By Michele Leight
Andy Warhol's "Double Elvis (Ferus Type)" and Roy Lichtenstein's "Sleeping Girl" from The Collection of Phil and Bea Gersh set an optimistic and upbeat tone for Sotheby's prestigious evening sale on May 9, 2012 in New York. Lichtenstein's beautiful women from this series are featured in the collections of major institutions throughout the world such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York. For fans of Pop this double-header was the icing on a cake of several exciting works of art that make auction season in New York a one-of-a-kind experience. The other superb painting in this sale is Francis Bacons Lot 19, "Figure Writing Reflected in a Mirror," illustrated above in Sotheby's auction room with Lichtenstein's "Sleeping Girl" and monumental "Flowers," (Lot 12) by Warhol. Paintings by Bacon add heft to any contemporary art auction, and this sale also includes Lot 42, "Study for a Portrait," a beautiful and sensitive work by the artist. Two real gems from The Estate of Theodore J. Forstmann are Roy Lichtenstein's "Sailboats," and Jean-Michel Basquiat's "Ring." Illustrated below is Warhol's double silkscreen of the incomparable music icon and mover-and-shaker Elvis, in full cowboy regalia, holding a gun instead of a guitar. In front of the painting are Sotheby's Contemporary art team in New York: from right to left, Tobias Meyer, Worldwide Head of Contemporary Art, Alex Rotter, Head of Contemporary Art, New York and Anthony Grant, International Specialist Head.
Lot 29, "Untitled (New York City)," a winsome blackboard painting by Cy Twombly is also a highlight of this sale, together with Richter's Lot 10, "Abstraktes Bild," 1992, that is as beautiful and uplifting as Bacon's "Figure Writing Reflected in a Mirror" is tortured and technically marvellous. Richter is a magician with a paintbrush or squeejee, achieving exquisite effects that defy description. Bacon's virtuoso brushwork is unparalled in contemporary art, and he is is always tragic, the 20th century's tormented Rembrandt, with none of the Old Master's ease. Whether his battleground was a triptych or solo canvas, Bacon never let himself - or his subject - off the hook. All these works are described in greater detail in this review.
Lot 29, "Untitled (New York City)," has an estimate of $15 to 20 million. It sold for $17,442,500 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.
The sale of $266,591,00 fell nicely within the auction's pre-sale estimates of $220,000,000 to $309,900,000. Of the 57 offered lots, 46 sold.
Important pieces by Alexander Calder, Arshile Gorky - wonderful "Khorkum" - and Willem de Kooning add vitality to an all star line-up of artists that have carved out alternative and new paths in art history. Pieces by Cindy Sherman, Damien Hirst, wonderful Takashi Murakami, Mark Bradford, Glenn Ligon, Ai Wei Wei, Lee Ufan, Luc Tuymans, and Anish Kapoor, among others, represent present generation artists, without whom - for this reviewer - no sale would be truly "contemporary" or meaningful. Many are illustrated in this review. There was simply not enough time or room to add all the artists that deserved to be included, sadly.
Lot 4, a striking self-portrait by Jean-Michel Basquiat from The Estate of Theodore Forstmann entitled "Ring" shows the artist as a warrior ready to do battle, arms raised, holding an arrow, ready to strike. Basquiat's gritty, tender, tormented, urban iconography becomes more and more relevant as the years pass. Lot 4 has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It sold for $7,642,500.
Aah, comic books! What a great American invention. Roy Lichtenstein got that long before they became the blockbuster films with the global cult following they have today. Lichtenstein's contemporary Sleeping Beauty - Lot 16 "Sleeping Girl" - is a deliciously artificial heroine culled form popular cultures comic books that simultaneously dazzles us and makes us uneasy. Or, should I say, makes some uneasy. Beauty can be dangerous, and there is more than a hint of this in Lichtenstein's iconic women, just as there is in Warhol's brilliant portrayals of famous - and tragic - cult favourites like Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy.
Smitten by the clean-lines and garish anonymity of protagonists in comic books as a child, I found a surprising ally in my father, who thought that flotsam and jetsum for the mind was a darn good idea - while my mother disapproved of comics as "fluff." You either love them or hate them, but I noticed comics were something Dad was willing to pay for without a battle - a miracle if you knew my father. On the weekend we would go together to a magazine stand. He bought Time and Newsweek and I chose two comics. It was so deliciously exciting I tingled all over. When I got home (hiding the comics behind my back) I slithered past my dear Mother, who disapproved of my "incomprehensible addiction to comics that corrupt critical thinking" (her opinion). But I was adamant, totally passionate, about my comics, and Mum lost that argument forever. After wading through mind-numbing homework assignments, there was nothing like a Coca Cola (in a glass bottle) and a short-stack of Archie comics to blow the doldrums away. Betty and Veronica were "low-brow," however, compared with Lichtenstein's sophisticated bombshells, who allude to the more refined divas of classical antiquity. Years later, I realized there was a lot more to these garish, sexy depictions of womanhood that women of my Mother's generation (who they portrayed) disliked, probably because - to them - they personified the trivialization and objectivisation of females. An essay in Sothebys catalogue for this sale includes a quote by Diane Waldman:
"In isolating the female figure from her original context, Lichtenstein further magnifies society's codification of women as ornaments, positioned for the male gaze only." (Diane Waldman in Exh. Cat. New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and traveling. R.L. 1995-1996).
The following observation is also made in the essay (entitled "Defining Beauty Sleeping Girl"):
"While people fall in love with fictional characters every day, 'Sleeping Girl' invites us to fall in love with the act of artistic creation itself. A critical stand against falsified aesthetic pretense and subterfuge, "Sleeping Girl" is the ultimate incarnation of Marshall McLuhan's legendary and exactly contemporaneous maxim: 'The Medium is the Message.' Roy Lichtenstein presents her as a breathtakingly beautiful subject by breathtakingly beautiful means, and delivers the ultimate expression of John Keat's observation that: 'What the imagination sees as beauty must be the truth." (John Keat's letter to Benjamin Bailey, 22 November 1817).
Lot 16, Sleeping Girl," has an estimate of $30 to 40 million. It sold for $44,882,500, an outstanding price.
"Sleeping Girl" - a contemporary Sleeping Beauty - is from The Collection of Phil and Bea Gersh, legendary arts patrons, collectors and philanthropists:
"Over the decades the achievements of the Gershes as partons were manifold: they were co-founders of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and The Los Angeles Music Center; were vitally involved in the development and activities of the Pasadena Museum; and were major benefactors to the Motion Picture and Television Fund. However, above all was their magninimous association with, investment of energy in and ultimate generosity to The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Bea had been integral to the museum's establishment in 1979, became a board member and life trustee, and was awarded their inaugural Distinguished Women in the Arts award in 1994..." Sotheby's catalogue for this sale continues: "For Phil and Bea Gersh, the collection of important artworks was not optional pastime or idle diversion, but was a profound and life-affirming pursuit that required serious focus and total dedication. They had first become excited to start a collection of their own having encountered Post-Impressionist paintings belonging to Phil's sister and her husband, Mildred and Sam Jaffe. Sam was an executive at Paramount Pictures who introduced Phil to the talent industry, and soon Phil and Bea enthusiastically undertook to educate themselves in the latest artistic trends and attend countless openings and exhibitions...Their endeavours were driven by strong sense of purpose, and they repeatedly affrimed the consistent message that 'Collecting art has enriched our lives, provided us enormous satisfation, and offered us a sense of participation in the art and cultural creativity of our time.'" ('Collectors' Statement' in Exh.Cat., Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Selections from the Beatrice and Philip Gersh Collection, 1989-90.n.p)
As if all this is not enough amazing lifetime achievement, movie buffs who are passionate about this particular era in filmmaking - as this reviewer is - will appreciate that "for more than sixty years Phil Gersh was one of the great agents of Hollywood and a true pioneer of the business, with a host of famous clients such as David Niven, William Holden, Richard Burton, James Mason, Don Siegel, Robert Wise and perhaps most famously of all, Humphrey Bogart. He had become an agent in the mid-1930s and established the Gersh Agency in 1949, which of course grew to become on of the premium talent agencies in the United States. His extraordinary career spanned an era of tremendous change and he continued to work daily into his nineties, truly "one of the last links between Hollywood's golden age and the corporate-owned movie business today." (Charles Dennis, 'A Player Then and Now,' Los Angeles Times Calendar, 21 April, p.4).
Sherry Lansing, Chairman of Paramount Picture Group, described Phil Gersh as "the epitome of a gentleman. He was an extraordinary agent. He was honest, he was decent, he fought hard for his clients, but he always fought with great integrity and passion." (Dennis McLellan, 'Phil Gersh, 92; Agent with old Hollywood instincts, Art Patron,' The Los Angeles Times, 11 May 2004). Excerpts are from Sotheby's catalogue for this sale.
Perhaps the Gersh's greatest achievement was that they remained happily married for 59 years - in Hollywood.
Lot 26, "Sailboats III" by Roy Lichtenstein is just so happy! Its brilliant hues ooze optimism and it flamboyantly represents an era that will never pass this way again. Those ties, that big hair - on men - the printed bell-bottom trousers! It all seemed so naughty to me as a girl, yet it was so innocent compared with the world today. Just like Cy Twombly said of Rome, the fun and frolicky Pop era has already passed into history, and, like the treasured remnants of most civilizations, only the art remains. It is interesting to note, however that this idyllic boating scene - often repeated in the pantheon of great works of art from Turner to Monet - is culled from Lichtenstein's Cubist phase, recalling Picasso and Braque, and, (as the catalogue for this sale notes), specifically Lionel Feininger, a fantastic artist, who famously depicted cubist inspired yachts and New York's towering skyscrapers.
As previously mentioned, Roy Lichtenstein's "Sailboats III" (Lot 26) is one of two prime lots of contemporary art from the Estate of Theodore J. Forstmann, the legendary American philanthropist and financier. The other is a powerful yet poetic canvas by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lot 4, entitled "Ring." Lot 26 has an estimate of $6 to 8 million. It sold for $11,842,500. Lot 4 has an estimate of $4 to 6 million. It sold for $$7,642,500.
Theodore Forstman was no ordinary philanthropist. It is only possible to describe some of his wonderful achievements in the scope of this review, when one really wants to recount them all. Sotheby's catalogue for this sale includes a moving tribute to him in "Portraits In Philanthropy: Theodore J. Forstmann:"
"An admired and gregarious businessman, Mr. Forstmann was equally at home on Wall Street as on the front lines in the fight for education...Forstmann's business acumen and keen insight were legendary...What he was acutely aware of, were the needs of children and the necessity of having a strong educational and personal foundation during the formative years of one's youth in order for continued success later in life. Beginning his charitable efforts early on as a Big Brother mentor, Mr. Forstman made one of the deals of his life in 1998 when he agreed with his fellow philanthropist and friend the late John Walton, to co-found the Children's Scholarship Fund (CSF)...which is a grades K through 8 scholarship programme, enables low-income children to have access to private education alternatives. In the words of Mr. Forstmann, "Every child, regardless of their parents income, should have access to a quality education - an education that will not only prepare them for successful private lives, but help them to build cohesive communities and a strong democracy." CSF has awarded over $483 million of scholarships to nearly 123,000 low-income students across the country in just over 10 years."
This is such a staggering achievement it is hard to believe on the first read-through (pg. 41). And there is so much more. He was the driving force behind two institutions that help chronically sick children in the United States, the Benedict-Forstmann Silver Lining Ranch and Boggy Creek Gang Camp:
"Not content to simply focus on those children who are financially disadvantaged, Mr. Forstman co-founded these camps in order to provide an opportunity for children whose disabilities often preclude them from engaging in the 'normal' hustle and bustle of an unrestricted child's life. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg remarked that 'Teddy was an outsider to the end - because he knew that was where you had to be if you wanted to change the world. And Teddy wanted not only to change the world - he wanted to save it'...Forstmann's dedication and perseverence on behalf of his causes are true testament to his character and his desire to inspire others to assist in charitable works of which he was a part. In February of 2011, Forstman signed The Giving Pledge, which was conceived as a means by which to invite American billionaires to commit at least half of their wealth to charitable causes: 'I've tried to live by the motto, 'you save one life and you save the world.' I hope that by joining The Giving Pledge, it will encourage others to do the same,' Mr. Forstmann said.'"
Both paintings from this collection have a childlike quality, a joie de vivre that is so appealing, even though works by Basquiat always walk an emotional tightrope. Children were clearly important to Theodore Forstmann, and the kids whose lives he changed forever is as great an achievement as making his fortune in the innovative way that he did.
Arts patrons and philanthropists like the Gershs and Theodore Forstmann represent the very best that can and does come out of vast, self-made American fortunes. There is no country whose citizens give away as much of their wealth - or invests their wealth in life-changing causes - as America. None. It is not even a contest. A young Indian friend makes me smile when she says she cannot wait for more wealthy Indians to catch up to their American counterparts. I encourage her to get after them as fast as she can...
Lot 4, ""Ring," by Jean-Michel Basquiat, acrylic and oilstick, 60 by 48 inches, 1981
Lot 4 is a very strong acrylic and oilstick by Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) entitled "Ring." It measures 60 by 48 inches and was painted in 1981. It has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It sold for $7,462,500.
Lot 1, "Red Tooth," the delectable early work by Alexander Calder illustrated above was executed in 1942 and exhibited at Pierre Matisse Gallery in the exhibition "Calder: Recent Work," May-June 1942. Sotheby's catalogue for this sale includes a great Calder quote in the context of Lot 11 "Sumac VI," a beautiful mobile, which sadly is not illustrated here, but it could apply to this endearing free-standing sculpture: "I love red so much that I almost want to paint everything red."
There is no other artist that comes close to capturing the child's sensibilities as Calder - an impressive gift that he retained throughout his prolific career. I never tire of his free-standing sculptures and mobiles, no matter how many of them I see.
Lot 1, "Red Tooth," has an estimate of $500,000 to 700,000. It sold for $2,882,500. Lot 11, "Sumac VI" has an estimate of $2.5 to 3.5 million. It sold for $5,906,500. These are strong prices for works by Calder, a consistent trend.
Lot 10, "Abstraktes Bild," by Gerhard Richter, 1992, oil on canvas. Photo Carter B. Horsley
The two sublime paintings by Gerhard Richter illustrated here could not be more different, but they share one thing - exquisite painterliness. Pigment is applied lavishly (via squeejee) in Lot 10, "Abstrakts Bild", while Lot 18, "Wolken (Clouds)" is reigned-in, spare, yet hopelessly romantic. Richter manages to express emotion and extract it from the viewer, no matter what means he deploys. Sotheby's catalogue for this sale cites the artist:
"Almost all the abstract painters show scenarios, surroundings and landscapes that don't exist, but they create the impression that they could exist. As though they were photographs of scenarious and regions that had never yet been seen." (the artist in 'I have Nothing to Say and I'm Saying It: Conversation between Gerhard Richter and Nicholas Serota, Spring 2011' Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern, Gerhard Richter: Panorama, 2011, p.19).
Lot 10, "Abstrakts Bild," has an estimate of $8 to 10 million. It sold for $16,882,500, a strong price for this beautiful work of art. Lot 18, "Wolken (Clouds)," has an estimate of $5 to 7 million. It sold for $5,682,500.
The best conceptual artists are brilliant transposers of hot-button issues like race, sexuality and gender and Glenn Ligon is right up there with the best. Lot 30 "Black Like Me #1" deploys words, the artist's most consistent source of inspiration, often gleaned from literature. This work references an experiment that was conducted at the height of the Civil Rights crisis. The text incorporated in this work of art is "THE GRIFFIN THAT I WAS HAD BECOME INVISIBLE:"
"In the fall of 1959, John Howard Griffin, a relatively obscure author was deeply troubled by the racial situation in his native South, He wanted to experience, and subsequently document, discrimination based on skin color. He went to the dermatologist in New Orleans with what can only be called an astonishing request: He wanted 'to become a Negro.' The dermatologist cooperated with Griffin's effort, darkening his skin with a combination of oral medication and extensive exposure with ultraviolet rays. Griffin did not look in the mirror until the process was complete, and he was stunned: 'The transformation was total and shocking. I had expected to see myself disguised, but this was something else. I was imprisoned in the flesh of an utter stranger, an unsympathetic one with whom I felt no kinship...I looked into the mirror and saw nothing of the white John Griffin's past. No, the reflections led back to Africa, back to the shanty and the ghetto, back to the fruitless struggles agaisnt the mark of blackness...I had tampered with the mystery of existence and I had lost the sense of my own being. That is what devastated me. The Griffin that I was had become invisible.' (Jonathan Yardley, "John Howard Griffin Took Race all the way to the Finish," Washington Post, Saturday, March 17, 2007, n.p.). Sotheby's catalogue for this sale).
Nothing is happenstance in conceptual art. The technique deployed in this work of art is absolutely fantastic - layer upon layer of bristling oilstick. Lot 30, "Black Like Me #1" has an estimate of $600,000 to 800,000. It sold for $1,314,500.
Lot 5, Ai Wei Wei's wonderful rectangles of sunflower seeds, "Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds)," illustrated above, can also be configured as baby pyramids or cones. Sotheby's catalogue for this sale offers historical context and insight:
"During his Great Leap Forward from 1958-1961 and beyond, in which Mao set excessivley high production targets for collective farms in order to pay off arms debts with Moscow by exporting grain, some 30 million are conservatively estimated to have starved to death. In these penurous times, just a pocket full of sunflower seeds could make the difference between life and death for Chinese agricultural families. Seen here as a giant pile, measured by weight, "Kui Hua Zi' allude to the unattainable agricultural quotas of Mao's regime which saw much needed agricultural goods shipped outside China's borders at unfathomable human cost. At the same time they represent the most basic needs of the calorie-deficient populace and metaphorically they suggest human compassion..." (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale)
There is also the issue of craft, and how a work of art - or anything - is "made." To put it bluntly, today the "made in China" label is often associated with cheap, mass produced goods that flood Western and other markets - including China's - a tragedy considering the rich tradition of superb craftsmanship that China is historically known for. In "more-is-more," consumer driven societies, larger quantities of cheaper goods are voraciously consumed. Even nations like India and the United States are abandoning some of their most famous home-grown manufacturing industries, mom and pop enterprises. Artisan oriented artifacts are being sacrificed for cheaper, internationally sourced and cheaply produced brands - because we, the consumer, demand them.
A work of art like "Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds)" suggests that perhaps it would be wiser to spend a little more money on fewer things, and thereby invest in more of the best, homegrown commodities, wherever "home" may be. This would require a radical shift in our habits, that are ingrained. On another level, this artwork highlights the widely publicized working conditions of labor forces that produce cheap goods - especially in China and India - that are often atrocious, and that is what we are investing in when we buy them. When I see a super-cheap trinket from any foreign country, I automatically think of gross exploitation. But paying less is attractive, a hard habit to break. Everyone loves a bargain.
In "Kui Hua Zi (Sunflower Seeds)" Ai Wei Wei seeks to release China's exploited workforce from robotic "making," restore dignity to the artisan or manufacturer, and some beauty to a product that is made to last, like in the good old days. China is not alone in this. There are parallels in many nations today because everyone buys MORE and more of everything:
"Each individual seed is carefully hand-crafted and painted using the traditional method which necessitates the thirty stages of production. Like Alighiero Boetti who in making his Mappa and Tutto series employed the weavers of Peshawar and Kabul, Ai takes on the role akin to that of a film director, orchestrating over a thousand skilled craftsmen for whom the Tate commission provided valuable income for a period of years. This in itself brings a key social aspect to the sculpture, something which is never very far from Ai's work, as witnessed most clearly in 'Fairytale,' his project for Documenta 12 in Kassel in 2007, where he paid for 1,001 Chinese followers of his blog to visit Germany as a happening."
Cy Twombly said: "I went to Rome in the fifties, which was a whole other world from what it is now. It is not the same city. In a sense, the life is totally different. I had more space, you could see it and you could enjoy it." (David Sylvester, 'Interviews With American Artists,' New York, 2001 p.173). Beautiful, poetic Lot 2, "Untitled Roma," (not illustrated), from 1961, is a reflection of the place that Cy Twombly perceives as "being lost to history...," (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale), which seems like many places today, because the world is getting so crowded. Lot 2 has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3.000,000. It sold for $3,442,500.
Lot 29, "Untitled (New York)," by Cy Twombly, (illustrated above), is one of the artist's famous blackboard paintings, and a beauty. They are such masterpieces of subtle paint-manipulation it was some years before I realized they were canvases painted to look like blackboards. Twombly's utterly unique, cursive iconography appeals more than ever today, perhaps because it is the anti-thesis of the technology that has taken over all our lives. Beautiful, cursive drawing or script rules in this terrain - touchpads are not welcome. There is no turning back the clock however. Script, like Rome in the fifties, is passing into history for the majority of people...
Lot 29 has an estimate of $15 to 20 million. It sold for $17,442,500.
Lee Ufan might not seem like a kindred spirit of Cy Twombly, but both artists share similar philosophies and "processes." Sotheby's catalogue for this sale offers fascinating insight to the artist's practice:
"Even Lee's description of his artistic process is rich with sensory experience and ritual practice: 'Cobalt blue powdered mineral pigment (or orange powdered mineral pigment) is dissolved in glue, or sometimes in oil, and left for a while until the color stabilizes. Before working, I calm my breathing, correct my posture, and hold my brush quietly.' (Exh.Cat., New York, Pace Wildenstein, Lee Ufan, 2008, p.7). Loading the brush with paint, Lee's measured downward strokes exploit the properties of the medium and reference the act of the paintings's creation. By visually traveling the path of Lee's mark-making, the viewer also retraces the artist's process. Thereby, the act of looking also accentuates the temporal element of Lee's work that renders visible the moment of the brush-stroke's creation and the gradual evolution of its transformation through its expiration. Cy Twombly's mark-making comes to mind, as both artists seek to wed the act of making with the act of seeing in their most elemental and basic form. For Lee, the elegant fade of the paint into nothingness leads the artist to recommence his process, and Lee elaborates on the intricacy of this seemingly simple process. As he explains: 'In a different way from athletes or Zen priests, I train my mind and body and discipline my behavior in order to obtain greater freedom and enter a more brilliant world. The orderly arrangement of the painted surface is only a superficial result. Following a certain rule may seem to be mechanical or automatic, but actually is not.'"(lbid.p.8).
Lot 47, "From Line 790294," by Lee Ufan has an estimate of $1.5 to 2.5 million. It sold for $1,426,500.
Mark Bradford's epic imagery is reminiscent of towering metropolises, sprawling cities, street maps, computer circuit boards, and urban detritis. Influenced by the signs he made (painstakingly, by hand) for his mother's hair salon in Los Angeles as a child, Bradford's art practice continues to be labor intensive - meticulously and beautifully "made." Many of his monumental pieces often incorporate elements from his urban childhood - like endpapers from moms salon used to color hair. He also uses scorched signs left behind in a blighted landscape after the L.A. riots that are far removed from those innocent childhood efforts for mom's store.
Instead of being disturbing - considering the influences that engulfed him (the inspiration for this work) Bradford's imagery is uplifting, as if the artist has been able to find a quiet, protective place to process his paradoxical experiences without angst or anger. Clearly, art-making propels him forward past boundaries and barricades towards an unseen goal that is always positive. Art has the power to do that. Bradford's art is hopeful, no matter what, which is why it is so appealing. The title, "Grrr..." is winsome, memorable, fun. However, the silver lining harbors grim reality, which is ever-present in some of the detritius Bradford uses as the foundation for his art making - grim reality that can and must change into something more beautiful, like his art.
Lot 58, "Grrr..." by Mark Bradford has an estimate of $450,000 to $650,000. It sold for $866,500.
The amorphous, sinuous lines of the composition illustrated above, Lot 21, "Khorkum," by Gorky allude to Surrealism, and so much more: "In his tragically brief, but potent and influential career, Arshile Gorky assimilated the pictorial innovations of Cezanne, Picasso, Kandinsky, Miro, the Surrealists and Matta. His synthesis of 20th century modern art's many innovations, combined with his passionate embrace of nature, created a new vision for painting that would inform the work of his fellow artist of the 1940s and 1950s, from Willem de Kooning to Clyfford Still." (Sothebys catalogue for this sale).
Some of the shapes in "Khorkum" bear an astonishing resemblance to the free-standing sculptures by Alexander Calder, from the Contemporary Art Day Sale, illustrated below. Lot 21 has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It sold for $2,770,500.
Joan Mitchell's "Le Temps de Lilas," (Lot 46), is as luscious as it gets for paint. The references to Claude Monet are obvious, but Mitchell somehow spins the waterscapes and flowers into something entirely contemporary, fresh and new. Lot 46 has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for $2,994,500. On the right of "Le Temps de Lilas" is an equally luscious - but human - form, rendered in Willem de Kooning's inimitable style. Lot 22 "Woman on a Sign II" has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000. It sold for $2,882,500.
Francis Bacon"s "Figure Writing Reflected In Mirror," (Lot 19) was included in the 1977 exhibition a Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris, where it was shown with Triptych, (1976), which holds the world record price for any work of Contemporary Art sold at auction. (See The City Review review of this auction). The painting was purchased by the present owners at the 1977 exhibition, and it has not appeared on the market since then. Bacon's partner, George Dyer, appears in many of his paintings, but here they share the same canvas and figure - Dyers distinctive profile is fused with Bacon's sweep of hair. The mirror shows the back of a different figure, not a precise reflection. The blank sheet of paper and discarded ones on the floor indicate frustration and writers block. Bacon was obsessed with the written word, and he drew inspiration from a wide variety of literary classics ranging from Aeschylus to T.S. Eliot. The catalogue for this sale notes, however, that despite this fixation, this is the only work by the artist to feature someone writing. "Figure Writing in a Mirror" was widely exhibited in prestigious museums till around 1997, including the Tate Gallery, London, Centre national d'art et de culture Georges Pompidou, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Fondation Maeght, Saint Paul de Vence - one of the worlds most gorgeous towns - to name only some. It was the exhibition at Galerie Claude Bernard that impacted with the public, wonderfully described below by Michael Peppiat:
"Created during the very same year as Bacon's record-breaking triptych, "Figure Writing Reflected in a Mirror" triumphantly echoes Becon's operation at the very zenith of his creative powers...As the headline work for Bacon's pivotal exhibition in 1977, this painting bore witness to an unprecedented amount of publicity and eager anticipation; as Michael Peppiat, friend to Bacon and author of the biography "Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma," describes: 'with the mixture of intellectuals and collectors, art groupies and sensation seekers, aesthetes and layabouts, the gallery quickly became half sideshow, half shrine...Bacon was on hand in the middle of the throng, pink-cheeked and immaculately dressed, greeting friends, signing posters and catalogues, laughing appreciatively and generally behaving as if nothing could have been more normal than the single-minded mobbing of which he and his pictures has suddenly become the object." (Michael Peppiat, 'Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma,' London, 2008, pp.344-45)..."The police notoriously cordoned off the Rue des Beaux-Arts to limit the immense crowds coursing towards the gallery from the Boulevard Saint-Germain , an incredible 8,000 people squeezed and pushed their way down the narrow street and into the restricted gallery space..." (Sothebys catalogue for this sale).
Lot 19, "Figure Writing Reflected in a Mirror" has an estimate of $30,000,000 to $40,000,000. It sold for $44,882,500, a great price.
Lot 42, "Study for a Portrait," by Francis Bacon is described in the catalogue for this sale as a minor masterpiece. Its' intensity is so compelling it is a testament to Bacon's mastery of his medium. A blurred face becomes the playground for extraordinary painterly effects, achieved in ingenius and unpredicatable ways, described in Sotheby's catalogue for this sale:
"Overlapping matrices of paint hatching, presumably imprinted via Bacon's habitual use of corduroy, describe the modulations of texture across the subject's face, while the smartly arranged short hair is presented as dragged streaks of pigment. The head's carefully organized containment within the frame prepares the viewer from the outset that this portrayal is pensive, focused and enduring. Bacon's extraordinary aptitude to shift through different modes of execution, from exactitude to expressivity, from the diagrammatic to the painterly, is here on full exhibition at its instinctive best..."
Bacon could be described as an artist's artist, but he clearly also has a following that grows more passionate with each passing year. His technique is jaw-dropping, incorporating some of the most sumptuous painterly effects of all time. Zero-ing in on the most intense "scumblings" and corduroy-ed streaks in this work is a joy ride for all those that wield paint and other creative media - or that just enjoy deciphering the mark-making of a contemporary genius "Old Master" like Bacon. Of all the artists in the contemporary pantheon, it is easiest to imagine Bacon as an artist of the Renaissance, or as a contemporary of Rembrandt, fastidious about his hat, cloak and hair. Metrosexuals pale in comparison to those magnificent cloaked and coiffed gentlemen with feathers in their caps, splendidly preserved in paint by Mantegna, Verrocchio, Bellini and so many other world class artists.
Lot 42, "Study for a Portrait," has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000. It sold for $4,282,500.
The two works of art shown here are stunning, and a study in contrasts: warm gold leaf and cool steel; one heavily textured, the other smooth as satin. Both are spare, but rich with suggestion.
Lot 59, "Untitled," by Anish Kapoor, has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $902,500.
Lot 13, "Monogold," a beautiful work by Yves Klein, illustrated below, has an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000. It sold for $1,538,500.
Both are great results for works by these artists.
I was smitten with Isa Genzken's "Rose II" when I saw it framed against the pristine backdrop of The New Museum. I think New York is the most romantic city in the world, but this sentiment usually gets raised eyebrows from friends that are lifelong New Yorkers (jaded!). I remember thinking as I saw "Rose II," what better sculpture for this city of lights than roses....so fresh, poetic and unexpectedly romantic, climbing up its framwork of urban geometry? Lot 36 "Kinder Filmen I," by Isa Genken, is a monumental collage, not a rose, but it is just as wonderful. Created in New York in 2005, at a fragile time in her life, the artist describes the inspiration in an interview with Michael Krajewski:
"It does have to do with my own personal gaze. How New York struck me, how I saw New York, what I loved and it was also supposed to be personal." (Michael Krajewski and Isa Genzken, "Fragility can be a Very Beautiful Thing," (Parkett 69, 2003, p.98)."
Genzken was included in Documenta II, and represented Germany at the Venice Bienniale in 2003, and her work is included in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh. In November 2013, Isa Genzken will be the subject of a solo show at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Sotheby's catalogue for this sale cites the Museum's press release describing Genzken as the "most important and influential sculptor of the past 30 years..."
Lot 36 has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $386,500.
Illustrated below is a gorgeous butterfly painting by Damien Hirst, circa 2007, called "Awakening, (Lot 6), reminiscent of an intricate stained glass window in a magnificent cathedral. These rich mosaics by Hirst that are a commentary on our own mortality never fail to move me. Lot 6 has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold for $1,650,500.
Three of the four Warhols included in this sale are illustrated in this review. Monumental Lot 12, "Ten-Foot Flowers," is shown on the screen in the auction room in the photograph at the top of this story. A beautifully nuanced acrylic, silkscreen ink and pencil on canvas, "Ten Foot Flowers" was exhibited in the blockbuster exhibition "Andy Warhol: A Retrospective," February 1989 to September 1990, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago, the Hayward Gallery, London, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Palazzo Grassi, Venice, and the Centres Georges Pompidou in Paris.
Lot 12, "Ten Foot Flowers," has an estimate of $9,000,000 to $12,000,000. It sold for $10,722,500.
It would be hard to overstate the impact of Elvis - globally - and brilliant Andy Warhol got that. The skinny jean silhouette that Elvis emphasised with his incredible hip swiveling and gyrating while he sang not only catapulted him to the top of the charts, but also sent every teenager on the planet scrambling to find jeans just like his. And then there were the rhinestone encrusted shirts, cowboy boots and that amazing lop-sided smile! He was a style and a Pop icon, impossibly handsome, and that "look" persists in every nook and cranny in the world, even today - but no one can really look like him. Then there was the ethereal voice, that beautiful voice. What a trailblazer Elvis was, captured in superb by Andy Warhol in Lot 27, "Double Elvis (Ferus Type)," executed in 1963:
"(Thus) in the summer of 1963 there could not have been a more perfect alignment of artist and subject than Warhol and Elvis. Perhaps the most famous depiction of the biggest superstar by the original supestar artist, 'Double Elvis' is a historic paradigm of Pop Art from a breath-taking moment in Art History. With devastating immediacy and efficiency, Warhol's canvas seduces our view with a stunning aesthetic and confronts our experience with a sophisticated array of thematic content. Not only is there all of Elvis, man and legend, but we are also presented with the specter of death, staring at us down the barrel of a gun; and a lone cowboy, confronting the great frontier and the American dream. The spray painted silver screen denotes the glamour and glory of cinema, the artificiality of fantasy, and the idea of a mirror that reveals our own reality back to us. At the same time, Warhol's replication of Elvis' image as a double stands as a metaphor for the means and effects of mass-media and its inherent potential to manipulate and condition. These thematic strata function in simultaneous concert to deliver a work of phenomenal conceptual brilliance. The portrait of a man, the portrait of a country, and the portrait of a time, Double Elvis is an indisputable icon for our age..." (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale).
Lot 27, "Double Elvis (Ferus Type)," has an estimate of $30,000,000 to $50,000,000. It sold for $37,042,500.
Illustrated below is another Warhol, Lot 48, "Jan Cowles," with an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for $842,500.
Lot 33, "Untitled #89," a powerful photograph by Cindy Sherman (not illustrated) marks the evolution of depictions of women in some of the most famous paintings in the history of art - the beautiful venuses, saints, divas and naked or semi clothed goddesses that even made it onto the walls of the Vatican, powerful churches and places of worship at a time when nudity was banned. Fast forward to today, and the depictions of women and girls on some web sites leave no room to manoever away from total panic. Sherman's photographs of women highlight the unappetizing reality that the female form is now public property, displayed on billboards - imagine that in the Renaissance? - whatever that public may be.
Light years away from Lichtenstein's "Sleeping Girl" - and Andy's Marilyns and Liz's, Sherman's protagonist is from her brilliantly subverted "centerfold" series," deliberately clothed in a rose pink dress, not nude. The angle at which she is lying is suggestive, referencing photographs in magazines that are created "for the male gaze only," some - not all - of them pornographic. The intrusive camera angle is unsettling, as if it is preying on her rather than admiring her beauty, as one would admire a beautiful work of art.This voyeurism has sinister overtones that is far more relevant today in the age of the internet, tablets, mobile phones with screens, and web streaming than it was when Sherman began to depict women as dressed up dolls, primping and prepping to meet society's expectations of them. Today, the images of females in all kinds of media are getting younger and younger, and equally suggestive. Dangerous beauty.
In today's world, Sherman is not the gung-ho feminist that some like to make out. Rather, she is practical and realistic and exposes the potential intent - good and bad - in any "beholder" of females, in art and in life. It is fine to love naked bodies as works of art - which they undoubtedly are - unless the gaze is perverted, in which case it becomes something entirely different. The vulnerability remains, however, because we can never know for sure what people's intentions or thoughts are, or what people will do with the images they take of often innocent girls and women that willingly pose for them. They know what they are doing, but they often do not, sadly. Some of the most shocking betrayals of women and girls are perpetrated by people they trust, the closest people in their lives. People that can get as close to them as the camera is to the subject of "Untitled #89." Sherman's photographs suggest that the voyeuristic nature of photography and film today leaves the subject exposed far beyond the issue of stereotyping. In her "centerfolds" Sherman knocks down all pre-conceived notions of idealized female beauty, and opens the door to the 21st century voyeur - potentially far more predatory and even sinister, exposing her females to real vulnerability and even danger.
"Untitled # 89" capture this paradox and the potential for it to be mis-used perfectly. Her centerfolds are like us, real women, but we do not think of ourselves as "vulnerable" today because many of us are emancipated. Her images tell us that changing how we are perceived and how we perceive ourselves is an ongoing battle. Just reading the papers or watching media reports on TV illustrates how, when the subtle line of voyerism is crossed in the real world, it can end in disaster because the vulnerable often do not understand or cannot combat vulnerability's most dangerous outcomes. There is always that risk with exposure in photographs and film, or even by being seen by another whose intentions are not pure. Sherman's centerfolds evoke "predator and prey," and beauty, especially female beauty, at its most dangerous.
It is a testament to Cindy Sherman that the one paragraph I intended to write about "Untitled #89" has morphed into several! Her work is that powerful. It demands a visceral response, and it gets it. Sherman is a very important artist in the context of new and disturbing issues that have emerged for females - of all ages - in the 21st century.
Lot 33, "Untitled #89," by Cindy Sherman, has an estimate of $700,000 to $800,000. It sold for $842,500.
The essays included in the catalogue for this sale were outstanding, sadly there was not enough time to read them all. Loving art is a visceral thing for some. For others it is an emotional response, or looking to make a lucrative investment with something they can hang on the wall and enjoy while it appreciates in value. All that is fine, good for the art business and artists. For me art is lifeblood. I cannot do without it, it feeds the soul, which is why seeing these precious works of art each season - many of which will disappear into private collections or vaults - and reading the catalogues, is such a special treat.
Contemporary art is created from "flotsam and jetsum," urban detritis, endpapers and whatnot that become something amazing when transformed through the artist's imagination and vision. In the end, it is art itself that triumphs. Where would the human race be without these visionaries?
In the photograph illustrated above, Tobias Meyer talks with press in the shadow of the magnificent Bacon, "Figure Writing Reflected in a Mirror," that, together with Roy Lichtenstein's beautiful "Sleeping Girl," were tied as top lots of the evening sale, each achieving $44,882,500. A great result.
Sotheby's evening sale achieved $266,591,000.