By Carter B. Horsley
This morning auction of Contemporary
Art at Christie's May 14, 2009 is highlighted by an extremely
fine painting by Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920) and very good works
by Richard Pousette-Dart, Arshile Gorky, Helen Frankenthaler and
The Thiebaud is Lot 157, "Ripley
Street Ridge," an oil on canvas that measures 28 by 20 inches.
It was executed in 1976.
The catalogue entry for this
lot provides the following commentary:
"Ripley Street Ridge
is a prime example of Thiebaud's distinctly dramatic depiction
of the California urban landscape. This early landscape signifies
a major development in the artist's oeuvre and his growing assurance
in his own brand of modern realism. Thiebaud has lived along the
California coast, from the areas spanning San Diego to San Francisco
for almost his entire life, and witnessed first hand the profound
changes in post-war California with its urban growth and expanding
car culture. This native knowledge of the west coast combined
with an uncanny ability to capture the unique characteristics
of California light informs the complexity of Thiebaud's singular
composition and design.
"Thiebaud began seriously
observing the urban landscape as a subject in 1972 when he purchased
a second home in the Potrero Hill section of San Francisco. Inspired
by the dramatic vantage points and pitched perspectives of the
city's topography, Thiebaud began his series that would continue
well into the 90's. As the artist recalls, 'I was playing around
with the abstract notions of edge - I was fascinated, living in
San Francisco, by the way different streets just came in and then
just vanished. So I sat out on a street corner and began to paint
them.' It was the 'sense of edges appearing, things swooping around
their own edges that I loved' (Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective,
exh. cat., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2000, p. 58).
"From the hilly San Francisco
streets, drawing pad in hand, Thiebaud makes a multitude of sketches
(emulating the working method of his idol Edward Hopper), which
he later reworks and compiles into larger paintings back in his
studio. This composite technique allows Thiebaud to blend reality
with his own vision. The artist explains his process, 'What happens
is that you start off with certain feelings, certain attitudes,
that you have about this city, you have certain indigenous forms
that you know how to annotate, but, if you then pay too much attention
to the specifics of this, it may interfere with what you might
personally be able to add to the vision. The artist's work, it
seems to me, combines three different worlds. There is our real
world, which we all share and on which there is a consensus; the
art world and its historical tradition; and one's apperceptive
mass, a unique, individual world. These influences have to be
of almost equal percentage in order to insure a full visual experience'
(Wayne Thiebaud: Cityscapes, exh. cat., Campbell-Thiebaud Gallery,
1993, p. 3).
"Vividly venturing in
the interval between abstraction and representation, Thiebaud's
buildings face the viewer as flattened squares or rectangles of
creamy light-struck color. Streets become vertical zips and diagonally
slicing ribbons that sweep us from under our feet and send us
tumbling through a vertiginous intersection of juxtaposing planes
and angles. For Thiebaud, Ripley Street Ridge is foremost
a study of form and composition. Here he exaggerates the steep
terrain of the San Francisco topography by conscious manipulation
of color and light to paint texture, to produce a painting that
is firstly an artistic construction; its role as a descriptive
depiction is only secondary. Ripley Street Ridge addresses
the dichotomy of the energy of city life co-existing in a scene
of extreme foreshortening and shifting perspectives. The intersections
of San Francisco became the perfect forum within which to explore
the opposing tensions between modern abstraction and classic representation."
The painting has an estimate
of $650,000 to $850,000. It sold for $1,022,500 including the
buyer's premium as do all results in this article.
Lot 149 is a large and excellent
oil on canvas by Richard Pousette-Dart (1916-1992). Entitled "Composition
Number 1," it measures 40 1/2 by 80 5/8 inches and was painted
in 1943. It has a conservative estimate of $300,000 to $400,000.
It sold for $698,500. It was illustrated in color in the 2005
book on the artist by S. Hunter and J. Kuebler and was exhibited
in a retrospective on the artist at the Indianapolis Museum of
Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Columbus Museum and the
Phillips Collection in Washington from October, 1990 to April
1992. The artist was the subject of an exhibition in 2007 at the
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
The catalogue entry for the lot provides the following commentary:
"It is in the 1940s that
Pousette-Dart's role as a leading New York School artist began
to take shape. Finding inspiration in Oceanic, Northwest Indian
and African Art, the artist took refuge in the archetypal and
elaborated in his many notebooks on the universal signifiers in
his own work, "circle of spirit, square of matter, circle
of G-d, square of man" (K. Hubner, 'Richard Pousette-Dart's
Early Work and its Origins' in Richard Pousette-Dart, exh. cat.,
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, 2007, p. 19).
Pousette-Dart incorporated this self-prescribed symbolism into
his work while concurrently applying his paints to the canvas
in an urgent manner that paid respect to the composition in its
entirety. It is with a keen interest in Eastern philosophy, the
teachings of Taoism and Buddhism that Pousette-Dart approached
his most critical works. The philosopher Henri Bergson, an early
influence on Pousette-Dart, provided a literary model for the
artist in his promotion of 'the creative role of intuition and
it's primacy over analytical thinking.' (Ibid., p. 18). This sentiment
resonates in the present lot, Composition Number 1 of 1943.
The youngest of the founding members of the New York School it
is generally granted that Pousette-Dart 'holds title as the first
to 'Paint Heroically' on a monumental scale.' (L. Stokes Sims,
'Richard Pousette-Dart and Abstract Expressionism: Critical Perspectives'
in Ibid., p. 29). This distinction elevates the artist's early
works to a status of respectability that defies conventional criticism.
Composition Number 1, 1943 is a powerful painting closely
related aesthetically and structurally to the artist's masterpiece
Symphony Number 1, The Transcendental, of 1941-1942 in
the collection of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Both
works share an opaque surface of broken forms punctuated by bright
colored passages. Alluding to the bejeweled face of gothic stained
glass and the machinations of a new atomic reality; these two
works are more than a synthesis of modern ideas, they are spiritual
conquests for a new age-they are modern talismans of an aggressive
Lot 226 is an early and wonderfully
strong though small abstraction by Arshile Gorky (1904-1948).
The untitled work is an oil on canvas that measures 6 1/2 by 8
1/4 inches and it was painted in 1935. It has a modest estimate
of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $96,100.
Lot 208 is a large and dramatic
acrylic on canvas by Helen Frankenthaler (b. 1928). Entitled "Azure,"
it measures 32 by 103 3/4 inchyes and was painted in 1981. It
has an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It sold for $314,500.
Lot 201 is a large acrylic
on printed fabric by Sigmar Polke (b. 1941). Entitled "Der
Zug," it measures 38 3/4 by 53 inches and was executed in
1994. It has an estimate of $180,000 to 4250,000. It sold for
The catalogue provides the
"The found fabrics that
make up the canvas of Der Zug recall Sigmar Polke's Rheierbild
pictures of the 1960s, and his chosen fabrics are reminiscent
of a another era - a scarf of a old English hunt scene, horses
running endlessly and a cartoon pattern of goofy characters enjoying
pints of beir and pils, a working class German pastime. By incorporating
elements of transmutability, illusion, deception, double-meaning
and multiple perspectives into his work, Polke denies the validity
of any single viewpoint, offering a vision of reality as a multifaceted
phenomenon that exists in a constant state of flux. As illustrated
in Der Zug, the use of each and all of these elements reflects
a deliberate attempt by the artist to conjure surprising pictorial
impossibilities that express a strong sense of the vast imperceptible
mystery of both life and the universe.
"Taking his cue from the
kind of questioning of rationalism and scientific certainty posed
by Heisenberg and Wittgenstein and combining their disruptive
theories with a unique personal mysticism which, he provocatively
claims, operates according to the commands of 'higher beings',
Polke's work presents a picture of reality as an unstable veil
of Maya. Reality is a phenomenon, Polke's paintings argue, that
can only ever be understood partially or in a fragmentary way
and is best expressed within the pictorial frame of bizarre or
surprising relationships that suggest meaning. Even if, by definition,
it is a meaning that will forever remain undecipherable. Transcending
linear and conventional understandings of time, space, reason,
and always and above all, the mundaneness of a commonsensical
view of the world, it is these chance-driven relationships that
give Polke's pictures their mystery, life and ability to captivate
and enchant the imagination."
Lot 169 is a strong oil and
magna on canvas by Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997). Entitled "Guitar,"
it measures 36 by 48 inches and was painted in 1974. It has an
estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It failed to sell.
The sale total was $18,053,575.
Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997)
was recently honored with a retrospective at the Museum of Modern
Art in New York and was the artist whose work was the catalogue
cover illustration at Sotheby's evening auction this season of
Contemporary Art. Lot 345, "Onkel Bonbon," is an oil,
metallic spray enamel and metallic glitter on canvas that measures
47 1/4 by 39 1/3 inches. It was created in 1983 and has an estimate
of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $122,500.
A third Kippenberger is an
untitled work, Lot 342, that measures 71 by 59 inches. A latex
and pigment on canvas, it was created in 1991 and is quite striking.
It has an estimate of $180,000 to $220,000. It failed to sell.
Lot 407 is a 78 7/10-inch diameter
sculpture by Zhang Huan (b. 1965). The painted aluminum, stainless
steel and feathers work is entitled "Buddha never down with
feathers." It was created in 2004. It is the artist's proof
numberone from an edition of six plus two artist's proofs. IUt
has an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It failed to sell.
Lot 402 is an oil on canvas
by Wang Guangyi (b. 1956). Entitled "Great Criticism Series:
NYSE," it measures 20 by 16 inches and was executed in 2003.
It has an estimate of $15,000 to $20,000. It sold for $32,500.
Lot 367 is a polyester and
paint sculpture of 17 rats by Katharina Fritsch (b. 1956). It
is 23 1/4 inches in diameter. It is from an edition of eight.
It has an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $62,500.