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  One: A Global Sale of the Century

Christie's

  July 10, 2020


Picasso in one

Lot 52, "Femme d'Algiers, (Version F)" by Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 21 3/8 by 25 5/8 inches, January 17, 1955

By Carter B. Horsley

Christie's held an large and ambitious "live" auction that it entitled "One: A Global Auction of the Century."  It took place with a very limited set of the public in Hong Kong, Paris, London and New York.  Most of the bidders participated over the internet.

It has 82 Impressionist and Contemporary Art lots, but two were withdrawn.

The auction total was $420,941,042 / £334,877,520 / €373,053,557 / HK$3,246,637,554
.

Using streaming technology, ONE took place in consecutive sessions in Hong Kong, Paris, London and New York, selling 94 per cent by lot and 97 per cent by value.

On June 29, 2020, a similar auction was held at Sotheby's in New York, London and Hong Kong which 93 percent of the offered Impressionist, Contemporary and Latin American Art lots sold for $$363,200,000.

The two auctions were closely watched as the coronavirus pandemic has devastated the art market in recent months as the auction houses have closed their doors to potential collectors and many doubted that buyers would commit without having visually inspected works.

The Christie's auction was highlighted by major works by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Brice Marden (b. 1938),  Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), Gerhard Richter (b. 1932), and  Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920).

In a July 8, 2020 article in The Wall Street Journal, Kelly Crow reported that "heading into this postponed spring series, collectors wanted reassurances that blue-chip art could still command predictable prices, despite the pandemic and volatility in the broader financial markets."
"'Sotheby’s 'rose to the crisis,' said art adviser Beverly Schreiber Jacoby, when its June 29 trio of online sales of 74 pieces brought in $363 million, led by an $85 million Francis Bacon triptych.

"Now it is up to Christie’s to round out the series....The 82-lot auction...carries a $337 million low estimate. Collectors, Ms. Schreiber Jacoby said, are managing their expectations amid the pandemic and don’t need the house to break a slew of artists’ records. 'It’s not the level at which Christie’s pieces sell that matters now,' she said. 'It just matters if the art sells at all.' To minimize risk, the house has pledged to buy a dozen works and lined up investors to buy 18 more unless others outbid them during the sale. That means 37% of the lots, or 30 works, are essentially presold....

"The sale’s star is Barnett Newman’s 1952 'Onement V,' a striped abstract estimated to sell for $30 million to $40 million. Eight years ago, the seller paid $22.5 million for the painting.

"The wild card in Christie’s sale may be the experimental format. In the relay-style, live-streamed event, auctioneers in four cities plan to conduct back-to-back segments, each fielding real-time bids before passing the digital gavel. The sale will begin at 8:30 p.m. in Hong Kong (8:30 a.m. in New York) with the sale of several works including an estimated $10 million painting by Zao Wou-ki from 1963, “21.10.63.” Then an auctioneer in Paris will take over, followed by another in London, ultimately moving to the sale’s priciest offerings at Christie’s Rockefeller Center saleroom in New York.

"Christie’s said about 300 people previewed some of the works over the July 4 weekend at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, N.Y. (The museum is otherwise temporarily closed because of the pandemic.)

"The house said it can’t let people bid in person at the New York sale, but a handful of bidders have been invited to attend in the other cities. Christie’s also created an online skybox where VIP bidders can log in and watch the sale together, with specialists offering real-time commentary.

In her July 10, 2020 article in The Wall Street Journal, Kelly Crow reported that "Christie’s successfully tested the blue-chip art market Friday with a $421 million live-stream sale that weathered some early glitches to unload nearly everything it had on offer, including a $46.2 million painting of a nude woman by Roy Lichtenstein."

“Nude with Joyous Painting,” from 1994, was only expected to sell for around $30 million, but it became the subject of a nine-minute bidding war and was won by an anonymous Asian collector. Bidders from Asia proved to be a force throughout the sale, ultimately taking home more than a quarter of the sale including examples by David Hockney, Nicolas Party and Ed Ruscha.

The Lichtenstein work eclipsed the sale’s supposed star attraction, Barnett Newman’s blue zip painting “Onement V,” which drew lighter-than-expected bidding and wound up selling for $31 million, just over its low estimate.

After postponing its bellwether New York sale of impressionist, modern and contemporary art from its usual mid-May slot because of the coronavirus pandemic, the house reconceived its biggest sales series of the year into an NFL draft-style event on Friday, with auctioneers in four cities conducting live-streamed portions of one sale back to back, each fielding real-time bids online and by phone before passing on the digital gavel.

Christie’s Chief Executive Officer Guillaume Cerutti said the fact that all but five of the sale’s 79 offerings found buyers proved bidders were ready to embrace the experimental sale format....

Joining them online were more than 80,000 people—far more than expected. In the opening minutes of the sale, these digital viewers overwhelmed the Christie’s Live platform. The site was compelled to redirect thousands to alternative live-streams of the event, such as the house’s YouTube channel. Christie’s said all registered bidders were allowed on the main site.

The relay-style sale started late in Hong Kong and stretched for four hours, twice the length of a typical evening sale.

Nearly half the sale’s 79 offerings were guaranteed to sell no matter what, thanks to a series of risk-offsetting financial mechanisms that the house had put in place ahead of time—helping the house best its own $332 million expectation for the sale. Potentially nine works wound up selling to these prearranged third-party guarantors, who had pledged to buy works for undisclosed sums unless rivals outbid them during the sale.

Still, a few works outperformed without help including Rene Magritte’s $22.4 million surrealist tree painting, “L’Arc de Triomphe,” which had only been expected to sell for up to $11.7 million. Joan Mitchell’s “Grand Valley VII” also sold for $14.5 million, over its $10 million low estimate.

Other top works in the sale included Ed Ruscha’s “Annie,” which sold for $23 million, and Brice Marden’s ribbon abstract, “Complements,” which sold for $31 million—establishing a new high for a Marden at auction. Records were also reset for six other artists including Takeo Yamaguchi and Ruth Asawa.

In his July 10, 2020 report for The New York Times, Scott Reyburn noted that Unlike Sotheby’s “multicamera global livestream” predecessor, which featured one auctioneer in an empty studio fluently fielding telephone and online bids from screens, Christie’s sequence of live sales had a lot of moving parts, some of which moved better than others.

“It seemed to be a great thing, but access was a little complicated, and when the Hong Kong auction was not starting half an hour late, I lost interest,” said Nikolaus Barta, a collector and art insurer, based in Vienna.

"The sale eventually started 56 minutes late....

"The sale was meant to have been kick-started in Hong Kong by a large red “Hurricane Period” abstract from 1963 by Zao Wou-Ki, Asia’s most coveted postwar international artist. Estimated to sell for at least $10 million, it failed to find a buyer.

“'I was surprised,' said Christian Ogier, a Paris-based dealer who specializes in modern Asian art. “I thought someone in Asia would go for it. The size, color and date were good. But it was incredibly expensive.”...

"Most remarkable of the seven new auction highs set in New York for individual artists was the $30.9 million given for 'Complements,' an admired 8-foot-wide, two-panel abstract of colorful intertwining threads painted by the in-vogue American Minimalist painter Brice Marden, the subject of a sold-out show at the Gagosian Gallery in New York last year. Painted between 2004 and 2007, and guaranteed to sell for a minimum of $30 million, 'Complements' more than tripled the artist’s previous auction high. 

Magritte

"L'Arc de Triomphe" by Magritte

"Over in London, Rene Magritte’s quintessentially enigmatic 1962 painting, 'L’Arc de Triomphe,' depicting a tree standing in front of a wall of foliage, inspired serious competition, almost doubling its estimate to sell to a telephone bidder in New York for 17.8 million pounds, or about $22.4 million.

"It started in Hong Kong at 9:25 in the evening, moved back eight time zones to Paris and London in the afternoon, and then finished in New York at 11:15 Friday morning. In just under four hours, $420.9 million had been spent.

"This was the back-to-the-future format of Christie’s live-streamed 'ONE' sale, the latest attempt by an international auction house to demonstrate that, thanks to the latest technology, the multimillion-dollar top end of the art market can still sparkle in the gloom of a pandemic.

"Christie’s four-venue 'global 20th century art sale' replaced the company’s live evening auctions of contemporary, Impressionist and modern art in New York in May and in London in June. It followed Sotheby’s pioneering live-streamed $363.2 million “clicks and bricks” auction on June 29, and an equivalent hybrid offering at Phillips on July 2 that raised $41 million.

"The Covid-induced shift from live to online-only sales has severely dented turnover at the major auction houses. During the second quarter of 2020, Christie’s auction revenues were down 60 percent from the same period last year, according to the London art analytics company Pi-eX. Christie’s, like Sotheby’s and Phillips, has had to come up with compelling new auction formats to re-engage the 0.01 percent of the population that buys and sells big-ticket art.

“'Everyone was holding their breath before Sotheby’s sale,' said Abigail Asher, co-founder of Guggenheim Asher, an art advisory company in New York. 'There had been no public transactions of this value since February.' Sotheby’s had shown that there was 'absolute confidence in art as an asset class,' she added. 'This is a global buying market.'

"That was certainly the thinking behind Christie’s 'ONE' sale, a relay of four auctioneers seamlessly 'passing the gavel' in real time, “crossing borders to create one vision, one sale.” The live feed was prone to freezing and breaking, and viewers were at times confused as to which auctioneer was actually selling the work in question.

"Most of the sale’s major-name trophies were clustered in the concluding 33-lot New York session. Pablo Picasso’s 'Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘F’)' from 1955, and Barnett Newman’s 1948 Abstract Expressionist rarity, 'Onement V,' were museum-quality masterworks that appealed to an older tradition of collecting. The Picasso was pushed by three bidders to $29.2 million, but the Newman, estimated at $30 million, sold to a single bid of $30.9 million. 

"Roy Lichtenstein’s iconic 1994 Pop canvas, 'Nude With Joyous Painting,' valued at $30 million, proved to be more in tune with billionaires’ current collecting tastes. From the series of nudes that the artist painted during the last five years of his life, and never seen at auction before, this piece sparked a nine-minute battle between telephone bidders, before falling to a client in Hong Kong for the sale’s top price of $46.2 million.....

“'Christie’s was trying to set a whole new load of records for artists because they thought they had the whole world looking on,' said Michael Short, an art adviser in Berlin, who noticed the measured nature of the bidding on many of the lots. 'It didn’t have the animal energy of a live auction.'

"But others were impressed. 'It was an incredible live experiment, which allows one to feel and realize the width, and breadth of the art market, as well as judge the depth of it on a specific artist or artwork,' said Mr. Ogier, the Paris-based dealer.

Overall, Christie’s inaugural ONE sale raised $420.9 million from 79 offered lots. 'It’s a great result in the circumstances of the market,' said Guillaume Cerutti, Christie’s chief executive, at the post-sale Zoom news conference. 'As a global concept it worked very well.' He added that more than. 20,000 people followed the sale on various digital channels.

Lot 52 is one of 15 versions by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) of "Femme d'Alger," an oil on canvas that measures 21 3/8 by 25 5/8 inches.  It is known as "Version F" and was painted January 17, 1955.  It has an estimate on request.  It sold for $29,217,500 including buyer's premium as did all results mentioned in this article.

Christie's website provided the following commentary about the lot:


"The fifteen versions of Les Femmes d’Alger were first exhibited in June-October 1955 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, installed together as the most recent paintings in a major retrospective of Picasso’s work. The artist assumed that the individual canvases would end up with different collectors. Kahnweiler stipulated to prospective buyers, however, that the fifteen paintings must be purchased as a group, ostensibly on Picasso’s demand, which the artist denied. Victor and Sally Ganz of New York had, during the late 1940s and early 1950s, acquired some of Picasso’s most challenging pictures, including wartime works. They agreed to Kahnweiler’s condition and acquired the whole series in June 1956 for 80 million francs (nearly $213,000).


"Picasso and his friends were right: the Ganzes had spent more than they could afford. Working through the dealers Eleanore and Daniel Saidenberg, and Paul Rosenberg, they soon sold ten versions to various collectors and museums in America. They kept Versions C, H, K, M, and O—three color and two grisaille paintings. Version C was sold in 1988 following the death of Victor Ganz, and the remaining four were included in the highly successful sale of The Collection of Victor and Sally Ganz at Christie’s, New York on 10 November 1997; Version O was offered again at Christie’s, New York on 11 May 2015, where it achieved the world-record price for the artist of over $179 million. Version F was acquired by the present owner directly from the descendants of Eleanore and Daniel Saidenberg, who had kept it for their personal collection. Other works from the series are located in public institutions such as the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena; Museum Berggruen, Berlin and Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University, St. Louis.


"A further catalyst in the creation of the series was the presence of Picasso’s new companion Jacqueline Roque, with whom he had been living since autumn 1954. Françoise Gilot had left Picasso the previous year, taking their two children with her. The artist had noticed and delighted in Jacqueline’s resemblance to the right-hand figure, seen crouching and in profile, in the Louvre version of Delacroix’s Femmes d’Alger. With her classic Mediterranean appearance—jet-black hair, dark eyes, and a long, narrow nose—Jacqueline fully looked the part of the odalisques that Picasso now sat down to paint. “Françoise had not been the Delacroix type,” John Richardson has written. “Jacqueline, on the contrary, epitomized it—and not just in physiognomy. 


"The painting has been widely exhibited at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Munich, the Haus der Kunst in Cologne and the Rheinisches Museum and Kunsthalle-Altbau Hamburg. all in in 1955 and 1956, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago in in 1957, the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1958 and the National Centre de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid in 2001."


Marden

Lot 55, "Complements," by Brice Marden, oil on canvas in two parts, 72 by 96 inches overall, 2004-2007

Lot 55 is a large oil on canvas by Brice Marden entitled "Complements" that was painted in two parts betweeen 2004 and 2007.

The website provided the following commentary:

"Brice Marden’s Complements is a majestic painting filled with the artist’s signature winding loops and swirls of colorful pigment. Yet these seemingly simple ribbons of color belie the complex and conceptual nature of these canvases, paintings in which the artist examines both the nature of time and memory, and how this is might be expressed in painting, and also the of contemporary painting itself. Across two conjoined canvases the artist sets out a series of winding paths of rich vibrant color. Often described as ribbons, the artist chooses to refer to them as linear elements to avoid any contextual associations. Upon a glowing orange and rich deep blue ground, Marden’s brushwork traverses the entire surface of the large scale canvases. Each contains four differently colored linear elements, one laid on to top the other. On the left canvas, complementing the orange ground, Marden (b. 1938) begins by laying down the green element, followed by the blue, brown and finally red. Conversely, on the blue right-hand panel, the artist begins with the red,  before laying down orange and green. The colored bands roam freely, their only constraints being the edges of the canvas, which are in turned defined by a boarder of painted color. Evidence of Marden’s technique lingers like ghostly apparitions. Going over and over, erasing and redrawing, using a palette knife to scrape down the multiple layers, Marden continually worked and re-worked Complement, until the painting was, as he described it, ‘resolved.’ The end result displays a mesmerizing contrast between a ethereal background and the graceful movements of the lines.

"The order in which [Marden] constructs his canvases is deliberate, part of—in the case of the present work—Marden’s investigations into the visual effects of complementary colors. By laying down intentionally chosen colors in this order, the artist investigates the eyes visual reactions to the effects of these color combinations. Complements continues the formal investigations that the artist began with Extremes, 2004-5, a painting which is now in the permanent collection of the Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art modern, Paris. In this earlier work, Marden uses a similar systemic system—ground colors of red and violet, which are extremes of the color spectrum. The linear elements are then laid down in sequence, on top of one another (if red is the ground, then the ‘extreme’ violet is laid down on 'top') resulting in an active dialogue on the plane across the two surface.

"Gary Garrel’s, the curator of the artist’s 2006 retrospective organized by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, wrote 'Marden says he wants his painted planes to be ‘something like an insect caught in amber.’ It is evident that we should take that to mean infinite eons of time, transparent geological layers of time—stratigraphies at once wholly visible to the naked eye. Marden’s commitment to plane image has never wavered' (B. Richardson, 'Even a Stone Knows You,' in G. Garrells, Plane Image: A Brice Marden Retrospective, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2006, p. 105).

"The origins of this interest in ‘planer painting’ can be found in the 1980s when Brice Marden abandoned his highly-potent monochrome paintings in favor of a more calligraphic, gestural style of painting that was influenced by Chinese calligraphy. Beginning in 1984, Marden traveled first to Thailand, then later to Suzhou, China, where he became particularly interested in the ‘Cold Mountain’ verses of the eighth century poet Han Shan. Marden gained a new appreciation of the dual nature of calligraphy, in that those Chinese forms could be beautiful both in terms of their aesthetic appearance and in terms of their actual content, much of which is illustrated in the highly-acclaimed Cold Mountain series of 1988-1991.

"Into the 1990s, Marden continued to create works in a literal calligraphic style, beginning in the top right-hand corner and working largely downwards, moving left column by column, but gradually a new, totally independent and self-contained series emerged. By the late ‘90s Marden had let go of the strictly calligraphic model: 'I didn’t start off with the characters in the upper right and then work down and over as I had before with the calligraphy paintings. There aren’t any columns anymore or things connecting columns. I just went into these [paintings] and started a line. It seemed much more intuitive at that point.' (B. Marden, quoted in http://www.carnegiemuseums.org/cmag/bk_issue/2000/mayjun/feat2.html).

"Now in his 80s, Marden still inspires many contemporary artists today as 'one of the most important abstract artists of his generation, his work…a touchstone for contemporary art' (G. Garrels, op. cit., p. 22). Born in 1938 in Bronxville, New York, Marden went on to receive traditional arts training at the Boston University School of Fine and Applied Arts followed by a MFA at Yale University’s School of Art and Architecture. In 1966, he had his breakout solo show at Bykert Gallery in Manhattan; a retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York followed soon after in 1975. In the early 1970s, Marden first visited the Greek island of Hydra; he was so enamored that the eventually established a studio there in addition to his Manhattan studio. Hydra brought a new energy to his art and is notably the birthplace of the present work.

"From the mid-1980s through the early 1990s, Marden pursued the inspired integration of calligraphic East Asian-inspired gestures into his work. Later on, the curved lines became more ropelike and brightly colored, adopting a different rhythm. In the early 1990s, Marden was the subject of a major traveling show of recent work, the 1991 Brice Marden—Cold Mountain at the Dia in New York, which traveled well into 1993 to the Walker Art Center, the Menil Collection, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, and the Kunstmuseum. His work of the 1990s was also the subject of a 1999 exhibition that traveled from the Dallas Museum of Art to the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C. In 2006, Marden was the subject of a major forty-year retrospective that traveled from the Museum of Modern Art in New York to the San Francisco Museum of Art to the Hamburger Banhof in Berlin.

"Writing in the catalogue for the MoMA exhibition, the curator Gary Garrels surmised the artist’s practice thus, 'For Marden, art wrests out of life an essence of experience and memory, though and feeling, that attains its own autonomy. Human reason and emotion take their place in the world through the experience of the art, both as it is made and as it is viewed. Marden’s work, like that of many artists, is deeply influenced by the places he has lived and worked in , the people in his life, and the cultures in which he has immersed himself, not the least of them the art of the past, both ancient and recent. From his sharp synthesis and distillations of his experience an art is made that in turn gives viewers an incisive means to reflect more deeply on their own perceptions, knowledge, and experience' (G. Garrells, 'Beholding Light and Experience: The Art of Brice Marden,' in op. cit. p. 11).

"When the artist himself was asked about why he painted, he replied 'I paint because it’s my work. And I paint because I believe it’s the best way that I can pass my time as a human being. I paint for myself. I paint for my wife. And I paint for anybody who’s willing to look at it. Really at heart for anybody who wants to see it. And when I say see it, I mean see it. I don’t just mean look at it. Well, I do everything I can in terms of what I put out for people to look at. I mean I supply them with all the information I possibly can. And they just have to take care of it from there on in. As in anything, you know, like the more responsive, the more open, the more imaginative you are when you deal with something, the much better experience it will be...It’s hard to look at paintings. It’s really difficult, a very strenuous kind of activity but very, very rewarding. I mean like it’s strenuous to listen to a great piece of music. Very complicated. You have to think a lot. You have to be able to bring all sorts of things together in your mind, your imagination, in your whole body. Really get off on it. It’s a very high experience. It’s something very deep and felt.' (B. Marden, op. cit. p. 17)."

Lictensein 58

Lot 58, "Nude with Joyous Painting," by Roy Lichtenstein, oil and magna on canvas, 70 by 53 inches, 1994

Lot 58 is an excellent oil and Magna on canvas by Roy Lichtenstein entitled "Nude with Joyous Painting.  It measures 70 by 53 inches and was painted in 1994.

I
The lot has an estimate of $25,000,000 to $35,000,000.  It sold for $46,242,500.

The website provided the following commentary:

"Clad in only a pale blue headband, the shapely contours of the heroine in Roy Lichtenstein’s masterful late painting Nude with Joyous Painting is a classic American beauty—a sumptuous marriage of soft, supple flesh and steamy pulp fiction pin-up. Painted in 1994, it is an iconic, tour-de-force of the last series of great nudes that the artist began in 1993 and continued until his death in 1997. The Nudes mark his majestic return to the comic-book heroines that propelled him to fame in the early 1960s and together, they rank among his most significant bodies of work. Culled from his prodigious archive of vintage comics, the Nudes marry Lichtenstein’s Pop Art sensibility with the most storied subject in the history of Western art—the female nude. 'The later women paintings and nudes that Roy did are just absolutely gorgeous,' the artist Jeff Koons has affirmed, 'I know the first one[s] have history, but in terms of beauty and engaging imagery--interesting, viral imagery---the women are fantastic' (J. Koons, quoted Lichtenstein Girls, exh. cat., Gagosian, New York, 2008, p. 16).

"Shortly after it was painted, Nude with Joyous Painting was first exhibited to the public at Leo Castelli’s SoHo gallery in November of 1994. There, it was included in a group of seven other large-scale nude paintings, of which at least two are now housed in major American public collections, including Nude at Vanity, 1994 (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection) and Nude with Pyramid, 1994 (The Broad, Los Angeles).

"Bathed in a scrim of delicate Ben-Day dots, Lichtenstein’s leading lady exudes sensuality. Her bright red lips, perfectly coiffed hair and lithe nude body represent the classical ideal. Here, the Pop Art master’s instinctive gift for creating a melodramatic mise-en-scene is in full effect. He crops out details of the original comic and pulls us in in closer, capturing a fraught moment bristling with suspense that rivals any Hitchcock thriller. Scaled to epic proportions, Lichtenstein’s slender beauty has leapt from the comic’s pages to reach Amazonian heights. In the subtle curve of her breast and the delicate bend of her bare arms, Lichtenstein delights in her trim, pert form. He immerses her in an array of Ben-Day dots ranging in density from a tight matrix of closely-clustered dots to a looser, more scattered supply. The same dot-pattern blankets the area rug and ottoman nearby, and extends upward into the painting of musical notes hanging on the wall. These dots read as 'flesh' when overlaid upon the nude’s bare skin, and yet their placement does not always indicate roundness and depth. Instead, Lichtenstein (1923-1997) freely experiments with the dots, clustering them in wide vertical bands that often bear no relation to the contours and depth of the figure’s nude form. Meanwhile, the domestic trappings of a bourgeois lifestyle linger nearby—holdovers from Lichtenstein’s Interiors series—and Lichtenstein’s own painting of musical notes, Unchained Melody (1994), hangs upon the wall. Turmoil invades even such an ordinary domestic scene, though, as our heroine is broken from her placid reverie by an unknown intrusion. In an interesting pictorial conceit, she glances backward toward the source, with her vantage point much the same as the viewer’s. The mystery surrounding her crackles with a palpable tension.

"Rather than work from the live model as his predecessors had done, Lichtenstein’s nudes were based upon fully-clothed illustrations. In Nude with Joyous Painting, the artist’s source was a vintage DC Comics series called Girls’ Romance from August 1963, where a beautiful blonde falls for a dashing male lifeguard. Titled My Rival’s Secret, the stunning protagonist, named Gloria, is saved from turmoil by Bob, a handsome, sun-kissed hunk of a man. She’s then forced to compete for his affections with a pretty brunette rival. In the panel that Lichtenstein selected for the present work, Gloria is about to drown her sorrows in the ocean, thinking: 'Although I tried to bury my sorrow...It doesn’t seem...that even the sea...is deep enough.' Gloria is saved at the last moment by the beefy Bob, who rushes toward her, yelling: 'Don’t go in -- There’s a tremendous undertow!' The following few panels illustrate Gloria and Bob dancing arm-in-arm. Keeping the melodrama at a fever pitch, though, Gloria’s rival soon approaches Bob, saying, 'How about your sister ‘cutting in,’ Gloria? It’s not fair to keep the ‘king of the sea’ all to yourself!'

"Together, as a series, the Nudes were the first body of work that Lichtenstein undertook following his exhaustive Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum retrospective in New York in 1993.  They have been described as 'formally groundbreaking' by the curator of Lichtenstein’s 2012 retrospective organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and Tate Modern, Sheena Wagstaff, who described them as 'monumental celebrations of domesticated eroticism' (S. Wagstaff, 'Late Nudes,' Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Art Institute of Chicago, 2012, p. 97). Taken as a group, the Nudes comprise only about twenty large-scale paintings, spanning the years 1993 to 1997. Each painting is based upon a scantily-clad comic-book heroine, and often situated in domestic interiors filled with the trappings of a simple, bourgeois life, Lichtenstein’s epic nudes are enlarged to monumental proportions, stripped bare, and inventively remixed. They lie around, read books or gaze into mirrors—either alone or in pairs. Their bodies sleek and trim, they’re always nude but sometimes wear pearls, and their hair is always perfectly coiffed. 'It's kind of amusing that you just paint them and leave the clothes off and it means something different. It's more riveting,' Lichtenstein has observed (R. Lichtenstein quoted in R. Enright, 'Pop Goes the Tradition,' Border Crossings, Vol.13, No.3, August 1994, p.27).

"A painting fraught with melodrama, Nude with Joyous Painting rivals that of even the earlier 1960s comic-book paintings that preceded it, coming to stand at a crucial moment in Lichtenstein’s career. Its formal structure, visual simplicity and zoomed-in, close-up cropping is very much aligned with the earlier ’60 Girl paintings. So, too, was Lichtenstein’s procedure for devising the composition, and he proceeded with the work in much the same manner as he had done thirty-five years earlier. He searched through the stacks of comic books, magazines and newspaper illustrations to find compelling images that suited his purpose, before translating them on a vast scale. 'He specifically picked images and cartoons that had a lot of emotional charge--the archetypal idea of the woman disappointed by love, the war hero in the heat of a battle. These are typically American; and this is a typically American way of glorifying a subject' (D. Lichtenstein, Lichtenstein Girls, op. cit., p 10).

"One important element differentiates the later Nudes from their ‘60s predecessors however. As the curator Avis Berman has observed, their handsome leading man is notably absent. 'The 1990s nudes take pleasure in their own company, without the slightest hint of needing or missing a man,' Berman explained. 'In contrast to Lichtenstein's original romance-comic pictures, this world flourishes exuberantly without men or engagement rings or kisses' (A. Berman, 'Joy and Bravura and Irreverence: Roy Lichtenstein and Images of Women,' in Roy Lichtenstein—Classic of the New, exh. cat., Kunsthaus Bregenz, Vienna, 2005, p. 143). Some scholars have even suggested that Lichtenstein himself was the off-screen leading man to the pert young nudes that came to dominate so much of his attention in those last few years, '…the exclusion of any male presence in these scenes, as opposed to earlier, more fully narrative paintings in which men and women interact, such as The Kiss...suggests that ‘the object of these figures’ attentions...is none other than Lichtenstein himself' (H. Cooper, 'On The Dot,' Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, op. cit., p. 32). 

"In rendering the classic nude, Lichtenstein joins in the dialogue with the great Modernist masters of the twentieth century, who took as their subject the legendary motif of the female form. Of particular interest to Lichtenstein were Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Paul Cézanne. Lichtenstein famously owned over sixty books on Picasso and nearly twenty-five on Matisse. In countless paintings and drawings, he wrestled with the legacy of both artists, particularly in the 1970s when he devoted several series to the major 'isms' of Modern art ranging from Cubism, Purism, Surrealism and Expressionism. The lithe forms of Matisse’s Danse (I), 1909, which Lichtenstein would have undoubtedly seen at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, reflect both the formal and lyrical qualities that the American artist addressed in the present work. 'I’ve always been interested in Matisse but maybe a little more interested in Picasso. But they are both overwhelming influences on everyone, really. Whether one tries to be like them or tries not to be like them, they’re always there as presences to be dealt with. They’re just too formidable to have no interest. I think that somebody who pretends he’s not interested is not interested in art' (R. Lichtenstein, 'A Review of My Work Since 1961,' in G. Bader, Hall of Mirrors: Roy Lichtenstein and the Face of Painting in the 1960s, New York, 2009, p.55).

"Just months before Nude with Joyous Painting was unveiled at Leo Castelli Gallery, Lichtenstein went to see Picasso and the Weeping Women: The Years of Marie-Therese Walter and Dora Maar that premiered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibit featured over eighty works—drawings, paintings and sculpture—all executed between 1920 and 1941. They illustrate the two divergent views of Picasso’s French lover, model and mother of his child, Marie-Therese Walter, and Dora Maar, the photographer, painter and poet that Picasso met toward the end of 1935 and began a tumultuous, nine-year long affair. Of course, the two women were famously opposed to each other’s existence, and in Picasso’s portraits Walter appears as blonde, sunny and bright, as in Le Rêve (1932), in contrast to his darker portrayal of Dora Maar, whom Picasso painted as the tortured 'weeping woman.' The sheer variety of Picasso’s technique is staggering to behold, as he effortlessly switched between modes—the Cubist-derived Weeping Women with their striking, lurid palette is diametrically opposed to the more subdued, almost 'classical' portraits that time and again reveal Picasso’s unrivaled skill as a draftsman. Critics have recently speculated that these paintings played a formative role on Lichtenstein’s Nudes, which is tempting to consider.

"Picasso and Matisse were Lichtenstein's most venerated artistic predecessors; he applied his comic style to ersatz versions of their work on many occasions throughout his career. In Nude with Joyous Painting, Lichtenstein manages to eke out two separate and wholly opposed conditions from the same Ben-Day dot technique, an aspect that only benefits from his constant and continuous dialogue with Picasso, Matisse and the great Modernist masters. His relentless experimentation and refinement in the thirty-five years since his comic-book heroines first appeared is staggering to consider. In painting the female nude, he joins in a legion of artists stretching back two millennia that wrestled with rendering the complexities of the female form in all its fleshy complexity.

"In what has typically been so highly-prized by artists of the Western canon—the realistic portrayal of the softness and roundness of the female form in all its sensuous detail—Lichtenstein instead employs an abstract design where the closely-clustered dots don’t provide fullness or depth. Several critics have noticed this important visual device, which they see as a sly commentary on the prototypical technique for three-dimensional modeling known as chiaroscuro. Indeed, the bands of Ben-Day dots that bathe the figure’s bare skin in Nude with Joyous Painting are put to a new purpose. Rather than cluster together in dense arrangements to connote three-dimensional modeling and shadow—as they had typically been used in the halftone printing process of comic-books and in his own 60s paintings—the artist freely experiments with the dots, arranging them in wide vertical bands that often bear no relation to the contours and depth of the figure’s body. In certain areas, the tightly-clustered dots seem to denote shadow, such as the side of the heroine’s face and beneath her chin, but elsewhere, they can be found in places that should be brightly-lit and therefore devoid of shadow, for instance along her lower arm. In this way, the illustration snaps back and forth between realistic, three-dimensional representation and an overall flat decorative pattern.

"Whereas the earlier ‘60s paintings employed only a select few potent primary colors—namely red, yellow and black—the later Nudes maintained a staggering array of nearly fifty colors that reveal Lichtenstein’s mastery as a brilliant colorist. In the present work, his selection went through a rigorous process that began with a simple pencil sketch based on the Girls’ Romance panel, where the music painting was initially given a bright yellow frame. The next step in the process was a larger collage, where he changed the frame to light blue and added a bright yellow strip of streaming sunlight along its right edge. In the final painting, Lichtenstein added three segments of pale yellow to highlight the figure’s skin, and added a single, green music note to the painting. He also added two sections of vertical crosshatching along the upper and lower registers. 

"Lichtenstein’s paintings were always infused with irreverence and wit. In many instances, he even parodied his own paintings. Such is the case in Nude with a Joyous Painting, where the musical notes not only reference another painting of 1994, Unchained Melody, but also his own love of music. 'Roy loved music and the studio was always filled with the sounds he loved. Bach and bebop were his favorites. … And wouldn’t you know, those musical notes found their way into his paintings' (D Lichtenstein, Roy Lichtenstein: Interiors, New York, 2002, p. 21).

On the occasion of Lichtenstein’s solo show at Leo Castelli in late 1994—in what proved to be one of his last exhibits before his untimely death in 1997—the New York Daily News declared, with tongue planted firmly in cheek: 'The king of the blown-up comic-book frame had seemed to be settling into a quiet, Old Masterly period of late—but he’s broken out with a bang with his new series of nudes. Yep, nudes—the least politically acceptable subject he could take up today.' Indeed, Lichtenstein’s last series of Nudes rank among his greatest, most fascinating body of work. As an artist who ceaselessly innovated whilst staying true to his signature style, Lichtenstein’s Nudes reveal ingenious new formal devices—especially his new form of Ben-Day dots, a rich array of new color and “quoting” of previous work. More than just an erotic pin-up, they are rich with art historical references and cleverly-veiled allusions to the act of looking itself."

Thiebaud pinballs
Lot 63, "Four Pinball Machines," by Wayne Thiebaud, oil on canvas, 68 by 72 inches, 1962

Lot 63, "Four Pinball Machines, a 1962 oil on canvas helped to establish Wayne Thiebaud as one of the most innovative artists of his generation. It measures 68 by 71 inches and was painted in 1972.


Although the auction record for the artist had been $8.4 million set last November at Sotheby's for his "Encased Cakes," this lot set a new record when it sold for $19.1 milion, just above a low estimate of $18 million.

The website provided the following commentary:

"Without formal training, he began his working life as a commercial artist (he worked for a time at the Walt Disney studios), and eventually he developed a distinctive form of figurative realism that stood apart from what is traditionally thought of as Pop Art. Like his contemporaries on the East Coast, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, Thiebaud sought inspiration from everyday objects, but unlike his New York counterparts, he rendered them with a tactile brushstroke and a keen sense of color. Thiebaud was as concerned with the challenge of how to convey color, space and light as he was with the physical rendering of the forms themselves; in this row of pinball machines he renders his subject matter with brushstrokes of electric color portraying them in complex detail. From a seemingly ordinary object, Thiebaud is able to tease out loaded meaning and hidden visual potential.

"Across the center of this monumental canvas Thiebaud paints a row of colorful pinball machines, lined up as if standing to attention. Rendered in the artist’s signature precisionist style, tall slender legs support the body of the machines, with their kickers, slingshots, bells, and flashing lights all poised to spring into action once the player pulls back the pin to release the shiny stainless steel ball. We get a tantalizing glimpse of the maze through which these balls travel through the carefully angled glass top that encases the body of the machines; a vibrant red flipper here, a sturdy blue bumper there. The machines are themselves painted in a visually striking manner, decorated in a series of dramatic, vibrant red, yellow, and orange geometric forms.

"The stars and rows of jagged points all denote movement—the frenetic energy of buttons pushed and levers pulled as players’ hands become a blur once the game gets underway. Then, standing proud at the top of the machines are the ‘backglasses’—usually filled with a combination of high keyed cartoon designs and flashing lights but here, in a sly departure from reality, Thiebaud mines not popular culture, but the art historical canon as he depicts what appears to be the painterly forms of Frank Stella’s Concentric Squares, Jasper Johns’s Targets, and Sol LeWitt’s early works. Thus, Four Pinball Machines becomes much more than a nostalgic trip down memory lane, it becomes a formal and conceptual investigation into the nature of painting itself. 

"Apart from his distinctive painterly style, one of the most striking aspects of Four Pinball Machines is Thiebaud’s bold use of perspective. With their foreshortened bodies and dramatic use of shadows, the machines in this painting are an early example of Thiebaud pressing his subject forward against the picture plane. His repudiation of the accepted rules of one- and two-point perspective (note the low ‘horizon’ line and the bodies of the pinball machines stopping short of the traditional vanishing point), allows Thiebaud to assert a new form of modernity in his work. Critic David Roth writes “a realist to the core. . . . what rescues [Thiebaud’s paintings] . . . from sentimentality is the fact that he eliminates illusionistic, spatial perspectives. That representation risks both illusion and sentimentality is at the core of an anxiety, surfacing here with a reassurance that the artist has ‘rescued’ himself from these presumed pitfalls” (D. Roth, quoted by M. Lovell, Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art, Fall 2017 [online]).

"As a painter, Thiebaud has been interested in realism and particularly admires the paintings of Johannes Vermeer and Jean-Siméon Chardin, artists who both worked in the realist tradition. He has acknowledged a particular debt to Vermeer, whom he credits with helping him to realize the value of what he terms 'protracted looking,' of looking at a painting for a long, long time. He considers Vermeer to be the master of capturing what he has termed frozen time.' 'It’s the difference between a glance and a stare,' he says, 'When you look at a Vermeer for example, you realize that it is a stared time, which has taken a long, long time—and keeps on layering—another five minutes, another hour…three hours, and she’s still pouring the milk!' (W. Thiebaud, quoted by A. Maréchal-Workman, 'Wayne Thiebaud: Beyond the Cityscapes'” Smithsonian Studies in American Art, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Autumn, 1987), p. 45).

"In Four Pinball Machines, this practice of 'protracted looking' reveals a kaleidoscopic array of deliberate, colorful brushstrokes that combine to produce the finished Technicolor image. This can be seem most clearly in the dark shadows that fill the recesses on the underside of the pinball machines. What the eye would usually see as gloomy spaces devoid of light, through Thiebaud’s eyes we see a colorful array of blue, black, red, pink, orange and even green brushstrokes. The undulating edges and vibrant colors surrounding each form create an expressive energy, making the surface of the shapes feel real despite their stillness. Thiebaud claims that he developed his chromatic senses accidentally, having never been to art school. Instead, he took note of how painters such as Monet and van Gogh handled edges, using contrasting colors to highlight an object. Direct lighting techniques allowed Thiebaud to explore these halos: '…strong display lights have been developed which can do all kinds of goofey [sic] things … make an object cast colored shadows, change its local color before your eyes, glow and develop a halo' (W. Thiebaud, quoted in Wayne Thiebaud: 1958-1968, p. 28).

"This 'halation'—as Thiebaud termed it—can also be seen in the artist’s renderings of contemporary paintings that act as the backglass of the machines. These appropriations would have contemporary when the artist painted " (Stella’s first concentric squares first appeared 1962, the same year that the present work was painted). Although living and working primarily in California, Thiebaud would have been acutely aware of the artistic developments happening on the opposite side of the country. The paintings of Jasper Johns, Frank Stella and Sol LeWitt would have been in stark contrast to the prevailing artistic ideologies of their time. This new form of abstraction was entirely removed from the gestural abstractions of Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline, heavily infused as they were with angst and emotion. In this sense, although Thiebaud’s work is often linked with stark formalism of Pop Art (an association with which the artist is never entirely happy), on many levels—such as his interest in the depiction of color, light, and space—it could be argued that his work is more about abstraction than anything else.

"Alongside his rows of cakes, racks of ties, and delicatessen counters, Thiebaud’s pinball machines are an important part of the artist’s early body of work. He first started depicting the arcade games in 1956, with Pinball Machine, a highly abstracted mixed media painting that depicts a single machine alongside a gumball dispenser and a stool with a Coca-Cola bottle. Penny Machines followed in 1961, along with Star Pinball, from 1962, and Twin Jackpots, also from 1962. Of all his arcade game paintings though, Four Pinball Machines is by far the largest and most advanced composition in the series.

"For something so seemingly innocuous and American, the pinball machine has a long and checkered history. They came of age during the Depression with the production of the first coin-operated machines, but until the first ‘flippers’ were added in 1947, pinball was a very different game, with players at the mercy of the random bounce of the ball. Soon players started gambling on the outcomes of games and operators would often encourage them by handing out prizes ranging from gum to jewelry to the winners. This began to draw the attention of religious groups and civic authorities who claimed that the machines were encouraging young people to steal coins, skip school and go hungry as they wasted their money during countless hours playing the arcades. In Four Pinball Machines, Thiebaud uses this checkered past to draws a parallel between the contemporary and controversial associations of the machines with the contemporary (and some might say) controversial nature of the paintings his contemporaries, which he astutely uses to form the backboards of the machines themselves.

"1962, the year that Thiebaud painted Four Pinball Machines, was an important year for the artist. In April, he opened his first New York solo show at the Allan Stone Gallery. Stone was a dealer who was primarily known for his representation of work by the Abstract Expressionists; when Thiebaud arrived at his gallery, the dealer (who famously turned down Andy Warhol because he said he couldn’t draw) was immediately cap"tivated by both Thiebaud’s compositional ability and his technical skill. After having been rejected by every other dealer he had approached, Thiebaud and Stone began what would become a professional relationship that would last over four and a half decades.

"Following the critical success of his New York exhibition, later in the year he was invited to take part in a group show—New Realists—at the Sidney Janis Gallery in Manhattan. His unique paintings garnered the interest of critics and the artist began to receive favorable reviews in a number of influential publications including the New York Times, Artforum, Time, Newsweek, and ARTnews. Many of the other major paintings that Thiebaud completed during this important year are now in major museum collections including Delicatessen Counter (Menil Collection, Houston); Candy Counter (Anderson Collection at Stanford University); Jackpot Machine (Smithsonian American Art Museum); and Around the Cake (Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas).    

"While the device of the still-life has its inherent art historical connotations, Thiebaud updates these by his use of an inherently modern subject. Set against the plain background, the pinball machines reverberate with painterly vivacity. Thiebaud understood the visual impact of commercial artists’ treatment of their subjects, such as such blank backgrounds to isolate the product and quick, decisive lines to delineate them. His popular snapshots of American life meant he has become widely associated with the Pop movement but his work does not merely celebrate the consumerism of American society, it also captures the texture, light and shadows of Americana, whilst at the same time engaging the viewer in a symphony of color and vibrant brushwork."
Newman
Lot 66, "Onement V," by Barnet Newman, oil on canvas, 59 5/8 by 37 3/4 inches, 1952

Lot 66, "Onement V" is an oil on canvas by Barnett Newman (1905-1970) that measures 59 5/8 by 3 3/4 inches and was painted in 1952.

It sold for $31 million, just over its low estimate. 

The Christie's website provides the following commentary:

"Barnett Newman’s Onement V belongs to an internationally important group of six paintings that helped to define the course of twentieth century painting. Beginning in 1948, Newman debuted his ‘zips’ (as he termed them), canvases with a vertical line of contrasting color that interrupted the saturated hues of the painted ground, resulting in a palpable sense of painterly energy. The critic Robert Rosenblum described the result as 'the romantic sublime' (R. Rosenblum, quoted by S. Hunter, J. Jacobus, D. Wheeler et al., Modern Art: Paintings, Sculpture, Architecture and Photography, New York, 2004, p. 276), and along with Mark Rothko’s floating planes of color and Jackson Pollock’s drips, Newman’s Onement paintings did much to shift the course of painting from the emotional to the philosophical.

"The present example is one of only two in the series that remain in private hands, the remaining canvases are in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York (Onement I, 1948 & Onement III, 1949), Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford (Onement II, 1948) and the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin (Onement IV, 1949). Previously part of the artist’s own personal collection, and later acquired by the artist’s wife Annalee Newman, Onement V was part of the legendary collection of David Pincus from 1988 until 2012. It dates from a pivotal moment in the artist’s career when he was first exhibiting at the Betty Parsons Gallery, gaining traction with the public and recognition amongst his peers for his radical approach to painting.

"Against a field of deep, rich dark blue, Newman inserts a solitary ‘zip’ of ethereal acquamarine. This simple constraint belies the complex aesthetic and philosophical concerns of Newman’s legendary series. Onement V is almost hypnotic, in that it mesmerizes the eye, not only with its simple composition and noble palette, but also with its rich, painterly surface. As the viewer examines the painting, the monochromatic field of dark blue transforms with the incidence of light to reveal different textures: dense pools of pigment complemented by shallow veils of color. Along the central ‘zip’, the artist’s layer of verdant color take on a special translucency, the bright priming layer shining up from the base of the painting. Newman intentionally engendered this effect, applying various mixtures of blue to the canvas and concluding the final layer with the use of a spray gun. He considered the differences in density and shade as fundamental to the finished work, creating important distinctions between each of the compositional elements.

"In contrast to the wild gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Franz Kline, Newman (along with Rothko and Clifford Still) gained his potent pictorial force by producing large, expansive fields of pure pigment. These large-scale canvases were intended to subdue the spectator’s ego and create a tranquil sense of awe. Yet Newman wanted to add a further dimension to his paintings by adding a single zip (or several, in the case of works such as Vir Heroicus Sublimis, 1950-51, Museum of Modern Art, New York), a vertical line of contrasting color that interrupting the purity of the painted surface. Intensely visible, yet in danger of being subsumed by the surrounding color, these thin passages sought to produce a retinal reaction in which the color reverberates back an forth with a quiet energy. 'For Newman, the zips serve to ‘cut’ the greater plane of saturated hues and shock it into waves of visual energy that roll back and forth between bands and edges, thereby making dynamic what otherwise might seem a totally static image' (S. Hunter, et al., ibid).   

"In January 1948, Newman created Onement I, rendering his blank canvas in pure Indian red oil paint. Along the central axis of the painting, the artist affixed a long slice of masking tape, slathering it in a thick layer of burnt orange oil paint to neatly bisect the composition. Elegant and vertiginous, it has been suggested that the resulting ‘zip’ or stripe of color in paintings such as Onement I and Onement V, recall Alberto Giacometti's beautifully modulated yet haunting human sculptures. Instead of removing the masking tape from the canvas in Onement I, Newman decided to leave the traces of his method visible in an explicit rebuke or deconstruction of Mondrian’s almost scientific geometry. In the majority of Newman’s works including Onement V, he removed the tape allowing the ‘zip’ itself to bear witness to his working method.

"Newman had been a consistent pioneer of new approaches in art since the mid-1940s, emerging as one of the most fervent advocates of American art. Together with his colleagues he hoped to establish a new aesthetic of the sublime that would revive the fortunes of painting. In his landmark essay, 'The Sublime is Now,' Newman argued that the United States could now determine a radically new direction in art, distinct from past European aesthetics: 'I believe that here in America” he explained, “some of us free from the weight of European culture, are finding the answer, by completely denying that art has any concern with the problem of beauty and where to find it' (Ibid).

"For Newman it was about provoking a shift in contemporary practice, releasing art from its preoccupation with beauty and centering it upon the search for truth. As Thomas Hess, one of Newman’s first great advocates explained, “the painting should correspond to the artist’s interior sensation, to his most subjective judgment, and not to an idea about beauty preserved in other paintings” (T. Hess, Barnett Newman, New York, 1969, p. 31). As such, Newman and his cohorts were hoping to establish a tabula rasa, freeing future generations from the legacy of European tradition.

"Much of Newman’s disaffection with contemporary art can be understood in the context of the Second World War and what he perceived as the inability of surrealism and geometric abstraction to respond to its devastating reality. He concluded that the art created during this period offered little more than decorative distraction and as such, needed to be urgently superseded. His ambitious claims for American painting become clear in the conversations Newman shared with his friend and neighbor Willem de Kooning in the mid-1940s:'“Bill said, ‘Art history is a bowl of alphabet soup; the artist reaches in and spoons out what letters he wants; which letters do you want Barney? And I didn’t know what to answer; I mean it wouldn’t have been polite to say that I’ve nothing to do with a bowl of soup' (B. Newman quoted in A. Temkin, op. cit., p. 32).

"During the 1930s and 1940s, New York was the foremost location for European contemporary art, holding major retrospectives for figures such as Picasso, Joan Miró, Paul Klee and Piet Mondrian. Newman was particularly interested in the contributions of Miró, and Mondrian, describing them in a 1947 letter to Clement Greenberg as “the most original of the abstract European painters” (ibid.). Certainly Newman had them both in mind when he nominated abstraction as the fertile route for his new American art. Notwithstanding, he criticized his forebears for their reliance on nature and reality as a source of inspiration for their work. Newman was particularly scathing about Mondrian’s method, which he considered to be directly derived from “the seen landscape, the vertical trees on a horizon,” his perpendicular angles constituting “known natural images” (B. Newman quoted in R. Shiff, Barnett Newman: A Catalogue Raisonné, R. Shiff et al., (eds.), New York, 2004, p. 25). In 1945, the artist wrote his text 'The Plasmic Image,' in which he went even further to criticize Mondrian, the subversive title offering a play on words and mocking the Dutchman’s signature plastic art. In the conclusion to his text, Newman noted venomously that Mondrian’s art had been “founded on bad philosophy and on faulty logic” (B. Newman quoted in A. Temkin (ibid.).

"Distinctly against Mondrian’s Euclidian geometry, Newman became captivated by the primitive abstraction he had encountered in Kwaikiutl (Northwest Coast Indian art). In these works, he perceived a unique metaphysical understanding: 'to [the Kwaikiutl] a shape was a living thing, a vehicle for an abstract thought-complex, a carrier of the awesome feelings he felt before the terror of the unknowable' (B. Newman quoted in R. Shiff, op. cit., p. 29). It was this sublime, transcendental possibility that Newman hoped to translate into his own body of work. In paintings such as Onement V, Newman himself became deeply moved by the stunning velocity of his ‘zip’ careering through the center of the canvas. As the artist later proclaimed: 'suddenly I realized that I had been emptying space instead of filling it, and that now my line made the whole area come to life' (B. Newman quoted in T. Hess, op. cit., p. 31).

In her review at thecityreview.com of the May 12, 2012 auction at Christie's, Michele Leight noted that Lot 24, Onement V, is "a real beauty, widely exhibited and written about."

"Newman's 'Onement series' made an enormous impact and were considered radical when they were first exhibited. If you love Newman's work - as this reviewer does - you feel its power:

"Newman belonged to a generation of American painters including Mark Rothko, Alfred Gottlieb, Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still and others who had witnessed the very darkest moments of the twentieth century, amongst them the Great Depression, the atom bomb and the Holocaust. Rather than recoil however, they sought a new, emancipating vernacular and the title of the present work embodies this artistic ambition. As Newman once explained, 'I tried to make the title a metaphor that describes my feelings when I did the painting...[It] is a celebration of harmony, wholeness, the archaic sense of atonement that was 'at onement'" (B. Newman quoted in T. Hess, Barnett Newman, New York, 1969, p.54).

"The beauty of Newman is his searing simplicity that disarms the receptive viewer, allowing them to enter a place they never expect to be - a gentle space where even the worst things are banished, if only temporarily. The onement paintings are healing, hope filled. Newman's 'zips'" get to the heart of you:

"At first glance, works such as Onement V appear to be centered on color and form, but for Newman these concerns were only secondary. Instead he sought to instill in his compositions a fundamental spiritual and transcendental power" (Christie's catalogue for this sale

"The 'onement' series seems so 'present generation' it is hard to believe this series dates to the 50s. Newman was way ahead of the game, but for him this series was a deliberate rebuttal of the art that surrounded him at the time:

"Much of Newman's disaffection with contemporary art can be understood in the context of the Second World War and what he perceived as the inability of surrealism and geometric abstraction to respond to its devastating reality. He concluded that the art created during this period offered little more than decorative distraction and as such, needed to be urgently superseded. His ambitious claims for American painting become clear in the conversations Newman shared with his friend and neighbor Willem de Kooning in the mid-1940s: Bill said, 'Art history is a bowl of alphabet soup; the artist reaches in and spoons out what letters he wants, which letters do you want Barney?' And I didn't know what to answer; I mean it wouldn't have been polite to say that I've nothing to do with a bowl of soup" (B. Newman quoted in A. Temkin (ed.), Barnett Newman, exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia 2002, p. 32)."

Grotjahn

Lot 6, "Untitled (Non-Indian #5 Face 45.60,)" by Mark Grotjahn, oil on cardboard mounted on linen, 50 1/2 by 40 1/2 inches, 2015

Lot 6 is a very sumptuous and strong oil on cardboard mounted on linen by Mark Grotjahn (b. 1968).  It is "Untitled (Non-Indian #5 Face 45.60)," and measures 50 1/2 by 40 1/2 inches. 

It has an estimate of $25,000,000 to $35,000,000.  It sold for $22,925,000.

The website provides the following commentary:

"Looking at Mark Grotjahn’s 2015 painting, Untitled (Non-Indian #5 Face 45.60), one has the peculiar sensation of being watched. The work is nominally abstract, but even a glancing assessment reveals numerous stacked eyes, leering grins and flared nostrils, all looming hungry and close behind a tangle of branches and splashes of leaves. The painting returns the gaze with a starkly mischievous gaze of its own, one that can border on predatory or veer more towards manic delight, depending on which set of features one chooses to focus on. The work is a stellar example of the artist’s famous Face paintings, where heavily-worked, brilliantly colored surfaces—oil paint generously applied to cardboard with a palette knife—simultaneously obscure and reveal primal visages, neither human nor animal. Working in the blur between non-objective and objective painting, Grotjahn delights in challenging binary modes of representation. For those who dare to listen closely, a sophisticated curiosity hums beneath this beguiling explosion of form and color.

"The present lot was first exhibited the year it was made as part of the artist’s seventh solo exhibition, titled simply Fifteen Paintings, at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles. The works, comprised of uniformly-scaled 50 x 40 inch Face paintings, are sorted in two specific, if still somewhat cryptic, groups: Indian and Non-Indian. Reviewing the fifteen paintings in the exhibition, the most (and perhaps only) obvious distinction between the two groups is their respective palettes. The Indian Faces tend to be rich and earthy, with browns like soil, bloody reds and mustard yellows. The Non-Indian Faces are psychedelic, bursting with purple, teal and highlighter pink. Assuming Grotjahn is invoking Indian with a Wild West nuance, Non-Indian conjures an ominous, extraordinary otherworldliness. If the Indians are the natives, then the Non-Indians are aliens, fantastically vibrant paintings crash-landed from outer space.

"The dynamic of opposing forces is a reliable signature of Grotjahn’s work, and is echoed in the way the artist fuses abstraction and objective imagery. Discussing the origin and general aesthetic protocols at work in the Face paintings, Grotjahn muses, 'When you first declare yourself an avant-garde artist, you know, like in your teens or when you get to art school, Picasso is sort of the first stop. You draw a face with multiple eyes at a weird angle and that’s your avant-garde statement. But to do that as an adult—knowing the cliché that it can be—to take that language and try making good work is something I find challenging and worth pursuing' (the artist, quoted in Muse Magazine). The almond-shaped eyes of Picasso’s early cubist period are peppered throughout Grotjahn’s Face paintings, usually placed in a slightly asymmetrical composition around a central vertical axis. In the case of the present lot, this axis is painted white and bristling like the branches of a fir tree, a connotation reinforced by the bright green behind it. Other darker foliage cut across the foreground of the image, giving a shallow depth to the composition and imbuing the profusion of eyes with animal ferocity, as if they belong to jungle cats peering through the leaves in a Henri Rousseau painting. But the echo of Picasso endures.

"In a 2011 review of the artist’s exhibition at Anton Kern Gallery in New York, the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Jerry Saltz connected the Face paintings to no less than the greatest masterpiece of Modern art: 'What Grotjahn paints doesn’t stay put on these variegated surfaces; instead, it shifts around the involuting centerless space. You can discern the ways in which this work is made, yet no formal system appears. (I surmise that the artist himself is sometimes caught off guard by what he’s produced.) His strangely shamanic art gives me a remnant of the pow I get from those ancient eternal faces in Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon' (J. Saltz, New York Magazine)."

Ruscha
Lot 68, "Annie," by Ed Ruscha, oil and graphite on canvas, 71 1/2 by 66 3/4 inches, 1962

Lot 68, "Annie," by Ed Ruscha (b. 1937), is an oil and graphite on canvas that measures 71 1/2 by 66 3/4 inches and was painted in 1962.

It has an estimate of $20,000,000 to $30,000,000.  It sold for $22,975,000.

The website notes that "this early 'text' painting epitomizes the genre that established the LA-based artist as one of the most innovative of the 1960s."

"Annie is a groundbreaking, early painting by Ed Ruscha. Nearly six feet high, it’s an example of the unique approach that would make the LA-based artist one of the most celebrated of his generation....Annie  is a conceptually complex image that belies its visual simplicity. The canvas is split in two, the lower half offering a sea of rich blue. In the upper half, the word ‘Annie’ is rendered in bright, red pigment against a gold-yellow background. The contoured lettering, like the black silhouette encasing it, is lifted directly from the comic-strip source.

"The work is located firmly within the Pop art tradition. But unlike his New York peer, Roy Lichtenstein — whose early paintings of cartoon characters (such as Popeye and Look Mickey) were inspired by the cultural ubiquity of those characters — Ruscha’s interest in Annie herself is all but non-existent. The girl is absent from his composition. Ruscha’s focus is on the formal qualities of the typography used to render her name.

"Ruscha has spent his whole career investigating the semantic and semiotic properties of words, but Annie marks the first time he used text copied directly from a pop-cultural source. To extract a word from its usual or original context is to change how it’s read and what it might mean. For Ruscha, letters become predominantly a visual motif.

"As such, he overcame the rigid dichotomy that was widely felt to exist between the figurative and the abstract — and presented a radical, new way of looking at art.

"Ruscha has cited Jasper Johns as an influence in this regard. Working in the mid-1950s, the latter painted versions of recognisable signs and signifiers (such as the US flag in Flag), thereby removing a chunk of their symbolic meaning. Johns said he liked depicting ‘things the mind already knows’, as that allowed him ‘to work on other levels’. 

"Annie  is one of a set of Ruscha works from the early-1960s that count among the most important in the post-war American canon. Others include Actual Size (now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art); OOF (in the Museum of Modern Art, New York), and Hurting the Word Radio #1 (in the Menil Collection, Houston).

"Beyond conceptual considerations, Ruscha’s ‘word paintings’ function on purely aesthetic grounds, too. Annie  is harmonious in both colour and composition.

"What’s more, unlike Lichtenstein — who in his aforementioned paintings sought to mimic the commercial printing process of comic books — Ruscha didn’t hide the medium of Annie’s production. The painterly process is revealed on immediate inspection of the word ‘Annie’, which exhibits loops and swirls of thick red impasto worthy of the Abstract Expressionists.

"The canvas was part of Ruscha’s debut show, at dealer Irving Blum’s Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1963 — and has been reproduced in countless books and catalogues since.

"It was the first — and most important — of more than a dozen works by the artist over the decades featuring the name ‘Annie’. What he finds so fascinating about that combination of five letters even he has never been able to explain."

Despite this text, this lot is not great art.

Yamaguchi

Lot 7, "Yellow Quadrangle," by Takeo Yamaguchi, oil on board, 72 inches square, 1959

Lot 7 is extremely strong work by Takeo Yamaguchi (1902-1983).  Entitled "Yellow Quadrangle," it is an oil on board that measures 72 inches square and was painted in 1959.

It has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000 HK.  It sold for $15,125,000 HK.  The artist's previous auction record was set three years ago when Sotheby's sold a smaller yellow-on-block work for $948,500, three times its estimate.

The website provides the following commentary:

"The largest of his works ever to come to auction, it testifies to the pioneering abstract practice that distinguished the Korean-born Japanese artist within the post-war avant-garde. The work dates from 1959: a triumphant moment that saw Yamaguchi take his place on the global stage. That year, a closely-related painting—Work – Yellow (Unstable Square)—was prominently displayed in the grand inaugural exhibition of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, who acquired it for their permanent collection. Created at the height of Yamaguchi’s artistic career, Yellow Quadrangle is an iconic demonstration of his pure, formalist language, marking the culmination of his reflections on minimalist abstraction, structural composition and material perception.

"Born in Seoul in Japanese-occupied Korea in 1902, Yamaguchi enrolled in the Western Painting Department at the Tokyo Art School where he developed an interest in Cubism, Constructivism and the European avant-garde. This progressive proclivity drew him to Paris after graduation, where he began to experiment with abstraction. Upon his return to Japan in 1931, Yamaguchi was an active participant in the Nika-Kai Group, one of the most innovative movements in the history of modern Japanese painting. After being drafted to the Pacific War, however, Yamaguchi returned to find that he had lost most of his early works. Caught at an artistic crossroads, he seized the opportunity for a creative clean slate.

"By the mid-1950s, Yamaguchi had combined two major post-war Western painterly trends – the thick impasto of Art Informel and the elemental purity of Color Field Painting – to  achieve his mature style. With their highly simplistic abstract forms rendered in thick paint over plywood, these works demonstrate an acute sensitivity to color, texture and materiality, focusing on the interplay between flatness and depth as well as the balance of shapes. Such innovations would play a defining role in the evolution of Japanese and Korean avant-garde practices, paving the way for artists such as Lee Ufan and Kim Whanki.T

"The present work’s palette is reduced to two colors, comprising Yamaguchi’s signature raw yellow ochre against a strong black ink background. The artist related this rich organic color to the soil of Southern China, while the Venetian red he used elsewhere in his practice served as a reminder of the Korean earth. Though minimal at first glance, the overall visual effect is full of complexity. While the geometric shapes have been flattened onto the wooden board, the artist has taken great care in layering several thick coats of paint with a palette knife, creating heavy impasto with an almost sculptural presence. 

"Although the geometric yellow form is tilted to one side, creating an apparent imbalance, the small black window seemingly hovering away from the pictorial center creates a fragile tension that imbues the composition with a harmonious sense of poise. In addition, the textured surface – with its subtle chromatic variations – generates the illusion of movement within an austere delimited space. Suffused with life, Yellow Quadrangle captures the exquisite formal poetry that brought Yamaguchi to international acclaim during this period, and which would come to define his legacy."

Richter

Lot 8, "Frost 1," by Gerhard Richter, oil on canvas, 55 1/8 by 39 3/8 inches, 1989

Lot 8 is a spectacular abstract oil on canvas by Gerhard Richter (b. 1938) entitled "Frost 1."  It measures 55 1/8 by 39 3/8 inches and was painted in 1989. 

 It was offered at Christie's May 16, 2007 when it had an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000 and sold for $2,840,000.
At this auction, it has an estimate of $48,000,000 to $68,000,000 HK.  It sold for $79,255,000 HK.

"Dating from the finest period of Gerhard Richter’s ground-breaking abstract work, Frost (1) is a dazzling example of the artist’s Abstraktes Bild paintings. In these career-defining canvases, Richter examined the fundamental nature of abstract painting, questioning the very essence of the postwar art historical canon, and in the process creating some of the most celebrated works of the last fifty years. The present work is one of a number of paintings the artist completed in 1989 whose title evokes the theme of winter. First shown at a major exhibition at the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, in 1989, the painting exemplifies Richter’s practice of continually laying down and then subsequently scraping off layers of paint with a squeegee, resulting in a fractured surface which evokes the alluring effect of light reflecting off a heavily frosted or snowy surface. A suite of four similar canvases, each titled Eis (Ice), and painted the same year as the present work, is now in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

"The surface of Frost (1) is full of the dynamic painterly activity that has distinguished the latter part of Richter’s career. By laying down multiple layers of pigment and—just as they begin to dry—dragging a large plastic hard-edged squeegee across the surface, Richter disrupts the composition, opening up the surface to reveal traces of previous layers. From light to dark, and from high-keyed primary colors through to delicate variations of more subtle combinations, the painting becomes a bejeweled combination of both color and energy. Frost (1) is particularly notable in this regard as it encompasses the entire color spectrum; from the depth of the dark recesses to the brightness of the whites, and the bursts of fiery reds and sapphire blues, the infinitely subtle shifts of color are remarkable for their richness and complexity.

"This particular canvas was painted in 1989, during a period when Richter’s Abstraktes Bild became more complex, and therefore more beautiful. Prior to this date the gestures in his abstract canvases were more rudimentary, and the interventions on the painted surface more straightforward, but beginning in 1987 the artist began to introduce more complex, delicate, and all-over movements into his work. This resulted in canvas like Frost (1) in which the broad swathes and large passages of color have been replaced by a myriad bursts of pigment mimicking the dazzling effect of looking at light reflected off a frosted surface.

"This unique approach to painting is Richter’s direct response to the fundamental question about the function of painting in the age of mechanical reproduction. Looking back on the creation of his abstract pictures, Richter stated, 'I had the hope, carried by a fresh wind, to make something free, clear, open, crystal, visible, transparent, a utopia' (G. Richter, quoted in R. Storr, Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, exh. cat., New York., 2002, p. 305). He embarked on a search for pictorial form that would go beyond what he could already fathom, and therefore beyond any preconceived composition. Using a kaleidoscopic array of pure colors was central to this enterprise, as they conveyed a sense of artifice rather than any identifiable subject. 

“'Abstract paintings,' Richter argued, 'visualize a reality, which we can neither see nor describe but which we may nevertheless conclude exists. We attach negative names to this reality; the unknown, the ungraspable, the infinite, and for thousands of years we have depicted in terms of substitute images like heaven and hell, gods and devils. With abstract painting we create a better means of approaching what can neither be seen nor understood because abstract painting illustrates with the greatest clarity, that is to say, with all the means at the disposal of art, 'nothing'... [in abstract paintings] we allow ourselves to see the un-seeable, that which has never before been seen and indeed is not visible' (G. Richter quoted in J. Fineberg, Art Since 1940: Strategies of Being, London, 2000, p. 374).

"Frost (1) is a rich visual spectacle of vibrant pigments coalesced through Richter’s own unique process. Painterly manifestation of the artist's belief in art as mankind's 'highest form of hope,' his paintings adhere to no known logic or ideology but are created through a careful cumulative and constructive process during which Richter deliberately avoids all conventional rules of aesthetics in order to arrive at work that belies pictorial ideology. 'And if now I think of Mondrian, in which picture can partly be interpreted as models of society, I can also see my abstracts as metaphors in their own right, pictures that are about a possibility of social coexistence. Looked at in this way, all that I am trying to do in each picture is to bring together the most disparate and mutually contradictory elements, alive and viable, in the greatest possible freedom' (G. Richter and B. Buchloh, in ibid., p. 33)."

See The City Review article on the Fall 2018 Contemporary Art evening auction at Christie's New York
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See The City Review article on the Looking Forward to the Past auction May 11, 2015 at Christie's New York
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