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  Post-War and Contemporary Art

Christie's New York

7 PM, May 15, 2019

Sale 16977

Rabbit by Koons

Lot 15, "Rabbit," by Jeff Koons, stainless steel, 41 inches high, number two from an edition of 3 plus one artist's proof, 1986

By Carter B. Horsley

The Post-War and Contemporary Art Auction at Christie's New York May 15, 2019 is highlighted by Rabbit, a 41-inch high, stainless steel sculpture by Jeff Koons (b. 1955) that is number two from an edition of three plus one artist's proof.


The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Since its creation in 1986, Jeff Koons’s Rabbit has become one of the most iconic works of 20th-century art. Standing at just over three feet tall, this shiny steel sculpture is at once inviting and imposing. Rabbit melds a Minimalist sheen with a naïve sense of play. It is crisp and cool in its appearance, yet taps into the visual language of childhood, of all that is pure and innocent. Its lack of facial features renders it wholly inscrutable, but the forms themselves evoke fun and frivolity, an effect heightened by the crimps and dimples that have been translated into the stainless steel from which it has been made. Few works of art of its generation can have the same instant recognizability: it has been on the cover of numerous books, exhibition catalogues and magazines; a monumental blow-up version even featured in the 2007 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. For an artist such as Koons, who is so focused on widening the sphere in which art operates and communicates, Rabbit is the ultimate case in point.

"Despite its endemic presence in our cultural fabric, Rabbit is also an exceedingly rare object. The sculpture was cast in 1986 in an edition of three, plus an artist’s proof. In addition to this example, one is now in The Broad Art Foundation, Los Angeles, another in the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and a third in the National Museum of Qatar. Thus, the present example is the only one left in private hands, and while other examples have been exhibited extensively, this example of Rabbit has not been exhibited in public since the 1988 group show, Schlaf der Vernunft, or The Sleep of Reason, at the Museum Fredericianum in Kassel. 


"Looking at Rabbit, the precision for which Koons has since become so renowned is there in all its seductive glory. The steel surface of the titular bunny initially appears smooth and balloon-like, the forms reduced to some abstract, Platonic ideal. They nonetheless introduce complex plays of form, with the narrow carrot serving as a counterpoint to the rounded torso and face. Adding a dynamism to the composition, the tentatively-hovering carrot, perching at the edge of the spherical head also ensures that there is a tension to the work. It hints at penetration, at bursting the balloon, and at that most Koonsian of subjects: sex. The dynamism of Rabbit is reinforced by the fact that, on closer inspection, this sculpture has been rendered with an incredibly meticulous attention to detail. Be it in the corrugations that run up the bending ears, the seams that run down the body, the trails of sheet metal that sprout from the bottom of the carrot or the letters around the nozzle on the reverse, there is an incredible range of textures at play. These are made all the more dramatic by the mercury-like perfection of the bulk of the surface which they disrupt and emphasize. Its curving, sloping surfaces reflect the viewer, yes, but also reflect itself. In this, entire games of light and movement are invoked, with aspects of the rabbit’s anatomy reflected in its head, in its torso and even in the carrot, creating a veritable hall of mirrors.  

"It is hard to underestimate the cultural impact of Rabbit—both on artists and critics, and the wider viewing public. When it was first shown at Ileana Sonnabend’s gallery in New York in 1986, the art critic of the New York Times, Roberta Smith, described this “oversize rabbit, with carrot, once made of inflatable plastic. In stainless steel, it provides a dazzling update on Brancusi’s perfect forms, even as it turns the hare into a space-invader of unknown origin” (R. Smith, “Art: 4 Young East Villagers at Sonnabend Gallery,” New York Times, 24 October 1986, reproduced online). The respected Museum of Modern Art curator Kirk Varnedoe would describe it as a milestone, recalling that he was “dumbstruck” when he first saw it at the Sonnabend exhibition (K. Varnedoe, “Milestones: 1986: Jeff Koons’s Rabbit,” ArtForum, Vol. 41, No. 8, April 2003, reproduced online at www.artforum.com). In 2000, Varnedoe curated Open Ends at MoMA, juxtaposing Rabbit with Brancusi’s own works. In 1987, the year after Rabbit was made, a cast was featured in the Saatchi Collection’s NY Art Now in London; Damien Hirst, then a young art student, would see it, later recalling, “I couldn’t get my head around its simple beauty at first; I was stunned, the bunny knocked my socks off” (D. Hirst, quoted in G. Wood, “The Wizard of Odd,” Observer, 3 June 2007, reproduced online at www.theguardian.com). And when Louise Lawler made the photograph Foreground in collectors Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson’s home, it was the side view of the sidelined Rabbit that added to the pointedly understated visual drama, disrupting the Mondrian-esque geometry of the interior.

"Kirk Varnedoe’s article in ArtForum, recalling his impression of the Rabbit when he saw it in 1986, exemplifies the incredible iconic intensity with which Koons managed to imbue his sculpture. Varnedoe runs through a catalogue of allusions and implications. After all, this faceless quicksilver rabbit manages to embody whole ranges of references while at the same time remaining deadpan and aloof. We find ourselves filling its steely silence with thoughts of Disney, Playboy, childhood, Easter, Brâncusi, Lewis Carroll, Frank Capra’s Harvey, Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, Andy Warhol’s Clouds… The Rabbit manages to invoke all of the above, without ever plumping for a single meaning. “Look at the Rabbit,” Koons said to David Sylvester. “It has a carrot to its mouth. What is that? Is it a masturbator? Is it a politician making a proclamation? Is it the Playboy Bunny?… it’s all of them” (J. Koons, quoted in D. Sylvester, Interviews with American Artists, London, 2002, p. 342). If not for Rabbit, Koons said he would have called it The Great Masturbator after Salvador Dali’s painting. Rabbit is what the viewer brings to it. “I’ll be your mirror,” breathed Nico in the eponymous Velvet Underground track a couple of decades earlier, at the height of their collaboration with Warhol. “Reflect what you are, in case you don’t know… I find it hard to believe you don’t know / The beauty you are.” Rabbit echoes this sentiment: it is a hand—albeit an authoritative one—held out in support for the viewer. It tells us that life is good, that all tastes are acceptable, that we should be at one with ourselves. Gleaming like some luxurious futuristic idol, it is a mirror not for princes, but for the public, reflecting us, incorporating us within the ever-shifting drama that plays out on its surface. We are all embraced by this totem. 

"The success of Rabbit, more than any of the other works in the Statuary series that Koons had shown at the Sonnabend Gallery, is all the more impressive considering it was the only sculpture in the group that was almost not made. When, in the wake of his Luxury and Degradation show, Koons had been asked to contribute works for a group show alongside painters Ashley Bickerton, Peter Halley and Meyer Vaisman, he had been struck in a moment of inspiration and had sketched out—on a bar napkin—ideas for nine of the ten sculptures that would give an idea of the cross-section of society. There is Louis XIV at one end, Bob Hope at the other, with Cape Codder Troll and Doctor’s Delight in between. Yet for Rabbit, there is a rare note of indecision. “When I made my stainless steel rabbit, I really couldn’t decide whether to make an inflatable rabbit or an inflatable pig,” Koons explained to Norman Rosenthal. “I would stay up at night. I have drawings from around that time where I have written down, ‘Shall I do the rabbit or the pig?’ I would inflate the originals and look at them, and I couldn’t decide. ‘Shall I make the inflatable rabbit, or shall I make the inflatable pig? I like both.’ Economically, I could only make one of them at a time, and I chose the rabbit” (J. Koons, quoted in N. Rosenthal, Jeff Koons: Conversations with Norman Rosenthal, London, 2014, p. 135). The show was a hit, with the artists—dubbed ‘The Hot Four’—fêted in the press and in art world circles. Fueled in no small part by the positive reception of Rabbit, it was a springboard to Koons’s international recognition, which would reach new levels with his subsequent series, Banality—in which the jilted pig made its own resurgent appearance—and Made in Heaven. 

"In his recollection of the dilemma he endured, Koons mentions inflating the originals. In the case of Rabbit, this was a callback to his first ‘official’ series of works, the Inflatables of 1979. In this series, a group of inflatable toys were shown on plinths made of right-angled mirrors, most of them flowers. The mirrors were themselves inspired by Robert Smithson’s works. In Rabbit, Koons appears to have fused the DNA of the inflatable toy and its mirror support from 1979, creating a single sculpture. The shape has changed from the original one shown in Inflatable Flower and Bunny: its legs and torso are more bulbous, making it at once cuter—and more phallic. This emphasizes its links to the pared-back aesthetic of the revered Romanian sculptor, Constantin Brâncusi, who would distill forms down to their barest essence. In his Male Torso, for instance, there is just the inverted Y form of three cylinders—a body and two legs; in Princess X, the eponymous subject has been converted into what viewers and critics have repeatedly seen as an arcing penis and testicles—her head and breasts reduced to an incredible level of abstraction.

"In truth, Koons has carefully worked to avoid accusations of over-abstraction in Rabbit. The wrinkles and creases of the inflatable original have been carefully crafted in steel, giving it a visceral link to the original object while instilling a heady sense of vulnerability. These ripples—themselves prefigured in the bronze version of Brancusi’s Princess X—create plays of light. Like the hanging strips of metal indicating the original plastic ‘leaves’ of the carrot in the bunny’s hand, they also serve as a covenant, inextricably linking Rabbit to its humble origin as a plastic blow-up toy. Thus, while serving as a textural counterpoint, adding a visual drama and dynamism to the ovoid and spherical forms that dominate the composition, they primarily function as minutely-observed details. In this way, Koons subtly insists that this is not a work of abstraction, but instead one of hyperrealism.

"In this sense, the ephemeral nature of the inflatable has been transcended: transformed into stainless steel by artisans working to Koons’s famously-exacting specifications, Rabbit is nigh on indestructible. This is not an intimation of mortality: it is a refutation of it. The vulnerable plastic of the inflatable has been reinforced through Koons’s deft intervention. Stainless steel was a material to which Koons had turned in his previous series, Luxury and Degradation, creating works such as his Jim Beam – J.B. Turner Train, Pail and Baccarat Crystal Set. These were all objets trouvés—found objects—that were then transmogrified by being rendered in shiny steel.

"Steel is at once a practical, even proletarian material—one with which Koons had long associations, having been raised in York, Pennsylvania, a small city which prospered in part because of the local steel industry. Crucially, as well as being strong and useful, stainless steel also has the gleam and glimmer of luxury. “I think the Bunny works because it performs exactly the way I intended it to,” Koons said of Rabbit. “It is a very seductive shiny material and the viewer looks at this and feels for the moment economically secure. It’s most like the gold- and silver-leafing in church during the baroque and the rococo. The bunny is working the same way. And it has a lunar aspect, because it reflects. It is not interested in you, even though at the same moment it is” (J. Koons, quoted in A. Haden-Guest, “Interview: Jeff Koons,” pp. 12-36, A. Muthesius (ed.), Jeff Koons, Cologne, 1992, p. 22). In this way, Rabbit and its fellow sculptures in Statuary paved the way for the aesthetic that would see Koons continue to evoke the visual theatrics of European church interiors in Banality and Made in Heaven. 

"Rabbit, then, ties into the general wave of reassurance that lies at the heart of many of Koons’s works. He has often pointed towards social mobility, sometimes commenting upon it, sometimes critiquing it, but always insisting that the viewers accept themselves for themselves. Thus, in Luxury and Degradation, the series that immediately preceded Statuary, he explored the mechanics of the alcohol industry and the way they tap into and manipulate people’s aspirations in order, ultimately, to peddle booze. It was in this series that Koons had first invoked stainless steel in his sculptures, hinting at both its democratic side, and the fact that it is not a precious metal, however utilitarian it may be. Earlier, in Equilibrium, Koons had explored the way that success in sports was explored and exploited as a vehicle for social change, especially in the African American community. Crucially, he was pointing out the irony both of the slender hope of salvation through basketball, and the fact that he himself, as an artist, was using these images as a rung in the ladder as he carried on in his own upward trajectory through the art world. This was the commodity culture of the contemporary art scene laid bare. Yet the suspended basketballs and the bronze Aqualung alike also acted as promises of support, of salvation. 

"Building on the success of its use in Luxury and Degradation, in Statuary, Koons explored to greater depths the ability of stainless steel to serve both as a leveler and as a deliberately flawed signifier of wealth. “Statuary presents a panoramic view of society,” Koons explained. “On the one side there is Louis XIV and on the other side there is Bob Hope. If you put art in the hands of a monarch, it will reflect his ego and eventually become decorative. If you put it in the hands of the masses, it will reflect mass ego and eventually become decorative. If you put art in the hands of Jeff Koons, it will reflect my ego and eventually become decorative” (J. Koons, quoted in H. Werner Holzwarth (ed.), Jeff Koons, Cologne, 2009, p. 224). 

"The various elements in Statuary occupy places across the strata of society and taste: from the inflatable toy of Rabbit to the old-school humor of Bob Hope to the extravagance and decadence of France’s ‘Sun King’ to the titillation of Doctor’s Delight, and so on… The objects range from treasures to gewgaws and everything in between. Koons ceased to use readymades in the series that followed, yet he continued to explore their aesthetic in his own works, creating confections which deliberately invoked kitsch in Banality and Made in Heaven. In the latter series, sculptures of flowers, cherubs and puppies were paired with others showing Koons making love to his then-wife in a series of lavishly explicit photographs, with some of their sex acts celebrated in three dimensions, on large scale, in materials such as polychrome wood, marble and glass. Koons was encouraging his viewers not to allow the structures and strictures of taste to keep them down, but to indulge their guilty pleasures, and indeed expunge any sense of guilt in the first place. As he has explained, “Art is a form of self-help that can instill a sense of confidence in the viewer” (J. Koons, quoted in R. Koolhaas & H.U. Obrist, “Interview,” pp. 61-84, Jeff Koons: Retrospective, exh.cat., Oslo, 2004, p. 61).

"It is this self-help aspect that makes stainless steel such a perfect material for Rabbit and its fellow works. As Koons explained, “Polishing the metal lent it a desirous surface, but also one that gave affirmation to the viewer. And this is also the sexual part - it’s about affirming the viewer, telling him, ‘You exist!’ When you move, it moves. The reflection changes. If you don’t move, nothing happens. Everything depends on you, the viewer. And that’s why I work with it. It has nothing to do with narcissism” (Koons, quoted in I. Graw, “‘There Is No Art in It’: Isabelle Graw in Conversation with Jeff Koons,” pp. 75-83, M. Ulrich (ed.), Jeff Koons: The Painter, exh. cat., Frankfurt, 2012, p. 78). Rabbit, then, embraces the viewer in its reflective surface. Like the tree in the forest, it is activated by our presence.

"As a sculpture, Rabbit is Koons’s avatar. It stands in for Koons specifically, and for the artist in general, a miniaturized authority figure on a plinth. Mute with its ‘mouthlessness,’ but with its ears firmly pointed towards us, Rabbit is a passive, responsive dictator, perfectly encapsulating the contradictions of the role of the artist that preoccupy and drive Koons himself. It is nonetheless powerfully eloquent, its carrot reminiscent of a microphone. As he explained to Matthew Collings only half a decade after Rabbit was created, Koons saw Rabbit as a symbol of “being a leader, an orator, the carrot to the mouth is a symbol of masturbation. I see Pop art as feeding people a dialogue that they can participate in. Instead of the artist being lost in this masturbative act of the subjective, the artist lets the public get lost in the act of masturbation” (J. Koons, quoted in M. Collings, “Jeff Koons Interviewed by Matthew Collings,” pp. 39-47, A. Papadakes (ed.), Pop Art Symposium, London, 1991, p. 42). 

"Rabbit stands out from the Statuary crowd, as it also prefigures what has since become one of Koons’s best-known and best-loved series of works: Celebration. Rabbit may only be three and a bit feet tall, but it is a clear ancestor of Balloon DogBalloon Flower and its sister-works—as well as the subsequent Balloon Rabbit of 2005-10. In this, it taps into one of the most recurrent themes in Koons’s work: the role of air or breath as a representation of life. Explaining this with reference to the pool toys so meticulously reproduced in painted for his series, Popeye, Koons stated, “When you take a deep breath, it’s a symbol of life and of optimism, and when you take your last breath, that last exhale is a symbol of death. If you see an inflatable deflated, it’s a symbol of death. These are the opposite” (J. Koons, quoted in J. Peyton-Jones & H.U. Obrist, “Jeff Koons in Conversation,” pp. 67- 75, Peyton-Jones, Obrist & K. Rattee (ed.), Jeff Koons: Popeye Series, exh. cat., London, 2009, p. 71). Be it in the early Inflatables, in the vacuum cleaners shown in his earlier series The New, in the bronze boats and diving equipment of Equilibrium or the balloons of Celebration, this invocation of breath has been a constant for Koons. 

"Rabbit, then, transcends its own limitations. It is a signifier that launches the viewer on an endless journey of association, tumbling down a rabbit hole of meaning. It neither confirms nor denies any of the conclusions that may be drawn. It is its ability to leave these ideas hanging that lends it the power that has seen it attain the status it enjoys today. It is approachable, sweet, high-brow, Pop; it is about sex and death and taste and class; it is about optimism and innocence and reproduction. It explores the role of the artist in the modern world, and our own place too. It reflects whatever we bring to it. In this, it reveals Koons’s own ability to create art works that launch a thousand thoughts. It is only too apt that the last time this version of Rabbit was shown in public, over three decades ago, it was in a show entitled The Sleep of Reason. This phrase was taken from one of Francisco Goya’s caprichos, showing a sleeping artist beset by a tumult of beastly chimeras. “The sleep of reason produces monsters,” an inscription on the picture declares. However, Goya’s own explanation is more in tune with Rabbit: “Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.”


Rabbit 2

Rabbit was shown in a special gallery

The lot has an estimate of $50,000,000 to $70,000,000.  It sold for $91,075,000, an auction record for a work by a living artist.  The price included the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.

The auction total was $538,971,750 with 51 of 56 offered lots selling.

Elvis by Warhol with Alex Rotter


Lot 23, "Double Elvis (Ferus Type), by Andy Warhol, silkscreen ink and silver paint on linen, 81 7/8 by 52 3/4 inches, 1963

Lot 23, "Double Elvia (Ferus Type)," by Andy Warhol (1928-1987), silkscreen ink and silver paint on linen.  It measures 81 7/8 by 52 3/4 inches and was painted in 1963.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"A gleaming masterpiece that stands among the most iconic images of 20th century art, Andy Warhol’s Double Elvis [Ferus Type] faces us with visionary force. Elvis Presley, dressed as a gunslinger in a publicity shot for the 1960 Western movie Flaming Star, is doubled in black silkscreen upon a shimmering silver ground. He looms almost life-size, as if caught in a full-length mirror. The painting is at once striking, its six-foot star recognisable in a flash, and loaded with ambiguity. Warhol distills his famed serial production method into a succinct twinned image that reflects the overlapping nuances of celebrity, filmmaking, desire and performance in sixties America. Cropped slightly at the head, the two Elvises intersect at the knees, aligned in such a way that the left-hand figure appears to be holding both pistols. With our attention drawn to his pose and finely-tuned outfit, Presley as cowboy is the image of idealized American manhood wryly exposed as a costumed interloper. United with the silver canvas, he takes his place in a flat, empty surface that, for Warhol, functions as a looking glass. With subtle mastery, Warhol mirrors the cultural world of his time, both glorifying and destabilizing its glamorous, seductive fictions.

"By 1962, having stunned the art world with his early paintings of Coke bottles, soup cans and Marilyn Monroe, Warhol had cemented his position as the king of Pop in New York. Created in the summer of 1963, the “Ferus Type” Elvises were conceived to conquer the West Coast. Warhol had already completed a group of initial “Studio Type” Elvises, whose half-tone backgrounds lent them a painterly sense of illusionistic space; for his upcoming show at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, the home of Hollywood and the birthplace of the Western, he had something more dramatic in mind. With the help of his new assistant, the poet Gerard Malanga, he completed a new series whose composition would vividly embody the “silver screen” of cinema. Displaced from any sense of narrative or locale onto pure, shining surface, they became celluloid ciphers, highlighting the multiple artifice of Elvis’s performance.

"The very method by which Warhol delivered them was playfully theatrical, and is almost as famous as the works themselves. Gallery director Irving Blum received not individual canvases but a single, enormous roll of canvas with a box of differently sized stretcher bars. “I called him and said, ‘Will you come?’ [to Los Angeles],” Blum recalls, “And he said, ‘I can’t. I’m very busy. Will you do it?’ I said, ‘You mean, you want me to cut them? Virtually as I think they should be cut and placed around the wall?’ And he said, ‘Yes, cut them any way that you think should ... they should be cut. I leave it to you. The only thing I really want is that they should be hung edge to edge, densely – around the gallery. So long as you can manage that, do the best you can.’ … And that’s exactly what I did” (I. Blum, interview by P. S. Smith, October 20, 1978, in Andy Warhol’s Art and Films, Ann Arbor, 1986, pp. 221-22). Today, eleven of the twenty-two extant “Ferus Type” works are in museum collections, including another Double Elvis from this series at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Warhol’s apparent relinquishing of control was in fact anything but: he had predetermined the size of each canvas with the stretcher bars he sent to Blum, which he knew would have to be matched to the groups of single, double and multi-figure Elvises. Shown in concert with a series of silkscreens depicting Liz Taylor, they made for a mesmerizing, iterated display of cinematic archetype. Importantly, 1963 saw the beginning of the artist’s own movie-making career. Warhol’s films display a decidedly anti-Hollywood sensibility, disregarding norms of length, subject matter, plot and even sound quality: his debut release, Sleep, shows us a hazy five hours and twenty minutes of the poet John Giorno sleeping, while his controversial Lonesome Cowboys (1968) subjects the Western to pornographic parody. In a similarly provocative vein, the Ferus installation can be read as a barbed comment on the repetitive nature of the Western genre. As a commercial form instantiating predictable rules and roles, the Western in fact constitutes a mass-produced product not unlike the Campbell’s Soup Cans Warhol showed at the Ferus Gallery the previous year. The Elvises, themselves a packaged commodity, echoed the soup cans’ supermarket-style rows. David McCarthy writes that in its “combination of reverence and ridicule, of homage and parody, of veneration and dismissal … the Ferus exhibition was something of a put-on, a sham, a provocation by an Eastern hipster who was already making his own films and who had previously dismissed Hollywood stars as pure product … [The paintings’] camp humor mirrored back to Hollywood its essential vacuousness in churning out formulaic narratives in the pursuit of profit, at least when it came to Elvis Presley and Flaming Star” (D. McCarthy, “Andy Warhol’s Silver Elvises: Meaning through Context at the Ferus Gallery in 1963,” The Art Bulletin, Vol. 88, No. 2, June 2006, p. 365).

"The place of Presley himself in Warhol’s world was central to the subversion. Famous without precedent, he allowed Warhol to get to the heart of the 1960s. “Elvis Presley is the greatest cultural force in the twentieth century,” said composer Leonard Bernstein. “He introduced the beat to everything and he changed everything—music, language, clothes. It’s a whole new social revolution—the sixties came from it” (L. Bernstein, quoted in P. Clarke Keogh, Elvis Presley: The Man, The Life, The Legend, New York, 2004, p. 2). Born in a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1935, Presley began singing as a small child. At the age of ten he made his first public appearance in a local talent contest singing a well-known folk song—he was placed 5th. In 1948, his family moved to Memphis, Tennessee and at the age of 18, he paid for a couple of hours of studio time at Sun Records, and made a demo, in order—as he later claimed—to see what his voice sounded like. After taking a job as a truck driver, Presley continued to sing at a number of local venues and on the evening of July 5th, 1954, he was invited back into the studio to sing a number of songs for Sun Records owner Sam Philips. Philips was looking for someone who could popularize the traditionally ‘Black’ ballads that the studio specialized in, and bring them to a wider audience. At the end of the evening, after signing a wide range of different songs, Elvis launched into a rendition of Arthur Crudup’s That’s All Right. After the record received some airtime on a local radio station, the DJ was inundated with calls and messages keen to find out more about this new talent, and so began a music career that would result in Presley become the most successful musical act of all time. 

"According to Rolling Stone magazine it was Elvis who made rock ‘n’ roll the international language of Pop, making him an ideal subject for Warhol’s unique brand of art. In his role as the American music giant of the twentieth century, Presley single-handedly changed the course of music and culture from the mid-1950s onwards. Elvis’s first record was of rockabilly music—an up-tempo, beat driven offshoot of country music. But it was in 1956, when he released his first single under the guidance of his new manager Colonel Tom Parker, that his career really took off when Heartbreak Hotel went to number one in the U.S. Billboard charts; Presley would ultimately sell over 600 million records during his lifetime. In the mid-1950s he expanded his repertoire and embarked on a film career and over the next two decades he appeared in at least thirty-two movies, including Jailhouse Rock, Blue Hawaii and Flaming Star (from where the source material for the current painting was taken). Presley’s emergence as a cultural phenomenon coincided with the birth of the American teenager—a new consumer market that, thanks to the popularity of people like Elvis, would come to be worth billions of dollars. As early as 1956 the Wall Street Journal identified the potential of this new sector of buying power and identified the singer as a major contributor. Elvis’s popularity spawned demand for everything from new lines of clothing based on his black slacks and loose, open-necked shirts to pink portable record players for teenagers’ bedrooms. It was also responsible for a phenomenal growth in the sales of transistor radios which rocketed from sales of an estimated 100,000 in 1955 to 5,000,000 in just three years later.

"In addition to the music, one reason for Elvis’s popularity amongst young people was his sense of rebellion. Compared the clean-cut appearance of his predecessors such as Frank Sinatra, this new generation was drawn to the King’s slicked backed hair, casual fashions and those famous gyrating hips. For many parents, Presley was “the first rock symbolism of teenage rebellion…they did not like him, and condemned him as depraved. …prejudice doubtless figured in the adult antagonism. Regardless of whether parents were aware of the… sexual origins of the phrase rock ‘n’ roll, Presley impressed them as the visual and aural embodiment of sex” (A. Shaw, quoted by R. Serge Denisoff, Solid Gold: The Popular Record Industry, New York, 1975, p. 22). Sinatra himself opined “His kind of music is deplorable, a rancid smelling aphrodisiac. It fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people” and the New York Daily News shrieked that following the King’s performance of Hound Dog on the Milton Berle show in June 1956, popular music “has reached its lowest depths in the ‘grunt and groin’ antics of one Elvis Presley” (B. Gross, quoted L. McShane, “Elvis Presley’s ‘grunt and groin’ act on ‘Milton Berle Show’ was Lady Gaga-esque act of 1950s,” New York Daily News, June 2012, accessed via www.nydailynews.com, September 7, 2014).

"With his music, Presley straddled two segregated sections of society, and it was the racial tensions caused by his amalgamation of traditionally African American ballads with more mainstream musical traditions that caused the consternation and conflict amongst the generations. This upending of convention continued with the film Flaming Star, from which Warhol took the source image for Double Elvis. The storyline also deals with racial tensions as Pacer Burton, the name of Elvis’s character, is the son of a Native American mother and a white father, who encounters a conflict of loyalties when there is tension between the two communities. Thus, raising potentially uncomfortable questions about race was clearly part of the challenge that many felt Elvis interjected into the rapidly changing culture of 1950s America.

"In Double Elvis, Warhol plays up the artifice of his subject. Elvis was no born film star, but a rock-and-roll artist transferred into Hollywood by the logic of commerce, much like Frank Sinatra or Buddy Holly before him. His movies were box office hits but often critically panned. As McCarthy notes, he was perhaps particularly ill-suited to the grizzled genre of the Western. “Unlike James Arness and Chuck Connors of television, or Gary Cooper and John Wayne of the screen …. Presley was hardly the living embodiment of rugged, western masculinity. His greased hair, made-up face, delicately turned collar, and tailored costume—all duly noted in the silver paintings—read as a carefully staged, and therefore utterly unconvincing performance” (D. McCarthy, “Andy Warhol’s Silver Elvises: Meaning through Context at the Ferus Gallery in 1963,” The Art Bulletin, Vol. 88, No. 2, June 2006, p. 361). Through Double Elvis’s spaceless silver background, we are made all the more acutely aware that what we are seeing is an actor posing for the camera—adopting a stock pose for a publicity shot—rather than a film still cut out from narrative sequence. The repetition is rigid and unmoving. Double Elvis pictures not the West’s cowboy ideal, a second-hand type-figure being played, somewhat ineptly, by the character of Elvis Presley.

"In his study of Warhol’s oeuvre, Richard Meyer discusses the manner of the Ferus installation that not only heightens the sense of Presley as product, but also explores the commercialization of desire. Warhol offers not just an Elvis pair but a serial progression of Presley clones, a battalion of six-foot tall Elvises who fan out across the gallery walls in seemingly endless repetition. In considering this proliferation of Presleys, we might consult the following scenario from The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, from A to B and Back Again: “So today if you see a person who looks like your teenage fantasy walking down the street, it’s probably not your fantasy but someone who had the same fantasy as you and decided instead of getting it or being it, to look like it, and so he went and bought that look that you like. So forget it. Just think of all the James Deans and what it means. One does not possess or become James Dean (or Elvis Presley) but purchases his look and, in doing so, begins to attract other celebrity impersonators as well. A loosely organized collective (‘All the James Deans’) is generated through the communal imitation of an ideal image of desirability, through the mirroring of parallel fantasies played out across the surface of the body” (R. Meyer, “Most Wanted Men: Homoeroticism and the Secret of Censorship in Early Warhol”, Outlaw Representation: Censorship & Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century American Art, Oxford 2002, pp. 151-52).

"Was Warhol as detached from his subject as it appears? The biographer Victor Bockris cites an intriguing angle taken by John Carlin, whose study The Iconography of Elvis proposed artistic similarities between Warhol and the King. “Both came from humble backgrounds and meteorically captured their respective fields in a way that seemed to break entirely with the past. Each betrayed his initial talent as soon as it became known, and opted for a blank and apparently superficial parody of earlier styles which surprisingly expanded, rather than alienated, their audience. Both went into film as a means of exploring the mythic dimensions of their celebrity. On the surface both men shared a scandalous lack of taste. Particularly as both took repetition and superficiality to mask an obscure but vital aspect of their work: the desire for transcendence or annihilation without compromise, setting up a profound ambivalence on the part of both artist and audience as to whether the product was trash or tragedy” (G. Carlin, quoted in V. Bockris, The Life and Death of Andy Warhol, New York 1989, pp. 124-25).

"While there are perhaps parallels in these elements of myth-making and parody, a more convincing equivalence might be drawn not between the artist and Elvis, but between Warhol and the blank, silver surface on which the image of Elvis is screened. Warhol’s own manufactured persona was that of a vacuum or mirror: he took on a role of empty, passive receptivity, conceiving his Pop art as reflective of the external world around him. There is a serious truth to his oft-cited maxim that “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, then just look at the surface: of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it” (A. Warhol, quoted in G. Berg, “Andy: My True Story”, The East Village Other, November 1, 1966). In his early interviews, he commonly adopted a mirroring strategy of refusing to answer questions, instead bouncing them back to his interviewer. As well as the large-scale use of silver paint in the Elvis works, 1963 saw Warhol’s associate Billy Name cover the entire interior of the Factory in reflective aluminium foil; that same year, Warhol replaced his own grey hairpiece with a metallic silver wig. His use of reflection would reach its apotheosis in the Silver Clouds, floating balloons first shown at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1966, which Warhol saw as dematerialized paintings. “I thought that the way to finish off painting for me would be to have a painting that floats,” he said, “so I invented the floating silver rectangles that you fill up with helium and let out of your window … I like silver” (A. Warhol, quoted in G. Berg, “Andy: My True Story”, The East Village Other, November 1, 1966). These weightless mirror-surfaces echoed Warhol’s own role as elusive, free-floating observer, accepting and refracting his surroundings. He is present, too, in the silver blankness of Double Elvis, which reflects not only the constructed codes and conventions of Hollywood fiction, but also the real societal mechanisms they embody, in a cold dressing-room mirror."

The lot has an estimate of $50,000,000 to $70,000,000.  It sold for $53,000,000.

Tobias Mayer

Tobias Meyer, formerly head auctioneer at Sotheby's and an adviser to S. I. Newhouse, at Christie's auction preview with Alex Rotter, chairman of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie's

Liz by Warhol

Lot 8, "Liz (Early Colored Liz)," by Andy Warhol, synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas, 40 inches square, 1963

Lot 8 is "Liz (Early Colored Liz),' by Andy Warhol, a synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas that is 40 inches square and was painted in 1963.  It is one of several works in this auction consigned from the Robert B. and Beatrice C. Mayer Collection.  Mr. Mayer was president of the Maurice L. Rothschild & Co., clothing chain, and Mrs. Mayer was the daughter of Nathan Cummings, who headed the Consolidated Foods Corporation that later became the Sara Lee Corporation.

The catalogue entry provided the following commentary:

"Andy 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 paint.

"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."


The lot has an estimate of $20,000,000 to $30,000,000.  It sold for $19,343,000.


Rauschenberg


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.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"One 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.


Calder

Joanna Szymkowiak of Christe's discussing Lot 14, "Fish," a mobile by Alexander Calder, at a press preview

Lot 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.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Throughout 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.


Genjie 27

Lot 41, "Babe in the Woods," by Adrian Ghenie, oil and acrylic on canvas, 76 3/8 by 76 1/8 inches, 2008


Lot 41, "Babe in the Woods," by Adrian Ghenie (b. 1977), is a very fine oil and acrylic on canvas.  It measures 76 3/8by 76 1/8 inches and was painted in 2008.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Adrian 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.


Avery

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.

Spider


Lot 9, "Study for a Head," by Francis Bacon, oil and sand on canvas, 26 by 22 inches, 1952

Lot 9, Spider," is a very large bronze sculpture by Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) It measures 128 1/2 by 298 by 278 inches and was cast in 1997.  It is number two from an edition of six with one artist's proof and one unique bronze variant and one unique sculpture in steel.

The catalogue gives the following commentary:

"Over the course of her remarkably long and storied career, Louise Bourgeois developed a unique and moving body of work that reaches deep into the human psyche, probing the subconscious mind for visions and dreams to create a visual iconography that’s so universal as to be cherished by viewers around the world. Taking its cues from her own childhood, Louise Bourgeois’s Spider is a deeply personal creation, rendering viewers spellbound in rapt amazement as they first encounter its colossal form. “The crafty spider, hiding and waiting, is wonderful to watch,” she has remarked. Indeed, this magnificent Spider evokes a range of emotions that veer from childlike wonder to primordial fear. So, too, does Bourgeois’s depiction of the spider move beyond mere representation to become a larger, deeper, more haunting and moving portrayal, eschewing straightforward anatomical details in favor of a more expressive and unique version. Conceived in 1996, Spider is not only her signature motif, it ranks among the greatest contributions to the history of Modern art.

"Spider is a truly monumental creation that dwarfs the viewer under the graceful curves of its Gothically arched form. As one of her most enduring and iconic motifs, Spider is a creation of grandeur and mystery, a brilliantly realized sculpture whose enormous legs span a distance of nearly twenty-five feet. The Spider comes to balance on its eight graceful legs in a frightening pose that makes it seem to rear up, ready to strike at any moment, while one of its legs extends outward, delicately probing its environment as if reaching toward its prey. Much as the curious child stares in rapt amazement at the industrious spider, whose bulbous body seems disproportionately large compared to its slender legs, so too, does the viewer marvel at Bourgeois’s depiction of the Spider, where the colossal creature is fabricated out of heavy bronze. Indeed, the elegance of the spider’s thin, graceful legs belies the heaviness of its construction, leaving the viewer to trust that the effects of gravity will be kept at bay as they wander amidst its sizable, ten feet tall legs. For to encounter the spider is to walk into the spider, wandering into and out of its labyrinthian system of delicately balanced limbs.

"Disorienting and destabilizing, the effect of encountering the sculpture throws off the viewer’s equilibrium of the everyday world in favor of a more evocative one, where tiny creatures are enlarged to gargantuan proportions and shed their connections to the physical world. For in her depiction, Bourgeois has not simply recreated the anatomical features of the spider, but instead created an archetypal version. Its ingeniously clever design is revealed in the expressive quality of the twisted and knotted bronze of its construction, where its orb-like head is conveyed by a swirling mass of distorted metal. Its legs undulate outward from the central body in writhing and tangled spikes that are marked in bulbous knots and lumps, where its mottled surface beckons the viewer’s touch while simultaneously repelling it. Indeed, the Spider seems to have been made from the same filament with which it spins its webs, as Bourgeois wraps and binds the spider’s body in a swirling mass of thickened, ropelike spirals, from which emanate its long, delicate legs. They perch upon the solid ground with pointed ends—seeming to pierce the ground itself.

"The spider, then, becomes the visual embodiment of the daily work that defines her—the spinning of webs. She seems to be molded from this very material in fact, in the looping skeins of twisting filament surrounding her abdomen, becoming one with her own life’s purpose. This spider is both a creator and a destroyer, capable of great feats of beauty but also lethal destruction, for she spends her life making intricate, gossamer webs whose primary function—despite their physical beauty—is to ensnare its prey. Once caught in the web, the spider will pierce its prey with its lethal fangs and wrap it, cocoonlike, within its silky threads. So, too, does Bourgeois ensnare the viewer by nature of her intricate, technically complex yet utterly beautiful creations, leaving them in the precarious predicament of pondering what exactly is her aim in these sinister yet glorious creations. Is this a friendly garden spider, or the lethal black widow? And oh, what a tangled web she weaves.

"While it’s true that Bourgeois came of age in Paris in the 1930s alongside the Surrealists (she famously rented an apartment above André Breton’s Galerie Gradiva in 1937), she repeatedly denied any associations with that group, having developed her own distinctive artistic vernacular. Hers was a personal art form deeply influenced by her own memories and experiences that still managed to stay with her despite the many years that had passed. “She could be moved to tears describing a childhood incident, even some five, six, seven decades later,” Museum of Modern Art curator Deborah Wye has described. “Events of the here and now stirred up by old memories and feelings not sufficiently buried” (D. Wye, Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2017, p. 11).

"Truly, there is perhaps no other artist whose work was so closely influenced by her own feelings and emotions than Louise Bourgeois. Born in 1911 on Christmas Day, Bourgeois spent her childhood years in the sprawling family residences at Choisy-le-Roi and Antony, on the outskirts of Paris, where her father Louis and her mother Josephine were in the business of restoring and selling medieval tapestries. Bourgeois whiled away many hours in rapt fascination of the world around her. The gentle breezes of the French countryside and the lolling sounds of the nearby Bièvre river mingled with the ever-industrious and continual weaving and repairing of the treasured tapestries that entered and exited the workshop throughout her life. “Her childhood memories were filled with the washing, restoring, and selling of these historic textiles,” Deborah Wye continued. “She keenly remembered the workshop women on their knees at the river, washing and wringing those heavy objects, herself drawing in missing fragments of imagery, and her mother with a needle and thread, mending. ‘My mother would sit out in the sun and repair…’ she remembered. ‘She really loved it. This sense of reparation is very deep within me’” (L. Bourgeois, quoted in D. Wye, Ibid., 2017, p. 91).

"The silent, contemplative act of weaving and reweaving the delicate threads of ancient tapestries was a tender, cherished act that Bourgeois shared with her mother. In a letter dated 1929, her mother has written: “Upon your return I am quite delighted to do tapestry together. You must not neglect that” (J. Bourgeois, quoted in ibid., p. 91). Indeed, the physical act of sewing, weaving and tying of knots held complex associations for the artist, bringing bittersweet memories imbued with both feelings of contentment and peace, but also fear and dread, for her mother had been plagued by illness that arose during the great influenza pandemic of 1918. She never quite recovered from her sickness, and Bourgeois had left school to become her primary caregiver, often nursing her mother’s health and traveling with her to sanitariums that might ease her discomfort. When her mother died in 1932, Bourgeois claimed that her world had fallen apart, even attempting to drown herself in the nearby river. She was ultimately rescued by her father. He was a fierce, mercurial character who later mocked the artist over the extent of her grief that she felt after her mother’s death.

"As an artist whose body of work has been described as ‘personalised realism,’ Bourgeois’s memories of her mother lingered in the periphery throughout the course of her career. They waited in the wings of the drawings, etchings, wood and marble sculptures of her early work until they were able to be reincarnated in their ultimate form, once Bourgeois felt ready to let them go. Although her first depiction of a spider can be traced to a few small drawings from 1947, Bourgeois largely abandoned the motif until the mid-1990s. In this era her work matured, taking on ever greater and more intricate visual allusions, and spanning ever greater dimensions of scale. Her first series of Spider sculptures appeared in the mid-1990s, having benefited from the new studio she had acquired in Brooklyn a decade earlier. This sprawling space accommodated ever larger and more ambitious work. And although she was reaching the twilight of her life, Bourgeois seemed to finally come into her own. She received a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1982, and in the years that followed, her acclaim gradually built, reaching a crescendo in the 2000 debut of her phenomenal, large-scale installation at the Tate Gallery in London, for which she created an enormous Spider along with a series of strangely industrial, spiraling staircases that led upward toward a viewing platform surrounded by convex mirrors. An Artforum reviewer described her work as “mixing Spielberg-scale spectacle with the psychological symbolism of the surreal,” amazingly, Bourgeois was nearly ninety years old (S. Madoff, “Towers of London,” Artforum, Summer 2000, p. 164). 

"Following their initial appearance in the mid-1990s, the Spiders multiplied. After the Tate Gallery installation in 2000, the Spiders spread around the world, with large-scale versions appearing in Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Denmark, France, Germany, The Hague, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Qatar, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. Its resonance is truly universal, touching upon the latent, subliminal fears of our collective humanity, and conveying the mystery of the natural world, all of which is heightened by the artist’s sensitive rendering.

"In 1995, Bourgeois conclusively identified the spider figure with that of her own mother, Josephine. “My mother was my best friend. She was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat, and useful as a spider” (L. Bourgeois, Ode à Ma Mère,Paris, 1995, p. 62). The artist included this recollection in a set of etchings of 1995 entitled Ode à Ma Mère, where illustrations of spiders featured alongside the artist’s own memory-poems. By identifying the spider with her mother, and associating the spinning of a web with the mending and restoring of tapestries, Bourgeois again brought together the spheres of the natural and human worlds. In addition, she appreciated the cleverness of the arachnid, remembering how it caught mosquitos that plagued her family “…The crafty spider, hiding and waiting, is wonderful to watch,” she remarked. “The spider is a friend” (L. Bourgeois, quoted in D. Wye, op. cit., 2017, p. 149).

"The Spider, then, remains a powerful and complicated autobiographical leitmotif in Bourgeois’s work, one that strikes a clever balance between the inherently lethal capabilities of certain venomous spiders and the tender feelings she felt for her own mother, who she lost at an early age. It also conveys the melancholic memories of her childhood at Choisy-le-Roi, and her profound connection to nature she experienced there. It also hints at the underlying fear and dread that had plagued the artist from a young age, having suffered panic attacks and insomnia throughout her life. Many of the experiences of her childhood were a direct result of the constantly shifting socio-political landscape of the early 20th century. Having been born in 1911, Bourgeois’s life spanned nearly the entirety of that tumultuous century. She lived through both wars, and was first-hand witness to their effects in the displacement, disease and death that inevitably followed.

"When Bourgeois was only about four years old, she lost her uncle to World War I almost immediately after its commencement. Her father had also enlisted after the death of his brother and been injured, and she vividly remembered visiting him at one of the triage hospitals set up along the French countryside. The Bourgeois family hired a young governess to teach the children English. This vibrant young teacher, Sadie, had become a friend and mentor to the young Louise Bourgeois, but later became ensnared in a sexual affair with the artist’s father. Much of Bourgeois’s passion, anger and fear stemmed from this formative period in her young life, as she herself expressed: “The motivation for the work is a negative reaction against her. … Every day you have to abandon your past or accept it” (L. Bourgeois, quoted in P. Schjeldahl, “The Spider’s Web,” The New Yorker, February 4, 2002).

"The Spider exemplifies the artist’s sense of survival that allowed her to develop an innovative, meaningful and deeply personal body of work, and which sustained her across the span of more than seven decades. “I came from a family of repairers. The spider is a repairer. If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and she repairs it” (L. Bourgeois, quoted in F. Morris, Louise Bourgeois, exh. cat., Tate, London, 2009, p. 272). Indeed, the spider’s daily routine of spinning its web can be likened to the artistic drive to create that Bourgeois herself experienced. In every phase of her life, she pursued a variety of artistic activities, whether drawing, printmaking, sewing, wood sculpting, performance or conceptual art. Her busy hands wove together a fascinating tapestry of work that expressed her own desires and needs: “I need to make things. The physical interaction with the medium has a curative effect. I need the physical acting out. I need to have these objects in relationship to my body” (L. Bourgeois, quoted in The Art of Louise Bourgeois, Tate Gallery website, accessed via https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/louise-bourgeois-2351/art-louise-bourgeois).

"Although it did not fully emerge until late in the artist’s career, the spider has proven to be a fitting metaphor. A tiny, defenseless creature, it relies upon its own ingenuity to survive; many deconstruct their webs at night only to spin a new one each day, while others dig tiny holes in the sand that unsuspecting insects fall into, while still others never make a web at all, but hunt their prey on land. It is this persistence, coupled with cleverness and a keen, watchful eye, that links Spider with her creator, who joins with the legions of careful, inquisitive and insistent women who plied their trade while also taking on the roles of mother, wife, homemaker and caretaker throughout the course of their career. Even Penelope, that resourceful wife of Odysseus, devised a clever way to stave off an army of suitors. The tapestry she wove by day, she would unweave each night. “The weave of her work—mimicking the flux of her mind and her emotions—holds seemingly incommensurable realities together like the elaborate designs of the Baroque tapestries she grew up refurbishing,” the art historian Rob Storr has written. “Bourgeois’s recovery and recreation of her past represents an ongoing work-in-progress, whose consequences for contemporary art are, despite her obsession with her childhood and youth, is artistically more forward looking than retrospective” (R. Storr, “A Sketch for a Portrait: Louise Bourgeois,” in Louise Bourgeois, New York, 2003, pp. 92-93).
"

The lot has an estimate of $25,000,000 to $35,000,000. It sold for $32,055,000, a world auction record for the artist.
 

Black Stella


Lot 28, {Point of Pines," by Frank Stella, enamel on canvas, 84 7/8 by 109 1/2 inches, 1959

Lot 28, "Point of Pines," is an enamel on canvas by Frank Stella (b. 1936) that measures 84 7/8 by 109 1/2 inches.  It was painted in 1959.


The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Frank Stella’s Black Paintings, executed between 1959 and 1960, marked a significant turning point in the postwar artistic canon. While artists like Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline were primarily concerned with the supremacy of the gesture, Stella produced a series of striking black canvases in which the emblematic nature of the gesture seemed to have been eradicated altogether. Point of Pines is one such painting; a dramatic, large-scale work in which bands of black enamel are carefully and methodically painted directly onto raw canvas. Unlike the generation of artists that preceded him, Stella was not interested in the emotional rawness of action painting, he was concerned purely with the act of applying pigment to the surface of the canvas. Gone are the allegorical and psychological ramifications of painting. Instead, these works were the embodiment of what would become one of the most famous quotes of postwar art history: his 1966 statement that “What you see is what you see” (F. Stella, quoted in W.S. Rubin, Frank Stella, New York, 1970, pp. 41-42). Thus, Stella’s Black Paintings have become one of the most celebrated series of postwar paintings, and a number of examples from the series are now part of prestigious museum collections, including The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, 1959 (Museum of Modern Art, New York); Arundel Castle, 1959 (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.); Club Onyx, 1959 (Baltimore Museum of Art); and Tuxedo Junction, 1960 (van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven).

"Across this sweeping canvas (named after a promontory in the Massachusetts Bay which used to house an amusement park), Stella lays down 35 bands of black enamel paint applied directly onto the surface of raw, unprimed canvas. From a distance, these bands appear precise, carefully painted so that their diagonal paths converge at the apex of the painting; each stripe is separated by a thin sliver of raw canvas—giving the overall effect of crisp pinstripe. Each band is then painted over three or four times, creating a film thick enough to detach the band from the raw canvas. In places the enamel appears flat and matte, elsewhere the drying pigment appears to have been applied in a more uneven fashion, reflecting a glossy, reflective surface. Upon close inspection, the regimented stripes of Point of Pines display a high degree of pentimenti. Stella painted each of the stripes freehand, without the use of graphic lines or tape to guide him. Although he often sketched out potential configurations on paper before he started painting, Stella was often unsure about exactly how many stripes there would be. To arrive at the strict geometry of the diagonally focused Black Paintings such as Point of Pines, the artist would often start at the mid-point of the canvas and paint outwards, only discovering how many stripes each painting would contain as the work progressed. As the distinguished art historian, and early supporter of Stella’s work, William Rubin noted, “Despite the fact that all his patterns were symmetrical and were made up of bands whose segments were straight, the freehand method produced effects that were anything but geometrical” (W. Rubin,ibid., p. 21). The artist himself reiterated this point, saying, “When I’m painting the picture, I’m really painting a picture. I may have a flat-footed technique, or something like that, but still, to me, the thrill, or the meat of the thing, is the actual painting. I don’t get any thrill out of laying it out…. I like the painting part, even when it is difficult. It’s that which seems most worthwhile to address myself to” (F. Stella, quoted by W. Rubin, Frank Stella, New York, 1970, p. 37).

"The symmetrical nature of Point of Pines was Stella’s solution for dealing with the problems of what Rubin dubbed “relational painting.” As a second-generation Abstract Expressionist, the artist felt that his predecessors’ work—based on the idea of the ‘all-over attack’—had never really delivered. In their practice, Stella felt that they were inconsistent, having particular trouble dealing with the corners, and dealt too much of the conventional idea of the push/pull of various painterly gestures. “The obvious answer,” he responded, “was symmetry—make them the same all over. The question still remained, though, of how to do this in depth. A symmetrical image or configuration placed on an open ground is not balanced out in the illusionistic space. The only solution I arrived at—and there are possibly quite a few, although I only know of one other, color density—forces illusionistic space of the painting at a constant rate by using a regulated pattern” (F. Stella, quoted by W. Rubin, ibid., p. 21). In an interview in 1972, the artist discussed how his new way of painting reflected a different approach. “Through the use of a flat regulated pattern, and I felt that flatness was an absolute necessity for modernist painting at the time. I felt the Black Paintings were right, there was a lot that things that were in those paintings that weren’t in any other paintings at the time, and it seemed to me that they were concerns that painting had to address itself” (F. Stella, quoted in an untitled recording, 1972. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cN_rRCfRdmQ).

"Taller than most humans and measuring more than nine feet across, the imposing scale of Point of Pines is as vital to the overall presence of the painting as the painted surface. When they were first exhibited, the Black Paintings—with their flat, monochromatic surface—were diametrically opposed to the prevailing gestural excess of Abstract Expressionism. On seeing these works for the first time, William Rubin exclaimed, “…the ‘presence’ of the pictures seemed to me ‘eerie,’ had something to do with the strangeness and bleakness of Stella’s black which, instead of absorbing the light, seemed irregularity to refract it, the enamel having formed a film of uneven density on the surface” (W. Rubin, Frank Stella, New York, 1970, pp. 42 – 44). Stella explained, “Spanning the entire surface produces an effect of change of scale—the painting is more on the surface, there is less depth. And the picture seems bigger because it doesn’t recede in certain ways or fade at the edge” (F. Stella, quoted in ibid. p. 39). 

"Stella’s Black Paintings were the artist’s first major series of work. In 1958, less than a year after graduating from Princeton University with a degree in art history, he began working on these canvases while also earning a living painting houses, using his house painter’s brushes and paint to map out these large-scale canvases. “He approached the canvas the way he would paint a house, as a form of geography to be mapped out and covered, mimicking the edges of the canvas and continuing to paint the lines concentrically until he ran out of blank space” (M. Auping, “The Phenomenology of Frank / Materiality and Gesture Make Space” in M. Auping, Frank Stella: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2016, p. 17).

"The origins of this series can be traced back to 1958, when the artist visited an exhibition of Jasper Johns’s Target and Flag paintings at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York. He observed how the stripes did not float arbitrarily on their ground, instead they filled it from edge to edge. “Learning how to make abstract paintings is just about learning how to paint, literally learning what paint and canvas do. Paint and canvas are not spiritual” (F Stella, quoted by M. Auping, ibid., p. 16). As was the case with Johns, Stella believed that ideology and logic trumped emotion.

"Stella’s first gallery show was held at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York in April 1959, where his work was admired by Dorothy Miller, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art. Impressed, Miller invited Stella to take part in an exhibition titled Sixteen Americans, the now legendary show which also introduced Robert Rauschenberg’s Combines and Jasper Johns’s Targets and Flags to a wider audience. Miller selected four works from the Black Paintings series (The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, Arundel Castle, Die Fahne Hoch!, and Tomlinson Square Park) for inclusion in the exhibition, with Alfred H. Barr Jr. then acquiring The Marriage of Reason and Squalor for the museum’s permanent collection (the artist’s first acquisition by a museum collection). Alongside the work of Rauschenberg and Johns, Stella’s work stood out as being different from that of his contemporaries. In the catalogue for the exhibition, his friend Carl Andre wrote “Frank Stella is not interested in expression or sensitivity. He is interested in the necessities of painting…. His stripes are the paths of brush on canvas” (C. Andre, quoted by A. Weinberg, “The End Depends Upon the Beginning,” in M. Auping, Ibid., p. 1).

"With their monochromatic palette, and flat, unmodulated surfaces, Stella’s Black Paintings might be regarded as being the opposite of what had gone before, a rejection of the supremacy of Abstract Expressionism. William Rubin for one felt that many so-called ‘action painters’ had gotten lazy, and that Stella offered a breath of fresh air. “The dominant direction since the heyday of Abstract Expressionism has not been abstract painting,” Rubin claimed. “There were however a small group of painters that came along in the later ‘50s, and early ‘60s, that created paintings of equal force and equal power as the best of Abstract Expressionism, but which is very different in character. Its posture is not romantic, its method is not improvisational; it’s a kind of more classical, more controlled art that in a certain sense reacted against the action conception of Abstract Expressionism, and against what by the late 1950s, had come to be a lot of very bad painting that had come to be made in Abstract Expressionism’s name” (W. Rubin, quoted in an untitled recording, 1972. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cN_rRCfRdmQ.) 

"However, for many of the critics and artists who regarded Pollock, de Kooning and Newman as almost untouchable gods, Stella’s paintings were an extension of the same path which they had journeyed down. Michael Auping, Chief Curator at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and curator of the 2016 retrospective on the artist’s work, maintains that Stella’s Black Paintings were not a rejection of the tenets of Abstract Expressionism, merely his response to it. “The Black Paintings absorbed the all-over composition of Pollock’s classic Abstract Expressionist drip paintings and, in particular, the graphic directness of his late monochrome black paintings (also made with black enamel). They can be interpreted as a dark meditation on Barnett Newman’s vertical stripe, or ‘zip,’ in which a linear gesture is tactile, but positioned against a smoother ground to create a kind of frontal assault on the viewer” (M. Auping, “The Phenomenology of Frank / Materiality and Gesture make Space,” in 
M. Auping, op cit., p. 17).

"Painted when Frank Stella was just 23 years old, Point of Pines is a remarkably accomplished painting for an artist who was only just beginning his career. Along with the other twenty-eight canvases in the Black Paintings series, they marked the artist out as one of the most innovative of his generation. These early paintings, along with his shaped Aluminum Paintings (1960) and Copper Paintings (1960 – 1961), also marked a turning point in the history of the painted canvas, away from the illusionary and towards a new—totally revolutionary—role. Speaking in 1966, nearly a decade after Point of Pines, Stella said, “I always get into arguments with people who want to retain the ‘old values’ in painting—the ‘humanistic’ values that they always find on the canvas. If you pin them down, they always end up asserting that there is something there besides the paint on the canvas. My painting is based on the fact that only what can be seen there is there. If the painting were lean enough, accurate enough or right enough, you would just be able to look at it. All I want anyone to get out of my paintings, and all I ever get out of them, is the fact that you can see the whole idea without any confusion. What you see is what you see” (F. Stella, quoted in W.S. Rubin, Frank Stella, New York, 1970, pp. 41-42).
"

The lot has an estimate of $25,000,000 to $35,000,000.  It sold for $28,082,500, a world auction record for the artist.



Mitchell 27

Lot 27, "Hans," a triptych oil on canvas by Joan Mitchell, 76 5/8 by 153 5/8 inches, 1981

Lot 27, "Hans," is a triptych oil on canvas by Joan Mitchell (1925-1992).  It measures 76 5/8 by 153 5/8 inches and was painted in 1981.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:


"In Joan Mitchell’s Hans, a dazzling display of shimmering color is unfurled with the powerful, physical emphasis of the artist’s brush. In this important painting from 1981, the seeds of Mitchell’s last great cycle of paintings—the Grande Vallée suite—germinate and grow, as she begins to synthesize the ‘remembered landscapes’ for which she is best known, in ever greater, more audacious displays. Hans demonstrates the assuredness and maturity of this crucial era. “The magnificence of painting reaches its zenith...in the 1980s,” the French critic Michel Waldberg has written of the artist’s work from this period. It’s “as if something, in her, had come to the surface” (M. Waldberg, Joan Mitchell, Paris, 1992, p. 55). Mitchell routinely titled paintings after important people in her life, and Hans is likely named in honor of her teacher and mentor Hans Hofmann, who was her champion and good friend in her early days in New York. 

"Mitchell created some of the most ravishing paintings of her entire career in the last decade of her life. In 1983, she embarked upon the lavishly colored, monumentally scaled paintings known as La Grande Vallée, which many consider to be the culmination of her life’s work. It was a period marked by artistic greatness but also profound personal grief. In 1981, Mitchell’s beloved friend, Edrita Fried, passed away, and in 1982, her sister Sally died after a prolonged battle with cancer. And yet, Mitchell remained at the top of her game professionally. Hans was painted just one year before her major European exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, where she was the first female American artist to exhibit there. The painting synthesizes a lifetime of experience and intimate personal memories. It embodies all the fullness of life—its pain and pathos, sorrows and joy—in its glistening, kaleidoscopic display. 

"Hans was painted at the artist’s sprawling estate at Vétheuil, a lush, two-acre property, part of that which once belonged to the painter Claude Monet. Panoramic vistas, including a view of the Seine, welcomed the artist each morning, and she immersed herself in the grand French tradition of landscape painting. In Hans, the bucolic splendor of Vétheuil is keenly felt, as prismatic passages of yellow and orange coalesce to suggest a field of sunflowers viewed against a clear blue sky, or sunlight that flickers across a pool of water. Its three-part format typifies Mitchell’s paintings of this era, along with its allover composition that fills nearly every inch of canvas. Here, the gestural force of the artist’s brush rivals that of the early 1960s, especially in the central panel, where a veritable explosion of pigment results in a heavily impastoed surface with thickened valleys and peaks. The pictorial field of vision remains deliberately shallow, sitting flush with the canvas surface, but so, too, does the painting take on magical displays of depth; in the left and right flanking panels, dappled areas of bright yellow hover and float above a recessed field of ethereal blue. Enveloping the viewer with its visual fireworks, Hans goes on to seduce with the tenderness of its delicate colors, somehow managing to be light and effervescent despite the powerful physical presence of its muscled strokes.

"Throughout her career, Joan Mitchell never sought to slavishly mimic nature or render its exact likeness. Instead, she aimed to capture the emotional spirit of the landscapes that were evoked in her. “I carry my landscapes around inside me,” she once said. “I could certainly never mirror nature. I would like more to paint what it leaves me with” (J. Mitchell, quoted in J.E. Bernstock, Joan Mitchell, New York, 1988, p. 31). Indeed, her paintings of this era convey the impression of a remembered landscape, be it the sparkling blue of the Mediterranean, or the particular yellow of the sunflowers that she planted at Vétheuil.

"Having moved into the beautiful estate at Vétheuil in 1967, Mitchell had become fully ensconced in the relaxed pace that life in the French countryside afforded her. The artist would spend the daytime hours chatting with friends or sitting on her patio that overlooked the abundant green landscape and a lazy stretch of the river Seine. Later in the evenings, after it was fully dark, Mitchell would climb the stairs to her studio and set to work, often working long into the night, listening to Mozart. It was here that the waves of emotions and memories washed over her, and moved through her, coming out through her brush in ever greater and more assured compositions. By this point in her career, Mitchell no longer made preparatory sketches in advance of her paintings, but rather, worked the canvas in confident strokes, filling the entire surface edge-to-edge in brilliant, shimmering pigments evoking the beauty of the natural world. She favored multiple panels of increasing size and scale as the years passed. These heroically-scaled diptychs and triptychs required a daunting amount of physical exertion, often requiring her full height to reach the painting’s uppermost register. 

"In Hans, Mitchell laid much of the groundwork for her La Grande Valléeseries, dividing the composition into three separate panels and covering them completely in exuberant colors that veer toward unabashed joy. The warmth of the yellow and orange-hued passages in Hans as they flicker past cooler areas of light blue is a most assured marriage of color and sensual perception of the natural world. Certain colors held personal significance to the artist, with blue among the most important of her entire oeuvre. So, too, did yellow figure predominately in much of her later work. “The permanence of certain colours: blue, yellow, orange, goes back to my childhood,” Mitchell explained. “I lived in Chicago and for me blue is the lake. Yellow comes from here [Vétheuil]...It is rapeseed, sunflowers...one sees a lot of yellow in the country. Purple too...it is abundant in the morning...At dawn and at dusk, depending on the atmosphere, there is a superb blue horizon... lasting for a minute or two” (J. Mitchell, quoted in J. Livingston, op. cit., p. 61).

"A fiercely independent painter whose outward brashness often belied an inner sensitivity known only to her closest friends, Joan Mitchell, in the end, was a renegade artist who defied the odds stacked against her. An early, but lasting, influence on her work was the artist Hans Hofmann, whose lectures in New York City were attended by a staggering array of postwar artists, including Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler and Arshile Gorky, to name a few. Hofmann laid out the fundamental principles of abstract painting in his now-legendary teachings in the schools he founded in New York City and Provincetown, Massachusetts. “Hofmann held a unique, almost talismanic position in that very complicated world,” the art critic Jed Perl has written. “Most of those artists would have agreed that what Hofmann, a tough-minded visionary, brought to New York were the secrets of modern art” (J. Perl, New Art City: Manhattan at Mid-Century, New York, 2005, pp. 5-7). Mitchell attended Hofmann’s lectures in her early days in New York City, around the time of her brief marriage to Barney Rosset. “I went to Hofmann’s class and I couldn’t understand a word he said so I left, terrified,” Mitchell described. “But he and I became friends later on. … Hans Hofmann was very supportive of me. I used to run into him in the park. I’d be dog-walking at nine in the morning, he’d say, ‘Mitchell, you should be painting’” (J. Mitchell, quoted in “Interview with Joan Mitchell,” conducted by Linda Nochlin, 1986; accessed via Archives of American Art).


"Spanning the three canvas panels that would become her favored triptych format, the glorious marriage of color, splendid and shimmering, beautifully evokes the heady sensations of the French countryside in Hans, a precursor to the Grande Vallée suite of paintings she would initiate in 1983. Its physical ambition, multi-part format and heroic scale epitomize the artist’s late work, as she was poised on the precipice of her next great series. Painting, Mitchell explained, “is the opposite of death, it permits one to survive, it also permits one to live...it’s sadness in full sunlight as there is joy in the rain” (J. Mitchell, quoted in P. Albers, Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter, New York, 2011, p. 369)."

The lot has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000.  It sold for $12,192,500.


Freud 7

Lot 17, "Painter's Garden," by Lucian Freud, oil on canvas, 24 1/8 by 18 1/8 inches, 2003

Another work from the Newhouse collection is Lot 17, "Painter's Garden," by Lucian Freud (1922-2011), a 2003 oil on canvas that measures 24 1/8 by 18 1/8 inches.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"An intimate work painted at the height of Lucian Freud’s international acclaim, Painter’s Garden offers a rare glimpse of the world beyond his studio. Executed in 2003, and included in his landmark exhibition at the Wallace Collection in London the following year, it belongs to a sequence of works depicting the back garden of his home at 138 Kensington Church Street, where he spent the last fifteen years of his life. Charged with the piercing scrutiny of his portrait practice, these works stand among the most poignant creations of this period. It was here, in the overgrown fifty-foot stretch of bamboo, apple trees and buddleias, that Freud finally embraced working en plein air, realising an ambition incited by his encounters with the work of John Constable almost sixty years previously. In contrast to his pristine botanical still lifes, which reached their pinnacle in the masterpiece Two Plants (1977-80; Tate, London), here the artist adopted a looser painterly style, liberated by his attempt to capture nature’s unpredictable rhythms. Though undeterred by this new challenge as he entered his ninth decade, Freud was increasingly aware of the passage of time. Below the tree lay the ashes of his whippet Pluto: his faithful companion and frequent subject, who passed away shortly before the present work. Infused with life, movement and a newfound sense of urgency, Painter’s Garden bears witness to the dual spirit of innovation and self-reflection that defined the artist’s final decade. 

"By the early 2000s, Freud’s international standing was undisputed. Following the celebrated portraits of Sue Tilley and Leigh Bowery created during the 1990s, he was widely hailed as the nation’s greatest living painter. In 2001, he was commissioned to paint Queen Elizabeth II; the following year his major retrospective opened at the Tate Britain, London, to outstanding critical acclaim. His exhibition at the Wallace Collection, which subsequently travelled to New York, built upon this momentum: the critic Robert Hughes wrote of “a genuine national treasure, briefly ensconced in one of England’s (and the world’s) supreme collections” (R. Hughes, “The Master at Work,” The Guardian, April 6, 2004). Unprecedented numbers of people surged through the small galleries. Freud’s daughter Annie recalls that the museum was “stuffed to the gunnels from morning to night,” forcing staff to introduce crowd control measures (A. Freud, quoted in P. Hoban, Lucian Freud: Eyes Wide Open, Seattle, 2014, p. 142). The garden paintings sat alongside significant new portraits including The Brigadier (2003), David and Eli (2003-04; Tate, London) and Portrait on a White Cover (2002-03), as well as works now held in the Victoria & Albert Museum, Chatsworth House and the Art Gallery of New South Wales. “Freud, who is 81, is at the top of his form,” wrote Sebastian Smee, “and these new pictures press in fiercely on the mind and heart” (S. Smee, “A unique way of seeing and feeling,” The Telegraph, April 5, 2004).

"Freud frequently described himself as a “biologist,” and had long been interested in the natural world. At art school in rural Dedham between 1939 and 1941, he imbibed the botanical interests of his teacher Cedric Morris: an avid horticulturalist and landscape painter. Moreover, he was fully aware of the shadow of Constable, whose name had become synonymous with the region, and whose Study for Trunk of an Elm Tree(1821) he had admired in the Victoria & Albert Museum. In a bid to imitate the latter, the young Freud set up an easel outside, but claimed he found open-air conditions impossible. Whilst indoor studies of plants came to populate his practice, he repeatedly avoided painting the natural landscape from life. “I never work in direct sunlight because I can’t see properly in it, I can’t see the forms sufficiently,” he later explained. He also valued the privacy of the studio, complaining of a “feeling about other people, with not wanting to be watched” (L. Freud, quoted in M. Gayford, Lucian Freud, vol. 2, London 2018, p. 221). During the early 1970s, he made a brief exception, creating a small series of suburban London landscapes. It was not until the late 1990s, prompted by his move to Notting Hill Gate, that the garden began to feature prominently in his oeuvre. The house’s ground floor veranda, with its leafy canopy above, provided a welcome shelter from both the sunlight and his neighbors. On the brink of his eightieth birthday, Freud threw himself wholeheartedly into a new way of painting. 

"The present work and its companions marked an important stylistic shift in his practice. In Garden, Notting Hill Gate (1997)—an early work in the series—Freud spoke of “a race against autumn … I was very conscious of where I was leading the eye. Where I wanted the eye to go but not to rest; that is, the eye shouldn’t settle anywhere.” Sidestepping the precision and clarity of his still life plant studies, the garden paintings were alive with rapid, intuitive strokes of impasto, capturing the play of light and shifting elemental conditions. “My way of trying to keep in time with nature is to keep it very loose,” he explained (L. Freud, quoted in W. Feaver, Lucian Freud, New York 2007, pp. 33-34). The present work glows with fresh immediacy, near-abstract in its rich accrual of color and texture. In contrast to the decaying indoor specimens featured in Two Plants—described by Freud as “lots of little portraits of leaves”—the scene is wrought with the same visceral life-force as his depictions of naked flesh (L. Freud, quoted at https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/freud-two-plants-t03105 [accessed March 8, 2019]). Freud produced several variations on the present work, including a remarkable large-scale etching (2003–04), and a further canvas of the same title (2005–06). During this period, his thought turned increasingly to Constable, having recently curated an exhibition of his work at the Centre Georges Pompidou. Shortly after Painter’s Garden, he produced After Constable’s Elm (2003), a tribute to the work that had thwarted him all those years ago.

"In many ways, then, Freud’s practice had come full circle. It was a complex time for the artist. On one hand, his creative instincts were stronger than ever; as a painter, said Hughes, he was “younger” and “sexier” than any of the YBAs (R. Hughes, ibid). On the other hand, he was aware that time was fleeting. Though Freud’s works had always been personal, they were increasingly populated by tender affirmations of life: his grandchildren, his animals and his garden. Pluto’s Grave, painted just before the present work, is less a meditation on the death of his pet than a celebration of the leaves and plants that now grew upon his remains. Significantly, the techniques developed in the garden paintings would come to have a noticeable impact on his self-portraits, which were progressively defined by their fluid, impressionistic surfaces. Examples from 2002 and 2003–04 bear witness to this quality, their resolution blurred as if seeking to “keep in time with nature.” “My work is purely autobiographical,” said Freud. “… It is about myself and my surroundings. It is an attempt at a record” (L. Freud, quoted in Lucian Freud, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1974, p. 13). Painter’s Garden, in this regard, may be understood as a portrait of his own condition.
"

The lot has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000.  It sold for $5,950,000.


Lichtenstein kiss


Lot 7, "Kiss III," by Roy Lichtenstein, magna on canvas,64 by 48 inches, 1962

Lot 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.


The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"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 century. 

"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 [1961]) 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."


The lot has an ambitious estimate of $30,000,000 to $50,000,000. It sold for $31,135,000.


Chinese scene by Lichtenstein

Lot 19, "Landscape with Boats," by Roy Lichtenstein, oil and magna on canvas, 62 by 170 1/4 inches, 1996

Lot 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.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Painted in 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.



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