A monumental Abstract Expressionist painting by Mark Rothko "Untitled," painted in 1961, is one of the highlights of Sotheby' Contemporary Art sale on May 12, that also features a monumental and rare Pop Art "Self Portrait" by Andy Warhol, painted in 1986, just before his untimely death in 1987, and one of only two known to be privately held. Other impressive highlights include a superb work on paper by Jackson Pollock, "Number 12A, 1948, Yellow, Gray, Black," Roy Lichtenstein's powerful cubist inspired "Expressionist Head," and Brice Marden's "Cold Mountain 1(Path)," the most important work by the artist ever to come to auction.
Alex Rotter, Sotheby's Head of Contemporary Art, New York, with Lot 40, "Untitled," by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, acrylic, silkscreen and oil paintstick on canvas, 116 by 165 1/4 inches, 1984
The Zurich based gallerist suggested a collaboration between Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat, like the collaborations between students in grade school, without having any idea where this powerhouse duo would take it! The class mural project in the imaginations and hands of these two legendary artists is all the more remarkable because Basquiat was 23, and Warhol was already an icon of Pop Art. However, as all of us that grow older know, being around 23 year olds can have an electrifying effect on our own lives. Basquiat not only holds his own, but is credited with having galvanized Warhol back into full-bore creativity again:
"Jean Michel thought he needed Andy's fame, and Andy thought he needed Jean-Michel's new blood. Jean-Michel gave Andy a rebellious image again" writes Ronny Cutrone quoted in Victor Bokris, "Warhol: The Biography," Cambridge, 2003, page. 461-2 (Courtesy Sotheby's catalog for this sale)
A rebellious image was essential to Andy Warhol. It defined who he was.
This lot has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000 and is property from the estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. It sold for $2,658,500.
Lot 52, "Stardust," by Jean-Michel Basquiat, acrylic and oilstick on canvas, 84 by 52 inches, 1983
Lot 52 is a fantastic, large work by Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) entitled "Stardust." It measures 84 by 52 inches and was painted in 1983. It has an estimate of $1,800,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for $7,250,500.
Rothko was also drawn to John Frederick Kensett, whose beautiful "Sunset on the Sea" is illustrated in an essay about Lot 14 in Sotheby's catalog for this sale. Painted in 1872, this poetic and moving work would have pleased J.M.W.Turner - perhaps the greatest painter of light of all time - who influenced Kensett as he did many painters of his and subsequent generations:
"Rothko's fascination with light can also be traced to the Luminists - a tradition in American painting that dominates the third quarter of the 19th century. Luminism is centered on the authority of light. Artists belonging to the movement, such as John Kensett, confront the viewer with an empty vista that is more about colored light than terrestrial soil. Light in these paintings, and in Rothko's works, is the primal source of energy. Rothko resurrects the Luminists in an abstract tradition. The blinding gold sunlight is a potent metaphor for the unseen world or spirit. The present work has a similar altar-like frontality and elicits transcendental emotions. In 1958, Rothko commented, "Some artists want to tell all like at a confessional. I as a craftsman prefer to tell little...There is more power in telling little than in telling all." (Courtesy Sotheby's catalog for this sale)
Perhaps the most beautiful
work in the auction is Lot 12, "Number 12A, 1948: Yellow, Gray, Black,"
a relatively small but very strong "drip" painting by Jackson Pollock
(1912-1956). An enaeml on gesso ground on paper, it measures
22 3/4 by 30 3/4 inches and was executed in 1948 and was illustrated in
the famous Life Magazine on Pollock August 8, 1949 in an article
entitled "Is He the Greatest Living Painter in the United States?"
It has a modest estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It sold for $8,762,500.
Another wonderful painting is Brice Marden's "Cold Mountain I (Path)," Lot 29, executed in 1988-89, whose sinuous curves marked a breaking away from the artist's monochromatic panels of the 60s and 70s. Part drawing, painting and calligraphy, it is named after Han Shan - called Cold Mountain - an 8th or 9th century Chinese poet. This panel is one of six in the series, and the only one to appear at auction. Three panels are in museum collections and two in private collections. "Cold Mountain" has an estimate of $10,000,000 to $15,000,000.
"Striving toward a re-invention of style and a departure from critically acclaimed work can be a risk but it is a vital one for artists to retain a sense of vitality and discovery in their work. Few contemporary artists have navigated this journey with as much success as Marden. "Cold Mountain (Path)" is the culmination of Marden's journey toward this new style of painting and a testament to his exploratory spirit." (Sotheby's catalog for this sale)
The lot sold for $9.602,500.
A visitor in Sotheby's galleries, entranced with Alexander Calder's "Blue and Yellow Sickles," Lot 13. In the background is the Jackson Pollock.
So true, and if Calder was in the building it probably would! The mobile may look delicate, but the Calder was a trained engineer, (Stevens Institute of Technology), before he became an artist, which had a profound influence on his work. He knew how to make it beautiful and withstand more than a few puffs of air. I happened to be passing by in the gallery, and became both an onlooker and a supporter of the gentleman's endeavor. He said sure:
"You can take a photograph, I would love it; there is another mobile like this in The Philadelphia Museum of Art ," he said with a smile, when I asked.
It is amazing how art returns us to youthful and important pleasures, especially an artist as playful as Alexander Calder. Please see the review of the Alexander Calder show at The Whitney Museum of American Art in the Art/Museums section on this site.
The other monumental and luscious painting by Joan Mitchell, Lot 18, "Two Sunflowers," has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It sold for $4,114,500.
Lot 22, "Expressionist Head," by Roy Lichtenstein
"Expressionist Head" (Lot 22/estimate $3,500,000 to $5,500,000) by Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) marks a departure from his instantly recognizable comic strip imagery at the end of an important period of creativity for the artist:
"In the 1970s," according to the catalogue, "the artist shifted his attention away from the comic and advertising inspired paintings of th 1960s which had established him as a star in the Pop Art movement. Lichtenstein now turned to the nature of painting itself, by contemplating the great artists and movements of the 20th century. The works executed between 1974 and 1980 engage with the dynamics of Futurism, Surrealism, and German Expressionism. With bold line and vivid color, Lichtenstein created a unique style that combined the Pop aesthetic with techniques of the past resulting in works that herald his ultimate subject: art about art."
The lot sold for $4,282,500.
Lot 50, "Harriet (Last Portrait)," by Matthew Day Jackson, and Lot 38, "Suddenly Last Summer," by Cecily Brown,
Matthew Day Jackson's (born 1974) marvellous "Harriet (Last Portrait)," (Lot 50/estimate $300,000-400,000), reflects his preoccupation with legends of American history. This superb mixed media portrait is of Harriet Tubman, a brave and trail blazing legend in American history, and a woman that certainly marched to her own drummer at a time when women did not even have the right to vote. She also had to overcome the injustice of being born a slave (in Maryland, in 1850), and ultimately became an emblem of the African-American abolishionist and Women's Suffrage movements. Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery in 1949, and "... later, after the approval in 1850 of the Fugitive Slave Law, helped dozens of fugitives escape to Canada. During the American Civil War, Tubman joined the Union Army and eventually served as an armed scout and spy. Among her heroic exploits, Tubman guided troops in the Combahee River raid in 1863, which liberated hundreds of slaves in South Carolina. "Day Jackson's portrait depicts Tubman at the end of her incredible life in homage to her revolutionary existence and symbolic stature.
"Delving into the legends of American history, Matthew Day Jackson examines the myth-making of national identity. Through his 'paintings' Jackson recycles his country's iconic symbols to assemble alternate versions of past events that reflect and critique present-day politics and the traditional roles of the artist as 'cultural antennae' and 'storyteller.'" (Exhibition catalogue, London, The Royal Academy of Arts, USA Today, October-November 2006, pg. 189)
The Jackson sold for $662,500.
Lot 38, "Suddenly Last Summer," a beautiful work by Cecily Brown, sold for $1,082,500
Lot 43, "Untitled," by Anish Kapoor, stainless steel, 73 by 73 by 22 inches, 2005, artist's proof from an edition of three plus one artist's proof
Lot 43 is an untitled stainless steel sculpture by Anish Kapoor (b.1954). It measures 73 by 73 by 22 inches and was created in 2005. It has an estimate of $600,000 to $900,000. It sold for $1,082,500. Lot 43, "Untitled," by Anish Kapoor catches the light in an airy gallery at Sotheby's filled with other wonderful works of art. It was exhibited in Nice, Musee d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain, T-Collection: The Sickness of Hunting, 2008, pp,62-63, illustrated (referenced in Sotheby's catalogue for this sale).
Lot 49, "Rimini" by Andreas Gursky fascinated a young art lover in Sotheby's galleries and is a spectacular photograph of a very long, deep and well populated beach in Italy! It has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $722,500.
Lot 11, "Untitled (Aviary)," by Joseph Cornell, painted wood and metal in a wood and glass box construction, 17 by 11 by 4 1/2 inches, circa 1945-7
Lot 11 is a painted wood and metal in a wood and glass box construction by Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) that is entitled "Untitled (Aviary)." It measures 17 by 11 by 4 1/2 inches and was created circa 1945-7. It has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $1,874,500.
Lot 21, "Jail," by Philip Guston, oil on canvas, 65 by 75 inches, 1969
Lot 21 by Philip Guston (1913-1980), an oil on canvas, measuring 65 by 75 inches, is entitled "Jail." It depicts klansmen and was painted in 1969. It has an estimte of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for $1,986,500.
Lot 27, "Bushbaby," by Jasper Johns, ink on plastic, 34 3/4 by 24, 2004
Anthony Grant, Tobias Meyer and Alex Rotter holding press conference after auction with Rothko painting in background
Copyright 2010 Michele Leight
See The City Review article on the Spring 2010 Contemporary Art auction at Christie's