Rauschenberg: The Silkscreen Paintings, 1962-64, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1990, p. 41). A hybrid of commentary on mass media, commodity culture, the technologies of reproduction, and the artificial construction of the image, Buffalo II is an intuitively balanced, deeply felt essay on artistic practice, where material distinctions between image and pigment elide. Through a fracturing of time and place, Rauschenberg speaks to a society in thrall to technology and disarrayed by its effects: “Looking closely, we see as it was everything is in chaos still” (J. Cage, “On Robert Rauschenberg, Artist, and His Work (1961),” in Silence, Middletown, 1961, p. 100)."
The lot has an estimate of $50,000,000 to $70,000,000. It sold for $88,805,000.
Szymkowiak of Christie's discussing Lot 14, "Fish," a mobile by
Alexander Calder, at a press preview
14, "Fish," by Alexander Calder (1898-1976) is a hanging mobile of
painted steel rod, wire, string, colored glass and metal objects, 44
1/8 inches long, circa 1952.
catalogue provides the following commentary:
his long and prolific career, Alexander Calder engaged the dynamics of
natural forces in his abstract sculptures. Sometimes he referenced a
form from nature, and one of these forms endured from the 1920s to
become a popular subject: the fish. Executed in the early 1950s, at the
height of the artist’s career, Fish is
a large-scale hanging mobile which ably displays both Calder’s rich
aesthetic talent and the ingenious skill needed to successfully achieve
a mesmerizing result. It is one of just twelve sculptures that the
artist executed in this form, nearly half of which are now housed in
public institutions around the world. From seemingly simple and
unassuming materials—in this case wire, string and pieces of metal and
colorful glass—Calder produces a mesmeric object which delights in its
overall form, but astounds in its detail. Individual glass elements
carefully suspended within the body of the fish sparkle like jewels as
they catch the light; a constantly moving eye seems to follow you; even
the artist’s initials are captured and suspended in an intricate thin
metal wire attached to the fish’s large body. With works such as this,
Calder re-invigorated the traditionally staid medium of sculpture,
taking it off the pedestal and making the conventionally static and
monocratic forms reverberate with movement and color.
"At nearly four-feet across Fish commands the space within which it hangs. Its sleek, elegant silhouette is embellished with a series of bejeweled glass pieces carefully suspended within its body. Each is individually attached to the main body of the fish, thus allowing them shimmer when they catch the light, mimicking the radiance of the rainbow-like iridescent scales of the fish as they glisten in the sunlight. Each element is derived from a piece of broken glass, a previously discarded bottle or container which Calder has recycled and given a new lease on life by presenting it in a new way. This same approach is also used to denote the fish’s eye, as Calder incorporates a long-abandoned metal cog into his design, allowing it to be suspended by just a single strand of red string, incorporating the natural incidental movement that occurs when activated by the slightest breeze into the magic of his composition. Calder displays his sense of joie-de-vivre, to quote Marcel Duchamp on the artist, with the coil of wire that adorns the upper tail fin. This spiral adds a dramatic sense of movement, as if to mimic the flick of the fish’s tail before it disappears off into the depth of the oceans.
"Strikingly beautiful, Fish is also an outstanding example of the technical aspects of this new form of sculpture that Calder himself developed. Coming from a family of sculptors (both his father and grandfather were accomplished exponents of the medium), Calder initially rejected following in the same tradition and trained as an engineer. Yet, perhaps inevitably, he was drawn back to an artistic career but with the eye of an innovator, a quality that can be seen in the flawless composition of Fish. Within its sleek contours, form is expertly married with function as disparate elements come together in a harmonious whole. Each of the glass elements is suspended in such a way that that it hangs in perfect synchronization with its surroundings; each is a different color and a different shape, inviting an intense examination of its own individual form. Thus, the 33 individually suspended pieces of glass almost become individual sculptures in their own right....
"In 1939, Calder was commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art to produce a work for their new building in New York; the result was the spectacular Lobster Trap and Fish Tail. This abstract work consisted of a cascade of black organic elements that would become one of his trademark arrangements, and along with shapes that suggest a wire cage-like trap and a bright red lure, it was his largest hanging mobile to date—and a commission that launched Calder’s career as a publicly known artist. In 1943, the artist began one of his most ambitious works featuring a fish motif, when he was commissioned by the renown collector Peggy Guggenheim to make a silver bed head for her bedroom in her New York apartment. He chose to imagine an underwater garden, complete with two fish in the lower left of the work, to capture Peggy’s eye as she entered the room. Following the critical acclaim of works such as this and Lobster Trap and Fish Tail, Calder’s fish forms—whether direct or imagined through titles—became a recognizable pillar of this period of his career. The present example, along with the other examples in this small series, have become some of the most widely admired works in his oeuvre and many now form the cornerstone of major museum collections, including Finny Fish, 1948 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.); Fish Bones, 1939 (Centre National d’art et de culture Georges Pompidou, Paris); The Fish, 1944 (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York); and Fish, 1945 (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.)....
"After centuries of being constrained by its static traditions, sculpture was released from its confines thanks to Calder’s radical introduction of the fourth dimension of time. The resulting body of work, of which Fish is arguably one of the most accomplished examples, gave Calder the opportunity to fully explore the kinetic possibilities of sculpture and produce three- and four-dimensional worlds that were in constant flux. As he once said, “A mobile is a feisty thing, and seldom stays tranquilly in one place…. A mobile in motion leaves an invisible wake behind it, or rather, each element leaves an individual wake behind its individual self. Sometimes these wakes are contracted within each other, and sometimes they are deployed” (A. Calder, quoted in M. Prather, Alexander Calder: 1898–1976, Washington, 1998, p. 137).
"Fish remains one of the most accomplished examples of Calder piscine forms. Its delicate and sleek contours, combined with the substantial pieces of vibrantly colored glass, result in an intoxicating work that reverberates with visual delight. Its rich aesthetic, combined with its skilled execution, make it a prime example of the artist’s work. Furthermore, its size and graceful and majestic movements testify to an artist who upended thousands of years of sculptural convention, and who, in doing so, created some of the most innovative and influential works of the past one hundred years. As Jean-Paul Sartre aptly surmised, “[Calder’s] mobiles signify nothing, refer to nothing other than themselves. They simply are: they are absolutes” (J.P. Sartre, in Alexander Calder: Mobiles, Stabiles, Constellations, Paris, 1946)."
The lot has an estimate of $12,500,000 to $16,500,000. It sold for $17,527,000.
Lot 41, "Babe in the Woods," by Adrian
Ghenie (b. 1977), is a very fine oil and acrylic on canvas. It measures 76 3/8 by 76 1/8 inches and was painted in 2008.
catalogue provides the following commentary:
Ghenie’s oeuvre questions the interpretation of history in
our collective consciousness. Whether he is referencing the paintings
of Vincent van Gogh or Mark Rothko, or the atrocities of the Third
Reich, Ghenie understands the power of the image and seeks to dismantle
visual complacency. Babe in the
Woods is a particularly haunting example of the artist’s
mastery of light and illusionistic space as they crash headlong into
the history of abstraction. “I work on an image in an almost classical
vein: composition, figuration, use of light,” Ghenie has noted. “On the
other hand, I do not refrain from resorting to all kinds of idioms,
such as the surrealist principle of association or the abstract
experiments which foreground texture and surface” (A. Ghenie, quoted in
M. Radu, “Adrian Ghenie: Rise & Fall,” Flash Art, December
2009, p. 49). By pulling from a multitude of sources, Ghenie’s work
becomes a riotous amalgam of historical tropes, subjects and styles
that coalesce into a visionary treatise on morality, humanity and the
nature of representation. Bridging the divide between past painting
traditions and the digital age, Ghenie works to combine these seemingly
disparate sources while sparking new conversations.
"Often resembling a deteriorating photograph or burned cinematic vision, Ghenie’s compositions deftly marry photorealism with painterly abstraction. Babe in the Woods portrays a solitary figure in strange surroundings. A child, wearing a large, dark coat, white hat with pom-pom and a white and yellow scarf, looks down as they trudge through unfamiliar terrain. Behind them, a box-like structure with what appear to be trees or pillars of some sort fades into the shadows. All around the protagonist, the setting shifts between something industrial to purely abstract. Tones of brown, yellow and black are prevalent, adding the somber atmosphere. The manner in which Ghenie paints adheres to strict spatial rules. This has the result of creating planar space and illusionistic grounds within his works that but for their formal strictures would only be heavy brushstrokes. The ground upon which the figure walks looks like rotting wood, but is in fact a mass of heavily worked paint. By using lighting effects within his work, Ghenie infuses each scene with a nostalgic (if not sometimes ominous) air that contributes to an absorptive reading of the work. The artist pulls much of this from films, and actively translates the experience of watching a movie at the theater into his work. “I’m jealous of the specific power of cinema to build a virtual state, and of its capacity to break with reality. For two hours, you’re completely under its spell! And there’s something spectacular and seductive about this entire story which has become so familiar to us” (A. Ghenie in conversation with M. Radu, in exh. cat. Venice, Romanian Pavilion, Biennale de Venezia, Adrian Ghenie: Darwin’s Room, 2015, pp. 82-83). By creating murky narratives that flit between representation and abstraction, while also requiring extended looking to glean all of the visual information, Ghenie is able to bring the viewer into his constructed world for a prolonged period.
"Growing up in Romania under the dictatorial rule of Nicolae Ceauescu, Ghenie was exposed to media manipulation from an early age. Looking back, he noted, “I’m not trying to make my biography like I grew up in a communist dictatorship – I was just a kid, I didn’t have any trauma. But what happened in Romania after 89 – the fall of the Berlin Wall – was very interesting. When you realize a whole country can be manipulated and made to believe one thing about itself, and then the regime falls and you find out that no, it was the other way around… I saw how it is possible to manipulate a whole country. What is the truth? What is trauma?” (A. Ghenie quoted in A. Battaglia, “Every Painting is Abstract: Adrian Ghenie on his Recent Work and Evolving Sense of Self,” Artnews, February 17, 2017). Harnessing these questions of trauma and truth, Ghenie seeks to create realities that exist neither in the past or present, nor the future. Instead, he probes issues of representation by combining appropriated source imagery with painterly smears of a palette knife. In this way, Ghenie’s subject becomes both the construction of history and the evolution of painting as they intermingle and coexist in contemporary times.
"Widely known for his Pie Fight series, which confronts the Nazis and other oppressive regimes with slapstick custard, Ghenie’s approach to history is one of revelation and examination. By inserting historical figures and images from the past into his work, the artist is able to question how history is constructed and how power is dispersed. Sharing some key visual markers with artists like Luc Tuymans and the blurred photo paintings of Gerhard Richter, Ghenie relies less on referencing the appropriated image and more on establishing a space for reflection and introspection. At the same time, the artist has established his practice firmly in the internet age. Just as Richter’s brushwork mimicked the grain of film, Ghenie’s tableau hover between painterly abstraction and the glitch of a video screen or computer monitor. “If you look at a Rembrandt,” Ghenie has remarked, “you see that it is belaboured to a certain extent; things didn’t come out right somewhere. The return to painting relates to the digitization of the world, in a way, but not entirely. Painting is like a plaster cast of the times in which we are living. It rematerializes the digital image. The bulk of the images I incorporate into painting come from the digital world – I see them through my laptop; I don’t see them through a window anymore” (M. Radu, op. cit., p. 31). Looking toward the digital realm instead of the world outside is a potent commentary on how people have become sequestered behind their screens. Works like Babe in the Woods are fraught with the emotive content of post-WWII Eastern Europe, but they also speak to a more introverted, self-reflective view of history that focuses on the chaotic individual experience of life over the prescribed, orderly one shown in history texts."
The lot has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $4,000,000. It sold for $2,295,000.
Lot 51, "White Moon," by Milton Avery, oil on canvas, 50 by 38 inches, 1957
Lot 51 is a superb oil on canvas by Milton Avery (1885-1965) entitled "White Moon." It measures 50 by 38 inches and was painted in 1957.
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"One of the greatest American
modernists, whose color harmonies rival that of Matisse, Milton Avery’s
impact on postwar art remains a vital force, one that continues to be
rediscovered and appraised in the years since his passing in 1965. He
has been described as America’s greatest colorist, or simply put, the
“American Fauve,” and throughout his life, Avery continually
simplified, reduced and pared down his still lifes, landscapes and
portraits, greatly influencing the Abstract Expressionists and setting
the stage for the Color Field painters and their non-objective
paintings. This is perhaps best expressed by Mark Rothko, who, in
delivering his important and heart-felt remarks at Avery’s memorial
service in 1965, said, “Avery is first a great poet. His is the poetry
of sheer loveliness, of sheer beauty... This alone took courage in a
generation which felt that it could be heard only through clamor, force
and a show of power...There have been several others in our generation
who have celebrated the work around them, but none with that
inevitability where the poetry penetrates every pore of the canvas to
the very last tip of the brush. For Avery was a great poet inventor who
invented sonorities never seen nor heard before. From these we have
learned much and will learn more for a long time to come” (M. Rothko,
quoted in 1965, reprinted in R. Hobbs, Milton Avery: The
Late Paintings, exh.
cat., Milwaukee Art Museum, 2001, p. 9).
"Painted during the summer of 1957 while Avery vacationed in Provincetown, Massachusetts, White Moon is a major example of his acclaimed late work, veering closer to pure abstraction than ever before. In White Moon, the artist creates pure visual poetry capturing the rising moon over Provincetown Bay. The celestial body is reduced to a glowing, luminous orb that is suspended within a flattened plane of pure color, and its shimmering reflection in the dark ocean waters below transcends the realm of representation to become an independent abstract design. Obvious parallels to Adolph Gottlieb’s Bursts and Mark Rothko’s sumptuous bands of hovering color come readily to mind when viewing White Moon, and indeed, the summer of 1957 found these three artists reunited together in Provincetown. Having been friends since the 1930s, they each experienced a turning point that summer; Gottlieb’s Bursts emerged around this time and Rothko’s palette deepened, veering toward the wine-soaked coloration of the Harvard murals. The mutual admiration they had for each other is apparent. In Gottlieb’s words, Avery, the “American Fauve,” was “one of the few great painters of our time” (A. Gottlieb, quoted in R. Hobbs, op. cit., 2001, p. 9).
"Avery’s paintings had long displayed a lasting and persistent trend toward abstraction, but the serendipitous environment of the summer of 1957 allowed the artist’s flair for abstraction to reach new heights. “There are certain seascapes Avery painted in Provincetown in the summers of 1957 and 1958 that I would expect to stand out in Paris, or Rome, or London,” the art critic Clement Greenberg declared (C. Greenberg, quoted in R. Hobbs, ibid., p. 85). Painted that summer, White Moon exemplifies the radically simplified arrangement of abstract forms that marks the apotheosis of Avery’s work in this crucial era.
"In White Moon, Avery has transformed the effect of moonlight on a summer night into its essence, where the exquisite balance of the lingering, pale moon as it rises over the darkened, shimmering waters of the Provincetown bay is simplified, schematized and re-born. This stunning, large-scale arrangement is boldly incandescent despite its depiction of a midnight scene. Reduced to a simple white orb, the moon hangs in suspension within a darkened night sky, where brushy, gestural passages of bright blue enliven and add depth to the darker blue background. Below that, the glimmering reflection of the moon as it dances and wriggles along the murky black waters is captured to stunning effect, as the moon’s reflection becomes an abstract form in its own right. One can’t help but associate Gottlieb’s Bursts, with their iconic depiction of order and chaos, in the arrangement of Avery’s White Moon. So, too, does the painting perfectly embody the feeling of nighttime on the ocean, especially “how the halo looks around the moon, and what moonlight does to objects, and how a wave turns over” as the art historian Robert Hobbs described White Moon in his seminal book on Avery’s Late Paintings (R. Hobbs, quoted in Ibid., p. 18). The mesmerizing moonlit atmosphere of Peter Doig’s canoe paintings, too, come readily to mind.
"The summer of 1957 marked a turning point for Avery, in which his canvases began to shake off the remnants of representational form in favor of sheer abstraction, where his consummate blend of complementary and contradictory colors is allowed to shine to their utmost. Avery had originally met Gottlieb and Rothko at the end of the 1920s, when those young artists were in their mid-twenties. Both Gottlieb and Rothko had found a natural kinship in the older Avery, who served as both mentor and friend. During the summer of 1957, the three converged in Provincetown, Massachusetts for what would be the last time. Having met as younger, unestablished artists, that summer in Provincetown found them all to be equally successful working artists, and each would have their own museum retrospectives in the coming years- Gottlieb at the Jewish Museum in the fall of 1957, Rothko at the Phillips Collection in 1960 and Avery at the Whitney Museum of American Art also in 1960. In reconstructing those crucial few months, the impact each artist asserted on the other is profound: “Provincetown in 1957...encouraged a congenial social atmosphere in which to pursue what is essentially a solitary task. Not only did Milton begin to paint larger that summer, he began to paint in oils, which was quite unusual for him during summer months” (P. Cavenaugh, “The Provincetown Summers,” in Coming to Light: Avery, Gottlieb, Rothko, exh. cat., Knoedler & Company, New York, 2002, p. 14). Indeed, the scale of Avery’s work drastically increased, and he began painting directly onto canvas rather than make preparatory sketches that were later finished in the studio. Nathan Halper, owner of the Provincetown art gallery HCE Gallery, remembered Avery as saying he wanted to paint larger works “like the abstract boys” (N. Halper, quoted in op. cit., 2001, p. 100).
"That summer Avery also received a visit from the influential art critic Clement Greenberg, who was in town over the Labor Day weekend visiting the artist Hans Hofmann. Greenberg was greatly impacted by what he saw in Avery’s paintings and dedicated a lengthy article in Arts magazine later that year. For Greenberg, Avery’s work presaged the chromatic harmonies of the Color Field painters of the 1960s. As Robert Hobbs reminds us, it should be noted that Avery was painting in a color field style long before Clement Greenberg “discovered” Helen Frankenthaler in 1953, “painting in luminous, transparent washes that reinforced the flatness of the canvas” (R. Hobbs, quoted in op. cit., 2001, p. 15), and during that summer in Provincetown, his paintings became even more abstracted, in dialogue with Rothko and Gottlieb.
"Avery was an artist who constantly influenced and evolved through the decades. White Moon embodies the culmination of his decades long artistic journey and his powerful legacy. In the opening lines of his eulogy, Rothko astutely and directly said of Avery, “I would like to say a few words about the greatness of Milton Avery. This conviction of greatness, the feeling that one was in the presence of great events, was immediate on encountering his work. It was true for many of us who were younger, questioning and looking for an anchor. This conviction has never faltered. It has persisted, and has been reinforced through the passing decades and the passing fashions” (M. Rothko, quoted in 1965, reprinted in R. Hobbs, op. cit., 2001, p. 9).
The lot has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for $2,895,000.
7, "Kiss III," by Roy Lichtenstein, magna on canvas, 64 by 48 inches,
7, "Kiss III," is a magna on canvas by Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
that measures 64 by 48 inches. It was painted in 1962 and was
consigned by the Mayer collection.
"Painted by one of
the foremost figures of American Pop Art, Kiss III (1962) is a pivotal
work from one of Roy Lichtenstein’s most lauded bodies of
work—diverging from his Abstract Expressionist compatriots—as the
artist brought together the previously divergent worlds of popular
culture and high art. Painted the same year as the artist’s inaugural
solo exhibition at the legendary Leo Castelli Gallery in New York,
works such as this began pulling from the pages of comic books and
enlarging the sampled imagery with meticulous detail. While effectively
reproducing extant imagery, Lichtenstein was clear that his works
should be viewed for their formal qualities rather than their enticing
subject matter. He noted, “My use of evenly repeated dots and diagonal
lines and uninflected color areas suggest that my work is right where
it is, right on the canvas, definitely not a window into the world” (R.
Lichtenstein, quoted in J. Cowart, (ed.), Roy Lichtenstein:
Beginning to End, exh. cat., Fundación Juan March, Madrid, 2007, p.
52). By positioning himself as a crossover between the formalist
doctrines of Clement Greenberg and the populist materials of
periodicals and advertisements, Lichtenstein established a dichotomy
between the perception of high and low art as one of the essential
points of his expansive oeuvre, and firmly cemented himself as a
figurehead of American art in the latter half of the twentieth
"Clearly depicted with bold black outlines, on the surface Kiss III depicts a man and woman sharing a close embrace. Both figures have their eyes closed as the man’s large hand presses down on the woman’s shoulder. Their lips are planted in a passionate kiss that is echoed in the energetic shapes making up the explosive background. Rendered in primary colors with black and white additions, the composition mirrors the color scheme of mass market printing. By creating halftones through the use of small dots of color, Lichtenstein is able to further mimic these processes that rely on a restricted ink palette. While the areas of blue, red and yellow are flat and pure in their application, the peach skin and violet of the woman’s jacket show evidence of the artist’s replication of the Ben-Day dots used to create subtle shifts in color with a four-color printing process. Bands of intensity create subtle striping in these areas and further allude to cheap printing and the color illustrations of comics and newspaper advertisements. This interest in the very processes of image making was remarked upon by the artist’s second wife Dorothy when she intoned: “...when Roy worked, he would start with a very strong image, but once he decided what he was going to paint, he would try to get beyond the image to look at it as marks on a canvas--to look at it from as much of an abstract perspective as possible so that he wouldn’t just be reproducing a picture of something. [...] He was very interested in form and style” (D. Lichtenstein, quoted in J. Koons, “Conversation,” Women, exh. cat., New York, 2008, p.10). Rather than creating his own tableaus in the style of other comic artists, Lichtenstein investigated the processes by which these reproducible arts were made and distributed to a wide audience. Carefully selecting scenes like that of Kiss III, with its white starburst and bold black rays on a red ground behind the titular kiss, the artist engaged the audience immediately with the representative subject matter, and then asked them to further investigate the process through intense framing choices and the translation of printed matter into an exacting homage in acrylic on canvas.
"Although not initiated by a concrete group of artists, Pop was characterized in the United States by a common reaction to the images employed by mass media and entertainment in the mid-20th century. Artists like Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and James Rosenquist all approached the issue in different modes, but were united by their fascination with, and inevitable hesitance to accept without question, the inundation of advertisements and pop culture in America. Lichtenstein’s tact was to focus on images that were prevalent and cheap, but to paint them outside of their original tabloid context in order to highlight the artist’s hand as it converged nearly seamlessly with the bold, graphic style. While often categorized as a painter of comic-style panels, Lichtenstein’s actual appropriation from artists like Jack Kirby and other mainstays of American comics was primarily limited to the early 1960s period from which Kiss III hails. The printed originals were never copied exactly, but were instead used as a point of departure to explore framing, composition and to create a visual point of reference for audiences that would already have been aware of the style being employed by comic book artists. From these works, Lichtenstein established a recognizable iconography that easily traversed the boundary between gallery and supermarket pulp. Donald Judd, writing about a 1963 exhibition, noted, “Lichtenstein is representing representation—which is very different from simply representing an object or a view. The main quality of the work comes from the contrast between the comic panel, apparently copied, and the art, nevertheless present” (D. Judd, “A critical review of the 1963 exhibition at Leo Castelli Gallery,” Arts Magazine, New York, November, 1963). The artist was interested less in creating new images than in starting a conversation about the proliferation of certain types of imagery within a broader cultural context.
"During the 1940s and 50s, Lichtenstein dabbled in Cubism and the omnipresent Abstract Expressionism. Paradoxically, out of this deeply personal tendency the artist arrived at his detached, seemingly anonymous signature style. “I was sort of immersed in Abstract Expressionism,” Lichtenstein noted. “It was a kind of Abstract Expressionism with cartoons within the expressionist image. It’s too hard to picture, I think, and the paintings themselves weren’t very successful. [...] I did abstract paintings of sort of striped brushstrokes and within these in a kind of scribbly way were images of Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny. In doing these paintings I had, of course, the original strip cartoons to look at, and the idea of doing one without apparent alteration just occurred to me. [...] I had this cartoon painting in my studio, and it was a little too formidable. [...] Having been more or less schooled as an Abstract Expressionist, it was quite difficult psychologically to do anything else” (R. Lichtenstein “BBC Interview with David Sylvester,” recorded in New York, January 1966, and reproduced in Some Kind of Reality: Roy Lichtenstein, exh. cat., Anthony D’Offay, London, 1997, p. 7). Even though works like Kiss III seem like mechanical productions, further enhanced by Lichtenstein’s use of even coats of Magna (an early acrylic paint), his precision in application belies a deft hand and a unified formal vision. Furthermore, by adopting the simplified style of mass market imagery, Lichtenstein merged the idea of the printed material with the physical picture plane. He was quick to note that the subjects were secondary to him in the overall process of his work, saying, “I don’t think the importance of the art has anything to do with the importance of the subject matter. I think importance resides more in the unity of the composition and in the inventiveness of perception” (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in Roy Lichtenstein Beginning to End, Fundación Juan March, Madrid, 2007, p. 128). Drawing on the all-over aesthetic of his Abstract Expressionist contemporaries, and by filling the canvas to the very edge, the artist placed emphasis not so much on the subject matter but on the literal structure of a painting as a flat surface.
"In 1961, Lichtenstein broke with his earlier practice and began to reproduce the visual qualities of printed ephemera. Among his subjects were works based on advertisements (like Girl with Ball ) and comics that featured war stories and romantic themes (of which Kiss III is a prime example). “At that time,” Lichtenstein later recounted, “I was interested in anything I could use as a subject that was emotionally strong—usually love, war, or something that was highly charged and emotional subject matter to be opposite to the removed and deliberate painting techniques. Cartooning itself usually consists of very highly charged subject matter carried out in standard, obvious, and removed techniques” (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in J. Coplands, (ed.), Roy Lichtenstein, New York, 1972, p. 89). In these paintings, he preferred the flat, simple colors of commercial printing as well as the thick black outlines that were used to hide the imperfections inherent to offset printing on a massive scale. Arguably the most recognizable aspect the artist borrowed from his mainstream source material was the use of Ben-Day dots on a scale that rendered their original purpose of blending colors and half tones useless and instead evolved into a stylistic trope that became one of Lichtenstein’s calling cards. In early works like Kiss III, the dots are small and still hint at their origin, however in later works, the dots become visual indicators of the artist’s origins and his sly tribute to mechanical processes. By using stencils to fill his compositions with these tightly ordered points of color, Lichtenstein made sure that his paintings were obvious in their reference to mass-produced printing techniques. He wanted to make sure viewers knew that the works were not representative of the immediate subject matter, but rather the printed material from which he had borrowed.
"Particularly influential to Lichtenstein’s career was his tutelage under the painter Hoyt T. Sherman who introduced his pupils to modernism during the early 1940s. Sherman was interested in ideas of perception, especially as they related to the everyday and the separation of pictorial representation from the real world. Thinking about a scene’s formal qualities over its context or perceived meaning was central to these teachings, and became one of the core tenets of Lichtenstein’s early practice. Sherman employed a “Flash Room” in his classes which Lichtenstein described as “a darkened room where images would be flashed on a screen for very brief intervals-about a tenth of a second. Something very simple to start, maybe just a few marks. And you would have a pile of paper, and you’d try to draw it. You’d get a very strong afterimage, a total impression, and then you’d draw it in the dark-the point being that you’d have to sense where the parts were in relation to the whole. The images became progressively more complex, and eventually you would go out and try to work the same way elsewhere-would try to bring home the same kind of sensing to your drawing without the mechanical aid of a flash room” (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in C. Tomkins, The Art of Roy Lichtenstein: Mural with Blue Brushstroke, New York, 1987, p. 14). Creating vivid compositions from the briefest of glances helped Lichtenstein to hone in on the strongest elements of his appropriated material and successfully frame them in a way that created powerful connections without the aid of text, extraneous context, or extensive narrative structure.
"Maybe the most perplexing but telling aspect of Lichtenstein’s storied career was his ability to translate a near-universal mode into one of the most iconic personal styles of the 20th century. The artist, commenting on his approach, noted, “All painters take a personal attitude toward painting. What makes each object in the work is that it is organized by that artist’s vision. The style and the content are also different from anyone else’s. They are unified by the point of view—mine. This is the big tradition of art” (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in C. Tomkins, op. cit., p. 42). Keenly aware of art historical traditions as well as the influx of the mass media of capitalist advertising and entertainment, Lichtenstein’s ability to traverse the edges of these two mainstream modes resulted in a perfect fusion that grew into one of the most important American art movements."
19 is a far better work by Lichtenstein, "Landscape with Boats," a 1996
oil and magna on canvas that measures 62 by 170 1/4 inches. It
was consigned by the Newhouse collection.
provides the following commentary:
1996, Landscape with Boats belongs
to an elite grouping from Roy Lichtenstein’s most innovative and
insightful years. At once monumental and serene, this sublime painting
belongs to the artist’s Landscape in the Chinese
Style series—and one of a handful of horizontal “scrolls”—which
look to the Chinese master painters from the Song dynasty (960–1279)
for stylistic inspiration. Lichtenstein, however, was in reality
prompted by Edgar Degas’s 1994 retrospective exhibition at the
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The works in this exhibition
seemed to suggest to Lichtenstein that the features of a landscape
could be achieved with limited, albeit strategic and exacting, swaths
of paint. To create this painting, Lichtenstein used his signature
Ben-Day dots in methodical concentrations to produce the traces of
water, horizon, mountains, sky and depth. Furthermore, Lichtenstein
decorated the perimeter of the composition with calligraphic tree
branches and leaves to give the viewer the sense they are looking onto
an expansive seascape from a high hillside. He added strokes of blue,
green and yellow to hint at foliage on the tops of each mountain peak,
and also used more exacting geometric shapes to place one boat with two
figures in yellow and red in the foreground. Then he painted hazy
suggestions of boats in the distance to suggest depth, effectively
completing the painting.
"Bold and reverent, Landscape with Boats is distinctly Lichtensteinian. Whereas his artworks from the 1960s duplicated found-comic book imagery to synthesize fine art and Pop culture, Landscape with Boats exemplifies Lichtenstein’s maturity and essential singularity. The key formal components of the artist’s oeuvre—Ben-Day dots and bold colors—are clearly present, yet the harsh black strokes that typically delineate borders are now absent. Instead, Lichtenstein has opted to rely solely on his dots to construct the contours of Landscape with Boats. The artist deconstructs the usual signifiers of his subject—sea, sky and mountains—and reconstructs them by playing with the negative space of the canvas. At a glance, Lichtenstein’s Ben-Days establish depth by utilizing the horizontal plane of this canvas. The more concentrated the dots, the closer the plane—as illustrated by the top and bottom of the canvas. The dots then seem to dissipate towards the middle x-axis to suggest a misty horizon in the distance. However, the mountains tend to obfuscate the perspectives established by the borders. Black dots are concentrated at the tips of each mountain, making it impossible to guess which is closer or farther from the viewer. The true anchoring devices in Landscape with Boats are the gangly tree branches to the left and bottom right-hand corner, as well as the scattered boats towards the misty limits of the water. These instruments, perhaps deliberately, break from Lichtenstein’s conventional methods to teleologically ground the otherwise spatially-liberated composition.
"The works from the Landscapes in the Chinese Style, and the present work in particular, borrow this dimensional ambiguity from the Song dynasty masters such as Ma Yuan, Xia Gui, Liang, Kai and Muqi. Their elegant technique demonstrated a harmonious and vast universe suffused with Daoist philosophies which emphasized balance, simplicity, harmony, humility and mindfulness. Xia’s Pure and Remote Mountains and Streams (National Taipei Museum, Taiwan) illustrates such refined candor in the calligraphic execution of the towering mountains and cliffs. This work especially echoes Lichtenstein’s infatuation with Chinese painting. According to Stephen Little, an Asian American Art scholar, these Song artists investigated “the effects of atmosphere with brush and ink in sophisticated and subtle manner, pushing the real and the visible to the edges of abstraction in a way that resonated deeply with Lichtenstein’s own artistic goals” (S. Little, “Landscapes in the Chinese Style,” Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Art Institute of Chicago, 2013, p. 89).
"Lichtenstein’s interest in the artworks of the East began while he served in the US Army during World War II. Just 21, Lichtenstein wrote home to his parents while stationed in London, “I bought a book on Chinese painting, which I could have gotten in New York half the price. I’ll probably send it home with my collection of African masks, as my duffle bag now weighs more than I do, with all the art supplies” (R. Lichtenstein, Roy Lichtenstein: Landscapes in the Chinese Style, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong, 2011, p. 7). Later, when Lichtenstein returned to Ohio State University to complete his undergraduate and graduate degrees, he enrolled in classes on East Asian art history. “The thing that interested me was the mountains in front of mountains in front of mountains, and huge nature with little people,” Lichtenstein recalled. “We all have a vague idea of what Chinese landscape look like—that sense of grandeur the Chinese felt about nature” (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in C. Tomkins, “The Good China,” The New Yorker, September 30, 1996).
"At the same time, however, Lichtenstein has said “It’s not really what I do—all that subtlety and atmosphere... In my mind, it’s sort of a pseudo-contemplative or mechanical subtlety...” (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in S. Little, “Landscapes in the Chinese Style,” Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Art Institute of Chicago, 2013, p. 92). In deeming the works from Landscapes in the Chinse Style “pseudo-contemplative,” Lichtenstein harkens back to his earlier 1960s works—indeed, his entire oeuvre—which earned him international acclaim. In paintings such as Drowning Girl(1963, Museum of Modern Art, New York) or Whaam! (1963, Tate, London), Lichtenstein borrows comic book imagery and turns them into “pseudo” comics—indexes of American consumer culture. As his artistic practice matured and he continued to explore popular American culture, Lichtenstein began to play with ideas of representation and seeing. His Brushstroke series from the 1960s took the gestures made by the Abstract Expressionists and deconstructed them—effectively satirizing the movement’s omnipresence in postwar America. Similarly, in Landscape with Boats, Lichtenstein alludes to the West’s long-held fascination with East Asian art and culture. By the 1990s, China’s economy had grown and stabilized, demonstrating the potential to be an economic powerhouse—perhaps reinvigorating the American public’s fascination with the country.
"Claude Monet similarly satirized Paris’s obsession with Japan during the late 19th century when Japan ended its isolationist policies. In La Japonaise (Camille Monet in Japanese Costume) (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), Monet’s wife is draped in a Japanese robe with colorful fans displayed on the wall behind her. She wears a blonde wig to further juxtapose her western identity against the Japanese symbols. Then, Lichtenstein’s contemporary Andy Warhol obsessed over an image of Chairman Mao Zedong, similarly Pop-ifying and pseudo-fying the leader’s visage twenty years before Lichtenstein’s Landscape with Boats. The present painting, however, derives inspiration from the respected tradition of Chinese scroll painting. “That’s what I’m getting into” he stated. “It will look like Chinese scroll paintings, but all mechanical” (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in K. Bandlow-Bata, “Roy Lichtenstein—Landscapes in the Chinese Style,” Roy Lichtenstein: Landscapes in the Chinese Style, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong, 2011, p. 8).
"Despite Lichtenstein’s adamant claims of generating a “mechanical” iteration of the Song scrolls, Landscape with Boats offers a version so harmonious and in keeping with Chinese landscape painting. Simultaneously entrenched in Eastern tradition and contemporary Western ideologies, the works in this series are among Lichtenstein’s most sophisticated. They encompass simultaneous opposing forces—old and new, calligraphic and mechanical, East and West. The result is a universally relatable masterpiece by one of Pop’s masters. Perhaps related to Lichtenstein’s decision to engage with Chinese landscape during the 1990s is that China’s own economic and cultural reality was shifting towards a consumer culture due to political reasons. This historical circumstance adds an interesting, mutual relationship between Lichtenstein and China—while the artist imbues Chinese landscapes with his signature style, China began to adapt consumerism, similar to that which acts as the backbone to American Pop Art. Still, one must query why Lichtenstein embarked on Landscapes in the Chinese Style so late in his life, despite his lasting affection for the genre: “I’m thinking about something like Chinese landscapes with mountains a million miles high, and a tiny-fishing boat—something scroll like, and horizontal with graduated dots making these mountains, and dissolving into mist and haze” (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in K. Bandlow-Bata, “Roy Lichtenstein—Landscapes in the Chinese Style,” Roy Lichtenstein: Landscapes in the Chinese Style, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong, 2011, p. 8)."
The lot has an
estimate of $7,000,000 to $9,000,000. It sold for $6,517,500.
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
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See The City Review article on the Fall 2010 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's
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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