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  Contemporary Art Session

Sotheby's New York

7 PM, May 16, 2019

Sale 10069

Rothko  gray

Lot 12, "Untitled," by Mark Rothko, oil on canvas, 69 by 50 1/8 inches, 1960

By Carter B. Horsley

The Post-War and Contemporary Art Auction at Christie's New York May 6, 2019 is highlighted by three very good paintings by Mark Rothko, two by Francis Bacon, and A stunning and very shiny sculpture by Thomas Schutte, a headless golden human body floating in space by Louise Bourgeois, and excellent works by Frank Stella, Julie Mehretu, Dana Schutz, Wayne Thiebaud and Robert Motherwell.

Lot 122 is an untitled abstract oil on canvas by Mark Rothko (1903-1970) that measures 69 by 50 1/8 inches.  It was painted in 1960 and was consigned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:

"Emitting a transcendent aura of luminescent hue, Untitled, 1960 stands as a profound testament to Mark Rothko’s extraordinary evocation of the sublime within pure, unadulterated abstraction. Executed at the apex of the artist’s career, this exquisite painting triumphantly embodies the ultimate creative crescendo and full maturation of Rothko’s extraordinary artistic practice. Personally selected by Rothko himself for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Untitled, 1960 bears a prestigious provenance that includes two of the twentieth century’s greatest artistic heroes and further underscores the pivotal position the present work plays in Rothko’s oeuvre. Peggy Guggenheim was an archetype for patronage, supporting such significant twentieth century artists as Clyfford Still, Jackson Pollock, and Rothko himself, having given Rothko his first solo show at Art of this Century in 1945. In 1946, Guggenheim gifted Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea to the present owner, where it resided until 1962; the largest and most ambitious of the early Surrealist works, Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea today resides in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Guggenheim’s championing of Rothko is superbly illustrated in the gifting of his work to significant institutions – as exemplified by the present work – an act of faith and supreme belief in Rothko’s genius that solidified his position as one of the twentieth century’s most heroic artists. The present work has been exhibited at many renowned institutions worldwide – including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome, and the Museum of Modern Art in Wakayama, Japan, among others – but has not been publicly exhibited since its inclusion in the 2008 show Abstract Expressionism: A World Elsewhere, which was curated by David Anfam, author of Rothko’s catalogue rasionné. Presenting the breathtaking summation of the artist’s signature methods, the incandescent canvas of Untitled, 1960 heralds the spectacular union of color and form that has defined Rothko’s singular and enduring legacy within the canon of twentieth century painting.

"A veritable treatise upon the absolute limits of painterly abstraction, the luminous canvas of Untitled, 1960 transmits an aura of the ethereal that is enthrallingly immersive, engulfing the viewer entirely within its utterly captivating compositional dynamism and chromatic intensity. The three clearly distinct—yet inextricably intertwined—zones of radiant color imbue the canvas with a tangible magnetic charge that draws the viewer ever, irresistibly inward. Cast against the rich field of deep charcoal, a velvety expanse of creamy white anchors the bottom of the painting; built up of innumerable washes of hue, the feathery edges of the white passage bleed gently into whispers of crepuscular gray. A deep maroon rectangle floats above the flickering ivory form, the borders of each color commingling slightly in vaporous whisks of paint at an elegantly executed horizontal axis. Crowning this triumvirate of thrumming color is a shimmering zone of lighter crimson hue, whose soft edges only marginally distinguish it from the more saturated red below in a manner that both balances and, simultaneously, undermines the stability and distinction between both fields of color. The rich warmth of the saturated, sensuous reds is perfectly counterbalanced by the veins of cool, iron gray that flicker through, creating a painting that appears simultaneously to emit and absorb light. In the artist’s own words: 'Often, towards nightfall, there’s a feeling in the air of mystery, threat, frustration, all of these at once. I would like my painting to have the quality of such moments.' (The artist cited in David Anfam, Mark, Rothko: The Works on Canvas: Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1998, p. 88) The dramatic and elegiac confluence of maroon, white, and gray is exemplary of the meditative colors for which Rothko is celebrated, and indeed conjures the twilight mystery the artist sought to impart in his canvases. Untitled, 1960 evokes an ineffable tension struck between the tantalizing emotions conventionally evinced by the smoldering crimson hues and something implicitly more tragic lurking from within the dark background. Inasmuch as the elemental red invokes passionate impressions of flames and light, its juxtaposition with the dark ground conjures the inevitable cycle of dawn and dusk, of rise and set, and of our own continual demise and rebirth.

"One of just 19 paintings on canvas by Rothko from 1960—nearly half of which reside in museum collections—Untitled, 1960 represents a pivotal moment within Rothko’s storied career and artistic development. While Rothko had already achieved significant international acclaim by the end of the 1950s, it was over the course of the following decade that the artist would push himself to produce the most emotionally provocative, astoundingly intimate, and visually awe-inspiring works of his oeuvre.  Created in the interim between the artist’s two career-defining projects of the Seagram Murals (1958-59) and the de Menil Chapel (1965-67), Untitled, 1960 crystallizes the transformative shift towards an exploration of deeper, more contemplative emotive experience that distinguishes the profound poignancy and dark beauty of the artist’s greatest masterworks. In its richly variegated palette of velvety red and maroon hue, the present work powerfully invokes the soaring canvases of Rothko’s Seagram Murals, the extraordinary mural cycle that, begun in 1958, marked the initiation of Rothko’s shift towards the refined, somber elegance of his later paintings. Initiated as a site-specific installation in the newly opened Seagram building in New York, Rothko considered the Seagram Murals to be amongst his greatest artistic achievements. Completed in 1960—the same year as Untitled, 1960—it was this commission that marked the artist’s irrevocable shift to a more elegant and mature style, in which the high-keyed colors of the 1950s works became more contemplative, the tonal differences within one canvas more subtle. While intended as a permanent installation of paintings at the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram building, upon completing the commission, Rothko refused to hang them, telling Katharine Kuh, curator of modern paintings and sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago, that he did not wish for his largest body of work to date to hang in a restaurant as 'merely a decorative backdrop of the tastes and transactions of a society he abhorred.' (The artist quoted by Katharine Kuh, reproduced in Susan J. Barnes, The Rothko Chapel: An Act of Faith, Austin, 1989, p. 29) Recognizing the significance and sanctity of the series, Rothko instead presented nine of the monumental mural paintings to the Tate Gallery in London, seeking an environment conducive to the lingering contemplation and introspection these soaring canvases invite. Painted in the same, richly sumptuous burgundy hues as the Seagram Murals, the lustrous forms of Untitled, 1960 invoke the same hushed grace and transcendent intensity associated with these legendary masterworks; speaking in terms highly reminiscent of the present work, the artist’s son describes: 'The Seagram commission pushed Rothko to create a new color scheme that was cohesive yet varied enough to stimulate the viewer…he could harness color and form to create an experiential unity whose power lay in its simplicity and its understated, unwavering presence.' (Exh. Cat., New York, Pace Gallery, Rothko: Dark Palette, 2017, p. 17)

"Delicately variegated within layer upon layer of translucent hue, the subtle tonal variances of Untitled, 1960 lend themselves to extensive contemplation by the viewer—while captivating upon first glance, the exquisite tonal intricacies of Untitled, 1960 reveal themselves slowly, shifting with light, environment, and angle. While deeply saturated at their core, the feathery edges of the colored forms engage in subtle transactions with the charcoal ground, allowing the transitions to be absorbed with greater intimacy, increased sensitivity, and at slower rhythms. In its exploration of a deeper plane of contemplative consciousness, Untitled, 1960 eloquently presages the solemn magnificence of the famed de Menil chapel, invoking the same aura of spiritual purity, transcendental mood and profound emotion associated with that reverential space. Following Rothko’s courageous defiance of the original Seagram commission in 1960, the artist was introduced to John and Dominique de Menil, whose collection of American art already included three paintings by the artist; upon viewing the Seagram Murals, the de Menils were struck by the nuanced variances of red and somber mood exhibited by these paintings, and shortly thereafter commissioned the artist to create a series of canvases for the chapel they were to build at the University of St. Thomas—a space that would, upon Rothko’s acceptance of the project, come to be known and revered as the Rothko Chapel. The hazy, shadowy visage, color palette and date of execution of Untitled, 1960 tie it inextricably to the soaring, reverential canvases of the chapel, which would become the artist’s magnum opus; as in the Rothko Chapel, the velvety tones and veiled luminosity of Untitled, 1960 invite a deeper, longer engagement with the painting than in the effervescent canvases of earlier years, allowing the viewer to fully appreciate the fluctuating depth, ethereal boundaries, and reverberating pull of pulsating color. With especially close attention paid to the spaces between forms and the edges of the canvas, Rothko attains chromatic resonance here through the meticulous aggregation of translucent veils of brushed pigment. Of these paintings, Christopher Rothko notes of his father: 'Rothko has created a landscape where we may lose ourselves; a painting becomes almost a world of its own, where we find ourselves caught up and lingering beyond our conscious intention to stay.' (Ibid., p. 42)

"The velvety expanses of burgundy, maroon, and cloudy white hue hovering upon the surface of Untitled, 1960 invite the gaze to beyond, presenting a visual and somatic experience that transcends the two-dimensional boundaries of the canvas: standing before the present work, the viewer is drawn towards an experience of exultation and solemnity, absence and presence, humanity and the divine. Within the simplified space of Rothko’s purified abstraction, the immaculately balanced forms absorb and exude varying expressions of ethereal light, allowing a sense of unified wholeness to permeate the composition. In a 1959 Life magazine article—just one year before the present work was executed —Dorothy Seiberling described Rothko’s mystifying output: 'Just as the hues of a sunset prompt feelings of elation mingled with sadness or unease as the dark shapes of our night close in, so Rothko’s colors stir mixed feelings of joy, gloom, anxiety or peace. Though the forms in the painting seem simple at first glance, they are in fact subtly complex. Edges fade in and out like memories; horizontal bands of ‘cheerful’ brightness have ‘ominous’ overtones of dark colors.' (Dorothy Seiberling, “Abstract Expressionism, Part II,” Life, November 16, 1959, p. 82) Widely exhibited and distinguished by an unparalleled narrative, Untitled, 1960 is profoundly moving in its poetic grandeur and stands at the apex of Rothko’s metaphysical articulations of color, light, and form. Shimmering as though illuminated from within, Untitled, 1960 is amongst the finest manifestations of Rothko’s desire to create an aesthetic language that transcends the furthest limitations of painting: to create an experience of pure color, spirit, and light."

The lot has an estimate of $30,000,000 to $50,000,000.  It sold for $50,100,000 including the buyer's premium as so all results mentioned in this article.

The auction total was $341.9 millon with 89 percent of the 63 offered lots selling, just under the pre-sale high estimate of $351 million.

Rothko  15

Lot 16, "Untitled (Red on Red," by Mark Rothko, oil on paper mounted on canvas, 38 1/4 by 25 inches, 1969, left, and Lot 15, "Untitled (Red and Burgundy over Blue)," by Mark Rothko, oil and paper mounted on panel, 48 by 40 1/2 inches, 1969

The collection of Blema and H. Arnold Steinberg consigned two good oils by Mark Rothko, Lots 16 and 15.  Mr. Steinberg headed the grocery store chair founded by his grandmother, Ida Steinberg, in 1917 and was founding chairman of the McGill University Health Centre and Blema as professor emeritus of political science at McGill University.

The catalogue entry for Lot 16 provided the following commentary:

"Busting with chromatic vibrancy, Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Red on Red) entrances viewers, inviting them to bask in the fiery glow of its luminous forms. Executed in 1969, Untitled (Red on Red) is distinguished by its brilliant palette of luscious reds. A gem of the illustrious Blema and H. Arnold Steinberg Collection, the present work appears at auction for the first time, nearly four decades after joining the Steinbergs' collection. Prior to the Steinbergs’ acquisition of the work, Untitled (Red on Red) was selected for a 1971 monographic exhibition tour Mark Rothko, which travelled to the Marlborough Galleria d’Arte in Rome, Galleria Lorenzelli in Bergamo, and Galleria Martano in Turin. Although Rothko created works on paper throughout the entirety of his career, Untitled (Red on Red) reflects the climax of the evolution of his output on paper. Bonnie Clearwater explains that “the late vibrant paintings on paper contain a force not [previously] experienced.” (Exh. Cat. New York, American Federation of the Arts, Mark Rothko: Works on Paper, 1984, p. 54) Untitled (Red on Red) employs the visual vocabulary of Rothko’s “matured style,” with its “two soft-edged and rounded rectangles,” and bespeaks the great achievement of his output: the illusory creation of light. (Duncan Phillips in Exh. Cat., Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Mark Rothko, 1998, p. 248) The medium of paper, especially prominent in the later stages of his oeuvre, allowed Rothko to flaunt his ability to produce the perceptual effect of a lit surface; viewers luxuriate in the sultry hues of Untitled (Red on Red), experiencing, if only for a moment, an overwhelming sense of awe. For this reason, Robert Rosenblum defines Rothko as the art historical descendant of the nineteenth century master painters Joseph Mallord William Turner and Caspar David Friedrich; equally interested in the sublime, Rothko advanced their artistic achievements by moving into the realm of total abstraction—a development which he fully realizes in Untitled (Red on Red).

"A paragon of Rothko’s expressive command of pigment, Untitled (Red on Red) demonstrates the artist’s profound ability to communicate spatial depth and volume through abstract form. Two rectangular panels—comprising layers of brick red and deep crimson—fill almost the entire composition and hover atop a backdrop of translucent washes of light red. Traces of scarlet pigment brim to the surface along the work’s perimeter. Viewers can feel the touch of Rothko’s brushstroke; they can sense the movement of his gesture across the modulated planes. In describing his practice, Rothko explained: “Two characteristics exist in my paintings; either their surfaces are expansive and push outward in all directions, or their surfaces contract and rush inward in all directions.” (The artist cited in Ibid., p. 299) In the present work, the surface pushes outward in all directions; the loose brushstrokes that dust the edges of the panels elicit a sense of extension, as if Rothko could barely contain them in the intimately-scaled sheet of paper he selected. Jeffrey Weiss characterizes the evocation of space in Rothko’s slab-like forms by suggesting they “possess an elusive quality of plentitude or depth.” (Ibid., p. 303) Upon close viewing, the expanse of Untitled (Red on Red)’s two panels feels immeasurable.

"Untitled (Red on Red) shimmers with energy, illuminating the space surrounding it. A sliver of pink from beneath the two panels peers through the thin space between them, creating the illusion of a beam of light. It blurs the panels’ lines, glistening with the brilliance of the sun’s rays as they pierce through a sea of clouds. Max Kozloff terms Rothko’s paintings ‘auto-luminous,’ for they emit “a radiance that belongs to the [work] alone rather than to the realm of representation.” (Jeffrey Weiss, “Rothko’s Unknown Space,” in Ibid., p. 304) Rosenblum describes the rectangular planes in Rothko’s paintings as “infinite, glowing voids [that] carry us beyond reason to the Sublime; we can only submit to them in an act of faith and let ourselves be absorbed into their radiant depths.” (Robert Rosenblum, “The Abstract Sublime,” ARTnews 59, no. 10, February 1961) To view the present work is to experience a perceptual transformation; meditation on its glorious planes removes viewers from their surroundings.

"With its strikingly saturated hues, Untitled (Red on Red) exemplifies the drama Rothko came to attain on paper. Of the finest examples of his works on paper, the present work helps viewers “chart the artist’s quest for an elemental language that would communicate basic human emotions and move all mankind.” (Bonnie Clearwater, Exh. Cat. New York, Mark Rothko Foundation, Mark Rothko: Works on Paper, 1984, p. 17) Although the works from this period are characterized by ominous tones, Untitled (Red on Red) is distinguished by its vibrancy and demonstrates the complexities of Rothko’s colors and nuances within his palette: the chromatic interplay of fiery scarlet and blazing crimson attest to the artist’s mastery of color. Untitled (Red on Red) embodies Rothko’s most significant contributions to the history of art: eliciting deep emotional responses through an irresistible chromatic aura."

The lot has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000.  It sold for $8,237,000.

Lot 15 is an oil on paper mounted on panel by Rothko and entitled "Untitled (Red and Burgundy Over Blue)."  It measures 48 by 40 1/2 inches and was executed in 1969.

The catalogue entry provided the following commentary:

"Rothko never abandoned bright colors in his works on paper, the vibrant late works on paper contain a force not experienced in the earlier small works…These late creations, with their dense unmodulated surfaces, do not flicker with light; rather they generate a strong, constant glow." (Exh. Cat., New York, American Federation of the Arts, Mark Rothko: Works on Paper, 1984, pp. 54-55), 

"An illuminating vision executed in a captivating shimmer of chromatic dynamism and peerless painterly finesse, Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Red and Burgundy Over Blue) from 1969 is an indisputably dazzling embodiment of the artist’s legendary abstractions. Emerging from a flickering ground of azure blue, two fields varying in tonality – one a striking crimson and the other a rich burgundy – radiate a steady heat. Built up of innumerable delicate strokes and thin washes, these luminescent forms emphatically attest to the artist’s mastery of light, color, and form. A rare, exquisitely vibrant example from a period characterized by a decidedly somber palette, Untitled (Red and Burgundy Over Blue) exemplifies Rothko’s work in a medium that bore an increasingly profound significance in the twilight years of his career when, tirelessly seeking to broaden the horizons of his artistic practice, he focused his energies upon exploring the absolute limits of painting on paper. Conjuring the radiant sublimity of his most esteemed monumental canvases, Untitled (Red and Burgundy Over Blue) is among the most striking embodiments of Bonnie Clearwater’s description of these works on paper: "…Rothko never abandoned bright colors in his works on paper, the vibrant late works on paper contain a force not experienced in the earlier small works…These late creations, with their dense unmodulated surfaces, do not flicker with light; rather they generate a strong, constant glow." (Exh. Cat., New York, American Federation of the Arts, Mark Rothko: Works on Paper, 1984, pp. 54-55)

"An exquisite summation of the artist’s signature practice, Untitled (Red and Burgundy Over Blue) represents the breathtaking culmination of Rothko’s career-long pursuit of aesthetic transcendence through the conflation of pure color and light. While predominantly known and revered for his corpus of towering abstract canvases, Rothko produced a number of exceptional paintings on paper throughout his career that, in their subtly variegated hues and inherent luminosity, rank among the richest orchestrations of color within his output. In the late 1960s, Rothko experienced a period of intense creativity during which he produced some of his most profound and sublime paintings. Under doctor’s orders not to lift heavy canvases, Rothko turned to the lighter and more versatile medium of paper. Although not able to paint directly onto canvas, Rothko reached an apex in his artistic ambition, producing a series of works on paper as emotionally stunning as his best-known canvases. Paper, with its paradoxical ability to both reflect and absorb light, in many ways reinvigorated the artist’s quest to create nuanced luminosity within a reductive composition. Describing the significance of the medium within Rothko’s oeuvre, Clearwater notes: "These works…are essential to a fuller understanding of Rothko’s career. Together with the canvases, the works on paper chart the artist’s quest for an elemental language that would communicate basic human emotions and move all mankind." (Ibid., p. 17)

"Against the velvety ground of cobalt paint, the rich, painterly forms of Untitled (Red and Burgundy Over Blue) suggest both feverish movement and tranquil repose, emanating an enthralling tension that invites the viewer to lose him or herself completely in the diaphanous fields of unadulterated hue. Dominating the upper register of the composition, the feathered edges of the scarlet form push into the oceanic depth of blue, creating a sense of movement. In stark contrast, the deeper, more meditative passage of maroon subtly structures the painting, grounding the more ethereal scarlet form above with a solid weightiness. The work’s resultant dynamism necessitates the viewer’s constant attention and provides an endlessly engaging experience. Here, Rothko attains chromatic resonance through the meticulous aggregation of translucent veils of brushed pigment, with especially close attention paid to the spaces between forms and edges, as well as the spaces between the forms themselves. Despite the disparity in tone between the red rectangles, the two color fields equilibrate: the incandescent light of one is countered by the weightier density of the other as they hum quietly over the navy ground. Among the most spectacular examples of the artist’s works on paper, Untitled (Red and Burgundy Over Blue) emanates an ethereal luminescence utterly impossible to reproduce in illustration.

"The present work elicits a sensation of deep somatic absorption and introspection, causing the viewer to sink into an even deeper reverie, a pensiveness that Dore Ashton elegantly describes: "The interior realm was where Rothko wished to or perhaps could only live, and what he hoped to express. The ‘theater of the mind,’ As [Stéphane] Mallarmé called it, was immensely dramatic for Rothko. His darkness at the end did allude to the light of the theater in which, when the lights are gradually dimmed, expectation mounts urgently." (Dore Ashton, About Rothko, New York, 1983, p. 189) Through the artist’s prototypical layering of thin washes of paint over one another, often allowing colors from initial layers to flicker through the subsequent coats of pigment, Rothko imbues the present work with an incandescent luminosity. As the rich warm tones hover over the indigo ground, the viewer is transported into a deeply contemplative state archetypal of Rothko’s most accomplished chromatic compositions.

The lot has an estimate of $9,000,000 to $12,000,000.  It sold for $10,515,000.

Bacon 8
Lot 9, "Study for a Head," by Francis Bacon, oil and sand on canvas, 26 by 22 inches, 1952

Lot 9 is a "study for a head" by Francis Bacon (1909-1992).  An oil and sand on canvas, it measures 26 by 22 inches and was painted in 1952.
The catalogue provides the following commentary on the lot by Hugh M. Davies, director emeritus of the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego:

"Trapped as if manacled to an electric chair, the ludicrously drag-attired subject is jolted into involuntary motion by external forces or internal psychoses. The eternal quiet of Veláquez’s Innocent is replaced by the involuntary cry of Bacon’s anonymous, unwitting, tortured occupant in the hot seat. One could hardly conceive of a more devastating depiction of postwar existential angst or a more convincing denial of faith in the rea that exemplified Nietzsche’s declaration that God is dead.” (Hugh M. Davies, “Bacon’s Popes: Ex Cathedra to In Camera, in Exh. Cat., San Diego, Museum of Contemporary Art, Francis Bacon: The Papal Portraits of 1953, New York, 1999, p. 12)

"Study of a Head from 1952 broadcasts Francis Bacon’s most celebrated and recognizable iconography, which today remains one of the most pertinent, universal, and affecting visions in the history of art, the full force of which is trapped forever on the surface of this sensational painting. Here, we witness the zenith of Bacon’s first subject – a subject that spanned over twenty years until 1971 with Study for a Red Pope, Second Version – and the indomitable articulation of both Bacon’s love affair with Diego Velázquez and his will to expose the fallacy of such images for a world living in the dim light of Nietzsche’s declaration of God’s death. The present work sits alongside significant masterpieces that announced the arrival of the artist’s genius and primary subject: the human-animal as unadorned, despairing and alone. Having remained in the Seattle-based collection of Jane Lang Davis for over forty years, Study for a Head is of seminal importance to Bacon’s history with the American audience, as it was originally purchased from Beaux Arts Gallery by American author, art critic and Jackson Pollock biographer B. H. Friedman, making the present work one of the first Bacon paintings to enter a private American collection.

"Erica Brausen was instrumental in establishing Bacon as one of the foremost contemporary British painters in the United Kingdom and abroad after she signed the artist for her newly created Hanover Gallery in 1947, which was established with the financial support of Arthur Jeffress, the American-born son of Albert Jeffress, Deputy Chairman of British American Tobacco. American interest for Bacon’s work undoubtedly began in the most spectacular of fashions, with his Painting 1946 – a work Brausen had purchased upon her first studio visit with the artist in the year of its execution – being acquired by Alfred H. Barr, Jr. for the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This acquisition in 1948 was not only the first occasion of a Bacon painting to enter an American institution, but also the first Bacon painting to enter any museum globally. The early 1950s proved to be a key period for Bacon’s international standing, and the establishing of his presence in New York with critics and collectors alike. His inclusion in both Knoedler Gallery’s The Last Fifty Years in British Art, 1900-1950 in October 1950 and The Pittsburgh International at the Carnegie Institute in 1950 precipitated his first solo exhibition at the prominent Durlacher Brothers Gallery in 1953, sending eight Studies for Portrait (after Velázquez’s Portrait of Innocent X, circa 1650) to his American debut in October of that year. To American audiences, the dramaturgy of his portraits that brazenly refashioned the iconography of Velázquez through the artist’s interest in the compositional dynamism of cinematography was in stark figurative polarity to the Abstract Expressionism of the New York School. The present work is hugely significant in demonstrating the confluence of enthusiasm for American and British painters of the period. As art historian and Bacon biographer Michael Peppiatt has commented: “…this impressive venting of emotion was taken by the critics to signify the oppressed as much as the oppressors; and from there it was only a short step, in the angst-ridden years of the Cold War, to seeing Bacon’s figures unequivocally as dramatic expressions of the guilt, unease, and solitude of modern man.” (Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London, 2008, p. 171) The timeliness of Bacon’s portraits would not be lost on American audiences for whom the specter of war and dictatorial evocations of the artist’s depictions of the papal subject undeniably elicit. Such was his notability in New York, his work garnered interest from major institutions in the country throughout the 1950s, with MoMA notably acquiring Dog (1952) and Study for Portrait VII (1953) in 1953 and 1956, respectively, and the Art Institute of Chicago adding Figure with Meat (1954) to its collection in 1956.

"In 1952, Bacon embarked on what would be an increasingly significant category in his output, the head-and-shoulders portrait. That summer, he painted – in the studio of Rodrigo Moynihan at the Royal College of Arts – six small paintings of heads that demonstrate the advancement of his suited businessmen and the 1949 seminal painting Head VI. Although the title of the present work is unspecific, this forceful painting presents the iconic and tortured scream of Bacon’s best known Popes. The six small portrait heads represent either Popes or businessmen, and each displays the full panoply of Bacon’s techniques: “The variety of the color schemes and brushwork that [Bacon] employed betokens a determined effort to explore new ways of painting the head and to expand the range of techniques at his disposal by which these representations might be achieved.” (Martin Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume II 1929-1957, London, 2016, p. 264) The subject in this ‘series’ morphs between a Pope, his variations of the subject, and a non-specific secular figure, as in Study for a Portrait (Tate Britain, London).

"In the present work, Bacon retains the iconic motif of the shattered pince-nez, the distinctly papal purple mozzetta, and is thus most aligned to Study for a Head (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven). Painted with supreme bravura and energy, the visceral physiognomic intensity of the contorted features and flashing teeth of the gaping mouth in the canvas, so deftly fashioned by the artist’s daubs of writhing paint and the incorporation of sand on the left cheek, achieves a heightened psychological import – shooting the desperate papal cry straight into the realm of the viewer. Bacon’s painting here is unleashed and urgent, unencumbered by any stodgy deliberation or revision, and his unbridled protagonist delivers a primal clarion call that summons Georges Bataille’s potent proclamation: “Terror and atrocious suffering make the mouth an organ of searing screams.” (Georges Bataille, “Dictionnaire – Bouche,” Documents, No. 5, 1930, pp. 298-99) Into the present work, Bacon poured his fixation with corporeal mutilation and glistening mouths, his obsession with Sergei Eisenstein, his indistinguishable preoccupation with terrible patriarchy and the history of twentieth-century conflict. Mediated by the vicissitudes of biography, Study for a Head is an incredibly pioneering and unique work that marks the very formation of Bacon’s painterly genius. Signaling the terrible and silent metamorphosis from inchoate bestiality towards the realization of nightmarish patriarchy, with these works, Bacon shifted from mythological creatures and theatrical ornament to portraits probing the depths of humanity....

"Perhaps more than any other theme associated with his canon, the threat of mortality inhabits every facet of Bacon’s art. Danger, violence, and death constantly linger in the recesses of his canvases, acting like a continual incantation of his deft maxim: “Consciousness of mortality sharpens one’s sense of existing.” (The artist in conversation with Hugh M. Davies in 1973, in Martin Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: New Studies, Göttingen, 2009, p. 96) Many of Bacon’s later works became directly associated with the sudden and brutal deaths of his respective lovers Peter Lacy and George Dyer, but in fact, the risk of impending fatality imbued his existence and artistic practice from its most formative stage. Michael Peppiatt has suggested that the trauma of Bacon’s early life and his exile from home had a part to play in the sadomasochistic reiteration of violent persecution redolent in his various crucifixion themed works, as well as informing his undoing of dominant masculinity through the image of the Pope. Similarly, in painting the ultimate figure of patriarchy, the Pope, Bacon can be seen to confront the tyrannical father as epitomized by his own disciplinarian father. A retired army captain and racehorse trainer with a militant puritanical streak, Bacon’s father tyrannized the entire household, and in particular a son with whom he was at odds. Allergic to his father’s horses, asthmatic, and unashamedly effeminate, Bacon was expelled from the family home after being caught admiring himself in the mirror wearing his mother’s underwear. That the Pope, the Holy Father, was to be Bacon’s ‘first subject’ when he reached artistic maturity, is perhaps in part owing to his coming to terms with his own trauma. (The artist in conversation with David Sylvester, 1971-73, in David Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, New York, 1981, p. 71) Significantly, it was 1952 – the year of the present work’s execution – that Bacon first met Peter Lacy, the violent, tortured lover whom Bacon purportedly loved most because he made him suffer the most. Intriguingly, Lacy’s bold features can be distinguished in the obsessively painted pantheon of 1950s Popes.

"The archetype Bacon appropriated as a starting point for his Pope series was Diego Velázquez’s extraordinary Portrait of Pope Innocent X from 1650, held in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome, a painting about which Bacon felt “Haunted and obsessed by the image…its perfection.” (The artist in conversation with Hugh Davies, June 1973, in Hugh Davies and Sally Yard, Francis Bacon, New York, 1986, p. 23) It has previously been noted that Bacon had not at this stage in his career seen the Velázquez painting in Rome firsthand, and for this initial series of papal portraits he worked from a black and white illustration of the work; this in turn has been suggested as the cause for the purple color of the garments in these paintings differing from the original cardinal red. While Bacon’s extensive enlistment of and reference to photographic sources is beyond question, however, it also seems more than likely that the artist was familiar with another version of Velázquez’s painting, one that has resided in Apsley House, the seat of the Duke of Wellington in London, since the beginning of the nineteenth century. This smaller Velázquez was gifted to the Duke of Wellington by the King of Spain in 1816, together with over 150 other paintings from the Spanish Royal Collection in recognition of his defeat of Napoleonic forces and liberation of Spain in the Peninsular War. The British commander had recovered these works from the fleeing carriage of Joseph Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, after the Battle of Vitoria in 1813. Under the Duke of Wellington’s great-grandson, Apsley House and its art collection opened to the public in 1952, the centenary of the first Duke’s death and shortly before Bacon initiated a grand cycle of papal portraits, including the present work. That Apsley House sits at Hyde Park Corner, roughly fifteen minutes’ walk from the Royal College of Art where Bacon had his studio between 1951 and 1953, readily invites the hypothesis that he was able to study this highly accomplished work in person.

"The Velázquez painting, however, is merely a template that becomes a delivery system for Bacon’s radical and unrelenting reinvention. Bacon replaces the subjective idiosyncrasies of the grand state portrait with an intimate visage of pain and suffering that stands as proxy for the torment of the human race. His source for this all-encompassing cipher was provided by a film still of a screaming female character in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 movie The Battleship Potemkin. Bacon had first seen the movie in 1935 and viewed it frequently thereafter; it was this specific still that was reproduced in Roger Manvell’s 1944 paperback Film, though Bacon also kept additional reproductions of the startling image. The frame shows an elderly woman wearing a pince-nez, commonly referred to as a nurse, shot through the eye and caught at the instant of death. The image belongs to the movie’s massacre sequence on the Odessa Steps which, though it veers wildly from historical accuracy, remains one of the most iconic pieces of propagandist film ever made. Within its remorseless tragedy, it is this character, part blinded and dying while simultaneously witnessing a baby in a pram being brutalized by the sword of a Czarist soldier, which embodies the conception of absolute, crippling horror and the abandonment of all hope. By supplanting Velázquez’s portrait of Innocent X with this twentieth-century essence of ultimate despair and its tortured last gasping breath, Bacon unites two extremes of enduringly vehement imagery that together embody the trauma and anguish of the post-war years.

"The drama of this corporeal expression is greatly intensified by the artist’s complex framing of the composition and the many facets that define an uneasy sense of flux and unknowable dimensions within the canvas. Bacon’s overlapping linear schema here act as cage-like space frames that enclose this papal figure inside its solitary nightmare. Indeed, the present work proves to act as prototype for Bacon’s consequent declaration: “I like the anonymous compartment, like a room concentrated in a small space. I would like to paint landscapes in a box…If you could enclose their infinity in a box they would have greater concentration.” (The artist in conversation with Hugh Davies in 1973, in Martin Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: New Studies, Göttingen, 2009, p. 111)

"Into this pantheon of papal imagery, Bacon poured his fixation with corporeal mutilation, militant atheism, his deep knowledge of artistic tradition, and above all, his reverence for Diego Velázquez. Colored by his sadomasochistic delight in terrible patriarchy and grounded in the disasters of twentieth-century conflict, the papal portraits rank among the most inventive and searing images in the history of art. The aggressive animalism of Study for a Head formatively underscores an obsessive preoccupation with the mouth as bestial center and agent of the primal scream. Belonging to the very earliest paintings centered on the locus of the existential scream, this extraordinary painting marks the inauguration of Bacon’s major subject matter. Immediately presaging his magnum opus Pope paintings produced the following year, this work occupies a critical position at a moment that would come to define Bacon as a major artist. As Michael Peppiatt notes: “Bacon’s Popes are not only the centerpiece of all his paintings in the 1950s, but a centerpiece of the whole of twentieth-century art.” (Michael Peppiatt in Exh. Cat., Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (and travelling), Francis Bacon in the 1950s, 2006, p. 28)"

The lot has an estimate of $20,000,000 to $30,000,000.  It sold for $50,380,000.

Bacon 26

Lot 26, "Study for a Portrait," by Francis Bacon, oil and dry transfer lettering on canvas, 78 by 58 1/4 inches, 1981

Lot 26, "Study for a Portrait," by Francis Bacon is an oil and dry transfer lettering on canvas that measures 78 by 58 1/4 inches and was painted in 1981.
The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Within the astounding theater of Francis Bacon’s formidable career, George Dyer inhabits a position of tremendous importance. Appearing in over forty paintings, with as many created following his death as executed during his lifetime, Dyer possesses a commanding presence unlike any other. Monumental in its scale, and both seductive as well as somber, Study for Portrait wields the full force of Bacon’s painterly bravura and pictorial authority with arresting intensity and the artist’s signature psychological depth. His portrayal of his lover and muse George Dyer encompasses the full range of the thrilling human drama: at once vulnerable, brooding, romantic, heroic, and tortured, Bacon’s stunning portrayals of Dyer reveal a multifaceted, tempestuous, and passionate love affair, as well as an artistic genius grappling with a highly charged and expressive artistic vocabulary. Study for Portrait is particularly significant, as it is the very last painting of Dyer that Bacon ever executed, investing the present work with a gravitas unparalleled by other portraits. Held in the esteemed private collection of Gerald L. Lennard for over thirty years, Study for Portrait represents a formal and emotional apex of one of the twentieth century’s greatest artistic geniuses.

"The story of Bacon’s first meeting with Dyer has gained a legendary status: Dyer, aged twenty-nine, attempted to break into and burgle Bacon’s studio at 7 Reece Mews. Through the studio’s famous skylight, Dyer tumbled into Bacon’s life, truly falling from above and forever altering the course of the artist’s work. Their relationship was marked by a polarity of extremes: ardent infatuation, enchanted desire, the artist’s intellectualism, Dyer’s rough innocence, passion and love. This full range of emotional and psychological heat seethes beneath the juxtaposition of richly textured paint and spare geometry of the present work. A tenderly executed male nude dominates the composition, his arms and legs crossed in abstractions of pale pink, complemented by rich tones of lustrous black, deep crimson, and lilac. Elegant impressions of corduroy and torn cloth imprint patterns onto the surface of the face, lending texture to this indelible work and acting as an almost tender caress against Dyer’s face and calves. The swipes, smears, and smudges against Dyer’s visage are not marks of brutality, but rather reflect an artist exploring the variation of his color palette. With sumptuous inflections of pigment, both delicately applied and heavily worked up, Bacon’s distortion yet insistence on the physical materiality of Dyer’s body interrogates the limits of the self, presenting an ethereal and unearthly form of his muse that, while undoubtedly grounded in a very real person, is manifestly surreal. John Russell described: “Bacon wrenched, reversed, abbreviated, jellified and generally reinvented the human image. The paint-structure was by turns brusque and sumptuous, lyrical and offhand, pulpy and marmoreal. Swerving, pouncing, colliding with itself, taking for granted the most bizarre conjunctions of impulse, it produced a multiple imagery which was quite new in painting.” (John Russell, Francis Bacon, New York, 1971, p. 168) And yet, the solitary nature of this figure, isolated in an empty geometrically organized space creates a psychological distance the viewer can barely begin to traverse, as if this image of Dyer exists solely as a memory in Bacon’s mind.

"The present work is among the most drastically reworked paintings that Bacon ultimately kept, rather than destroyed. A relentless self-editor, Bacon not only destroyed many of his paintings, but he also reworked and continually altered what had originally been dubbed ‘completed.’ The most striking formal change that was made to the present work was Bacon’s addition of a light blue rectangle slanted toward the lower right corner of the composition, as if refracted light; similarly, a pale blue disc hovers at the right hand edge of the painting, eclipsing a mirrored outline of the black halo behind the head of the spectral male figure. According to Harrison: “The pale blue ‘folded rhomboid’ is another of Bacon’s atavistic self-quotations, for its first manifestation dated back to Man Kneeling in Grass, 1952; here, however, it is employed not so much as an element of Bacon’s presentational dynamics but to create a chasm (in time as well as space) across which Dyer’s image is cast.” (Ibid., p. 246) The pinned-up newspaper against which Dyer’s flesh-colored profile is silhouetted was also not present in the first version of the painting; rather there was a larger organic form less relatable to the main figure. In the present work, Dyer’s reflection obscures this printed material, affixed to the wall with a small pin – a subtle nod to the Cubist tradition of not only incorporating newsprint into collage, but also using the trope of a nail to assert the work’s flatness.

"The velvety black passages, deep maroon chair, and violet and charcoal tones sweeping across Dyer’s figure create a mournful aura, struck through with a luminous pale blue and bright spots of turquoise corduroy – an emotional ode in color to the tempestuous nature of Bacon’s relationship with his muse. Moreover, Harrison argues, the reconfiguration of this canvas could have been in reaction to the tenth anniversary death of Bacon’s lover. Towards the end of the 1960s, the already unsteady and tumultuous relationship between these two men became destructively marred by Dyer’s waning sense of purpose in Bacon’s overwhelming shadow. Indeed, Bacon reached the culmination of his career at the beginning of the 1970s, honored with a one man show at the prestigious Grand Palais in Paris. Bacon had inadvertently fueled Dyer’s paranoia of inadequacy by providing his ‘kept’ existence, and on the eve of the artist’s opening in Paris, Dyer died from an overdose. The degree to which Bacon was consumed by grief, loss, and guilt would find equal measure only in the posthumous paintings of Dyer, whose presence is at once the most pervasive, libidinal, and inventive of Bacon’s entire oeuvre.

"The creative fecundity and emotional and psychological depth searing across the canvas of the present work exemplifies the very best of Bacon’s career. For centuries, portraiture was a means by which to reach an absolute representation of an individual: direct, unambiguous statements of a person’s character and statehood, categorized by identifiers of dress, ownership, and other iconographic markers. At the turn of Modernism, however, artists displayed their doubt in the truthfulness of this structured view of human personality, turning away from a monolithic view of human nature defined by power, and instead to a variable, contingent expression of individuals characterized by flaws and ambiguity. As Dyer’s visage refracts like a prism across the present work, the flickering copy of his face reveals entirely uncharted emotional depths and psychosomatic complexities obscured by an empty expression. Study for Portrait emerges as a touchstone work, the final painting of Bacon's lover George Dyer and a dramatic farewell to what was an all-consuming obsession and what has remained a beautifully tragic romance."

The lot has an estimate of $12,000,000 to $18,000,000.  It sold for $14,501,000.

Krasner 29

Lot 29, "The Eye is the First Circle," by Lee Krasner, oil on canvas, 92 3/4 by 191 7/8 inches, 1960

Lot 29 is a very large oi8l on canvas by Lee Krasner (1908-1984).  It measures 92 3/4 by 191 7/8 inches and was created in 1960.

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:

"Surging across the monumental canvas in a riotous tumult of gesture, pigment, and mark, The Eye is the First Circle triumphantly declares Lee Krasner’s supremacy among the celebrated icons of Abstract Expressionism in twentieth century art. At once unruly and lyrical, combative and delicate, utterly expansive and intensely intimate, Krasner’s soaring masterwork hums with the irrepressible energy of wind-whipped storms and apocalyptic events, her gestural ferocity bridled only by the specificity of her virtuosic painterly touch. Painted in 1960, the present work is the crowning embodiment of Krasner’s Umber paintings, the highly lauded series of twenty-four works that, in recent years, have risen to acclaim as the creative pinnacle of her celebrated oeuvre. Created in the years following the sudden and tragic death of her husband, Jackson Pollock, the Umbers are defined by a gestural intensity and ambition of scale unprecedented in Krasner’s earlier output; serving both as testament to and catharsis of the intensive emotional turmoil which fueled her practice at this crucial nexus, these extraordinary paintings remain the most compelling and psychologically evocative compositions of Krasner’s career. An unparalleled masterwork within this already rarified group, the immense surface of The Eye is the First Circle invokes the legacy of her late husband’s action painting as elegiac foil to Krasner’s own, fiercely distinctive brushwork and refined palette of umber and cream hues. Testifying to the significance of the present work, The Eye is the First Circle has been featured in virtually every major survey of Krasner’s work since its execution, including the 1983-1984 exhibition Lee Krasner: A Retrospective, organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and travelling to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Phoenix Art Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the 1999-2001 survey Lee Krasner, organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and travelling to the Des Moines Art Center, Akron Art Center, and Brooklyn Museum of Art, amongst numerous others. Most recently, curator David Anfam selected the present work to represent Lee Krasner in his widely acclaimed exhibition Abstract Expressionism, organized by the Royal Academy of Arts, London and Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in 2016—2017; of installing the present work alongside several masterpieces by Pollock at the Royal Academy of Arts, Anfam reflects: “I wondered how it would cope with the contenders on the other walls? This huge space included Mural and Pollock's crackling envoi, Blue Poles (1954). The answer was that The Eye is the First Circle held its own and more. At once in dialogue with the Pollocks yet altogether distinct, Krasner’s painting did in a single at what the rest of the Umbers do supremely as an ensemble. Pretty explosive, in fact.” (David Anfam, “Mood Umber,” in Exh. Cat., New York, Paul Kasmin Gallery, Lee Krasner: The Umber Paintings, 1959—1962, 2018, p. 14) Held in same distinguished private collection for over two decades, The Eye is the First Circle emerges as a singular and defining masterpiece, of not only Krasner’s oeuvre, but of the Abstract Expressionist era.

"In its unavoidable psychic urgency, The Eye is the First Circle speaks to the pivotal juncture at which Krasner found herself at the end of 1950s; still reeling in the wake of Pollock’s fatal car crash in 1956, followed closely by her mother’s passing in 1959 and the cancellation of a planned exhibition at French & Co. that same year, Krasner plunged into a new series of paintings, her emotional turmoil serving as crucial catalyst for the first, monumental Umber paintings. Amongst the earliest works in the series, the present work was painted in Springs, East Hampton, where Krasner had moved her practice into Pollock’s former studio in the barn, the larger space enabling her to experiment on canvases far more massive than any she had used before. These new paintings, in their monumental scale, invoke the largest of Pollock, Kline, and Still’s mural-like masterworks: like those paintings, they cannot be absorbed from a single glance, instead encompassing the viewer within their massive surface. Scholar Barbara Rose describes: “One is ‘in’ them, as one is ‘in’ Claude Monet’s huge pools of Water Lilies, paintings both Krasner and Pollock admired…There is no way in or out of a painting like The Eye is the First Circle, a nearly sixteen-foot long oil on canvas. The painting has become a place rather than an object.” (Exh. Cat. Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, Lee Krasner: A Retrospective, 1983, p. 125) Upon the monumental canvas of the present work, Krasner’s psychic angst is translated in arcs of pigment which writhe, splatter, and dip across the canvas with a sense of untempered motion and force. Describing the emotive intensity of the Umbers in a conversation with the artist, critic Richard Howard noted: “It seems to me that the fact that the pictures were so big suggests a willingness to project movement and even agony in its literal sense, the sense of struggle, on a very considerable scale; that you were aware that the content required such an…”, to which the artist supplied the term: “Arena.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Lee Krasner: Umber Paintings, 1959—1962, 1993, n.p.) Krasner’s emotional turmoil at the time was such that, many nights, she found herself unable to sleep. The artist reflects: “I was going deep down into something which wasn’t easy or pleasant. In fact I painted a great many of them because I couldn’t sleep nights. I got tired of fighting insomnia and tried to paint instead.” (The artist cited in Robert Hobbs, Lee Krasner, New York, 1993, p. 151) Without daylight to illuminate her canvas as she worked, Krasner began to eliminate color from her palette, working instead within the nuanced range of amber, cream, and umber tones used in the present work; in the years since their creation, Krasner came to refer to the resulting Umber paintings as the Night Journeys. The title of the present work, The Eye is the First Circle, came to Krasner as, surveying the completed painting, she was struck by the myriad hooded and half-lidded eyes which seemed to peer out from the dense thicket of pigment. The phrase is drawn from the first line of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1841 essay ‘Circles,’ which begins: “The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end. It is the highest emblem in the cipher of the world.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Circles,” Essays: First Series, 1841, n.p.) Indeed, within the seemingly frenzied melee of The Eye is the First Circle, essential forms and gestures appear repeatedly to create a coherent and compelling pictorial structure. Despite their raw intensity, each gestural spray of pigment is balanced and counter-balanced by its echo, testifying to the deliberateness and fierce intention with which Krasner built her triumphant masterpiece.

"Executed with virtuosic certainty and vigor, The Eye is the First Circle declares the painterly confidence and technical sophistication of Krasner at the singular peak of her powers. Anfam describes: “With the twenty-four works collectively described as The Umber Paintings (1959-62), Lee Krasner’s art came decisively into its own…in the Umbers, various forces coalesced. They exemplified Krasner’s most outstanding achievement to date, a crucial nexus, and overall high-point of her career.” (David Anfam, “Mood Umber,” in Exh. Cat., New York, Paul Kasmin Gallery, Lee Krasner: The Umber Paintings, 1959-1962, 2018, p. 9) Amongst the most formative forces behind the Umbers was, without question, Krasner’s confrontation of Pollock’s legacy as figurehead of the action painters and larger New York school. In its explosive physicality, The Eye is the First Circle summons elegiac references to the full-bodied abstraction of such works as Pollock’s One: Number 31 and Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) – paintings created in the same studio in which Krasner now worked. Here, however, the spontaneity and combative force of Pollock’s signature mode is refined within the exacting terms of Krasner’s own, distinctive style; Anfam describes: “this is not Pollock’s ventriloquism as it were… but sovereign Lee Krasner at last speaking loud, clear, and often with anger.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Paul Kasmin Gallery, Lee Krasner: The Umber Paintings, 1959—1962, 2018, p. 10) Within Krasner’s refined painterly vocabulary, every bold action and delicate touch is tempered by a fluid grace that unifies the dynamism of the overall composition. At once unruly and lyrical, her powerful gesture advances with rhythmic certainty across the canvas, the great arcs of umber pigment interwoven with sprays of cream and earth-toned pigment to create a singular, captivating image. Describing the confident authority with which Krasner absorbed and manifested Pollock’s legacy in her large-scale masterworks, critic Hilton Kramer described: “This is Abstract Expressionist painting of the ‘classic’ type—all energy and struggle and outsize gesture—finally resolved in a pattern of hard-won coherence.” (Hilton Kramer cited in Exh. Cat. Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, Lee Krasner: A Retrospective, 1983, p. 130) Perhaps heralding the interwoven referential and regenerative modes of the Umbers, Emerson’s essay, which begins with the title of the present work, continues: “There are no fixtures in nature. The universe is fluid and volatile…New arts destroy the old.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Circles,” Essays: First Series, 1841, n.p.) Indeed, rather than invoke emotions of grief or loss, the radical exuberance of The Eye is the First Circle insists emphatically upon the vitality and primacy of the living; Anfam describes, “the final impact is electric, tonic, and thus life-affirming.” 

The lot has a modest estimate of $10,000,000 to $15,000,000.  It sold for $11,654,000.

Motherwell 14

Lot 14, "Elegy Study No. XIII," by Robert Motherwell, acrylic on canvas mounted on board, 24 by 48 inches, 1979

Another Steinberg work is Lot 14, "Elegy Study No. XIII," an acrylic on canvas mounted by board by Robert Motherwell  (1915-1991).  It measures 24 by 48 inches and was painted in 1979.

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:

"In its fusion of compelling forms and rhythmic gesture, Elegy Study No. XIII from 1976–1979 offers viewers an intimate glimpse of the virtuosic painterly abstraction that characterizes Robert Motherwell’s most iconic series. A superb example of the artist’s celebrated Elegies, the present work has been held in the esteemed collection of Blema and H. Arnold Steinberg for nearly four decades. Demonstrating the crucial hallmarks of the Elegy to the Spanish Republic paintings—the series revered as the artist’s magnum opus—Elegy Study No. XIII articulates Motherwell’s signature dramatic black verticals and organic, oval-like forms with surprising and compelling delicacy.

"Painted nearly forty years after Motherwell produced the first Elegy, Elegy Study No. XIII bears witness to the end result of immeasurable hours of deliberation, revision, and reconsideration that distinguish the very best of these singularly iconic paintings. The title of the series makes reference to the Spanish Civil War, which Jack Flam writes: “had enormous importance for members of Motherwell’s generation. It was understood to be a prelude to World War II, and also part of a larger struggle between good and evil, between civilization and destructive violence.” (Jack Flam, Katy Rogers, and Tim Clifford, Motherwell: 100 Years, New York, 2015, p. 118) At once deeply individual and universally accessible, Motherwell’s gestural abstraction in Elegy Study No. XIII provides form to his innermost feelings—central tenets of the New York School artists’ output. So prodigious was Motherwell’s ability to convey his personal philosophies and emotions through non-representational form, that Clement Greenberg, one of the most celebrated critics of the twentieth century, hailed him as “the very best of the Abstract Expressionist painters.” (Grace Glueck, “Robert Motherwell, Master of Abstract, Dies,” The New York Times, 18 July, 1991) Elegy Study XIII ultimately allows Motherwell to connect with the great dramas of the world, while also allowing viewers to glean insight into his psyche. In meditating on his philosophy of art, Motherwell wrote: “I think that one’s art is just one’s effort to wed oneself to the universe, to unify oneself through union.” (The artist cited in Jack Flam, Motherwell: 100 Years, New York, 2015, p. 22)

"Elegy Study No. XIII pulses with rhythmic energy; it swells with an arresting timbre. Its cadence embodies Motherwell’s reflection that he has “always been spellbound by drumrolls—the contrast between the clear rolling sound and the period of silence.” (The artist cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Dominique Lévy, Robert Motherwell: Elegy to the Spanish Republic, 2015, p. 6) Within the bold forms of the present work, Motherwell produces a regular beat of long, steady vertical tones, interrupted only by the robust bursts of black pigment. These flourishes of unbridled expression swirl and drip, resounding with virtuosic tenor. Unlike other Elegy works, in which Motherwell presents a strict division between sound and silence by placing the black elements against a stark white background, Elegy Study No. XIII reveals a nuanced backdrop of hushed gray tones and bright white strokes. As such, the ebb and flow of Elegy Study No. XIII is not one of sound versus silence; rather, it is a complex symphony, wherein the web of white and gray brushstrokes supports the dominant strand of black elements. The painterly texture of these supporting tones warms the overall composition—demonstrating Dore Ashton’s assertion that “to be elegiac is not necessarily to be heavy...It is in the musicality...that the structures of the Elegy series can alter the inherent meanings.” (Dore Ashton in  Exh. Cat., Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Robert Motherwell, 1983, pp. 40-41) As a whole, the various structures and cadences of Motherwell’s Elegies “furnish the depth and grandeur of an essentially lyric polyphonic work.” (Marcelin Pleynet, Robert Motherwell, Paris, 1989, p. 31)

"At once lyrical and unruly, meditative and demanding, the compelling abstraction of Elegy Study No. XIII draws viewers in towards a consideration of the fundamental qualities of the human condition. Despite the Elegy series' historically specific allusion to the Spanish Civil War, Jack Flam explains that Motherwell “wanted to create an art that would deal with the universal rather than the specific, yet be charged with intuitive feeling; that would be true to its medium, be quintessentially what it was physically, yet also evoke powerful reverberations beyond its mere physical appearance.” (Jack Flam, Katy Rogers, and Tim Clifford, Motherwell: 100 Years, New York, 2015, p. 25) Unencumbered by figuration, Elegy Study No. XIIIcommunicates feeling through the universal language of gesture. There is a palpable physicality to the present work; viewers can sense the movement of paint across its surface—its flicks, its accumulations, and its layering. To further reduce Elegy Study No. XIII to “a basic pictorial language,” Motherwell employs the simplest combination of colors: black and white. (The artist cited in Ibid., p. 121) The swashes and skeins of black pigment, and the cloudiness of the background’s white texture, evoke the somber emotions Motherwell sought to convey. He explained, “An elegy is a form of mourning...lyrical in the sense of an outpouring, black in the sense of death, just as white, which contains all colors, represents life.” (The artist cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Dominique Lévy, Robert Motherwell: Elegy to the Spanish Republic, 2015, p. 102) Achieving an extraordinary embodiment of intense, undeniable poignancy through a basic pictorial language of color and abstract form, Elegy Study No. XIII stands as a lasting testament to Motherwell’s profound achievements in abstraction.

Ir has a modest estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000.  It sold for $2,900,000.

Motherwell 35

Lot 35, "Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 134," by Robert Motherwell, acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 96 1/4 by 120 1/4 inches, 1974

Another much larger Motherwell, not from the Steinberg Collection, is Lot 35, "Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 134."  An acrylic and charcoal on canvas, it measures 96 1/4 by 120 1/4 inches and was painted in 1974.  It was formerly owned by Mr. and Mrs. Graham Gund of Cambridge, Mass., and Jay Chiat of New York.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Harnessing immense gestural dynamism and tremendous painterly force, Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 134 from 1974 stands as a paradigmatic example of Robert Motherwell’s most acclaimed body of work, his revered Elegies. On par with Barnett Newman’s zips and Jackson Pollock’s drips for their revolutionary contribution to art history, the Elegies also comprise Motherwell’s most extensive series; Motherwell executed over 140 paintings in this motif, beginning in 1948 and up until his death in 1991. Despite the exhaustiveness of his investigation into this iconic abstract motif, Motherwell seldom embarked on a scale as monumental and commanding as the present work; he executed under 40 monumental Elegy paintings over the course of these four decades, over two-thirds of which are in permanent museum collections internationally. The present work is part of a limited suite of seven Elegy paintings (numbered #128 – 134) executed between 1974 and 1975 that measure a staggering 96 by 120 inches, other examples of which belong to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.; the Tate Gallery, London; the Detroit Institute of Arts; and the Pinakotheken, Munich. Intended to be read as a lamentation or funeral song after the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), Motherwell’s Elegies to the Spanish Republic are a lyrical and poetic memorial to the immense human loss and suffering endured during these harrowing years. Defined by their shared compositional structure of black rectangular slabs and compressed ovoid forms set against a white canvas, the canonical import of these monumentally scaled Elegies cannot be overemphasized. Nearly every major museum collection, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of Art, New York, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others, hold in their permanent collection an Elegy to the Spanish Republic. A masterpiece from one of the defining paragons of Abstract Expressionism whose erudite knowledge of literature, philosophy, and European modernist traditions informed and shaped the pillars of Abstract Expressionism, Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 134 is a painting of profound resilience and enduring resonance.

"Motherwell was a young student of twenty-one when the horrors of the Spanish Civil War commenced in 1936, and he would later reflect that it was the most “moving political event” of his youth. (Exh. Cat., New York, Dominique Lévy, Robert Motherwell: Elegy to the Spanish Republic, 2015, p. 6) In 1939, the Spanish Civil War concluded with the fall of Spain’s democratically elected socialist government, which was deposed by a fascist coalition led by dictator Francisco Franco, whose dictatorship would persist until 1975. A three-year struggle of tragic proportions, the Spanish Civil War took the lives of over 700,000 people and witnessed history’s first air-raid bombings of civilians. This callous disregard for civilian life, and the innumerable needless deaths that resulted, inspired Pablo Picasso’s haunting and shattering epic Guernica of 1937. Similarly rendered on a massive scale and in a reduced monochrome palette, the similarities between Picasso’s Guernica and Motherwell’s monumental Elegies, such as the present work, are striking. Nearly a decade following the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1948, Motherwell created his first Elegy with a small drawing to accompany a poem by Harold Rosenberg titled Elegy to the Spanish Republic published in the avant-garde periodical Possibilities. Over the next four decades, Motherwell would pursue this same structural and thematic motif relentlessly; taken as a whole, the Elegiesconfirm the resounding impact that this war had on the young artist, and indeed stand as a powerful monument to the overwhelming loss during and in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. Motherwell stated: “I meant the word 'elegy' in the title. I was twenty-one in 1936, when the Spanish Civil War began…The Spanish Civil War was even more to my generation than Vietnam was to be thirty years later to its generation, and should not be forgotten, even though la guerre est finie.” (David Craven in Joan M. Marter, Abstract Expressionism: The International Context, New Brunswick, 2007 p. 76)

"Addressing the viewer with monumental frontality, the alternating black ovoid and rectilinear shapes of Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 134 reverberate across the surface, the ovals compressed and distorted by imposing rectangular slabs. Rendered in the renounced monochrome palette characteristic of the Elegies, the present work achieves a volatile yet lyrical equilibrium, the heavy blackness of death finding resolution with the airy whiteness of life, and together both culminating in a deeply somber and emotive composition that finds universal resonance far beyond the reaches of the canvas. Diffusing the overwhelming, architectonic weight of these black forms, the gestural brushwork, roughly painted edges, and paint splatters imbue the weighty composition with a sense of movement and expressionistic energy. Form and color conspire together to convey a tension between order and chaos that is a veritable touchstone for abstract art of the period, and places Motherwell in the company of the philosophers, poets, painters and social critics who were his friends and compatriots in activating abstract art and poetic symbolism as expressions of the inexorable cycle of life and death. Speaking to the resounding import of black and white in his Elegy paintings, Motherwell said: “After a period of painting [the Elegies], I discovered Black as one of my subjects—and with black, the contrasting white, a sense of life and death which to me is quite Spanish. They are essentially the Spanish black of death contrasted with the dazzle of a Matisse-like sunlight.” (William S. Lieberman, Exh. Cat., New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, An American Choice: the Muriel Kallis Steinberg Newman Collection, 1981, p. 82) As the recurrent motif of Motherwell’s Elegies, the pictorial symbolism of these ovular slabs has been debated extensively: despite their visual associations with bodies, fruit, phalluses, or even calligraphy, they ultimately evade any specific associations or signifiers in the natural world and instead embody and engender an emotional state, standing as pillars of loss and resilience. In fact, the visual structure of Motherwell’s Elegies speaks more to the influence of Surrealist automatism – especially the work of the Spanish painter Roberto Matta, a close friend of Motherwell’s – and evoke the same potent immediacy, materializing as forms and images the mind already knows on a subconscious level. A masterful articulation of Motherwell’s inimitable artistic philosophy, Motherwell’s Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 134 stands as a profoundly illuminating meditation on life and death, desire and lamentation.

"Motherwell’s allusions to human mortality and soulful elevation – indeed the very dialectic of life’s vicissitudes – are most strongly imparted to the viewer through the warm encompassing blacks and bright whites of the Spanish Elegies, particularly the mature works of the 1970s such as Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 134. The unequivocal pinnacle of Motherwell’s canonical oeuvre, the sophisticated and cogent graphic sensibility of his Elegies confirms art’s cathartic role in humanity’s confrontation with the harsh realities of the modern era, specifically the unimaginable injustices caused by war and its aftermath. As elegiacally expressed by the artist himself: “I must emphasize that my Elegies to the Spanish Republicare just that, elegies, in the traditional sense… An elegy is a form of mourning, not a call to action, but symbolization of grief, lyrical in the sense on an outpouring, black in the sense of death, just as white, which contains all colors, represents life.” (Robert Motherwell, A Personal Recollection, 1986) Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 134 revels in the infinite dichotomies of its structure, the stark opposition of black against white and the contrasting ovoid and rectilinear forms. These dualities are ultimately an expression of the dialectic nature of life itself, at once comprising the organic and geometric, vitality and bereavement, life and death."

It has an estimate of $9,000,000 to $12,000,000.  It sold for $10,287,500.

Schutte  22

Lot 22, "Grober Geist Nr. 13," by Thomas Schütte, cast aluminum, 98 1/4 inches high, 1998

Sotheby's answer to Jeff Koon's shiny but small stainless steel rabbit that sold at Christie's the night before is Lot 22,Thomas Schütte's much more imposing cast alumunum "Grober Geist Nr. 13."  The imposing work is 98 1/4 inches high and was created in 1998 and was once owned by Francois Pinault of Paris.  The artist was born in 1954.
The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Thomas Schütte’s monumental and enigmatic Großer Geist Nr. 13 from 1998 commands a presence exemplary of the artist’s most seductive explorations of anthropomorphic form in aluminum. A stunning model of Schütte’s iconic Große Geister series, which contains seventeen aluminum figures—each holding its own, distinctly arresting pose—the present work offers an early and rare example of one of the artist’s most revered bodies of work; other figures from the series, which Schütte executed between 1996 and 2004, reside in prestigious international collections including, among others, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg in Germany. Testifying to its significance, the present work was previously held in the illustrious CAP Collection and, subsequently, François Pinault’s esteemed personal collection. Boldly testing the limits of his chosen material and provocatively riffing on the storied genre of figurative sculpture, Schütte delves into fundamental philosophical questions about the relationship between “man and animal, man and man, man and light, [and] space and colour.” (the artist in Julian Heynen, James Lingwood and Angela Vettese, Thomas Schütte, London, 1998, p. 25) Großer Geist Nr. 13 arrests viewers with its imperceptible gaze, its sleek and reflective sheen, and its dramatic scale, eliciting intensive meditation on the human condition.

"Gazing down from a towering height, the molten silhouette of Großer Geist Nr. 13 leans ever so slightly forward, its left arm raised in salute as though acknowledging the viewer’s watchful presence. Its surface gleams, reflecting the transient changes of light in its surroundings and reflecting the viewer’s own, undulating image in its mirror-like shine. Without identifying facial features, Großer Geist Nr. 13 is rendered intriguingly anonymous, exuding an air of mysterious ambiguity that invites imagined narratives. Describing the haunting and elusive presence of the Große Geister, German collector Friedrich Christian Flick writes: “The figures and their faces acquire contours, without it being possible to say what they actually are: good or evil spirits, wondering or knowing.” (Ulrich Loock, Thomas Schütte, Berlin, 2004, p. 7)

"The apparent fluidity of the metallic form serves as testament to Schütte’s extraordinary technical virtuosity; within the exacting formal vernacular of his aluminum medium, he forges a seemingly elastic creature who appears both mobile and capable of interaction. Großer Geist Nr. 13’s limbs consist of luscious, smooth rolls that invoke the desire to touch. To create his extraordinary figures, the artist first immerses skeins of twisted wax cords—typically used in aircraft construction—in liquid wax, stabilizing and unifying the sculpture’s essential structure; only then does he cast the resulting spiral forms in the gleaming aluminum of the outer coating. Schütte’s innovative approach to creating the Geister falls in line with his mode of production overall: “Schütte’s usual approach is to...pursue often unusual, unexpected, and unaccustomed strategies.” (Ulrich Loock, Thomas Schütte, Berlin, 2004, p. 9) Within the present work, Schütte luxuriates in the material capacities of aluminum: both its malleability, which allows for the igneous elegance of his figures, and its strength, which allows him to work on a colossal scale.

"Despite its contemporary means of production, Großer Geist Nr. 13 contains a deep awareness of the history of sculpture. Only four years before initiating the Große Geister series, Schütte travelled to Rome to study classical sculpture; the present work’s contrapposto-like stance reveals his particular enchantment with ancient masterpieces. Schütte’s deft fusion of figuration and abstraction links the present work with Modernist efforts to embody motion through abstracted form; Umberto Boccioni’s 1913 sculpture Unique Forms of Continuity in Space likewise presents a humanoid creature lunging forward, exuding a similar sense of dynamic movement. Simultaneously, Großer Geist Nr. 13’s massive scale contains the presence of such Minimalist objects as Robert Morris's large-scale L-Beams, which likewise engage viewers upon a phenomenological plane. In Großer Geist Nr. 13, Schütte revels in the evolution of his artistic medium, translating its history into an ingenious form of its time.

"At once otherworldly and intensely tangible, Großer Geist Nr. 13 defies simple understanding, demonstrating the mystique of the artist’s oeuvre. Indeed, Schütte famously refuses to denote specific meaning to his sculptures—as he states, to “cast them into words or philosophy.” (the artist in Julian Heynen, James Lingwood and Angela Vettese, eds., Thomas Schütte, London 1998, p. 25) Instead, Schütte invites his viewers to ponder Großer Geist Nr. 13 for themselves, encouraging a profound reflection on their place within the surrounding environment, and the inherent limits of human experience."

Schutte 2

The lot was one of several placed in a new double-height gallery at Sotheby's

It has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000.  It sold for $4,928,000.

Bourgeois 10

Lot 10, "Arch of Hysteria," by Louise Bourgeois," polished bronze, 40 inches long, conceived in 1993 and number 4 from an edition of six and one artist's proof

Lot 10 is an impressive polished bronze handing sculpture by Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) who had an enormous black spider sculpture at Christie's the night before.  This 40-inch-long, headless work was conceived in 1993 and is number 4 from an edition of six and one artist's proof.   They have been very widely published and exhibited.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Suspended with impossible, ethereal weightlessness before the viewer, the gleaming figure of Arch of Hysteria is amongst the most exquisite embodiments of the essential drives which run at the very core of Louise Bourgeois’ celebrated artistic practice. Within the taut musculature and expressive pose of the bronze figure, internal states of being achieve tangible and compelling form as, with deft mastery, Bourgeois transforms the human body itself into her medium. Conceived in 1993 and cast in an edition of six plus one artist's proof in varying patinas the following year, the present work is one of only four examples remaining in private hands, in addition to examples held in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the Hakone Open-Air Museum of Japan, and the artist’s Easton Foundation in New York. Further testifying to the significance of Arch of Hysteria, an example of the sculpture has been included in virtually every major exhibition of the artist’s work over the past two decades, including the celebrated 2007—2009 retrospective Louise Bourgeois, organized by the Tate Modern in London and traveling to the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. and, more recently, the widely acclaimed exhibition Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. A pristine totem to the beauty of the human form, Arch of Hysteria is heir to a celebrated sculptural legacy that stretches back centuries; while the anatomical perfection of her figure invokes such sculptures as Michelangelo’s David or Rodin’s The Kiss, however, the gleaming bronze of Arch of Hysteria is emphatically modern, recalling the mirrored surfaces and sleek minimalism of Brancusi’s Bird in Space or Donald Judd's stacks. Achieving classical beauty within the purified vernacular of Contemporary art, Arch of Hysteria transcends precedent to stand as irrefutable testament to the unparalleled beauty and profound power of Bourgeois’ sculptural practice. 

Arched to an extremity that belies its lithe grace, the curved figure of Arch of Hysteria achieves the powerful geometric allure of abstract form: beginning with the hands, the eye can follow the curving arms upward into nimble shoulders, over articulated ribs and taut navel, and down the arc of the legs to finally rest upon the delicately flexed toes, mere inches from the outstretched fingertips. Within the bronze form, Bourgeois describes the subtle nuances of the human body with extraordinary specificity, rendering every curve, pucker, and rib with painstaking intention. Describing the irresistible allure of Arch of Hysteria, critic Diane Armitrage comments: “It’s beautiful and mysterious and can engage you simply on a superficial level because the treatment of the bronze is so richly attended to. For this headless, arched body, Bourgeois has chosen a gold patina that also incorporates a spectrum of metallic hues… depending on the viewing angle and the time of day, light from two windows illuminates the subtle display of human veins, distended ribs, and the delicate musculature of Bourgeois’ model.” (Exh. Cat., Milan, Fondazione Prada, Louise Bourgeois: Blue Days and Pink Days, 1997, p. 214) The ethereal suspension of the work lays testament to Bourgeois’ dexterous mastery of her materials: hovering level with the viewer’s gaze, the weightless delicacy of the form seems impossible given the hardened sheen of the bronze cast. Eschewing the canonical sculptural base, Arch of Hysteria is tethered only to the ceiling, imbuing the upturned figure with a sense of movement and implied vulnerability. Arching skyward, the curved figure before us appears have been paused in the midst of divine ascension and, as if grazed with a Midas touch, transformed from flesh to gold in a single moment.

As apt to collapse as to take flight, the acute tension of Bourgeois’ cambered figure imbues the sleek sculptural form with unprecedented emotive intensity. Typifying the very best of the artist’s prodigious output, the arched body acts as corporeal catharsis, a subconscious interior made outward, a physical reconciliation of psychic forces. One scholar describes: “As a form in space, this Arch of Hysteria is dynamic and fluid, yet also fraught… Walking around and around this body, I think of the artist and her fearless ability to plunge into her own undercurrents of turgid emotions.” (Ibid., p. 214) In title and theme, the present work refers to the work of Jean-Martin Charcot, a nineteenth-century French neurologist best known for his pioneering work on ‘hysteria;’ a nervous condition primarily associated with women, hysteria described the physical manifestation of psychological trauma and neuroses within the female body. The artist first explored the theme of the ‘hysterical’ body in an elaborate installation titled Cell (Arch of Hysteria), presented at the Venice Biennale in 1993, in which the arched figure is enclosed within an ominous steel vault as reminder of the inescapable nature of emotional and psycho-sexual drives. Conceived the same year, the elegant simplicity of Arch of Hysteria distills the formal ambivalence of the earlier installation to its essential conflict and, indeed, to the very crux of Bourgeois’ practice: the vital link between conceptual forces and corporeal form. Describing her inquiry in terms highly reminiscent of the present work, Bourgeois asks: “When does the emotional become physical? When does the physical become emotional? It’s a circle going round and round.” (The artist cited in Exh. Cat., Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada, The Body Transformed, 2003, p. 18) Within Arch of Hysteria, Bourgeois creates an impassioned figure that is, both visibly and metaphorically, suspended between gendered dualities; cast from the body of the artist's longtime studio assistant and friend Jerry Gorovoy, the present work subverts Charcot’s antiquated diagnosis of the female body as inherently neurotic by activating the male body as sculptural expression of this psychoanalytic narrative. Totemic and profound, the hovering golden figure is truly ambiguous, its graceful form eluding clear distinction to instead encapsulate the universal potency of the individualized human experience. Curator Deborah Wye reflects, “The work of art serves a psychological function for Bourgeois, for she believes that making art is the process of giving tangible form to, and thus exorcising, the gripping, subconscious states of being… By fulfilling this function, Bourgeois’ art achieves emotional intensity. She captures those exorcised feelings in her work and thereby animates it.” (Deborah Wye, “Louise Bourgeois: ‘One and Others,’ in Exh. Cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Louise Bourgeois, 1982, p. 14) In its activation of the essential human form as manifestation of greater truths, the bronze figure of the present work falls within the sculptural tradition that links such icons as Michelangelo to Rodin, Giacometti to Brancusi, Arp to Judd; yet alongside these storied predecessors, the exquisite form of Arch of Hysteriaseems at once more delicate and invincible, emphatic and elusive, sensuous and abstract than any single forebear. Describing the unique and unprecedented power of a Bourgeois sculpture, Wye concludes: “In comparison, however, her work does not seem so generalized, idealized, or otherworldly. Instead, it is specific, quirky, and individualistic. It provides an encounter rather than an object to contemplate. Instead of experiencing an essence or the sublime, we find in it a strikingly poignant and authentic reminder of our humanity.” (Deborah Wye, “Louise Bourgeois: ‘One and Others,’ in Exh. Cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Louise Bourgeois, 1982, p. 33)

The lot has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000.  It sold for $5,617,000.


Lot 2, "Four pinball machines, (study)" by Wayne Thiebaud, oil on canvas, 11 1/8 by 12 1/8 inches, 1962

Lot 2 is a small oil study on canvas for "Four pinball machines" by Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920).  It measures 11 1/8 by 12 1/8 inches and was painted in 1962.

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:

"Demonstrating an exceptional mastery of color, Thiebaud here employs a technique known as ‘halatation,’ juxtaposing warm and cool tones to produce a resounding prismatic synergy that contours and electrifies each form off the surface of the canvas. In the present work, the artist has rendered the machines with unexpected exaggerations of white, red, yellow, blue and neon orange that lend sensational chromatic depth to the forms. Richly articulating Thiebaud’s precise brushstrokes, the thick impasto accentuates and activates every form upon the surface of the canvas.

"A superb example of Thiebaud’s best known early works based on confections, desserts and games, Four Pinball Machines (Study) endures as a powerful tribute to the cultural consciousness of the 1960s in America. Indeed, the exuberant imagery of the artist’s pinball machines, each playfully adorned with targets, stars, numbers, and symbols, is echoed in the work of such artists as Jasper Johns, whose Target paintings emerged in the late 1950s, and his peer Robert Indiana. Unlike his contemporaries, however, Thiebaud forgoes the cynicism and ironic appropriation so typical of Pop Art in favor of careful, sincere consideration of familiar images; one scholar describes: “His method…has the effect not of eliminating the Pop resonance of his subjects but of slowing down and chastening the associations they evoke, so that a host of ambivalent feelings—nostalgic and satiric and elegiac—can come back later, calmed down and contemplative: enlightened.” (Adam Gopnik, “The Art World: Window Gazing,” in The New Yorker, April 29, 1991, p. 80) Exemplifying the exquisite sentimentality of the artist’s oeuvre, Four Pinball Machines (Study) achieves a vitality and liveliness which far surpasses the simplicity of the subject matter. As eloquently summarized by Steven Nash: “Thiebaud’s [works] are deeply reasoned paintings that still allow instinct and emotion to thrive. His objects are nuggets of nostalgia, encoding fond memories from his youth but also aspects of American life meaningful to a great many of us.” (Steve A. Nash, “Unbalancing Acts,” in Exh. Cat., San Francisco, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective, 2000, p. 35)"

The lot has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000.  It sold for $3,620,000.

Mitchell 37
Lot 37, "L'Arbre de Phyllis," by Joan Mitchell, oil on canvas, 110 1/4 by 78 3/4 inches, 1991
Lot 37 is a large abstract oil on canvas by Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) entitled "L'Arbre de Phyllis."  It measures 110 1/4 by 78 3/4 inches and was painted in 1991.

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:

"The paintings that Joan Mitchell created in the last decade of her life reveal an artist who showed no restraint. She immersed herself in them, abandoning cognizance, rationality, and objectivity. Direct and immediate, they are the work of an artist using her failing strength and strong emotion to express her intellect and her anger, as well as the joy she derived from the very act of painting.” (Richard D. Marshall quoted in Exh. Cat., New York, Cheim & Read, The Last Paintings, 2011, n.p.)

"Painted in 1991, the penultimate year of Joan Mitchell’s prodigious career, L’Arbre de Phyllis exemplifies the painterly bravado, sumptuous coloration, and ambitious mastery of scale which distinguish the artist’s finest masterworks. Named for Mitchell’s close friend and artistic protégé Phyllis Hailey, the present work is a celebration, both of Mitchell’s championship of female painters, and of the rich sensory engagement with nature and memory which forms the heart of her singular practice. Typifying the artistic tendencies of Mitchell’s later paintings, L’Arbre de Phyllis displays an extraordinary synthesis of her earlier work and the more radical, free and open configurations of her later exploration of abstract gesture. Beneath her brush, Mitchell’s canvas ceases to be merely a surface, transforming instead into a performative arena upon which she stages a brilliantly choreographed dance of ever-shifting light, color, movement and texture. Held in the same distinguished private collection for over 25 years, L’Arbre de Phyllis is a commanding testament to the singular creative vision and highly lauded painterly abilities which characterize the artist’s celebrated oeuvre.

"Blooming upon the canvas in a shower of expressive brushstrokes and shocks of vibrant color, L’Arbre de Phyllis is a profound testament to the remarkable vigor and vibrancy of Mitchell’s late paintings. Describing the significance of the present work, scholar Jane Livingston reflects: “L’Arbre de Phyllis…may be seen as a literal summing-up for Mitchell. This work is virtually the last of a long line of pictures whose central image is treelike, more or less centered in the field, a meditative exposition of landscape and the lush, calligraphic possibilities of oil paint on canvas.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art (and travelling), The Paintings of Joan Mitchell, 2002, p. 44) Within the artist’s celebrated late output, L’Arbre de Phyllis is distinguished as a particularly intimate and highly personalized painting: the present work is named for Phyllis Hailey, a student painter and deep admirer of Mitchell who lived with the older artist in Vétheuil for some months in 1974. While Mitchell had declined teaching opportunities at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and other such prestigious institutions in the past, she found satisfaction in mentoring fledgling artists, and particularly in guiding younger female painters. Taking Phyllis under her wing, Mitchell taught her, “how to be more visual and more feeling in her work, insisting she unfailingly know what she was doing when her brush hit the canvas, and endlessly talking color.” (Patricia Albers, Lady Painter, New York 2011, p. 343) Mitchell’s tutelage of Phyllis inspired, in turn, her own work, particularly in moments when Mitchell found herself struggling to tap into the wealth of creativity and painterly vigor so evident in the canvas of L’Arbre de Phyllis; in one note to the younger artist, Mitchell writes: “Well if it means anything to you–you got me painting again… just being in the studio with you makes me want to work… I love you dearly–and it takes a shafted one to recognize another.” (The artist cited in Ibid., p. 344) Tragically, Hailey was killed in a car accident outside Paris in 1978, cutting her life and career short at the young age of 32. Painted over a decade later, L’Arbre de Phyllis serves as poignant tribute to Mitchell’s close friend and protégé, named for a particular ginkgo tree in the artist’s Vétheuil gardens whose foliage Hailey repeatedly rendered in watercolor studies. Beneath Mitchell’s brush, the canvas is transformed into a nuanced dialogue between memory and emotion, gesture and material, representation and abstraction, powerfully evoking the artist’s own comment: “My paintings aren’t about art issues. They’re about a feeling that comes to me from the outside, from landscape…The painting is just a surface to be covered. Paintings aren’t about the person who makes them, either. My paintings have to do with feelings.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Joan Mitchell, 1974, p. 6)

"Serving as triumphant conclusion to a long and exceptional artistic evolution, the striking visual dynamism of L’Arbre de Phyllis reveals the artist’s affinity for the American action painters, among whom she lived and worked in the initial decade of her mature career. As one of the few women to garner significant critical acclaim within the predominantly male Eighth Street Club, Mitchell is remembered by art history as the leading female voice of the Abstract Expressionist movement. Across the soaring face of L’Arbre de Phyllis, Mitchell’s unencumbered gestural vocabulary invites the viewer to imagine the physicality of her creative process as, in bursts of physical energy and tactility that defied her ailing heath, she enacts the nuanced dialogue of her abstraction. Scholar Richard D. Marshall comments: “She would open up the tenuous space of her compositions and dance ribbons of color and gesture across the surface, or construct compartmentalized passages of form and color that would coalesce into energized physical expressions. With apparent abandon, she threw, splashed, or forced paint onto the canvas in her distinctive colors and gestures.” (Richard D. Marshall quoted in Exh. Cat., New York, Cheim & Read, The Last Paintings, 2011, n.p.) Profoundly activated by the motion and vitality of Mitchell’s abstraction, L’Arbre de Phyllis achieves a gestural dynamism rivaled only by the sensational, large-scale canvases of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.

"While the gestural exuberance of the present work engages in an intense dialogue with the Abstract Expressionists, the exquisite beauty of L’Arbre de Phyllis is rooted in Mitchell’s profound, lifelong appreciation for the beauty of the natural world. A constant presence within her abstract painterly idiom, Mitchell’s affinity for landscape fostered in her a strong connection to the French Impressionists and European Post-Impressionists, whose luminous canvases enacted an equally acute influence upon her work. After relocating to Paris in 1959, Mitchell permanently settled upon a sprawling rural estate in the bucolic Parisian suburb of Vétheuil in 1968. There, secluded from the dominant narrative of Abstract Expressionism, her paintings begin to exhibit the same sumptuousness of palette and exquisite awareness of light, color, and air articulated in the captivating en plein air paintings of Claude Monet, who painted the landscapes of Vétheuil years before. Profoundly inspired by the verdant idyll of the French countryside, Mitchell found the conceptual freedom to create a highly idiosyncratic painterly style which marries the ethereal with the physical, the felt with the seen; Marshall comments: “Throughout her evolution as an abstract painter, Mitchell consistently sought to converge her interests in nature, emotion, and painting. Her subjects were landscape, color, and light and their interaction on a painterly field, and her energetic physical gestures were filled with a romantic sensibility.” (Richard D. Marshall, “Joan Mitchell: The Last Decade, 1982—1992” in Exh. Cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, Joan Mitchell: The Last Decade, 2010, p. 8) Sumptuously layered and smeared upon the soaring canvas, Mitchell’s saturated strokes invoke a lush density reminiscent of Monet’s late renderings of his rose garden at Giverney; rather than striving to emulate a specific landscape, however, L’Arbre de Phyllis powerfully combines allusions to nature and memory within an entirely abstract painterly idiom, echoing Mitchell’s own statement: “I would rather leave Nature to itself. It is quite beautiful enough as it is. I do not want to improve it…I certainly never mirror it. I would like more to paint what it leaves me with. (The artist cited in Marcia Tucker, Joan Mitchell, New York, 1974, p. 8) Anchored, as ever, by Mitchell’s superbly masterful use of white pigment, the broad strokes of marigold yellow tangle with dashes of emerald green, while cobalt blue daubs, drips and smears dance along the bottom of the canvas, immersing the viewer in an captivating sensory experience as rich and intense as if we stood beside Mitchell, surveying the surrounding landscape from her Vétheuil balcony on a sunny day.

The lot has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $5,000,000.   It sold for $5,609,000.


Lot 49, "Civil Planning," by Dana Schutz, oil on canvas, 114 by 168 inches, 2004
Lot 49 is a large oil on canvas by Dana Schutz (b. 1976) entitled "Civil Planning."  It measures 114 by 168 inches and was painted in 2004.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Breathtaking in scale and ambitious in execution, Dana Schutz’s Civil Planning is a painterly tour-de-force, wrapping the viewer in a bizarre and enthralling realm in which broad strokes of sumptuous paint and saturated, Fauvist hues playfully mask the darker absurdities that play out in this dystopian panorama. Executed in 2006, Civil Planning is undeniably a masterwork by the New York based artist Dana Schutz. Within the densely layered compositional narrative, two young women sit under a grouping of trees, peacefully building what appears to be a rock tower and blissfully unaware of the inexplicably bizarre and grotesque oddities that surround and enclose them. Indeed, a closer look reveals that far from the bucolic haven that one might imagine, the forest is littered with dismembered body parts and other debris, and populated by orange and purple monsters that hover nearby, partially concealed by the dense foliage. Speaking to Civil Planning, Schutz explains: “In the woods you feel like it’s a space of play where things can be rebuilt or made…[The woods] are a space where you can have a kind of continuum of abstraction and representation.” (David Salle, "Dana Schutz," Artforum 50, December 2011, p. 247) Within this ravaged pictorial space, cascades of fractured shapes and planes interrupt the familiarity of figuration and objectivity, creating an abstract architectonic expanse. Caught between pleasure and catastrophe, themes of dismemberment, self-mutilation, and cannibalism subvert the idyllic tranquility of the landscape, culminating in a complicated, multilayered composition that is at once beautiful and deeply unsettling. Interweaving themes of construction and destruction, Schutz offers a psychologically complex and enigmatic realm with unmistakable political undertones. Civil Planning was notably a highlight of Schutz’s first 10-year survey Dana Schutz: If the Face Had Wheels, which travelled to the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York; the Denver Art Museum; and the Miami Art Museum between September 2011 and January 2012. Schutz’s paintings are held in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Museum of Contemporary Arts, Los Angeles; Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas; and Tel Aviv Museum; Israel, among many others.

"Interweaving the opposing forces and themes of construction and destruction, possibility and impossibility, abstraction and figuration, Schutz mines both the history of art and her visionary imagination to create a modern-day fresco that collapses time, sound, and space within the two-dimensional picture plane. Commenting on the importance of Civil Planning within Schutz’s oeuvre and the astonishing grandeur of the present work, artist and critic David Salle writes: “[Civil Planning] balances the grandiosity of its conception (dystopian future? Femdom utopia?) with a lot of cleanly depicted local detail, like the garden spade painted at the bottom edge of the canvas. The composition of this very large picture has the complexity and control of classic abstraction – looking at it, I found myself thinking about Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952 – and the alternation of top-to-bottom, full-arm gestural forms with tiny notational marks that pull the eye back into deep illusionistic space feels unforced, something done for sheer pleasure, the sense of wonder that paint can embody.” (David Salle, "Dana Schutz," Artforum 50, December 2011, p. 247)

The lot has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000.  It sold for a hammer price of $2,000,000.

Noland 17
Lot 17, "Blue," by Kenneth Noland, oil on canvas, 60 1/2 by 59 1/4 inches, 1960

Lot 17, "Blue," is an oil on canvas by Kenneth Noland (1924-2010).  It measures 60 1/2 by 58  1/4 inches and was painted in 1960.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"A mesmerizing example of painterly invention, Blue emerges from Kenneth Noland’s early breakthrough series of Targets, a body of work long recognized as the artist’s most successful attainment of his conceptual aims, and one of the seminal achievements of post-war American abstraction. Exquisitely demonstrating Noland’s precocious mastery of form and color from the very beginning of his career, this 1960 work is characterized by dazzling concentric rings emanating from the center of the square canvas to engulf the viewer in a glowing chromatic field that appears to radiate beyond the edges of the picture plane with palpable velocity. The bold opposition of blue, red, and white is softened by Noland’s soak-stain technique, through which his pigment fuses with the fibers of his unprimed canvas to create a carefully controlled flat surface texture. Color is his primary instrument, though, and he plays the score of light and dark, warm and cool, vivid and subtle, like a virtuoso; by carefully controlling the bands’ width, spacing, tightness of execution, and scale, he imbues his colors with a precise range of optical weight and a finely tuned emotional resonance. With Blue, Noland composes a beautifully orchestrated example of the most iconic and influential series in his pioneering oeuvre.

"Noland began to create images featuring concentric rings of color in 1958 as an exploration in the optical and emotional possibilities of color. These paintings, known as Targets, came to represent a radical break with the reigning artistic tradition. Rejecting the all-over compositions of Jackson Pollock and the Abstract Expressionists, Noland took what he saw as the next logical step and asserted the center of the canvas as his focus. The circle, as the ideal form with which to focus on the center, became a signature component of his innovative work; preeminent critic Clement Greenberg praised this dramatic breakthrough: “Noland’s motifs do not possess the quality of images; they are present solely in an abstract capacity, as means solely of organizing and galvanizing the picture field. Thanks to their centeredness and their symmetry, the discs…create a revolving movement that spins out…beyond the four sides of the picture to evoke, once again, limitless space, weightlessness, air.” (Clement Greenberg, “Louis and Noland,” in John O’Brian, ed., Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Volume 4, Modernism with a Vengeance, Chicago, 1993, p. 98) Aside from the myriad symbolic interpretations of the circle, it is a dynamic shape that perfectly serves Noland’s purpose of examining the visual and expressive effects of color within a rigid geometric format.

"In Blue, Noland's colors seem to pulsate toward the edges of the canvas. The concentrated black dot in the middle of the target acts as a central anchor around which the white, blue, red, and bare canvas rings vibrate; as complementary shades they intensify this effect. Like his former professor Josef Albers, with whom he briefly studied at Black Mountain College, Noland elected to work within a simplified graphic design using a repeating image, allowing him to focus on color, his primary concern. Within this framework, he thoroughly experimented with the palette, scale, size, and saturation of his bands. “Noland's search of the ideal Platonic form has crystallized into an art in which color and form are held in perfect equilibrium. The spare geometry of his form heightens the emotional impact of his color. The rational and the felt, distilled form and sensuous color intermesh to create a magic presence. His space is color. His color is space. Color is all.” (Diane Waldman in Exh. Cat., New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Kenneth Noland: A Retrospective, 1977, p. 36) As a result, the emotional impact of his color is consistently heightened. For this reason, since their inception, Noland’s Targets have been regarded as quintessential examples of Post-Painterly Abstraction.

"As an emblematic model of this style, Blue vividly underlines Noland’s unique command over technique and space. He painted his first Targets with soft, blurred edges, but they eventually became more sharply delineated, aligning with the then-emerging style known as Hard Edge painting. Blue represents a transitional point in this process; while the central rings are tightly defined, the largest ring and adjoining sapphire ground still bear the traces of the artist’s soaking technique. In some areas the paint is notably more concentrated, while in others it is thinner and the weave of the canvas is highly visible – a result of Noland’s soak-stain technique, first employed and made famous by his peer Helen Frankenthaler. These elegant fluctuations soften the transition from outer band to surrounding space, cushioning the intensity of the brilliant hues and eliminating the problematic wedges of inert canvas from his earlier works. Though Noland increasingly suppresses expressionist features within his praxis, he maintains a need to allow the process of pouring and staining an active and highly emotive process in his practice, lending works like Blue an organic and painterly quality."

It has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000.  It sold for $5,950,000.

Tansey  43

Lot 43, "Transition Team," by Mark Tansey, oil on canvas, 96 by 74 inches, 1997

Lot 43, "Transition Team," is a 1997 oil on canvas by Mark Tansey (b. 1949).  It measures 96 by 74 inches and was painted in 1997.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Hauntingly mysterious and seductively enigmatic, Mark Tansey’s 1997 Transition Team unravels traditional modes of perception while assuming the mantle of the storied legacy of history painting. Perennially testing the eye and eluding narrative clarity in favor of incredulous wonder, Transition Team entices viewers with its bacchanalia; its distortions of perspective and disruption of spatial organization prompt a visual adventure of decoding its amalgam of cryptic references. A surreal dreamscape of monumental proportions, the present work embodies the hallmark characteristics of Tansey’s oeuvre: a hyperreal depiction of figures drawn from a vast archive of source imagery, an invocation of philosophical questioning about the nature of perception, and an enigmatic aura of phantasmagoria—all of which he renders through rich variations on a single hue. Testifying to its superb quality and stature within Tansey’s artistic output, Transition Team was held in Stefan T. Edlis’s esteemed collection for nearly twenty years. Captivating in its puzzle-like complexity, and rife with layers of allusion, the present work raises more questions than it answers. Describing its exceptional dynamism, philosopher Mark C. Taylor writes: “Transition Team activates vision by setting the viewer in motion. The picture is, in effect, an interactive work of art...Moving around the picture, perspectives change until transitional spaces begin to vibrate, pulsate, and oscillate. Intersecting axes and contrasting figures combine to create alternating rhythms that trigger anomalous juxtapositions and unexpected dimensional shifts.” (Mark C. Taylor, The Picture in Question: Mark Tansey & The Ends of Representation, Chicago, 1999, p. 130)

"Set in a resplendent monochrome, Transition Team places the viewer into an alluring fantasy of the artist’s creation. Tansey presents his superbly precise figures—an intriguing cast of characters that includes Madonna, John F. Kennedy Jr., Princess Diana, Drew Barrymore, and Kurt Cobain—in a transitional moment in time: the liminal space between the very-late night and the very-early morning, in which half the figures stumble home from a drunken evening, and the other half begin to clean up the night’s mess. On the right side of the canvas, the distinct profile of Princess Diana canters stoically across the horizontal axis on horseback, luxuriant furs draped across her arm; to the left, Madonna darts surreptitiously from the scene, her gaze fixed on a destination beyond our view. Scattered within the dense thicket of distorted striations lining the background, a motley crew of figures such as Drew Barrymore, Courtney Love, and assorted others peer out in apparent interest, their profiles repeated in warped ripples across the composition. Standing with his trench-coat clad back to the viewer, a paparazzo diligently documents the scene unfolding before us; clearly indicated by the tell-tale camera flash from the reflective darkness, his suggested photograph deftly duplicates the artist’s own representational efforts. By depicting a wide assortment of cultural icons, Tansey invokes the experience of dreaming—diving into a familiar yet elusive motion picture whose meaning one can never fully grasp. While the “ineffable familiarity of the figures promotes confidence in the images’ veracity,” the background—an eerie, pitch-black sky—echoes the nondescript and unchartered territory of dreams. (Judi Freeman, Exh. Cat., Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Mark Tansey, 1993, p. 19) A gust of wind blows over the eclectic crowd, sweeping the white blonde hair of the central figure over her shoulders, and creating a palpable sense of motion. Save for the littered bottles strewn on the ground, “Everything and everyone in the painting seem to be moving...As the eye traces this line of movement, the painting is actually transformed into a motion picture.” (Mark C. Taylor, The Picture in Question: Mark Tansey & The Ends of Representation, Chicago, 1999, p. 130) Surreal and arcane, Transition Team’s spectral landscape invites even closer investigation, causing viewers to get lost in its ghostly terrain.

"Illustrative of Tansey’s “quest for meaning, for comprehension, [and] for truth,” Transition Team questions the very nature of realism itself, seeking to expose the obvious artifice of long-held painterly assumptions. (Judi Freeman, Exh. Cat., Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Mark Tansey, 1993, p. 16) Mimicking this philosophical exercise, Transition Team’s figures appear wary of their uncertain location; they peer around their surroundings and survey the scene. Elaborating upon his philosophy of art, Tansey explained: “A painted picture is a vehicle. You can sit in your driveway and take it apart or you can get in it and go somewhere.” (The artist cited in Ibid., p. 26) Tansey creates various avenues of meaning for his viewers to explore. Upon careful examination, viewers latch onto Transition Team’s peculiarities: the way in which it willfully defies the laws of reflection, playfully multiplies figures, and unabashedly compresses and stretches them to the point of unrecognizability. Viewers can detect Tansey’s duplication and compression of the central figures in the puddle beneath them; at least two smaller images of the riding Princess Diana are discernable, and the bottom left corner reveals a glimpse of a compressed Madonna fleeing the scene. They can trace the compression of the central, diligent workman directly beneath his “normal-sized” form. In the background, “[the] figures are squeezed...until they are flattened into a series of parallel lines.” (Mark C. Taylor, The Picture in Question: Mark Tansey & The Ends of Representation, Chicago, 1999, pp. 130-31) By toying with illusionism, “The longer one ponders this painting, Tansey has accomplished the seemingly impossible feat of inscribing an infinite number of perspectives within a finite space. In contrast to Cubism...Tansey is not interested in synchronizing viewpoints in a way that makes it possible to rise above them...he seeks to lure us ever more deeply into the flux of time and the gaps of space by drawing the viewer into the work of art and drawing the work of art into the field of the viewer.” (Mark C. Taylor, The Picture in Question: Mark Tansey & The Ends of Representation, Chicago, 1999, p. 132) With Transition Team’s breakdown of the picture plane into strata of various perspectives, Tansey exposes painting's inherent fallacy, by denying viewers the ability to enter a "window" unto another world.

"Transition Team encapsulates the postmodern inquiry into the conventions and practices of seeing and representation. Developing his signature style during the 1970s—the dawn of the Information Age and the period of mass media’s rapid expansion—Tansey synthesized the emerging aesthetic impulse of appropriation and remix characteristic of the contemporaneous Pictures Generation with a rich analysis of the history of representational painting. Reflecting on this formative period, Tansey recalls: “My paintings began really as a result of...the death of painting in the mid-1970s. It was a time when the formalists’ prohibition against representation seemed no longer to have authority.” (The artist cited in Ibid., p. 3) Freeing himself entirely from Abstract Expressionist dogma, which dominated American art for decades, Tansey returned to figuration with full force; not only does he invoke the visual vocabulary of the long-cherished genre of history painting, but also he draws from mass media source material to create a uniquely contemporary image. With its broody atmosphere of otherworldly exploration, Transition Team reflects Tansey’s endless fascination with “humankind’s confrontation with the unknown, the mysterious, or the awe inspiring,” and provides a veritable “metaphor for the eternal quest for knowledge.” (Judi Freeman, Exh. Cat., Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Mark Tansey, 1993, p. 27)"

The lot has an estimate of $3,500,000 to $5,000,000.  It failed to sell and was passed at $3,300,000.

Bradford  55
Lot 55, "Scratch Pink," buy Mark Bradford, mixed-media on canvas, 60 by 48 inches, 2018
Lot 55, "Scratch Pink," is a mixed-media on canvas by Mark Bradford (b. 1961).  It measures 60 by 48 inches and was painted in 2018.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"An exquisite example of Mark Bradford’s abstract practice, S
cratch Pink from 2018 powerfully demonstrates the groundbreaking artistic investigation of the contemporary urban experience that has distinguished Bradford as among the most significant and influential artists of his generation. Shimmering upon the canvas, the intricate network of gridded lines and interwoven webbing recalls visions of abstract maps or aerial glimpses of metropolitan sprawl, serving as potent visual signifiers for the modern urban realities and environments that are the primary source material for Bradford’s practice. The title of the present work is particularly evocative of the pioneering process by which the artist creates his kaleidoscopic abstract canvases; working through an extraordinary method of collage and décollage, Bradford first constructs dense layers of paper, then fastidiously scrapes them away, repeatedly adding and eroding in a highly considered and rigorously physical process. An artist born and based in Los Angeles, Bradford has been featured in a number of group exhibitions at the Hammer Museum over the past two decades, and is represented within the museum’s collection by several key works; describing the early and pivotal role the museum has played within his life, Bradford notes: “I’ve been with the Hammer my whole career; they’re like family.” (The artist cited in Exh. Cat., Los Angeles, Hammer Museum, University of California, Mark Bradford: Scorched Earth, 2015, p. 185) Mark Bradford essay third column: change sentence about A+P to: “In 2014, Bradford launched A+P, a nonprofit art and community space in Leimert Park, Los Angeles, and between 2014-2016 the Hammer served as a program partner, curating a number of the first exhibitions in the space. Of the relationship between the Museum and the artist, Connie Butler, Chief Curator at the Hammer Museum, describes: “In much the same way that the Hammer’s institutional mission statement combines art with social engagement through programming, Bradford’s dual mission merges art with political action through a kind of economic reclamation of a small part of a neighborhood undergoing change.” (Ibid., p. 22)  In 2015, the Hammer Museum presented Mark Bradford: Scorched Earth, the artist’s first solo museum exhibition in his hometown of Los Angeles, to widespread critical and public acclaim.

"Emerging from the saturated, raspberry-hued ground of Scratch Pink, an intricate network of magenta ridges and furrows coalesce to form a mesmerizing cartographic structure; while conjuring images of spider webs, neighborhood streets, and arterial veins, Bradford’s uncertain grid remains resolutely abstract, absorbing the viewer in a mesmerizing vision of prismatic hue. The rich multidimensional nature of the present work is due to Bradford’s signature usage of salvaged paper, painstakingly harvested from the artist’s own urban environs, which he selectively layers, scores, and bleaches upon the canvas in a quasi-archaeological fashion. This material transformation is central to Bradford’s work; through his meticulous excavation of the vestiges of everyday life, he is able to trace the human presence by its own discarded signifiers. Explaining his process in cross-disciplinary terms, Bradford describes the dichotomies in his work: “It’s almost like a rhythm. I’m a builder and a demolisher. I put up so I can tear down. I’m a speculator and a developer. In archaeological terms, I excavate and I build at the same time.” (The artist, cited in “Mark Bradford: Politics, Process and Postmodernism,” Art21, April 1, 2013) Through his intensely physical approach to the material presence of painting, Bradford pursues new frontiers of abstraction, creating a corpus of captivating paintings that merge complex layers of personal and socio-significance to create a mesmeric vision for the inherent decay and subsequent regenerative vibrancy of metropolitan life. Coursing with a stunning vitality that evinces the rigorous physical creation of its variegated surface, Scratch Pink serves as stunning testament to the groundbreaking nature of Bradford’s practice, encapsulating the artist’s virtuosic ability to harvest, incorporate, and transform the linguistic and visual ephemera of his surroundings to reveal new visions of contemporary humanity."

It has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000.  It sold for $3,020,000.

Mehretu 3

Lot 3, "Arcaderm" by Julie Mehretu, ink and acrylic on canvas, 84 1/4 by 120 1/4 inches, 2005

Lot 3, "Arcade," by Julie Mehretu (b. 1970), is an ink and acrylic on canvas that measures 84 1/4 by 120 1/4 inches.  It was created in 2005.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"I think architecture reflects the machinations of politics, and that’s why I am interested in it as a metaphor for those institutions. I don’t think of architectural language as just a metaphor about space. It’s about space, but about spaces of power, about the ideas of power” (The artist cited in ‘Tracing the Universe of Julie Mehretu, A Choral Text’ in exh. cat. Castille, Julie Mehretu, 2006-2007, p. 29).

"Achieving an immediate and emphatic graphic impact, Julie Mehretu’s Arcade from 2005 confronts the viewer with a dizzying abstract matrix that conjures infinity in its depth, intricacy, and multi-dimensionality. A superb example of Mehretu’s signature mode and executed upon a dramatic scale, the present work achieves a layering and compression of form, line, and hue that defies preconceived limitations of two-dimensional painting. Seeming to collapse centuries of art historical references within a single canvas, Arcade employs new narratives of abstraction as a means of exploring the complex political and social realities of the twenty-first century. Honored as a recipient of the MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ Fellowship Award in 2005 and, more recently, of the U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts in 2015, Mehretu has garnered widespread acclaim as amongst the most influential artists of her generation; featured in innumerable prestigious exhibitions and biennales worldwide, her distinctive output has become instantly recognizable for its complex compositions and mythical worlds that, unfolding before the viewer, toe the line between the real, virtual, and imagined. Testifying to the caliber of the present work, Arcade was included in Mehretu’s critically acclaimed exhibition in 2006-2007, Black City, on view at several institutions including the Louisiana Museum in Humlebæk, Denmark and the Kunstverein Hannover, Germany. Simultaneously riotously chaotic and exactingly precise, Mehretu’s cacophony of mark-making draws the viewer into a world seen simultaneously from above, outside, and within; from the depths of this architectonic matrix, a burst of metallic golden rays expands outward to the farmost edges of Mehretu’s canvas, illuminating the collapsing vortex of half-formed façades and cross-sectioned grids in the mesmerizing space before us. 

"Architecturally structured and delicately layered, Arcade epitomizes the complex engagement with art history for which Mehretu is best known; invoking movements as disparate as Constructivism and Futurism, the present work appears “built…over time, stratum upon stratum, beginning with architectural scores sampled from sources at once diverse and precise, and materializing through an accretion of graphic shapes and expressive marks.” (Exh. Cat., Detroit, Detroit Institute of Arts, Deconstruction/Construction, 2007, p. 50) Indeed, the present work derives its title from the Arcades Project, an unfinished undertaking of the German literary critic Walter Benjamin, written between 1927 and 1940; in this posthumously published text, Benjamin addresses the Parisian passages couverts de Paris, or 'arcades,' and their direct link to the city's distinctive city life and Flâneur culture. Furthermore, Benjamin conceived of the Arcades Project as a manifestation of collage technique in literature, an aesthetic that is beautifully embodied in the riotous linear dynamism of the present work. Mehretu here demonstrates an acute awareness of Benjamin's text and Giacomo Balla’s Futurist explorations of motion, light and atmosphere, while her seemingly suspended forms suggest Kandinsky’s prismatic, celestial compositions; however, the freneticism of such antecedents is channeled through Mehretu’s own more measured approach, the velocity and potency bridled by the rigorous exactitude of her unique practice. With painstaking care, the artist culls the diverse forms and figures within her compositions from a vast array of archival architectural materials; ranging from ancient city grids to forgotten plans for public monuments, maps of urban sprawl to intricate palatial edifices, Mehretu’s source materials invoke the premise of architecture as a medium for examining collective histories. Within Arcade, Mehretu’s imagined topography is realized through a formal vocabulary of color, gesture, line, mark, and form, utilizing the visual foundations of our civilization as materials to be flattened, juxtaposed, and stratified upon one another. “Each painting is an occurrence preserved, but only for a moment, in an uneasy split-second resting point. Composition is action, a physical laying down of one snapshot over another. Stacked in transparent films, coexistent histories are embedded yet still visible in the terrain of a hyperreal city.” (Ibid.) Achieving a visual panoply of imagery that evokes the events of our times while intimately engaging art historical precedent, Arcade mines the past for formal techniques and tools with which to examine our world; within this matrix of visual incident, Mehretu’s painting offers a new language of abstraction as a way of articulating the chaos, complexity, and universality of the human experience."

The lot has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000.  It sold for $3,020,000.

Lot 40, "Yocks," is an oil and arcrylic on canvas by Barkley L Hendricks (1945 - 2017).  It measures 72 1/8 by 42 inches and was painted in 1975.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Confronting the viewer with brazen directness and suave elegance, Yocks from 1975 is a resounding testament to Barkley Hendricks’ radical reinvention of portraiture in the late twentieth century and his unrivaled capacity to conjure compelling personalities with astounding specificity. Exemplary of the distinct style that distinguished Hendricks as a contemporary realist painter, Yocks speaks not only to Hendricks’ extensive familiarity with the conventions of traditional portraiture, but also to his unique absorption of these techniques as a means of reclaiming a status rarely afforded to minority figures within canonical art history. In the present work, Hendricks conveys the likeness of his subjects with a photorealistic attention to detail, carefully attending to and playfully manipulating color, scale, and compositional framing to achieve a desired tone.

"Hendricks often took as his subjects members of his own community, including family, friends, and individuals who caught his attention on the street; Hendricks based the present portrait on two men he met while in Boston, explaining: “There was the shine of the green leather coat and the ‘bling’ of the gold teeth…Yock was the name given to a dude who knew how to ‘rag.’ Rick Powell would call them dandies.” (The artist cited  in Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz, Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: a Sourcebook of Artists' Writings, Berkeley, 2012, p. 263). While the two figures here are clearly posed for the present portrait, they do not appear at all contrived, and instead project an effortless, cool indifference. With their decadent leather jackets, stylized platform shoes, twin toothpicks and the undeniably lush white fur collar on the right figure, these men are indeed Yocks – modern day dandies as seen through Hendricks’ eyes. Within the rich intensity of the figures' garb, minute brushstrokes differentiate the various fabrics and items of clothing that the two men wear; with impressive dexterity and technical prowess, Hendricks effortlessly reveals the textured furred lapels and shimmering folds on his subjects’ outfits. Hendricks’ careful handling of brush and paint effortlessly distinguishes between various fabric materials – luxuriant rich fur, weathered leather, and intricate embroidery – and attends to subtle nuances in the fabrics’ folds and wrinkles. His photorealist style, derived from his tightly rendered brushstrokes, imbues the composition as a whole with a velvety smoothness. Against the sparse backdrop of white, the entirety of the viewer’s focus descends upon the two figures presented here: Hendricks lends no additional context to situate them in time or space, instead forcing the viewer to attend carefully to what is there and complicating a simple, linear art historical narrative. Yocks reinvigorates the Victorian legacy of dandyism with a relevant, contemporary spirit, thus expanding and reimagining the possibilities of black male expression within this context. Remarking on Hendricks’s artistic ingenuity, art critic Janet Koplos notes: “…Hendricks tweaks his format and pushes his colors, so the portraits all have punch. One responds to color, to pose, to costume, to facial expression. The works seem intensely considered.” (Janet Koplos, “Flashback,” Art in America, February 24, 2009)

"Born in Philadelphia in 1945, Hendricks attended the prestigious Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. It was during his years at PAFA that Hendricks first visited the legendary European art centers that would prove to have a lasting effect on his idiosyncratic brand of portraiture, observing first hand such technical feats as Hans Holbein the Younger’s meticulous attention to fabric and details in the folds of a sitter’s clothing and Gustav Klimt’s exquisite renderings of three-dimensional figures against a luminous, flat ground. Hendricks’ engagement with these art historical icons extends beyond the similarities in rendering of paint; in the present work, Hendricks absorbs and transforms the techniques of the Old Masters, making evident his own mastery of paint and color by simulating distinct textures, shadows, and depth with remarkable skill. While Hendricks admired and learned from his art historical antecedents, he emphatically challenged the narrow preexisting parameters of canonical portraiture that his forebearers set forth, introducing into this lineage with uncompromising confidence and mesmerizing coolness the black figure. As summarized by art historian Trevor Schoonmaker, curator of the artist’s celebrated travelling retrospective exhibition organized by the Nasher Museum between 2008-2010: “Hendricks stands out as an artist ahead of his time. His work has defied easy categorization, and his unique individualism has landed him outside of the mainstream, but his bold and empowering portrayal of those who have been overlooked and underappreciated has positioned him squarely in the hearts of many…By representing the black body in new and challenging ways, Hendricks’ pioneering work has unwittingly helped pave the way for future generations of artists of color to work with issues of identity through representation of the black figure. Today his body of work is as vital and vibrant as ever, and it should prove him to be a lasting figure in the history of American art.” (Trevor Schoonmaker, “Birth of the Cool,” in Exh. Cat., Durham, Duke University, Nasher Museum of Art (and travelling), Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool, 2008, p. 36)

"Hendricks’ artistic privileging of a culturally complex black figure in the 1970s is today celebrated as radically groundbreaking and visionary. And yet, despite the socio-political implications of his revolutionary body of portraiture, Hendricks rejected a narrowly prescribed understanding of his work as solely a reflection of his racial identity, stating: “Anything a black person does in terms of the figure is put into a 'political' category…I paint because I like to paint.” (The artist cited in Karen Rosenberg, “Barkley L. Hendricks on Why You Shouldn't Call Him a Political Artist,” Artspace, March 15, 2016) Indeed, Hendricks’s technical brilliance is not to be overlooked. The artist’s dexterous manipulation of paint, highly evident in the dazzling textural depth and tonal complexity of Yocks, establishes the notion that beauty, although culturally specific, possesses a universality that transcends race."

It has an estimate of $900,000 to $1,200,000.  It sold for $3,740,000.

See The City Review article on the Fall 2018 Contemporary Art evening auction at Christie's New York
See The City Review article on the Fall 2018 Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's New York
See The City Review article on the Spring 2018 Contemporary Art evening auction at Christie's New York
See The City Review article on the Spring 2018 Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's New York
See The City Review article on the Fall 2017 Contemporary Art evening auction at Christie's New York
See The City Review article on the Spring 2017 Contemporary Art evening auction at Christie's New York
See The City Review article on the Spring 2017 Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's New York
See The City Review article on the Fall 2016 Contemporary Art evening auction at Christie's New York
See The City Review article on the Spring 2016 Contemporary Art evening auction at Christie's New York

See The City Review article on the Spring 2016 Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's New York
See The City Review article on the Fall 2015 Contemporary Art evening auction at Christie's New York

See The City Review article on the Fall 2015 Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's New York
See The City Review article on the Spring 2015 Contemporary Art evening auction at Christie's New York
See The City Review article on the Spring 2015 Looking Forward to The Past auction at Christie's New York
See The City Review article on the Spring 2015 Impressionist and Modern Art auction at Sotheby's New York
See The City Review article on the Looking Forward to the Past auction May 11, 2015 at Christie's New York
See The City Review article on the Fall 2014 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Christie's New York
See The City Review article on the Spring 2014 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Sotheby's New York

See The City Review article on the Spring 2014 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Christie's New York
See The City Review article on the Fall 2013 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Sotheby's New York
See The City Review article on the Spring 2013 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Christie's New York
See The City Review article on the Spring 2013 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's New York

See The City Review article on the Fall 2012 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Sotheby's New York
See The City Review article on the Fall 2012 Impressionist & Modern Art day auction at Sotheby's New York
See The City Review article on the Spring 2012 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2012 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2011 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2011 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2011 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2011 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2010 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2010 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2010 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2010 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2009 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2009 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2009 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2009 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2008 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2008 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2008 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2008 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2007 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2007 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2007 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2006 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2006 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2006 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2005 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's November 2, 2005
See The City Review article on the Impressionist & Modern evening sale at Sotheby's in the Spring, 2005
See The City Review article on the Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction in the Fall, November, 2005
See The City Review article on the Impressionist & Modern Art day auction at Sotheby's November 5, 2004
See The City Review article on the Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's May 4, 2004
See The City Review article on the Impressionist & Modern Art day auction at Christie's May 5, 2004
See The City Review article on the May 5, 2004 evening auction at Sotheby's of Property of the Greentree Foundation from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney
See The City Review article on the Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's May 6, 2004
See The City Review article on the Spring 2004 Impressionist & Modern Art day auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2003 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2003 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2003 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on Spring 2003 Impressionist & Modern Art day auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2003 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2003 Impressionist & Modern Art Part 2 day auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2002 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2002 Impressionist & Modern Art evening auction at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg
See The City Review article on the Spring 2002 Impressionist & Modern Art day auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2002 Impressionist Art evening auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2002 Impressionist Art Part Two day auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Nov. 5, 2001 auction of the Smooke Collection at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg
See The City Review article on the Nov. 5, 2001 auction of the Hoener Collection at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg
See The City Review article on Phillips May 7, 2001 Impressionist & Modern Art auction
See The City Review article on the November 9, 2001 Impressionist & Modern Art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on Phillips Fall 2000 Impressionist & Modern Art auction
See The City Review article on the Christie's evening sale of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Art May 8, 2000
See The City Review article on the Christie's evening sale of Twentieth Century Art May 9, 2000

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