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  Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction

Christie's New York

7 PM, November 14, 2019

Sale 17649

hurting Radio Ruscha 6

Lot 6, "Hurting The Word Radio #2," by Ed Ruscha, oil on canvas, 59 by 55 1/4, 1964


By Carter B. Horsley

The November 13, 2019 evening auction of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie's New York is highlighted by an early works by Ed Ruscha, David Hockney, Richard Diebenkorn, Willem de Kooning, Anselm Kiefer, David Bacon, Andy Warhol, Mark Bradford, and George Condo.

The cover lot of the catalogue is Lot 6, "Hurting The Word Radio #2," by Ed Ruscha (b. 1937), an oil on canvas from 1964 that measures 59 by 55 1/4 inches.

The painting was consigned by the Collection of Joan and Jack Quinn.

It was on loan to the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens in San Marino from May 2013 to September 2019.
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The catalogue provides the following commentary about the Quinns:

"Few individuals left such an indelible mark on the artistic landscape of Southern California than Joan and Jack Quinn. As collectors, patrons and, above all else, friends to artists, the Quinns helped propel their beloved Los Angeles into a world-class cultural mecca. In the process, they built one of the nation’s foremost private collections of Contemporary art—the tangible representation of a lifetime’s dedication to the creative process.

"Married for over half a century, Joan and Jack Quinn were present from the earliest days of Los Angeles’s artistic evolution, when emerging figures and outposts such as the Ferus Gallery began to catch the attention of a global audience. A native Angelino, Joan Quinn first became acquainted with the Ferus Gallery and its stable of artists—including Ed Ruscha, Andy Warhol, Larry Bell, and others—through sculptor Billy Al Bengston. Jack Quinn, for his part, was a notable Southern California attorney who utilized his skills to help artists and dealers, including the Ferus Gallery, navigate the complexities of law and business.

"For decades, Joan and Jack Quinn were unwavering patrons of local artists, with a prescient understanding of the important work emanating from Los Angeles studios. It was never enough, however, to simply collect; for the Quinns, art was a dialogue between artist and viewer that yielded unending inspiration and lifelong friendships. In 1978, Andy Warhol asked Joan Quinn to join his influential Interview magazine as its West Coast editor, allowing the collector to further promote the work of her growing circle of Southern California creatives. From 1993, Joan Quinn hosted an eponymous television program featuring interviews with many of these same friends and talents, and became a contributing writer and photographer for a wide range of international publications.

"Known for her charisma, intelligence, and incomparable élan, Joan Quinn became a kind of distinctly Californian muse for artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe, Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Hockney, Ed Ruscha, Zandra Rhodes, Larry Bell, Ed Moses, Antonio Lopez, and many others. As artists sought to record her image across a variety of media, Joan Quinn found herself with one of the world’s largest and most important collections of Contemporary portraiture—a poignant representation of friendships forged through creativity. In the period since the passing of Jack Quinn in 2017, Joan Quinn has continued her longstanding involvement in the arts.

"The decades-long journey in patronage and collecting of Jack and Joan Quinn represents a pivotal moment in the history of Contemporary art, as Los Angeles came to symbolize an innovative and prolific brand of creative freedom. Today, the Quinns’ legacy continues to resonate across Southern California and the wider world—the story of an unwavering belief in the power of art to inspire and enlighten."

The catalogue also provides commentary about the lot:

"Across a vast expanse of vibrant sky blue, the word “RADIO” is laid out in a beguiling juxtaposition of static and surreal sunshine yellow painted letters. Hurting the Word Radio #2 is an iconic example of Ed Ruscha’s c-clamp paintings, which also includes Hurting the Word Radio #1 (Menil Collection, Houston) and Not Only Securing the Last Letter but Damaging it as Well (Boss) (Museum Brandhorst, Munich). Here, the bold, stately letters synonymous with Ruscha’s practice become distorted and warped as trompe l’oeil c-clamps squeeze the 'R' and tug on the 'O,' distorting and transforming them in to rippled rubbery notes. Indeed, Hurting the Word Radio #2 is an important early example of the artist’s revolutionary Text paintings—a body of work that would establish Ruscha as one of the most innovative and influential painters of the 1960s. Based in Los Angeles, far away from the flourishing New York art scene, Ruscha arrived at his own brand of Pop based on the utilitarian styling of words and letters. Though seemingly isolated from his New York contemporaries, Ruscha was directly exposed to a series of several high profile exhibitions in California that would help push Pop Art to prominence—namely Warhol’s 1962 Ferus show of Campbell’s soup cans, where Hurting the Word Radio #2 would first be exhibited merely two years later. Indeed, Ruscha’s participation in the Los Angeles art scene in the early 1960s firmly established him as an influential figure whose conceptual rigor played a leading role during the movement’s early days.

"Ruscha’s choice of mundane words as the subject matter for his major paintings paralleled Warhol’s foregrounding of brand-names and trademarks in his paintings of Coca-Cola bottles and Campbell’s soup cans. Both artists selected the iconography of modern-day America as a means of introducing contemporary experience into their art. Just as Warhol mimics the machine-like sterility and repetition of the factory production line through his stenciling and serial screenprinting, Ruscha uses techniques learned as a commercial artist to break down the barriers between that which constitutes 'high' and 'low' art. Here, 'RADIO' seems to have a particularly Pop overtone. As the letters are jarringly transformed, one is reminded of the blurring of words during a poor radio transmission.

"By the time Ruscha painted Hurting the Word Radio #2, the years of families gathering around the radio to listen to the news were over. However, the radio continued to make its presence felt in every car across America, becoming a part of the culture of freedom, youth and individualism associated with automobiles. Looking at this significant early word painting, we can imagine the artist driving down Route 66 or over the intersecting freeways of Los Angeles, watching the advertisements and signs pass as a steady stream of rock ‘n’ roll issues from the dashboard, before slipping out the window and into the California sunshine.

"The importance of car culture in Los Angeles in the early ‘60s was considerable. At this time, the freeways through Los Angeles were still relatively new, and they held a special interest not just for Ruscha but in popular culture as well, as the new roads opened up the country to a more accessible and democratic kind of exploration and encouraged automobile travel both within and around cities. In Ruscha’s text paintings around this time, words related to electricity and car culture are common, and examples including the works Flash, Voltage, Electricity, Honk, Buick, Noise and Smash. The open roads of Los Angeles promised adventure, excitement, fast speeds and independence, thus capturing a fundamental piece of the southern California identity: 'Psychologically shocked or no, most Angelino freeway-pilots are neither retching with smog nor stuck in a jam; their white-wall tires are singing over the diamond-cut anti-skid grooves in the concrete road surface, the selector-levers of their automobile gearboxes are firmly in Drive, and the radio is on' (R. Banham, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, New York, 1971, p. 198).

"In some ways, there are parallels between Warhol and Ruscha’s artistic beginnings. Both pursued early careers as commercial artists before turning to 'high' art in order to satisfy their creativity, finding inspiration in the explosion of commercial imagery they saw around them. 'Ruscha has often recounted his early fascination with commercial art and a parallel frustration with painting.'

"'Initially Ruscha’s work as a commercial artist simply outweighed any compulsion to paint. In time he recoiled his doubt, conjoining his interest in vernacular imagery, typography, book design, filmmaking, and photo-documentary work with an emerging desire to paint. Paradoxically it was his work in a wide variety of non-traditional media, and a distrust of the career path of a painter, that enabled Ruscha to overcome his uncertainty and freed him to create paintings of striking originality' (N. Benezra, 'Ed Ruscha, Painting and Artistic License,' Ed Ruscha, exh. cat., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., 2000, p. 145). 

"Ruscha first began to include text in his paintings in the late 1950s when he discovered the work of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg while studying at the Chouinard Art School in Los Angeles, and his first major paintings combined his interest in the strict formalism of printed material with the freedom he found in painting. These early works mainly consisted of hand-painted typography, ranging from crisp renderings of well-known logos, such as Actual Size and Annie, to more painterly interpretations of street signage spotted on a trip to Europe including Metropolitan, a 1961 painting based on the iconic Art Nouveau typography of the Paris subway, and Boulangerie, a thickly impastoed painting that mimics the crusty surface of a freshly baked loaf of bread. By 1962, he began to produce work on a much larger scale, producing a series of paintings which eschewed the brushy nature of his previous work in favor of vast expanses filled with more emphatic monosyllabic words, such as that featured in the present work. This imposing scale would soon morph effortlessly into his iconic large-scale paintings inspired by gas stations and advertising billboards such as Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas, 1963.

"Given his developing visual aesthetic, curators and critics alike were keen to associate Ruscha with the burgeoning Pop Art scene, but the artist was hesitant, insisting that he was more closely aligned to the tradition of painting than perhaps the subject matter of his paintings suggested. 'The term Pop Art made me nervous and ambivalent,' he said. '…It actually goes beyond painting. It was culture, and it was so many other modes of making art. …A Pop artist can be anyone who has thrown over a recent set of values' (E. Rusha, quoted by N. Benezra (ed.), Ed Ruscha, exh. cat., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., 2000, p. 150). A chance meeting with Marcel Duchamp at the Pasadena Art Museum in late 1963 would send Ruscha off in a different direction, transforming combinations of materials that were regarded as taboo and continuing a tradition of innovation that would become the hallmark of his long career.

"Many of the artists Ruscha admired, such as Johns, Warhol, Lichtenstein and Duchamp, laced their art with a strong sense of wit, which also became one of the hallmarks of Ruscha’s own oeuvre. 'Absurdity and paradox had real meaning for me as an artist,' Ruscha has tellingly divulged. Such is the tone of one of his most notorious compositions, Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Fire (Hirshhorn Museum), which shares important connections to its fiery predecessor, Burning Gas Station, as well as the 1964 book that Ruscha produced titled Various Small Fires and Milk. After viewing the new building from a helicopter, Ruscha recounted, 'I knew at the time that I started the picture that I was going to assault that building somehow' (E. Ruscha, Leave Any Information at the Signal, Cambridge, 2002, p. 45). Both paintings take subjects that have hallowed cultural associations and send them up in flames—in the case of Burning Gas Station, one of Edward Hopper’s quiet meditations on the modernism of America seems to have suddenly combusted. 

"Ed Ruscha’s paintings from the early 1960s stand at a pivotal point in the history of art as the tradition of painting fought to maintain its relevance in light of the beginnings of the nascent Pop movement. In work’s such as Hurting the Word Radio #2, Ruscha successfully straddles both, connecting the painterly tradition to the new contemporary culture of advertising and mass-media. Unbeknownst at the time, this culture would spread beyond the United States. Artists such as Ruscha, Warhol and Lichtenstein not only became the messenger, their works would also form part of the message, part of the universal language of art that reigned for much of the rest of the century.

The lot has an ambitious estimate of  $30,000,000 to $40,000,000. It sold for about $54,000,000 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article, a preposterous amount given that another work in the same auction by Ruscha, Lot 36, "Liquids, Gases and Solids," a 60-inch square acrylic on canvas from 1989, sold for only $4,575,000 with a high estimate of only $3,500,000.


Hockney  9

Lot 9, "Sur La Terrasse," by David Hockney, acrylic on canvas, 108 by 64 inches, 1971

Lot 9 is an excellent acrylic on canvas by David Hockney (b. 1937) that measures 108 by 64 inches and was painted in 1971.  It is entitled 'Sur La Terrasse.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"A glowing sun-drenched vision rendered on a spectacular life-sized scale, Sur la Terrasse stands among David Hockney’s most poignant works. Begun in March 1971, and completed that summer, it was painted during the decline of his relationship with Peter Schlesinger: his first love and greatest muse. This devastating turn of events became a milestone in the artist’s personal life, precipitating an intense period of sadness that found heart-wrenching expression in his paintings. The present work, infused with longing, romance and melancholy, represents Hockney’s last depiction of Schlesinger during their time together. It is based on a series of photographs taken on the balcony of the couple’s room at the Hôtel de la Mamounia in Marrakesh, where they had spent two weeks in February. Viewed through the open French windows, Schlesinger stands with his back to the artist, bathed in long shadows. Lush gardens bloom before him, as if enticing him to exotic new pastures. Positioning himself beyond the picture frame, Hockney casts himself as a voyeur, bidding a private farewell to his lover. It is a deeply moving portrait of estrangement, whose themes would be revisited in the iconic 1972 painting Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures). The present work and its studies, one of which is held in the Arts Council Collection in London, featured in Jack Hazan’s 1974 documentary A Bigger Splash, which he began filming during this period. Last seen publicly at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1973, the work has remained in the same private collection for nearly half a century.

"Hockney and Schlesinger met in the summer of 1966. At the time, Schlesinger was a history student at the University of California Santa Cruz, and was looking to forge a career as an artist. The young Hockney had been employed to teach a six-week drawing summer school at the university’s Los Angeles campus, and it was there that the two locked eyes for the first time. 'On the first day of class the professor walked in,' recalls Schlesinger; '– he was a bleached blond; wearing a tomato-red suit, a green and white polka-dot tie with a matching hat, and round black cartoon glasses; and speaking with a Yorkshire accent … I was drawn to him because he was quite different.' Hockney, for his part, immediately recognized a kindred spirit: “I could genuinely see he had talent, and on top of that he was a marvellous-looking young man,” he remembers (P. Schlesinger and D. Hockney, quoted in C. S. Sykes, Hockney: The Biography. Volume 1 1937-1975, London 2011, pp. 180-81). The two struck up a friendship that outlived the course, and eventually blossomed into what was to become both Hockney’s and Schlesinger’s first true romance. 'It was incredible to me to meet in California a young, very sexy, attractive boy who was also curious and intelligent,' explained Hockney. 'In California you can meet curious and intelligent people, but generally they’re not the sexy boy of your fantasy as well. To me this was incredible; it was more real. The fantasy part disappeared because it was the real person you could talk to' (D. Hockney, quoted in M. Livingstone and K. Haymer, Hockney’s Portraits and People, London 2003, p. 81).

"By 1967, Schlesinger had transferred from the Santa Cruz campus, and had enrolled full-time on the art course at UCLA. The couple lived together in Hockney’s rented studio on Pico Boulevard, and Schlesinger quickly became ensconced in his lively literary and artistic social circles, spending many evenings with friends including Christopher Isherwood, Don Bachardy, Jack Larson and James Bridges. 'David Hockney’s image and personality intrigued me,' recalls Schlesinger. 'He represented a world outside my own that I was eager to embrace' (P. Schlesinger, A Chequered Past: My Visual Diary of the 60s and 70s, London 2004, p. 17). That summer, the pair left California for New York, before setting sail for England, where Schlesinger gained a place at London’s Slade School of Art. From Hockney’s home on Powis Terrace, they made frequent trips to Europe, holidaying regularly with friends in Italy and the South of France. By January 1971, however, tensions were beginning to emerge, rooted partly in the couple’s age difference and an increasing need for independence. Their stay in Morocco, intended to rekindle their romance, was punctuated by frustration and arguments. It was shortly after their return that Schlesinger began to forge a close acquaintance with Eric Boman, a young Swedish designer and photographer who was studying in London. Their growing relationship would ultimately become the catalyst for the definitive split between Hockney and Schlesinger that summer, following an explosive row in Cadaqués. 'It was very traumatic for me,' recalls Hockney; 'I’d never been through anything like that. I was miserable, very, very unhappy' (D. Hockney, David Hockney by David Hockney: My Early Years, London 1976, p. 240).

"From personal tragedy, however, came artistic triumph. Hockney had spent the last three years immersed in his landmark series of double portraits, defined by their enigmatic portrayal of human relationships through crisp command of lighting, composition and perspective. At the time of the present work, Hockney had just completed the masterpiece Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (Tate, London): a feat of pictorial drama, full of subtle spatial distortions and elusive emotional tension. The lessons of this painting are palpable in Sur la Terrasse, where exquisite formal rigor gives rise to a powerful sense of yearning and unspoken resignation. In many of the double portraits—particularly those featuring Schlesinger—Hockney deliberately implicated his own presence. A vacant chair is left in Le Parc des Sources, Vichy (1970), as if for the artist, whilst the swimming pool in Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) has been variously read as a metaphor for himself. In Sur la Terrasse, Hockney writes himself into the composition through the sheer force of his gaze, articulated through dramatic shadows and sweeping perspectival lines. It is less a portrait of Schlesinger than a portrayal of the artist observing him: a private confession, laid bare in vivid technicolor. Hockney magnifies the entire composition to a grand cinematic scale, as if seeking to preserve the memory in the sharpest possible detail.

"As a muse, Schlesinger had a transformative impact upon Hockney’s practice. The artist’s desire to capture his lover’s lithe physique prompted him to move away from his early stylized idioms towards more 'naturalistic' modes of representation. His initial drawings of Schlesinger are indicative of this shift, lavishing precise linear detail upon every inch of his form. In his first paintings of him, such as Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool (1966) and The Room, Tarzana (1967), Hockney employs bright, saturated color, illuminating his features with piercing clarity. Open windows and glistening water feature prominently in these works, flooding the picture plane with natural Californian light. Throughout their relationship, Hockney had frequently depicted Schlesinger from the back: a strategy known as Rückenfigur ('back-figure'), most famously exemplified by Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (circa 1818). Yet where this device had previously imparted a sense of romantic heroism and mystery, here it lends the scene a strain of loss and futility. 'The sun may be shining on an idyllic landscape,' writes Marco Livingstone, 'but the scene is glimpsed from within the threshold of a temporarily occupied hotel room; the artist, subconsciously or by design, represents himself as in retreat, absenting himself or saying his farewells. It is of no little symbolic importance that in the picture Peter has resolutely turned his back on him' (M. Livingstone, ibid., p. 116). Receding into the fading evening light, Schlesinger retreats from Hockney’s grasp back to the realm of fantasy.

"The work also demonstrates Hockney’s dialogue with photography at a pivotal moment in his practice. For many of the double portraits, the artist had made extensive use of photographic source material, fascinated by the camera’s ability to impose an artificial strangeness upon lived reality. In his paintings, Hockney delighted in toying with this quality, counterbalancing precise structural geometries with emotive ambiguity. The present work, as documented in A Bigger Splash, is similarly staged. 'The scene in life is full of romantic allusions,' explained Hockney: 'Peter on a balcony, gazing at a luscious garden and listening to the evening noises of Marrakesh. George Chinnery’s painting, The Balcony, Macao, was certainly in my mind at the time. The moment we arrived at the hotel in Morocco—we had a bedroom with this beautiful balcony and view—I immediately thought it would make a wonderful picture. So I deliberately set up Peter in poses so that I could take photographs and make drawings” (D. Hockney, ibid., p. 239). With its bright blue shadows seemingly plucked straight from one of Hockney’s swimming pool paintings, the work owes much to the hyper-real lighting of his Californian pictures, many of which feel like illuminated studio sets. Tellingly, Hockney likened the Hôtel de la Mamounia to the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles, and was also intrigued to discover that both Josef von Sternberg and Alfred Hitchcock had made films there. Such parallels may be seen to shed light on the painting’s uncanny sense of nostalgia and déjà-vu.

"In many ways, Sur la Terrasse marks something of a turning point in Hockney’s practice. In the autumn following his break-up, the artist eradicated all people from his work, channeling his feelings of grief and loneliness into portraits of inanimate objects. Though devoid of human presence, paintings such as Beach Umbrella (1971), Rubber Ring in a Swimming Pool (1971) and Pool and Steps, Le Nid du Duc (1971) are nonetheless haunted by the present work’s depiction of Schlesinger. Aloof, silent and swathed in shadow, his solitary standing form would find curious echoes in the lonely domestic objects that came to populate Hockney’s oeuvre. In particular, the painting Still Life on a Glass Table (1971)—widely considered to represent one of his most psychologically-charged works of the period—is infused with a similar sense of melancholic foreboding. Hockney’s banal objects confront the viewer like relics from another world, almost anthropomorphic in their stark, surreal clarity. The fact that many of the items upon the table had strong associations with Schlesinger himself serves to heighten this impression: as Hockney explained, 'my emotional state was reflected in the choice of the objects (and even the choice of the subject) and in the gestural electric shadow under the table, representing my real feelings, in contrast to the calm of the still life' (D. Hockney, ibid., p. 241). Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) would continue this approach: here Schlesinger appears like a spectral imposter, his shadow thin and elongated in a manner reminiscent of the present work.

Seen in the context of all that that followed, Sur la Terrasse may be said to capture the moment at which Schlesinger became a stranger to Hockney. He is no longer the visceral spectacle of human flesh that defined the artist’s early portraits, but a fragile illusion, infused with the solemn grandeur of nature morte. As Livingstone has written, 'Hockney’s most affecting portraits, not surprisingly, are often those of people with whom he has close emotional bonds. These include the painting he made of Peter during the final months of their five years together. In them he acknowledges the shift in tone in their friendship, the emotional distance that was separating them from each other, even though he was not necessarily consciously seeking to illustrate the situation. It was perhaps more a question of an extremely sensitive person picking up signals that had not yet been openly communicated, and including them intuitively in his pictures' (M. Livingstone, ibid., p. 112). This innate understanding of human interaction—so skillfully demonstrated in the double portraits—had long formed the backbone of Hockney’s practice. In Sur la Terrasse, through deft compositional manipulation, the artist tacitly acknowledges the gulf between him and Schlesinger. It is an elegy turned to a eulogy, bathed in the glow of the setting sun."

The lot has an estimate of $25,000,000 to $45,000,000.  It sold for $29,501,250.


Diebenkorn 27

Lot 27, "Ocean Park #108," by Richard Diebenkorn, oil on canvas, 78 by 62 inches, 1978

Lot 27 is a good oil on canvas entitled "Ocean Park 108" by Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993).  It measures 78 by 62 inches and was painted in 1978.  It was consigned by the Roy and Diane Disney Collection.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Building on the philanthropic traditions begun by the world-famous animator and film producer Walt Disney, the sale of works from the Ron and Diane Disney Miller Collection will benefit charitable and philanthropic causes that are close to the family’s heart....As Walt Disney’s eldest daughter, Diane Disney Miller inherited her father’s remarkable enthusiasm and energy, as well as his commitment to philanthropy and the arts, particularly classical music.  Diane was married for nearly 60 years to Ron Miller, a professional football player who became president and CEO of the Walt Disney Company from 1978-84. Especially devoted to raising her seven children, Diane was also an unstoppable creative force who undertook an active role in documenting and supporting the accomplishments of her father. These efforts culminated in the 2009 opening of the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, a 40,000-square foot institution housing historic archival materials and artifacts paired with the newest technology to bring the Disney legacy to life."

"Painted in 1978, Ocean Park #108 belongs to the series of Ocean Park paintings that Richard Diebenkorn made in his spacious new studio in the Ocean Park neighborhood of Santa Monica in the latter half of the 1970s. A large and accommodating second-floor space, it was rich with abundant natural light and afforded a narrow view of the Pacific Ocean. 'Each day when Diebenkorn drives to his studio down the coast, he follows the Pacific Coast Highway...along the wide stretch of Santa Monica beachfront below the earthen cliffs,' the art historian Robert T. Buck, Jr., wrote in 1980. 'The mellow sparkle and soft golden richness of tone bestowed upon this landscape by the California sun are unique' (R.T. Buck, Jr., Richard Diebenkorn: Paintings and Drawings, 1943-1980, New York, 1980, p. 47). Ocean Park #108 benefits from the artist’s lifelong observation and close study of his chosen California locale. Suffused with the ineffable qualities that define the West Coast way of life, which Diebenkorn has distilled into a taut, geometric design, Ocean Park #108 epitomizes the many reasons why these paintings rank among the most treasured creations in the history of postwar art.

"Diebenkorn devoted twenty years to the Ocean Park series, continuously refining and perfecting his craft from its beginnings in 1967. By the end of the 1970s, when Ocean Park #108 was created, the artist’s flair for color had been honed to a fine point, and he investigated working with layering thin segments of alternating bands of bright color with softer, more delicate passages of lighter ones. He used nuanced washes of pigment that had been thinned down in diaphanous veils, revealing the countless pentimenti of the many revisions and edits that his working method allowed. Another interesting pictorial development that appeared in Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park paintings around this time can be seen in the upper register of Ocean Park #108, where a rounded, orange band evokes an endless Santa Monica sunset. This new visual device seems to open up and expand the space of the painting beyond its peripheral borders, creating a feeling of boundless, infinite space....

"Diebenkorn infused the surface of Ocean Park #108 with the distilled essence of Southern California. In the upper register, multilayered bands of diaphanous color alternate between vivid turquoise, bright tangerine, pale yellow and light brown, which are buttressed by a broad expanse of pale blue that’s been applied in a brushy, gestural style. Everything is corralled and organized by Diebenkorn’s signature black line, which limns in the exuberance of the lush and exhilarating colors. Fenced off into flat, geometric planes, these jewel tones radiate a subtle, but palpable vibration. Upon prolonged looking, the thin layers of color begin to breath and shift, drawing the eye deeper into recessional space, as the effects of sunset come into view, where blue water and sandy beach are suffused with a lambent glow.

"As early as 1951, when Diebenkorn travelled by airplane from Albuquerque to San Francisco, the nascent seeds of the Ocean Park paintings were already sewn. 'Often traveling by air over endless miles of landscape, he developed an eye for compressing three-dimensional landscape into stunning, two-dimensional design,' Douglas Hofstadter explained in the pages of The New Yorker in 1987. 'Years later, he would recall 'One thing I know has influenced me a lot is looking at landscape from the air… Of course, the Earth’s skin itself had ‘presence’–I mean, it was all like a flat design–and everything was usually in the form of an irregular grid’ (R. Diebenkorn, quoted in D. Hofstadter, “Profiles: Almost Free of the Mirror, New Yorker, September 7, 1987, p. 61)."


It has an estimate of $7,000,000 to $9,000,000.  It sold for $5,723,000.

Mitchell 25

Lot 25, "Plowed Field," by Joan Mitchell, triptych, oil on canvas, 112 bu 213 inches overall, 1971

Lot 25 is a large triptych oil on canvas by Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) that measures 112 by 213 inches.  It was painted in 1971.  It was once in the collecttion of the Sarah Blaffer Campbell Foundation in Houston.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:


"Spread across three monumental canvases, Joan Mitchell’s triptych Plowed Field is one of the largest paintings the artist had completed at this point in her career. Part of her celebrated Field series, across its colossal dimensions Mitchell assembles a rich patchwork of verdant greens, warm yellows and burnished golds to produce an evocative memory of a much-loved landscape. “I paint from remembered landscapes that I carry with me,” Mitchell famously said, “and remembered feelings of them, which of course become transformed” (J. Mitchell, quoted in J.I. H. Baur, Nature in Abstraction: The Relation of Abstract Painting and Sculpture to Nature in Twentieth-Century American Art, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1958, p. 75). Exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s celebrated Joan Mitchell retrospective in 1974, the sheer force of color evokes the cornfields of her youth, and the sweeps of golden sunflowers from the fields of her beloved new home in France.

"In building up the highly active surface of Plowed Field, Mitchell assembles blocks of color like a master mason; weight and balance rank alongside form and function as essential elements of the composition. A thin sliver of pigment—not much wider than a medium sized paint brush—runs along the lower edge of the canvas. This band of dark green, ruby red, burnished orange and warm pink pigment acts as a foundation layer of sorts for the substantial slabs of color that rest upon it. Above this, billowing clouds of pale color are laid down in multiple layers beginning with open, brushy passages of fresh greens, warm oranges, and pale blues, followed by subsequent layers embellished by delicate waves of golden yellow staccato brushstrokes. On the extreme right edge of this portion of the canvas is the first of a series of dense blocks of color, in this case executed in a dark—almost maroon--red. Rendered out of more substantial brushwork, it offers a condensed counterpart to its more effervescent neighbor.

"As the eye is drawn upwards, these extensive areas of color become more and more prevalent—the substantial blocks squeezing out the thinner passages of color, the paler palette gradually replacing stronger, deeper, and purer registers of color. To avoid this becoming overwhelming and to ensure balance, Mitchell leaves areas of paler color between each of them. Like mason’s mortar, it ensures that these individual elements are held together as one cohesive whole, and by utilizing the ‘wet-on-wet’ painting technique, these seemingly ‘in between’ areas themselves become highly active areas, with pigments coalescing in exciting, unexpected and intriguing ways.

"Mitchell’s Field paintings are an essay in successful composition on a large-scale. Having grown up just two blocks from the shore of the vast Lake Michigan, the artist would have been acutely aware of the power and scale of nature, and of the vastness of the open landscape. Successfully transferring this sense of space onto canvas is a considerable accomplishment, the threat of over (or under) compensating each compositional element is ever present. But here, as in others from the series, she successfully accomplishes delicate detail on a large-scale. 'The scale of Mitchell’s Field paintings, Plowed Field is 213 inches wide…, far exceeds that of any of her earlier paintings,” writes Mitchell scholar Judith Bernstock. “With her Field series, the polytych became her characteristic format having vastness as one of its constant qualities. It reflects Mitchell’s preoccupation with physicality and spatial orientation, which she associates with her native environment: ‘I come from the Midwest. I’m American. The Midwest is a vast place. I was born out there, in the cornfields that go right out to Saskatchewan and the Great Lakes' (J.E. Bernstock, Joan Mitchell, New York, 1988, p. 119).

"This innate affinity for, and understanding of, our emotional connection to the landscape is what lies at the heart of Joan Mitchell’s paintings. Her work is often linked to that of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters such as Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh. While the ‘impressionist’ nature of the American artist’s brushstrokes does have parallels with the rapid en plein air style of Monet, and her intense use of color evokes the searing pigments of van Gogh’s interpretations of the Arles countryside, Mitchell’s paintings are much more than figurative renderings of a particular place or moment in time. Instead, they offer poetic meditations on the feelings that memories inspire. As the artist explained in 1958, “I could certainly never mirror nature. I would like more to paint what it leaves me with” (Letter to J. I. H. Baur, 1958, printed in Nature in Abstraction: The Relation of Abstract Painting and Sculpture to Nature in Twentieth Century American Art, New York, Whitney Museum, 1958).

"One reason for her newly expansive canvases of the 1970s lay in a move to new studios an hour north of Paris. In May 1968, Mitchell would relocate full-time to La Tour, a new acquired property in the village of Vétheuil. After a year of renovations she finally moved into the stone farmhouse, and large outbuildings meant that she could more easily work on large-scale paintings (she could remove them from studio without the need to roll them, which often caused the paint to crack). 'From the time she acquired Vétheuil,” writes her biographer Patricia Albers, “its colors and lights pervaded her work. Loose allover quilts of limpid blues, greens, pinks, reds, and yellows…their colored lines and shapes registered a painter’s fast-moving hands as they rise steeply, floating between inner and outer worlds to jostle and bank at their tops' (P. Albers, Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter, New York, 2011, pp. 313-14).

"The artist would spend her daytime hours chatting with friends or sitting on the patio that overlooked the abundant green landscape and a lazy stretch of the river Seine. Later in the evenings, after it was fully dark, Mitchell would venture to her studio and set to work, often labouring long into the night, listening to Mozart. It was here that the waves of emotions and memories washed over her, and moved through her, coming out through her brush in ever greater and more assured compositions. Mitchell worked the canvas in confident strokes, filling the entire surface edge-to-edge in brilliant, shimmering pigments evoking the beauty of the natural world. Such is the importance of these large-scale works that many of her triptychs or quadriptychs from this period are now in major museum collections including, Fields for Skyes, 1973, Hirschhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Clearing, 1973, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Wet Orange, 1972, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; and Chasse interdite, 1973, Musée National d’art Moderne, Centre Georges-Pompidou.

"Born into a highly cultured, wealthy Chicago family in 1925, poetry played an important part in Mitchell’s life from the beginning. Her mother, Marion Strobel, was a poet and the co-editor of the magazine Poetry, and leading modern poets visited the family home, including T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Mitchell’s erudition led her to befriend many poets, and for her paintings to be profoundly influenced by literature. The individual canvases within a triptych—a format that she returned to again and again—can almost be seen as stanzas within poem, in that the canvases are discrete entities but mutually dependent. And each formal element within her paintings is like a word within a poem; it is there for a purpose, carefully chosen to serve the final vision. Indeed, although the energy of Mitchell’s gestures can give the impression that she executed her paintings swiftly, in fact her paintings often took several months to complete. Her process was highly contemplative, as she once described: 'There’s no ‘action’ here. I paint a little. Then I sit and I look at the painting, sometimes for hours. Eventually the painting tells me what to do' (J. Mitchell, quoted in D. Solomon, ‘In Monet’s Light’, The New York Times, November 24, 1991).

"In many ways, her paintings from this period take their formal cues from the teaching of Hans Hofmann, with whom Mitchell briefly studied with in the 1950s at his Hofmann School in New York. Although she only lasted one lesson, before retreating—vaguely frightened—Hofmann’s ideas would remain with her throughout her career. His students learnt to stress the flatness of the canvas, while simultaneously implying pictorial depth. They learnt to activate the entire surface of the painting, while at the same time considering positive and negative space, and regarding a painting as a metaphorical field (P. Albers, Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter, New York, 2011, p. 128). As a result, Mitchell was able to pull off 'unexpected yet felicitous meetings of color… but also breaking rules of all kinds, sinking yellow behind lavender, for instance, and clumping dark colors at the upper edges of a canvas' (P. Albers, op. cit., p. 322).

"Even at the beginning of her career Mitchell stood out amongst her fellow Abstract Expressionists as an artist who would come to define the medium. Fellow artist Paul Brach noted, '... this young painter marks the appearance of a new personality in abstract painting. Miss Mitchell’s huge canvases are post-Cubist in their precise articulation of spatial intervals, yet they remain close in spirit to American abstract expressionism in their explosive impact. Movement is controlled about the periphery by large, slow-swinging planes of somber grays and greens. The tempo accelerates as the forms multiply. They gain in complexity and rush inward, setting up a wide arc-shaped chain reaction of spasmodic energies' (P. Brach, ‘Fifty-Seventh Street in Review: Joan Mitchell’, in Art Digest, January 1952, no. 26, pp. 17-18).

"In her 1988 monograph on the artist, art historian Judith E. Bernstock of Cornell University, writes that Mitchell’s Field paintings (the series to which Plowed Field) belongs, had their origins in both the artist’s past and present. “Beloved memories of the vast fields of the Midwest, the cornfields in which she hid as a child from her family and nurses ('I got lost in the cornbelt!') blend with her vision of the distant golden and green fields from her window,' writes Bernstock. '[Mitchell] could ‘feel the fields’ most intensely in the early 1970s because of her circumstances and state of mind at the time. Although she was able to enjoy complete privacy in her studio at Vértheuil, to which only she had the key, the extent of her solitude was more than she desired' (J. Bernstock, op. cit., p. 111).

"Mitchell effectively translates the very essence and spirit of Vétheuil onto her canvas, essentially immortalizing a moment in time as if preserved in amber. Indeed, the splendor of her beloved new home pervades every square inch of this painting, a brilliant encapsulation of its heady scents and its sumptuous, resplendent landscape. Countless critics have chased this ephemeral quality in Mitchell’s work, but it is perhaps the artist herself who put it best: 'Painting is a means of feeling living. Painting is the only art form except still photography which is without time. Music takes time to listen to and ends, writing takes time and ends, movies end, ideas and even sculpture take time. Painting does not. It never ends, it is the only thing that is both continuous and still. Then I can be very happy. It’s a still place' (J. Mitchell, quoted in Yves Michaud, “Conversations with Joan Mitchell, January 12, 1986,” in Joan Mitchell: New Paintings, exh. cat., Xavier Fourcade, New York, 1986, n.p.).

The lot has an estimate of $12,000,000 to $18,000,000.  It sold for $13,327,500.


Polke 31

Lot 21, "Gegen die zwei Supermächte—für eine Rote Schweiz [Against the Two Superpowers—For a Red Switzerland]," by Sigmar Polke, spray paint on newspaper mounted on canvas, 100 3/8 by 124 5/8 inches, 1976

Lot 21 is a large spray paint on newspaper mounted on canvas by Sigmar Polke (1941-2010) that measures 100 3/8 by 124 5/8 inches.  It was created in 1976 and is entitled "Gegen die zwei Supermächte—für eine Rote Schweiz [Against the Two Superpowers—For a Red Switzerland]."

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Gegen die zwei Supermächte, für eine Rote Schweiz [Against the Two Superpowers: For a Red Switzerland] is a monumental work dating from one of Sigmar Polke’s most important exploratory periods. Rendered in stencilled spray paint on contemporary newsprint, it bears the slogan of the Kommunistische Partei  der Schweiz/Marxisten-Leninisten (KPS/ML): the Swiss branch of the Chinese Communist Party. Executed in Bern in 1976, it belongs to a group of three works based on the same imagery, one of which resides in the Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen. Together, these creations may be seen as an extension of Polke’s celebrated ten-part cycle We Petty Bourgeois!, produced during the same year. Specifically, they relate to the second work in the series, Giornico, which deploys the same slogan in reverse. The 1970s was a pivotal time for Polke: amid growing critical acclaim, the artist retreated to a world of countercultural experimentation, defined by communal living, exotic travel and psychedelic exploration. Abandoning painting for much of the decade, he produced dazzling mixed-media reflections of the world around him: witty visual rhapsodies layered with references to current affairs, art history and nature. Having fled from East to West Germany as a child, and been disillusioned by both regimes, the artist rejoiced in seizing loaded political imagery for his own aesthetic agenda. A caustic punchline lingers here: a wry smirk at the comic, somewhat parochial notion of Swiss communism. This work featured in Polke’s major retrospective at Tate Modern, London, in 2015, subsequently traveled to the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

"Active between 1969 and 1987, the KPS/ML was a radical Maoist splinter group of around 80 members. Many had participated in the 1968 student demonstrations, and still had hopes of a violent revolution 'against the two superpowers' America and the Soviet Union. On 1 May 1975, 'Gegen die zwei Supermächte, für eine Rote Schweiz' was printed onto traditional Swiss May Day lapel ribbons and worn by demonstrators. In contrast to the terror imposed by the radical left in Germany during this time – most notably the Baader-Meinhof Group, whose activities would reach a denouement in the devastating events of October 1977—the threat of a ‘red Switzerland’ seemed almost laughable. 'I always thought [Polke] felt ‘What bigger contradiction could there be than between communism and Switzerland?,’ observes Peter Fischli. 'The communists there were a very small group, and from the beginning it was clear that they would never have success' (P. Fischli, quoted in M. Godfrey, “Peter Fischli on Sigmar Polke,” Tate Etc., Issue 32, Autumn 2014). In Giornico, Polke juxtaposes the slogan with imagery relating to the Swiss defeat of the Milanese in the Middle Ages: a victory achieved by throwing rocks down the mountains at their assailants. In the present work and its companions, by contrast, he uses pages from the Zürich newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, dated 25-26 November 1976. With the party’s slogan blasted like graffiti against adverts for women’s fashion and Black Forest cake, the work ultimately seems to highlight the futility of the KPS/ML in the context of contemporary Swiss capitalist society.

"1976 was an important year for Polke. In collaboration with the curator Benjamin Buchloh, he mounted his first major museum exhibition at the Kunsthalle Tübingen, which subsequently travelled to Düsseldorf and Eindhoven. The following year, he took up a professorship at the Hochschule für bildende Künste in Hamburg: a position he would hold until 1991. 'As everyone knew,' Martin Kippenberger reflected, '[Polke] was the man of the 1970s' (M. Kippenberger, quoted in G. Capitain, B: Gespräche mit Martin Kippenberger; Tisch 17, Ostfildern 1994, p. 17). Even in the midst of his ascent to fame, however, the artist himself was largely absent from the scene. In 1972, he had relocated to Gaspelhof in Willich: a communal farm where artists, friends and family drifted in and out of residence for the next six years. It was a place of social experimentation and artistic freedom, and a haven from the anxieties of the Cold War. From there, Polke nurtured links with subcultural groups in Bern, Zürich, Cologne and Düsseldorf, as well as travelling to far-flung locations including Tunisia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. He toyed increasingly with consciousness-enhancing drugs, extending his fascination with nature to hallucinogens such as peyote cactus and fly agaric. Such explorations were part and parcel of an alchemist’s mentality, which would become increasingly prominent in the absence of traditional paint and canvas. His layering of media and imagery during this period not only reflected his own enhanced view of the world, but would also pave the way for his adoption of progressively ambitious chemical substances during the 1980s.

"The present work takes its place within this context. For Polke, political imagery was just one of innumerable sources that fed his imagination, gathered and archived in the same sweep as advertisements, pornography and scenes from art history. Though his works were undeniably rooted in contemporary culture, Polke rejected the notion that they might be read as statements or judgements on the outside world. The works in the We Petty Bourgeois! cycle, for example, were less critical commentaries than flickering, near-televisual screens that held a mirror up to collective consciousness. After an impoverished childhood spent in both East and West Germany, Polke was as suspicious of left-wing regimes as he was of capitalist society. Throughout his career, he harnessed a range of politically-charged symbols, ranging from bourgeois motifs, swastikas and watchtowers to images of Chairman Mao and members of the Baader-Meinhof Group. His 1976 exhibition saw the unveiling of his installation ‘Kunst Macht Frei’ (‘Art Makes You Free’): a controversial reference to ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ (‘Work Makes You Free’), the slogan that appeared at the entrance to Auschwitz. For Polke, raised in a world of ideological warfare, there was joy to be had in transforming loaded imagery into free-flowing visual currency, as malleable and readily available as the cartoons or fabric samples that populated his work elsewhere. In Gegen die zwei Supermächte, für eine Rote Schweiz, Polke offers an alternative view of communist rhetoric: a fleeting, radical anomaly that failed to make the papers."

The lot has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $5,000,000.  It sold for $3,175,000.


Hofmann

Lot 23, "A  Nightly Love Song," by Hans Hofmann, oil on canvas, 50 by 40 inches, 1964

Lot 23 is a strong oil on canvas by Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) that is entitled "A Nightly Love Song."  It measures 50 by 40 inches and was painted in 1964.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Painted in 1964, Hans Hofmann’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik [A Nightly Love Song] is a powerful culmination of the artist’s greatest body of work, the ’slab’ paintings that he produced in a final flourish during the last years of his career. Named in homage of Mozart’s exuberant orchestral arrangement by the same name, Eine kleine Nachtmusik [A Nightly Love Song] is an exquisitely calibrated balance of vivid color harmonies. Set against a rich, red backdrop, an array of vibrant, jewel-like colors alternately advance and recede according to Hofmann’s 'push and pull' technique. The result—an intense, arresting and lavish painterly creation—exhibits the last great flowering of an artist who dedicated his life to the pursuit of his craft.

'Created during an era of mounting critical acclaim, including a 1963 retrospective at MoMA and his exhibition at the 1960 Venice Biennale, the present painting exemplifies Hofmann’s last, great style. As Karen Wilkin has written in the artist’s catalogue raisonné, 'Hofmann’s 'slab' pictures, with their saturated hues and urgent paint application, are his most sought-after and readily recognized works. Intensely colored, pulsing rectangles have become emblematic of the artist' (K. Wilkin “Hans Hofmann: Tradition and Innovation,” in S. Villiger, ed., Hans Hofmann: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Volume I, Farnham, 2014, p. 47). Indeed, these late, great paintings—produced in the final years leading up to his death in 1966—are considered the artists magnum opus. Numbered '1536' on the reverse, the painting corresponds to related works in major museum collections. The adjoining numbered works in the series, such as #1537 (Nulli Secundus, 1964) in Tate, London and #1538 (Imperium in Imperio, 1964) in University of California, Berkeley Art Museum, demonstrate the artist’s mastery and finesse. The preceding number, #1535, titled To J.F.K -- Thousand Roots Did Die with Thee, was painted in the aftermath of the JFK assassination and now belongs to the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. Together with Eine kleine Nachtmusik [A Nightly Love Song], it was exhibited in what proved to be the final exhibition during the artist’s lifetime—his 1966 solo show at Kootz Gallery on February 1st. Writing in her review for Artforum, the art critic Rosalind Krauss praised Hofmann as 'the grand master of the New York School,' (R. Krauss, 'Hans Hofmann, Kootz Gallery,' Artforum, April 1966, Vol. 4, No. 8, p. 47), and William Berkson, writing in Arts Magazine, declared: 'It was astounding to see how many ideas and techniques of painting Hofmann commanded. In the last decade, during which time he closed his school and took to painting full-tine, his work seemed like that of a ‘natural,’ a learned young painter who, finding his self-control, discovers that painting is infinitely available to him' (W. Berkson, 'In the Galleries: Hans Hofmann,' Arts Magazine, Vol. 40, No. 6, April 1966, p. 56).

"Revealing an extraordinary array of different approaches, whether dripped, brushed, or molded with a palette knife, Eine kleine Nachtmusik [A Nightly Love Song] is tinged with the artist’s joie de vivre. The thick, rich surface of the painting’s background is rendered in lush, red pigment, applied with a palette knife or, at times, straight from the tube. Against this dramatic red backdrop, Hofmann has stacked an array of brilliant, light-filled rectangles, where the joy and relish of an artist at the height of his powers is conveyed in every stroke of the brush. Adhering to his signature palette of bold primary and secondary colors, the painting is carefully calibrated so that each color exists in concert with its neighbor, whether sky-blue, sunflower-yellow or bright, emerald green. These shimmering, jewel-like colors alternately rise upward from their rich, red curtain, becoming exquisite players upon a theatrical stage, or sink deep into the background of the picture plane, so that a good deal of depth is conveyed by their keen arrangement. As the curator Paul Moorhouse has written, 'These flat shapes preserve the reality of the picture surface. But, through variations in size and color, they suggest movement by appearing to advance and retreat, thereby animating the pictorial space. Through this perceived animation they infuse the inert matter of paint with an impression of vitality' (P. Moorhouse, 'The Structure of Imagination: Hofmann’s Late Paintings,' in S. Villiger, ed., op. cit., p. 60).

"Throughout his life, Hofmann was very much inspired by music, and he sometimes compared the keen arrangement of harmonic and dissonant color that he balanced in his paintings to those found in musical composition. Hofmann even described his painterly technique in musical terms, claiming that his goal was 'to form and paint as Schubert sings, and as Beethoven creates a world in sound' (H. Hofmann, quoted in Hans Hofmann: 1880–1966, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 12). As its title suggests, the present painting is titled in homage to Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik, and certainly the careful relationship of each color 'chord' as it relates to its neighbor demonstrates the sort of symphonic relationship between musical sounds in Mozart’s famous symphony, with its lively, joyful refrains.

"Vibrantly colored and exquisitely balanced, Eine kleine Nachtmusik [A Nightly Love Song] exemplifies Hofmann’s celebrated 'push and pull' technique, where bright slabs of color play against each other as certain colors recede and others advance. Hofmann believed this was the root of all painting, saying 'only from the varied counterplay of push and pull, and from its variation in intensities, will plastic creation result' (H. Hofmann, quoted in W. C. Seitz, Hans Hofmann, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York,1963, p. 27).

"Having emigrated to the United States from his native Germany in the 1930s, Hofmann rose to prominence in the ‘40s and ‘50s amongst the New York School painters as an impassioned and gifted teacher. He split his time between New York and Provincetown, Massachusetts, spending his summers in that coastal resort town. Hofmann’s work gradually evolved from post-Cubist abstractions rooted in nature—like his early paintings of Provincetown or the abstracted still lifes made in his studio—but when he retired from teaching in 1958, his paintings took a deeper, more spiritual turn. Executed on a large scale with the confidence and zest of a learned master, these paintings can now be seen as the denouement of a lifetime spent analyzing and exploring the essential plastic elements of two-dimensional abstract painting. Their titles made use of Latin phrases, such as Miz--Pax Vobiscum, which he named in honor of his wife of forty years, or after pieces of music, such as the present painting.

"Hofmann also benefited from the close support of one of the most influential art critics of the postwar era, Clement Greenberg, who praised him as 'the most important art teacher of our time,' saying, 'Hofmann’s name continues to be the one that springs to mind when asked who, among all recent painters in this country, deserves most to be called a master in the full sense of the word' (C. Greenberg, quoted in C. Goodman, Hans Hofmann, New York, p. 9). Eine kleine Nachtmusik [A Nightly Love Song] is a powerful culmination of the artist’s lifelong devotion to, and exploration of, the fundamental principles of painting. The powerful sense of energy, neatly corralled into rectangular slabs that advance and recede from the pictorial plane, in concert with the dynamic colors he selects, makes it one of the artist’s most accomplished ’slab’ paintings of this era.
"

The lot has an estimate of $3,500,000 to $4,500,000.  It sold for $4,215,000.


Bacon 17

Lot 17, "Study for Self-Portrait," by Francis Bacon, oil on canvas, 14 by 12 inches, 1979

Lot 17 is an oil on canvas that is a "Study for Self-Portrait" by Francis Bacon (1909-1992) that measures 14 by 12 inches and was painted in 1979.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Enveloped in darkness, the harried face of Francis Bacon stares out from the surface of the canvas. Half mired in shadow, and half bathed in strong raking light, this exceptionally rendered self-portrait reveals with striking detail the artist’s strong features. Painted in 1979, Study for Self-Portrait has been in the same private collection for nearly four decades and is one of the last small-scale single canvas self-portraits that Bacon completed, the result is a psychologically complex painting which provides an astute reading of both the artist and his art. Striking in its use of color, and in the dissemination of light and shadow, it stands apart as a striking example of his late oeuvre. Similar in composition to his 1979 triptych Three Studies for a Self-Portrait, in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, this jewel-like painting captures the complexity of Bacon’s art as he journeys into the deep recesses of his own minds.

"When Bacon painted Study for Self-Portrait he was nearly 70 years old, and his seven decades of experience can be seen etched across his face. From the deep creases that traverse his forehead, to his sunken eyes, this is the portrait of a man who has lived, seen, and experienced firsthand a life characterized by demons and traumas. His eyes appear haunted, or at least raw from a prolonged emotional outpouring, and staring off into the middle distance—with his eyes cast slightly downwards—he appears engrossed in his own memory. While the strong use of raking light blanches out the subtleties of the complexion of Bacon’s high cheekbones, bright bursts of crimson, ruby red, and purple open up the depths and recesses of the folds and furrows of his skin, together with his slightly pursed lips, revealing the hollow darkness of his mouth. This dramatic use of light also causes the (proper) right side of his face to fall into darkness, with features dissolving before disappearing into the blackness. Filling the picture plane, the extremes of Bacon’s life are clear, and with his expressive face pushed forward, it is there for all to see.

"The artist gained his reputation as one of the 20th-century’s most innovative painters by producing dramatic canvases that featured people drawn from his own life. Friends, acquaintances, lovers and the various characters he came across as he spent his evenings in the pubs and clubs of Soho populate his early oeuvre. Building on Picasso’s earlier generation of Cubist figures, Bacon’s investigations into the ‘self’ take the form of images which he then dismantles in order to build up a deeply psychological portrait of the subject. In many ways writes Milan Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 'Bacon’s portraits are the interrogation on the limits of the self. Up to what degree of distortion does an individual still remain himself? To what degree of distortion does a beloved still remain a beloved being? For how long does a cherished face growing remote through illness, through madness, through hatred, through death still become recognizable. Where lies the border beyond which a ‘self’ ceases to be a ‘self’ (M. Kundera, “The Painter’s Brutal Gesture,” in F. Borel, Bacon Portraits and Self-Portraits, 1996, London and New York, p. 12).

"But as he grew older, Bacon began painting more and more self-portraits. Speaking in 1975, he commented that 'I’ve done a lot of self-portraits [recently], really because people have been dying around me like flies and I’ve had nobody else left to paint but myself' (F. Bacon, quoted by D. Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London, 2016, p. 150). As he advanced towards old-age, and his circle of friends diminished, Bacon’s own feeling of mortality resurfaced, feelings that had haunted him for much of his life. He remembers recalling at the age of 17 that life was limited, and that you only have a brief time on earth before you disappear forever. “One of the nicest things that Cocteau said,' Bacon once recalled to David Sylvester, was 'Each day in the mirror I watch death’ (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 1975, p. 152).

"In considering his own mortality, Bacon joined a distinguished group of artists who exorcised their own emotions by committing their anxieties to canvas. In the last decade of his life, having survived his wife, all four of their children, and personal bankruptcy, Rembrandt produced what are widely regarded to be some of the great self-portraits ever painted. '…the final decades—between 1652 and his death in 1669,” writes curator Marjorie Wiesman, curator of Dutch and Flemish Painting at the National Gallery in London, “show Rembrandt focusing on more internally motivated concerns: achieving a realistic and sympathetic rendering of old age, now extending its merciless reach across his own face and body, and reflecting upon his own profession and his own place within it' (M. Wiesman, ‘The Late Self Portraits,’ in J. Bikker & G. J. M. Weber (eds.), Rembrandt: The Late Works, exh. cat., National Gallery, London, 2014, p. 37).

"Similarly, back in the 20th century, Andy Warhol’s last great series of self-portraits act as a memento mori of sorts. The so-called 'Fright Wig' self-portraits that he painted in 1986 are often considered the artist’s most successful. Despite his own often-debilitating shyness, throughout Warhol’s career he chronicled and charted his own appearance in a range of self-portraits, culminating in this final defining series of works. His fame was now so extensive and his features so instantly recognizable in their own right, that he had easily attained the status within the Pop firmament that merited his own inclusion in his pictures. These paintings captured not only a sense of Warhol’s celebrity, but also a sense of his fragility. The stark tonality and fleeting nature of photography belies the intense preparation that went into creating the source image, from purchasing the wig to taking and selecting a photographic template for the silkscreen. Warhol’s gaunt appearance, heightened by the contrast between light and dark, adds a strange, searing anxiety to these paintings. This picture appears to be a self-examination as well as a self-presentation—Warhol, like Bacon only a few years before, was looking into the mirror and confronting what he sees there.

"The psychological tension that is inherent in Study for Self-Portrait is enhanced by Bacon’s dramatic use of lighting. Although pictured front on, the features on the right of Bacon’s face dissolve into the darkness. His high cheekbones, strong jawline and deep eye sockets all fall away. Whereas on the left side of his face, the strong raking light exposes and exaggerates the artist’s features, on the right side, the impenetrable darkness shrouds him in mystery. This effect can also be seen, to a lesser extent, in his Three Studies for Self-Portrait painted earlier in 1979. The origins of this effect can be traced to Bacon’s interest in photography, and having seen in early modern photographs that were strongly lit. It could have been promoted in particular by the photographs of Helmar Lerski, who had taken a series of photographs of the artist after spotting the young Bacon on the street in Berlin in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Bacon’s interest in photography continued throughout his life and became a central part of his painting practice, and he always maintained that he preferred to paint his subjects from photographs, rather than from real life, and it allowed him to truly deconstruct their facial features.

"Francis Bacon’s paintings are among the most powerful works in the modern art historical canon. Visually arresting and psychologically penetrating, they represent the contemporary human condition. One of only a handful of self-portraits which he undertook in the last decade of his life, Study for Self-Portrait is one of the most striking from the later part of his career. Here, the artist breaks down his own image in order to build up a perceptive picture of himself. 'Whether the distortions which I think sometimes bring the image over more violently are damage is a very questionable idea,' Bacon said. 'I don’t think it is damage. You may say it’s damaging if you take it on the level of illustration. But not if you take it on the level of what I think of as art. One brings the sensation and feeling of life over the only way one can' (F. Bacon, quoted in D. Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London 1975, p. 43). The result is remarkably personal portrait that shows the complexity of the artist at first hand, and a remarkable new direction for the future of portraiture, as critic John Russell concluded. '…the image is nowhere fixed, finite, descriptive; and yet it tells us more fully and more truthfully than any conventional portrait what it is like to be a human being. It suggests to us that earlier images have been unwarrantedly bland in their presentation of human nature; and it also suggests that this particular new kind of presentation is something that only painting can do. Painting here reclaims its rights' (J. Russell, Francis Bacon, London, 1971, p. 132)."

The lot has an estimate of $8,000,000 to $12,000,000.  It sold for $9,045,000.

Condo 39

Lot 39, "Silver and Yellow Double Head Composition," by George Condo, acrylic, metallic paint and pigment stick on linen, 90 by 140 inches, 2016

Lot 39 is a large and impressive acrylic, metallic paint and pigment stick on linen by George Condo (b. 1957) entitled "Silver and Yellow Double Head Composition."  It measures 90 by 140 inches and was painted in 2016.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:


"Noted for his staunch championing of the painted figure in the 1980s and beyond, George Condo’s signature style marries portraiture with art historical inquiry. Energetic canvases like Silver and Yellow Double Head Composition see the artist going beyond the more parodic mode he became known for in his early practice, and instead tease out the intricacies inherent in his appropriative techniques. True to form, the artist retains his interest in portraiture as a vehicle for his painterly investigations as he targets the bust-length format for closer inspection. 'There was a time when I realized that the central focal point of portraiture did not have to be representational in any way,' he once remarked, 'You don’t need to paint the body to show the truth about a character. All you need is the head and the hands' (G. Condo, quoted in A. Bonney, “George Condo,” BOMB Magazine, Summer 1992). Stepping further away from directly discernible subjects, Condo has increasingly turned in the 21st century to an amalgam of abstractive techniques that render his works a poignant cacophony of line, color, and form. Using these elements in service to his broader inquiry on painting and its emotional aspects, Condo continuously prods at the historical while pushing ever further into the future.

"Silver and Yellow Double Head Composition depicts two figures from the shoulders up. Rendered on a dark brown-gray ground reminiscent of the paintings of Francis Bacon, Condo’s subjects activate the canvas with a swirl of bold black strokes, panels of color, and painterly insertions. The left head is perched atop frontal-facing shoulders wearing a red and white block of color and pointed black collar. Various pieces of the visage are visible through the Cubist-inspired line work, most notably two eyes: one turns to the right and the other stares unblinkingly out at the viewer. Two series of vertical strokes seem to elicit bared teeth while a number of curvilinear forms might be noses, ears, or the outlines of the face. One notices the similarities in each form to some of Condo’s less fully-obscured faces, and in doing so the hand of the artist emerges. The right figure, turning its shoulder to the foreground, may be rendered in profile, but the mélange of angles, brushstrokes, and shaded planes dissolve any recognizable vestiges into a deconstructed portrait that melds the artist’s trademark cartoon style with those of his art historical predecessors in the Cubist and Abstract-Expressionist modes. Reading one of Condo’s paintings is like reading several chapters of an art history text at once. Movements and modes combine and coalesce into a treatise on what painting has been and will be. 'Realistic details … struggle to emerge from the rich atmosphere of line and Cézannesque passage that comprise the backgrounds. It is as if this painterly primordial soup is tugging these figurative forms back into itself, impeding their complete transformation from shapes into images' (L. Hoptman, “Abstraction as a State of Mind” in George Condo: Mental States, exh. cat. New Museum, New York, 2011, p.23). Reticent to offer up a fully-formed figure, Silver and Yellow Double Head Composition offers only the briefest of glimpses into representation before the faces and forms are again swallowed up by the artist’s brush.

"Known for his dynamic approach to the seemingly-antiquated genre of portraiture, Condo pushes traditional notions of the figure through a blender of art historical styles. Coming of age in New York in the 1980s with his Post-Modern contemporaries like Julian Schnabel and David Salle, artists who were then relying on fitting and composing a bevy of visual pastiches with disparate elements borrowed from across history, Condo instead sought to combine and fuse components into something decidedly singular. Donald Kuspit wrote about this confluence, noting, 'Instead of pushing one style to an extreme, he revitalizes different styles by using each to inform the others—even as he readdresses the old modernist problem of the relationship of painting and drawing, modes that Matisse thought were inseparable if not entirely one and the same' (D. Kuspit, 'George Condo: Skarstedt Gallery,' Artforum, May 2010, p. 252). The elaborate way in which Condo constructs his compositions can be seen in the recent HBO documentary film The Price of Everything, which features the present work in the various stages of its creation. Upon a ground of patchworked pale colors, Condo can be seen sketching the beginnings of what will become the figure on the left. 'He’s very persistent,' Condo says as he draws the figure in black oil stick. 'He’s always sort of there, as a kind of alter ego.' Then, over time—and using a variety of tools and techniques ranging from broad paintbrushes to a wide palette knife, two figures emerge before Condo finally declares “That to me looks like a finished painting! They just finish themselves off, I can’t imagine anything else I could do…' (G. Condo, The Price of Everything, directed by Nathaniel Kahn, HBO, 2018).

Silver and Yellow Double Head Composition and other works in the same vein came out of Condo’s need to go beyond his previous explorations into figurative painting and signal a tangent from his usual cartoon-laden iconography. Calvin Tompkins, speaking to this point in a 2011 New Yorker profile on the artist, intoned, 'Instead of borrowing images or styles, he used the language of his predecessors, their methods and techniques, and applied them to subjects they never would have painted' (C. Tompkins, “Portraits of Imaginary People,” New Yorker, January 9, 2011). Filtering the innovations of art historical legends through his own hand, Condo proves that he is both well-versed in art historical styles and modes while also being a singularly innovative artist in the realm of Post-Modern painter. Clearly adept at elements of shading, figuration, and more traditional notions of figure painting (as is clear in works like The Girl from Ipanema [2000]), the artist has continuously pushed toward a fuller understanding of the emotional aspects of art. He uses the portraiture mode as a structure on which to build this inquiry rather than focusing on depicting specific people, noting, 'They’re really not so much subjects in themselves as they are observations of the emotional content of human nature, so they’re variables in that sense. They’re sort of interchangeable' (G. Condo quoted in A. Binlot, 'George Condo Creates Portraits in Action,' T Magazine, November 7, 2014). Silver and Yellow Double Head Composition looks back at the innovations championed by Cubists like Picasso, but at the same time evokes a more disjunctive style that hinges upon letting the subjects become more tokens of mannerist figuration and containers for gestural abstractions that consider the human psyche. The artist branches from his early 20th century predecessors, explaining, 'What’s possible with painting that’s not in real life is you can see two or three sides of a personality at the same time, and you can capture what I call a psychological cubism' (G. Condo, quoted in J. Belcove, “George Condo interview”, Financial Times, April 21, 2013). Looking not just at the representation of physical space, but emotional nuance as well, Condo charges his compositions with dramatic tension."

The lot has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $5,000,000.  It sold for $3,495,000.



Kline 29

Lot 29,"Untitled," by Franz Kline, oil on canvas mounted on Masonite, 42 by 33 inches, 1955

Lot 29 is a good abstract oil on canvas mounted on Masonite by Franz Kline (1910-1962). Untitled, it measures 42 by 33 inches and was painted in 1955.  It is one of several works consigned by Eileen and I. M. Pei.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"The bold, almost architectural, forms that expand across surface of Franz Kline’s 1955 painting Untitled, displays the artist’s revolutionary and uncompromising approach to the abstract form. One of the leading figures of his generation, Kline’s dramatic black-and-white canvases display the doctrines of the Abstract Expressionism in their purest form. Unequivocally American, yet built on foundations that are universal, the manner in which Kline composes and constructs his paintings is both very visual and yet deeply philosophical, and as such his calligraphic gestures have come to represent abstraction in its purest form.

"The visually simple, yet conceptually complex, composition aligns to Kline’s interest not only in the gesture, but also the space it occupies. Two substantial vertical bands of black soar up from the center of the canvas, stretching up and stopping just short of the upper edge of the picture plane. This pair of vertical tower-like structures is then bisected by a more gestural sweep of pigment which traverses the canvas from left to right, before tailing off at an angle. A third, more ethereal, line runs diagonally, almost behind the uprights, joining the horizontal at its obtuse angle. Executed in a rapid, but deliberate manner, these lines display the full force of Kline’s gestures. From the thick, heavy verticals to the more delicate horizontals, together with the drips and incidental splatters of paint, the speed at which the artist’s hand traversed the canvas is also clear. In addition to commanding the center of the composition, by taking his forms right up to, and sometimes through, the confines of the picture plane, Kline adds an extra level of dynamism, expanding the flat two-dimensional constraints of the canvas to infinite proportions.

"Kline’s painted forms have been likened to the graphic qualities of Chinese calligraphy, a source of inspiration that is in keeping with other Abstract Expressionist painters such as Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. The strong, well-developed forms that populate his canvases have also been likening to the industrial structures that dotted the industrial landscape of Kline’s native Eastern Pennsylvania, or the burgeoning forest of skyscrapers that crowded the skyline of his later home in Manhattan. Yet their true meaning is more complex than that. Unlike his contemporaries Mark Rothko (born in Dvinsk, in the western Russian Empire), and de Kooning (born in Rotterdam, Holland), Kline was born in America. Thus, along with Pollock (born in Cody, Wyoming), Kline was at the forefront of developing a new vernacular in American painting that was free from many of the traditions and histories of European painting.

"Thus, Kline abandoned the perceived notions of line, form and three-dimensional space, and developed an entirely new and revolutionary form of artistic language. Thus, in works such as Untitled, the black gestures are not necessarily figurative representations of physical objects or even the emotional psyche, instead they can be read as investigations into the fundamental notions about space and depth. In a review of a 1954 exhibition, critic Hubert Crehan identifies Kline’s new, more complex, form of expression. '[he] makes his pictures with black and white paint…the blacks don’t become holes; the whites never recede or appear as backdrops. The black-and-white shapes are functions of each other to a degree that the conception of positive-negative space is cancelled out. This is an achievement of technique and artistic will' (H. Crehan, 'Inclining to Exultation,' quoted in C. Christov-Bakargiev, Franz Kline 1910-1962, Turin, 2004, p. 317). Continuing this theme, the following year curator Thomas Hess wrote, 'In Kline’s pictures, white and black count as colors. The whites in Kline’s paintings… are not negative or positive spaces but mean the same as the blacks' (T. Hess, Art News, Vol. 55 No. 1, New York, March 1955, quoted in C. Christov-Bakargiev, Franz Kline 1910-1962, Turin, 2004, p. 317).

"Kline continues this theme by expanding beyond the realms of composition into the type of pigments he used. Unlike most artists who tended to use one type of paint—be it acrylic or oil, matte or gloss—within the scope of each individual painting, in Untitled Kline combines the use of gloss and matte paint with dramatic results. The reflective nature of the shiny paint combined with the recessive qualities of the matte adds a further degree of depth to the surface of the canvas, inviting prolonged inspection to try and decipher the inscrutable nature of Kline’s painted surface.

"Untitled was painted during the period widely considered to be the height of the artist’s mature style. In these works, the bold black lines that define the complex spatial relationships extend out across the surface of the picture plane. The reductive tonal nature of the palette focuses attention on the act of mark making itself, as well as drawing attention to the nature of the medium as one well suited to the exploration of content, the observational and narrative. Kline’s inventive power and commitment to the act of painting through which he composes contrasts, clashing planes, and markings are central to works such as the present example, resulting in a tensile, central event located somewhere between abstraction and figuration, where forces come into contact within a dramatic open field.

"These paintings have made an indelible impact on the discourse surrounding not only American 20th century, but also on the trajectory of abstraction globally. Kline does not deny the historical roots of non-figurative mark-making, instead he builds on these foundations to produce a new, more relevant form for the new century. During a period when developments in paintings came thick and fast, critics identified Kline’s paintings as works which would make a lasting impression and ultimately alter the idea of what a painting is. 'Feeling the tug of the great traditions of Europe, Africa and the Orient, with all their perfections, and knowing that his only task is too discover the voice of the New World,'writes Crehan, 'the American artist is always making a fresh start, breaking things down to the elements, Kline’s achievement, it seems to me, is breaking down to black and white and simple shapes, is that he has broken through to a vision, very personal, which is a transcendence of those visual tugs from Europe, Africa and the Orient. His paintings look indigenous' (H. Crehan, “Inclining to Exultation,” quoted in C. Christov-Bakargiev, Franz Kline 1910-1962, Turin, 2004, p. 317)."

The lot has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $5,000,000.  It sold for $3,375,000.


Newman 30

Lot 30, "Untitled #5, 1950," by Barnett Newman, oil on canvas, 77 by 3 1/2 inches, 1950

Lot 30 is a tall and very skinny abstract oil on canvas by Barnett Newman (1905-1970).  Entitled "Untitled #5, 1950," it measures 77 by 3 1/2 inches and was painted in 1950.  It was consigned by the Peis.  It was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in 1972 and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2002. 

The catalogue provides the following commentary about this lot and another slightly wider Newman painting, also consigned by the Pei as Lot 28, "Untitled 4, 1960:

Untitled 5, 1950 is the better painting as it is narrower and more refined into its thin red lines and white squiggles on its left side.  It has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000.  It failed to sell.

Untitled 4, 1950, is 6 inches wide and has an orange strie between thinner brown stripes.  Both belong to the artist's well-known "zip" series.  Untitled 4, 1950 has an estimate of $7,000,000 to $9,000,000.  It sold for $10,490,000.


Bradford 4

Lot 4, "Promise Land," by Mark Bradford, mixed media collage on canvas, 102 1/2 by 144 1/2 inches, 2012

Lot 4 is a large mixed media collage on canvas by Mark Bradford (b. 1961) entitled "Promis Land."  It measures 102 1/2 by 144 1/2 inches and was made in 2012.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:



"Mark Bradford is known for his monumental canvases that pull their inspiration from the city street and the history of art in equal measure. Promise Land, finished the same year that a major traveling retrospective of the artist’s work ended, is a fiery example of Bradford’s meticulous techniques and eye for composition. Sourcing phrases and materials from signs, billboards, and the floors of beauty salons, Bradford instills each work with the history and memory of a place. 'I want my materials to actually have the memories—the cultural, personal memories that are lodged in the object. You can’t erase history, no matter what you do. It bleeds through' (M. Bradford, quoted in Mark Bradford: Merchant Posters, exh. cat., Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, 2010, p. 10). Relying on found objects and a deep connection to the areas in which he works, Bradford is able to go beyond materiality in order to think critically about specific social issues. Though not all of the artist’s works contain text, pieces like Promise Land offer an immediate connection to the viewer as they search between the layers of paint and paper to find meaning in the words.

"Massive in scale, Promise Land stretches twelve feet across and is a riotous collage of text, paint, and torn paper. Red, white, and black words in various stages of legibility ricochet across the surface. The phrase 'SOBER LIVING' is used repeatedly, a term the artist pulled from a local billboard in his neighborhood. Bradford notes: '[T]hese signs are very clearly speaking to the needs of the people in the community who are passing them by every day. It’s not like popular culture, where it’s all globalized. This is very localized. And what’s fascinating about it is that it changes so rapidly, like Transitional Housing, Sober Living, Cash for Your Homes. That’s something that’s come about in the last year. Now, in two or three years in the community, there are going to be other needs and other parasitic systems that are going to come and take advantage of them. It’s in a constant state of crisis here, a constant state of fluidity' (M. Bradford, cited in E. Hardy, “Border Crossings,” in op. cit., p. 9). By seizing these subjects and immortalizing them in his paintings, Bradford is able to both catalogue and problematize what the signs stand for and mean. In Promise Land, each word fights toward the front as it is simultaneously overrun by lines and strokes of pale yellow, blinding white, deep red, and bubblegum pink. The swirls of color lash jaggedly across the canvas with a nod to earlier Abstract Expressionists, but the text itself holds its own against these outbursts and forms an uneasy truce with their wilder brushwork. Though the result exhibits a frantic energy that pulses with action, Bradford’s works require a deeper investigation. Perusing the many layers of material that make up his multifaceted surfaces, the viewer can accompany the artist on an archaeological dig through the ephemeral detritus of society.

"Born in Los Angeles, Bradford would often help at his mother’s beauty salon. After high school, he began to work full time as a hairdresser until he enrolled at the California Institute of the Arts. There he received a BFA in 1995 and an MFA in 1997. Bradford’s formative years in the beauty parlor factored heavily into his early work as he was inspired by the small pieces of paper and other cast off bits he would find there and start to collage. He sees his work as having a very specific conversation about growing up in South Los Angeles and the culture and people there. Bradford noted, 'I may pull the raw material from a very specific place, culturally from a particular place, but then I abstract it. I’m only really interested in abstraction; but social abstraction, not just the 1950s abstraction. The painting practice will always be a painting practice but we’re living in a post-studio world, and this has to do with the relationship with things that are going on outside' (M. Bradford, in conversation with S. May, in Through Darkest America by Truck and Tank, exh. cat., London, White Cube, 2013-14, p. 83). Rather than focusing just on abstraction itself, Bradford creates dialogues about social constructs through his collage work.

"To Bradford, works like Promise Land are about making connections. By creating a visual bridge between conceptual art practice and the everyday world of billboards, advertisements, and street signage, he maps influence and overlap between the two. Some of his works seem more methodical, more topographical, while paintings like Promise Land have more in common visually with historical abstract painters. However, Bradford is quick to note that his methods are not in line with his more formalist predecessors. Instead, they are an attempt to pay homage to and investigate the social processes that result in peeling paper and fractured slogans in specific neighborhoods. 'I do not like conversations about Winsor & Newton and surface and transparency and luminosity and glazing”, Bradford has mentioned. “No. I’m like: go find it. It has to exist somewhere out there; go find it. What painters fetishize—surface and translucence—I learned all about that through architecture and the sides of buildings. I understand transparency because of the erosion of paper' (M. Bradford, quoted in C. S. Eliel, “Dynamisms and Quiet Whispers: Conversations with Mark Bradford”, Mark Bradford, exh. cat. Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio, 2010, p. 63). This erosion is a signifier for the passage of time within a particular place. By capturing it and exploring its visual possibilities, Bradford hopes to bring new relationships to light.

"As Bradford builds up layer upon layer of text in pieces like Promise Land, one begins to make visual connections to the remnants of wheat-pasted signs on walls or the act of peering through a rip in a billboard to see the previous poster. The idea of the palimpsest is relevant here where one obfuscated text or work can be read through another. Not only are we reading Bradford’s phrases through each other and through his layers of painted lines, but the very society from which he sources his materials and subjects can be seen as well. Curator Thelma Golden, sensing the burgeoning potential in the painter’s works early on, included Bradford in the pivotal Freestyle exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2001. From there, the artist’s career expanded rapidly as he continued to reinterpret abstraction for a new generation. 'As a twenty-first-century African American artist,' Bradford noted, 'when I look back at Abstract Expressionism, I get the politics, I get the problems, I get the theories, I can read [Clyfford Still’s] manifestos, but I think there are other ways of looking through abstraction. To use the whole social fabric of our society as a point of departure for abstraction reanimates it, dusts it off. It becomes really interesting to me, and supercharged. I just find that chilling and amazing’ (M. Bradford, “Clyfford Still’s Paintings”, in The Artist Project: What Artists See When They Look at Art, New York, 2017, p. 46). By using socially-relevant subjects and focusing on issues outside of formal concerns, Bradford reinterprets and revitalizes the history of abstraction. Careful not to dismiss those who have come before, the artist builds upon historical works just as he aptly references the cultural castoffs in his compositions."

The lot has an estimate of $6,500,000 to $8,500,000.  It sold for $7,539,000.

Kiefer 52

Lot 52, "The Five Foolish Virgins," by Anselm Kiefer, oil, acrylic, emulsion, shellac and mirror fragments on photo paper mounted on canvas, 93 1/4 by 134 inches, 1983

Lot 52, "The Five Foolish Virgins," by Anselm Kiefer, oil, acrylic, emulsion, shellac and mirror fragments on photo paper mounted on canvas, 93 1/4 by 134 inches, 1983

The cataloge provides the following commentary:

"A key figure in the Neo-Expressionist painting revival during the late 20th century, Anselm Kiefer steeps his work in the multi-faceted history of his German heritage. Working through the events that shaped his homeland, the artist draws upon literature, photographs, and art history as a basis for his inquiry. Die Fünftörichten Jungfrauen is a dramatic example of Kiefer’s work with architectural subjects that mixes expressive paint application with references to the destruction of World War II as well as the Kabbalah. 'Kiefer’s art is the unique expression of a highly personal situation prompted by his interests and consciousness and yielding images in which historic awareness, metaphysical longings and the notion of human subordinacy to existence constitute the material of the predominating question: how to render this human experience into image' (W. Beeren, quoted in “Anselm Kiefer: Recuperation of History,” in Anselm Kiefer: Bilder 1986-1980, exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1986-1987, p. 8). Coming to terms with the aftermath of Nazi rule in Germany on both a personal and more socially-conscious level, Kiefer examines the ways in which people reconcile the past. Often combining his oil paintings with materials like straw and mirrors (which is the case in the present work), the artist builds up physical layers in his work that stand in for the hazy march of time within the mind of the viewer.

"Monumental in scale, Die Fünftörichten Jungfrauen is a multi-layered assemblage of various media. Underneath this heterogeneous surface, a sharp image strains to break free. The entire composition depicts the image of a room with two doors, windows, or recessed walls on the right and a series of angular protrusions that extend to the left. A wild application of gold, black, and ashen white make up the majority of the color in the work with a slight turn to bronze in some areas. Five pilasters, their fluting barely visible through the cacophony of Kiefer’s brushwork, stand in bright tones, the ghostly white-gray dripping toward the floor; a fragment of mirror is attached to each one, refleecting the world back upon itself. Between them, black panels edged by white extend from the wainscoting to the cornices. Above the two openings on the right, what could be murals are rendered in vaporous strokes of the brush. The entire scene gives one the feeling of peering through a room on fire. Flames whip into the scorched walls and gnaw at the architecture as smoke fills our sightline. 'Burning is absolutely elemental,' Kiefer notes, 'The beginning of the cosmos that we have conceived scientifically began with incredible heat. The light we see in the sky is the result of a distant burning. You might say heaven is on fire. But also our bodies are generators of heat. It is all related. Fire is the glue of the cosmos. It connects heaven and earth' (A. Kiefer, quoted in, “Interview with Michael Auping”, October 5, 2004, Barjac, Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth, exh. cat., Fort Worth, 2005, p. 172). By combining the transitory nature of fire with the lasting power of grand buildings, Kiefer constructs a conversation about the destruction of history and the fallibility of memory.

"The subject of Die Fünftörichten Jungfrauen is biblical in nature, a topic that features prominently in Kiefer’s oeuvre, especially after a trip to Israel in the early 1980s. Translated as ‘The Five Foolish Virgins’, the artist references a parable told by Jesus Christ and related in the Gospel of Matthew. The Parable of the Ten Virgins, or the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, is a reminder to be ready for the end of times and Judgment Day. In it, a bridegroom is coming to visit for a procession or wedding, and ten women are asked to light the way with lamps. Five of the virgins have brought enough oil for their lamps to last until the man’s arrival and five have, foolishly, forgotten to do so. When the five lamps of the latter eventually go out and they must go searching for more oil, the bridegroom arrives and the five prepared women are rewarded while the others are not. The parable itself is often related on the façades of cathedrals, and was popular in architectural layouts for its meaning as well as its innate symmetry and visual counterpoint. Kiefer’s columnar shapes perhaps represent five figures carved into the corners of an interior or exterior wall, but the artist is certain to muddle and obfuscate any discernible figuration so as to more completely focus on the abstraction of space within his work.

"Kiefer’s influences are as storied as his paintings’ surfaces. Though he originally planned to study law, he became a student of the painter Peter Dreher in the mid-1960s before going on to study at the Staatliche Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf. There he met Joseph Beuys, an artist who shared Kiefer’s interest in myth and history as it related to the German experience. In the 1980s, the artist began to draw more from the works of the poet Paul Celan, especially his memorializing poem, “Todesfuge (Death Fugue)”, which was composed in response to the Holocaust. In a cycle of paintings, Kiefer expanded on Celan’s bemoaning of the destruction of architecture during WWII as a stand in and commentary on the lives lost. However, the painter is reticent to give absolute meanings to his compositions, noting, 'I can only make my feelings, thoughts, and will in the paintings. I make them as precise as I can and then after that you decide what the pictures are and what I am' (S. H. Madoff, “Anselm Kiefer: A Call to Memory,” Art News, vol. 86, no. 8, October 1987, p. 130). By positioning himself as such a nebulous figure, Kiefer is able to leave the conversation open-ended enough to incite different readings and understandings based on the viewer’s personal needs and experiences.

"Born in Germany during the last year of World War II, Kiefer was surrounded by the wreckage and rubble of that catastrophic conflict throughout his childhood. Witnessing first-hand the destruction of the Third Reich and seeing monuments built under the Nazi regime dismantled and laid to waste, architecture became an important catalyst for the artist to think about the war’s fallout and its effect on Germany’s (and the world’s) population. Art historian Mark Rosenthal wrote about this attachment in Kiefer’s works, noting, 'Melancholy and elegy are Kiefer’s principal leitmotifs and inform an understanding of his work. But Kiefer’s examination of grieving is oblique; he seeks metaphors for his profound sense of loss and for the ways this emotion is enacted. In particular, architectural monuments play a powerful role in his pictorial world' (M. Rosenthal, “Stone Halls 1983”, in Anselm Kiefer: The Seven Heavenly Palaces 1973 - 2001, exh. cat., Basel, 2002, p. 51). By using building and façades as anchors for his compositions, Kiefer roots his work in the physical world while dealing with ideas of loss, memory, and historical trauma."

The lot has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000.  It sold for $1,095,000.

Klein 15

Lot 15, "Barbara (ANT 113)," by Yves Klein, dry pigment and synthetic resin on paper laid down on canvas, 78 3/4 by 57 inches, 1960


Lot 15 is a large dry pigment and synthetic resin on paper laid down on canvas by Yves Klein (1928-1962).  It measures 78 3/4 by 57 inches and was created in 1960.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:


"With its blue corporeal form suspended within a vast white void, Barbara (ANT 113) is an exceptional, monumentally-scaled example of Yves Klein’s groundbreaking Anthropométries. In the artist’s signature International Klein Blue (IKB) pigment, the work registers multiple impacts of a human body, creating a larger-than-life trace of the figure that hovers as if caught in motion. Rills of vivid paint accumulate across the wave-like silhouette, dense and textured like a sprawling mineral terrain. Executed in 1960, the same year that Klein inaugurated the series with a seminal live performance, ANT 113 belongs to a select subset of Anthropométries in which the body appears to take flight in a transcendental act of levitation. Contorted and disoriented into abstract arabesque, three sets of breasts and torsos intertwine at the base of the canvas, swooping upward through a fluid gestural curve—a record of thighs dragged across the surface. It is a composition shared by a discrete number of works from 1960, including Princess Helena (Museum of Modern Art, New York) and ANT 130 (Museum Ludwig, Cologne). Seeking to render visible the immaterial dimension of physical being, the Anthropométries were created by nude female models, coated with paint, who imprinted their bodies upon paper and canvas under Klein’s choreographic direction. According to Sidra Stich, 'The anthropometries made history for Yves Klein and became a benchmark of his career' (S. Stich, Yves Klein, exh. cat. Museum Ludwig, Cologne 1994, p. 186). For the first time in the long history of the female nude, canvas and body were seamlessly united. Of all Klein’s works, they perhaps best encapsulate the artist’s enduring mystical belief in mankind’s fated dissolution into the immaterial world of the spirit—a destiny he conceptualized as the 'leap into the void'. With its sense of formal ascendancy, liberated from the restraints of gravity, the present work represents a euphoric expression of this conviction.

"In IKB, Klein had found a pigment so intensely saturated that he believed it had the power to fully immerse the viewer in the metaphysical realm: it was dimensionless, formless, evocative of the unknown territories of sea and sky. Klein saw it as the purest expression of the void, its all-consuming chromatic resonance acting as a gateway to a world of immaterial sensibility. His monochromes had sought to explore the full potential of this color by allowing it to flood the surface of the canvas with as little intervention as possible. In deciding to use the human body as a vehicle for IKB, Klein created a new level of remove between himself and the picture plane. 'It was the solution to the problem of distance in painting', he explained; 'my living brushes were commanded by remote control' (Y. Klein, Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, New York 2007, p. 114). By focusing on the torso—breasts, abdomen and thighs—Klein tapped into that part of the body that he believed to be independent of conscious thought. 'The heart beats without thought on our part; the mind cannot stop it', he wrote. 'Digestion works without our intervention, be it emotional or intellectual. We breathe without reflection. True, the whole body is made of flesh, but essential mass is the trunk and the thighs. It is there that we find the real universe, hidden by the universe of our limited perception' (Y. Klein, Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, New York 2007, p. 186). Free from the artist’s touch, the Anthropométries brought about a pure, uninhibited transmission of that essential life force onto canvas. The present work—almost unrecognizable as a body—represents an energetic marker of human presence, a sweeping trace of its core vitality.

"Klein’s Anthropométries emerged at the height of his so-called 'blue period'—an intensive stream of artistic production during which he attempted to commune at close range with the volatile, transcendent properties of his newly-discovered pigment. As time passed, Klein began to invite naked models into his studio, in the hope that the presence of human flesh would allow him to stabilize his engagement with the void. Enchanted by the powerful exchange of energy he perceived between the models and his monochromes, he began to contemplate a union between the two. 'One day, I understood that my hands, the tools by which I manipulated color, were no longer sufficient', he said. 'I needed to paint monochrome canvases with the models themselves ... No, this was no erotic folly! It was even more beautiful.' Recalling his early experiments, Klein described how 'I threw a large white canvas on the ground. I poured some twenty kilos of blue paint in the middle and the model literally jumped into it. She painted the painting by rolling her body over the surface of the canvas in every direction. I directed the operation standing up, moving quickly around the entire perimeter of the fantastic surface on the ground, guiding the model’s every movement, and repositioning her' (Y. Klein, Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, New York 2007, p. 113). On June 5, 1958, Klein conducted the first performance of this phenomenon at a dinner party hosted by his friend Robert Godet.

"It was not until February 1960—almost a year and a half later—that Klein returned to the idea of body painting in earnest. He had spent the summer watching his friend Arman working on his Allure series, created by throwing a variety of inked objects at blank canvases in order to capture ephemeral traces of their forms. Refining his own approach, Klein developed a more controlled interface between body and canvas. Rather than inviting his models to launch themselves into pools of paint, he applied the pigment directly to their skin before carefully choreographing their position and motion. Present on the evening of February 23, when this new method was conceived, Pierre Restany—the critic who coined the term Anthropométrie—described how 'Rotraut Uecker ... smeared the front of her body, from breast to knees, with an emulsion of blue pigment. Following the monochrome painter’s instructions, she lay down on the floor, leaving the imprint of her torso on the sheet of paper that had been placed there for that purpose. After receiving a new coat of wet paint, she repeated the operation, this time standing up and applying her body five times in succession to a long sheet of paper attached to the wall at the proper height. The marks thus left on the paper represented the central part of the body, breasts, abdomen, and thighs, in the manner of an anthropomorphic sign. I could not help exclaiming: ‘These are the anthropometries of the blue period!’ Yves, who had been waiting for just this, jumped up in triumph. He had his title: Anthropometries' (P. Restany, Yves Klein, New York 1982, p. 110).

"On March 9, Klein arranged to showcase this newly-refined technique in a ceremonial live performance at the Galerie Internationale d’Art Contemporain on the rue Saint-Honoré. The proprietor, Maurice d’Arquin, had designed the event as an exclusive, one-night-only spectacle, with a select guestlist of artists, critics and patrons. Unlike Godet’s lively dinner party, a sense of near-religious grandeur prevailed. At exactly 10pm, the audience took their seats on gilded chairs in front of an empty stage, whose walls and floors were covered with blank sheets of paper. A group of musicians—three violinists, three cellists and three choristers—entered the gallery, followed by Klein, dressed in a tuxedo and wearing the Maltese cross of his Saint Sebastian brotherhood. At Klein’s signal, the ensemble began to play his Monotone-Silence Symphony: a twenty-minute hypnotic drone followed by twenty minutes of silence, which, like IKB itself, sought to induce a state of metaphysical rapture in its audience. Once the stage was set, three nude women entered the gallery carrying pails of IKB paint. As they sponged their bodies with pigment, Klein began to issue instructions, both gesturally and verbally. Over the course of the evening, two of the women focused their attention on the wall, pressing their bodies up against the surface in rhythmic, almost balletic motion. In contrast, the activities of the third model were driven by a frenetic, raw energy, as she dragged her paint-smeared body across the floor in a series of arabesques. Those present at the performance were struck by its grace and serenity, its mesmerizing mise-en-scène and the ritual solemnity of the printing process.

"The reverential nature of the performance at the Galerie Internationale d’Art Contemporain made plain Klein’s desire to distance the Anthropométries from any affiliation with eroticism. The use of the naked female form was conceived not in sexual terms, but rather as a 'resurrection of the flesh': an investigation of its phenomenological properties. Much as he had previously tried to capture colors as 'living beings … true inhabitants of space', so Klein now sought to show the human body as vital source of dynamic creativity. In this regard, the Anthropométries owed much to his long-standing fascination with the art of judo—in particular, its assertion that the body harbors a core repository of physical and spiritual energy, and its devotion to exploring and marshaling these forces. The resemblance between the Anthropométries and the body imprints left by fallen judokas—and, indeed, between the white paper and the dojo mat—were fully acknowledged by Klein. The metaphysical power of the carnal trace was an idea that stretched back far into his youth, from a shirt he adorned with handprints and footprints aged twenty to his childhood fascination with his bodily impressions in the sand of the beaches near his home in Nice (S. Stich, Yves Klein, exh. cat. Museum Ludwig, Cologne 1994, p. 172). For Restany, the concept ultimately spoke to the origins of mankind, invoking a kind of primal existentialism. 'The blue gesture launched by Yves Klein runs through 40,000 years of modern art to be reunited with the anonymous handprint, as sufficient as it was necessary in that dawn of our universe, that Lascaux or Altamira signified the awakening of man to self-awareness and the world' (P. Restany, Yves Klein, New York 1982, p. 110). Significantly, the Anthropométries would later combine with the artist’s attempts to capture a new set of traces on canvas—the primeval, elemental forces of wind, rain and, ultimately, fire.

"While the Anthropométries stood in sharp contrast to much of the art that was being produced at the dawn of the 1960s, they resonated with a number of tendencies that emerged during this period. In a world largely dominated by abstraction, several artists were increasingly drawn to the idea of the indexical imprint as a means of re-engaging with the human figure. During the 1950s, Robert Rauschenberg and his wife Susan Weil had created a series of works by placing their own bodies on cyanotype blueprints and briefly exposing them to light. Bruce Nauman made impressions of his own form in media as diverse as grease and neon. Even artists operating more traditionally within the realm of figurative representation were approaching the body as a site of energy and spiritual vitality. Following the legacy of works such as Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, Willem de Kooning’s Women transformed the female nude into a whirlwind of visceral impressions, whilst Henri Matisse’s Blue Nude cut-outs of the 1950s reduced it to a set of sinuous planes. The shape of the present work in particular invites comparison with Matisse’s 1952 work La Chevelure. At the same time, the performative, theatrical nature of the Anthropométries aligned them with the 'Happenings' staged by John Cage and the Fluxus artists, the action paintings of Jackson Pollock and, to a degree, the body-orientated art of the Japanese Gutai group. According to Stich, 'the anthropometries thus constituted a seminal part of the critical reorientation that replaced illusive and introspective art with work that boldly displayed images of unadorned, raw reality' (S. Stich, Yves Klein, exh. cat. Museum Ludwig, Cologne 1994, p. 186).

"Ultimately, however, the significance of the Anthropométries lies in their status as an apotheosis of Klein’s own artistic journey. If he conceived his practice as a progressive immersion of his own being and identity into the realm of his art, then the Anthropométries stand as a moment of breakthrough. Tuxedo-clad, Klein was orchestrator, composer and master of ceremonies: an omniscient creator who cut to the essence of the human spirit without ever laying a finger upon the canvas. '[Klein] conceived of the body as a force of creativity, a marking apparatus that was itself a sign and signifier of life', explained Stich. 'The body was an evocative presence but also a trace—the incorporeal vestige of a material form that no longer existed in real time' (S. Stich, Yves Klein, exh. cat. Museum Ludwig, Cologne 1994, p. 176). As the body departed, the artist dissolved with it, reduced to a spirit whose machinations left their indelible mark upon the picture plane. In the present work, and others like it, the human form is rearticulated, the traditional vertical hierarchy of breasts, abdomen and thighs inverted, broken down and restructured into a singular, fluid gesture. It is longer a concrete form, but an expression of visceral energy—a celebration of the immaterial force that gives life to human flesh."

The lot has an estimate of $12,000,000 to $18,000,000.  It sold for $15,597,500.

Warhol green 20


Lot 20, "Big Electric Chair," by Andy Warhol, acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen, 54 by 74 inches, 1968

Lot 20, "Big Electric Chair," is an acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) that measures 54 by 74 inches and was painted in 1968.

It was sold at Sotheby's New York May 14, 2014 when it had an estimate of $18,000,000 to $25,000,000 and sold for $30,437,000.  That auction's catalogue noted that there were "12 other versions of the composition series done between 1967-1968, four of which are listed in private collections"  "This version," it continued, "is by far the most attractive of the group because of its palette and its overall abstraction.  The entry indicates it is one of 14 large-format depictions of the electric chair subject of his Death and Disaster paintings and the only one that divided the work into three discrete fields of color. Its polychromatic, high-key tonality without doubt renders it the most compositionally complex of all Electric Chairs," the entry noted.

The catalogue for this auction provides the following commentary:

"When Warhol first unveiled his Little Electric Chairs, it was—arguably—the most shocking subject in postwar art. The source image was a photograph first published in 1953 to accompany an article about the planned execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on charges of espionage. Despite what was considered an inadequate amount of evidence (itself tainted by the nature of the sources), the Rosenbergs were sentenced to death in the midst of a hysterical anti-communist witch-hunt. The death sentence, never previously passed on a civilian in the United States for espionage, became the cause of heated debate. This became a landmark case, fomenting dissent amongst liberals as well as Communists in the age of increasing McCarthyism. Warhol only tended to use political images, for instance Mao or Jackie, because of their iconic value, and it is not known whether he felt strongly about the controversial issue of the death penalty, but he would have been aware of the divisive nature of the debate, which makes his choice of this image all the more intriguing.

"Following on from his adoration of American celebrity in his portraits of Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis, Warhol’s Electric Chairs must have come as a shock to a public who thought they knew what to expect from the master of Pop Art. But with these works he succeeded in distancing himself from the other artists of his generation who, for the most part, continued to occupy themselves with the mechanics of mass-market image-making. His Death and Disaster paintings, and his Electric Chair canvases in particular, helped to define Warhol as an artist who was still at a truly ambitious stage in his career and willing to take on the biggest challenges of human life—mortality and the randomness of life and death. This quality has seen some scholars identify a link between Warhol’s work from this series to a grand tradition grand artistic traditions of earlier generations, '…he created a link for himself to not only the pessimistic humanism of Goya and Picasso, but more importantly, to the Abstract Expressionism and its existential and metaphysical concerns—concerns which had been mostly abandoned by the artists of the ‘60s' (P. Halley, ‘Fifteen Little Electric Chairs’, Andy Warhol: Little Electric Chair Paintings, New York, 2001, p. 8).

"Big Electric Chair was part of a series of paintings conceived for Warhol’s first ever survey in Europe, organized by the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden. Unlike the artist’s prior retrospectives in Philadelphia in 1965, and Boston in 1966, this show was planned as an alternative to a conventional retrospective exhibition, and was designed to explore the relationship between Warhol’s paintings and his films. Warhol made two new bodies of work for the show, both based on some of his previous paintings, his Electric Chairs and Flowers, except that here, he enlarged his previous screens to be projected on to a movie screen alongside the paintings.

"In Big Electric Chair, color is paramount. Not just in the three diagonal striations that sweep across the canvas, but also in the choice of colors selected by the artist. While the vast majority of the series are rendered in monochrome against a contrasting ground, the present lot is the only one that is rendered in five colors. And it is not the number of colors, also the choice of colors that is significant. For this particular depiction of the execution chamber, Warhol chose colors normally associated with hope and nature. The deep phthalo blue (the color of the oceans, the sky), the verdant green (the color of trees and plants), and pink (the color of human flesh)—are all colors normally associated with life. Peter Schjeldahl, writing in the New Yorker, is one of the few critics who recall the artist saying that he admired Matisse’s disparate use of color. 'Few recall him saying, as he did, that he wanted to be Matisse,' writes the critic. 'I think he split the difference between the two wishes, achieving pictorial art that is like the product of a balky Matissean odalisque, in thrall to ‘luxe, calme et volupté.’ Warhol was a supreme colorist who redid the world’s palette in tart, amazing hues…' (P. Schjeldahl, “Warhol in Bloom: Putting the Pop Artist in Perspective,” New Yorker, March 3, 2002, via https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2002/03/11/warhol-in-bloom [accessed 10/12/2019]).

"In painting his Big Electric Chairs for the Stockholm exhibition, Warhol wanted to return to a program for his first museum exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia in 1965. To help in the planning of the show, he sketched out a preliminary layout with one room labeled 'Disasters' and the other 'Flowers.' Much as in Stockholm, Warhol wanted this Philadelphia exhibition to represent his body of work in broadly thematic groups to emphasize its continuum and currency. After making their debut appearance in Sweden, these large-scale Electric Chairs did much to establish Warhol’s reputation in Europe. 10 of the 14 canvases are now in major international museum and institutional collections (several of which are in Europe) including the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Collection Marx; Musée National dart Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; the Froehlich Collection, Stuttgart; and finally, the Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

Andy Warhol’s Death and Disaster paintings, to which Big Electric Chair belongs, was a dramatic change of direction for the artist. Having concentrated predominantly on his portrayals of consumer culture and Hollywood stars (Coca-Cola Bottles and Campbells Soup Cans, 1962, and portraits Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor), in the summer of 1962—at the suggestion of the then curator of American Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Henry Geldzahler—Warhol switched his attention to a much different subject matter. He began with the monumentally-scaled 129 Die in Jet, in which he transferred the image from the June 4, 1962 edition of the New York Mirror by means of an opaque projector, painting by hand. In the massive canvas, the grisly wreckage of the plane’s burned-out wing is writ large, made into an iconic image that conveys the gruesomeness of this particular death. Over the next two years, Warhol created a gripping series of paintings that would come to be known as the Death and Disaster series—suicide victims, the wreckage of smashed up cars, the atomic bomb, civil rights protesters attacked by dogs, people unwittingly poisoned by contaminated tuna-fish, and the electric chair. The paintings present the kind of day-to-day realities of living in post-war America that Walter Hopps refers to as 'commonplace catastrophe.' Concurrently, Warhol was at the same time creating the seminal portraits of Marilyn Monroe, which he began just after her suicide on August 5, 1962. In an often quoted interview from this era, Warhol discusses the impetus for the Death and Disaster series. When asked why he started the 'Death' series, he responded: 'I guess it was the big plane crash picture, the front page of a newspaper: 129 DIE. I was also painting the Marilyns. I realized that everything I was doing must have been Death. It was Christmas or Labor Day—a holiday—and every time you turned on the radio they said something like, '4 million are going to die.' That started it' (A. Warhol, quoted in Glen Swanson, Interview with Andy Warhol, Artnews). Despite the apparent incongruity, curator Douglas Fogle noted in his catalogue for Supernova: Stars: Death and Disasters exhibition which he organized at the Walker Art Center in 2006 that, 'Our fascination with the beauty and glamour of celebrities seems to have an inevitable flipside, which is our deep-seated obsession with tragedy and death' (D. Fogle, “Spectators at Our Own Deaths,” in Supernova: Stars: Death and Disasters, exh. cat., Walker Art Center, 2006, p. 13). Indeed, two of Warhol’s greatest celebrity portraits (those of Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe) were painted when both women had their brushes with death.

"Unlike many of the other works in his Death and Disaster series, such his Car Crash paintings or Race RiotsBig Electric Chair is exempt from explicit violence; instead it is defined by a stillness, emptiness and silence which sets them apart from these action-filled visions of death. Lacking any sign of human presence, the chair seen here is filled with a chilling sense of foreboding. Spot lit and set just off center, the instrument of death stands empty, the restraints hanging down limply as it awaits its next victim. The real terror is left unseen, making it all the more horrifying; the viewer is left to imagine the gruesome events that will follow. Perfectly cropped to Warhol’s exact specification, this image appears as if a still from a film, a morbid theatre of death that simultaneously repulses and intrigues. Indeed, the cinematic, film noir composition and macabre contrast of light and shadow set amidst the soft pink glow all serve to endow this scene with a hypnotic visual power and a disturbing beauty."
"

At this auction, the lot has an estimate of $18,000,000 to $25,000,000.  It sold for $19,000,000.

Kara Walker  37

Lot 37, "Being The True Account of The Life of the Negroes," by Kara Walker, cut paper and adhesive, 150 by 472 inches, 1996

Lot 37 is a huge cut paper and adhesive installation by Kara Walker (b. 1969) entitled "Being The True Account of The Life of The Negroes."  It measures about 150 by 472 inches and was created in 1996.  The lot has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000.  It failed to sell.



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See The City Review article on the Christie's evening sale of Twentieth Century Art May 9, 2000


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