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American Visionary: The Collection of Mrs. John L. Marion

Sotheby's New York

20th Century Evening Sale

6 PM, May 12, 2021


Still

Lot 8, "PH-125 )1948-No. 1), by Clyfford Still, oil on canvas, 73 3/4  by 68 inches, 1948

The May 12, 2021 evening auction of Property of Mrs. John Marion at Sotheby's New York is highlighted by several large and important works by Clyfford Still (190-1980), Richard Diebenkorn (   ), Franz Kline (  ), Roy Lichtenstein ()   and  Mrs. Marrion was the widow of Mr. Marrion, the famed auctioneer at Sotheby's in New York.

Lot 8, "PH-125 (1948-No. 1)," is a superb large oil on canvas by Clyfford Still (1904-1980).  It measures 73 3/4 by 68 inches and was painted in 1948.

It has an estimate of $25,000,000 to $35,000,000.  It sold for $30,712,500 including auction fees.

The auction's total was $151
     
The auction's website provided the following commentary:

A monumental testament to a pure and uncompromising artistic ambition, Clyfford Still’s PH-125 (1948-No. 1) bears witness to one of the watershed moments of twentieth century art history. Surging across the surface of the canvas, a roiling expanse of saturated golden pigment collides with searing interstices of scarlet and ebony; pierced with veins of gleaming white, these textured forms ebb and flow within the composition, producing a surface as dynamic and engaging as that of any sea or sky. The energy of the present work epitomizes Still’s pioneering endeavor, which was at the time without parallel or precedent, putting into visible form Still’s own statement: “I never wanted color to be color. I never wanted texture to be texture, or images to become shapes. I wanted them all to fuse into a living spirit.” (Clyfford Still quoted in: “Introduction” by Katherine Kuh in: Exh. Cat., Buffalo, New York, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Clyfford Still: Thirty-Three Paintings in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1966, p. 10) Acquired in 1982, the present work has been held in the Marion Collection for almost four decades. A masterwork from the formative apex of the artist’s career, PH-125 (1948-No. 1) achieves a holistic union of form, space and line that, in its sheer graphic power, is as compelling and undeniable as a force of nature.

"Executed in 1948, PH-125 (1948-No. 1) embodies a pivotal and defining moment not only in Still’s own career, but within the inception of the entire Abstract Expressionist movement. Only two years earlier, art critic Robert Coates formally coined the term ‘Abstract Expressionism’ in The New Yorker, providing de facto nomenclature to the new movement that would emerge not only as the predominant force of the New York School, but as a defining departure point for the entire post-war cultural period. In 1947 Jackson Pollock fully dissociated the autonomy of authorial gesture through the release of dripped enamel paint; in 1948 Barnett Newman formulated the ultimate aesthetic reduction of his first linear zip; and in 1949 Mark Rothko finally coalesced his signature rectangular fields of color from the preceding poetry of the multiforms. However, like the emergence of some tectonic cliff face, the inimitable force of Still’s monochromatic slabs, crags and shards were given life as early as 1942. His first solo exhibition was held at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1943, and a critical one-man show was staged at Peggy Guggenheim’s The Art of This Century Gallery in New York in 1946. Recalling that latter exhibition, Robert Motherwell later explained: “[Still’s] show, of all those early shows, was the most original. A bolt out of the blue. Most of us were still working through images ... Still had none." (Robert Motherwell cited in: Steven Madoff, “Art; Unfurling The Hidden Work Of A Lifetime,” The New York Times, 18 March 2007, online) PH-125 (1948-No. 1) thus represents the height of Still’s mature aesthetic and conceptual mode, incredibly from a moment when the development of Abstract Expressionism remained at an incipient stage."

ill Fused Form, Color and Texture for a Radical New Language of Abstraction

LEFT: THO
"In Still’s PH-125 (1948-No. 1), color is synonymous with form. A cascade of gold and amber hue surges from every side of the canvas, creating a sense of inherent velocity within the composition. Inflections of accent colors, in searing scarlet, crimson, and ebony hues, punctuate the canvas, appearing at once organic and entirely intentional. The artist's use of a palette knife to apply his pigment creates a rich texture in his work, which contrasts his use of white pigment and raw canvas, crafting novel, charged relationships between positive and negative space and subverting the border between them. In his introductory essay for an exhibition of Still’s work at Mary Boone Gallery in 1990 - in which the present work was notably included - Ben Heller eloquently described the essential qualities of Still’s practice: 'Color, surface, edge, scale, shape, verticality, pressure, tension, relaxation, movement, grandeur – these are the painter's tools. To speak of them as subjects for paintings is but a way to draw attention to Still's ingenious and highly personal manipulations of these tools, to his fusion of technique, image and power, the means by which he acts upon our feelings, the essence of his mystery and greatness.' (Ben Heller in: Exh. Cat., New York, Mary Boone Gallery, Clyfford Still: Dark Hues/Close Values, 1990, n. p.) Exemplary of this apt summation, PH-125 (1948-No. 1) is archetypal of Still’s most compelling canvases; while resolutely abstract, Still’s suggestive forms project a narrative based not on figural representation, but on a captivating synthesis of color, contour and painterly dynamism.

"As with the greatest examples of Rothko’s exquisite hovering forms, or of Newman’s precise yet profound linear zips, Still’s fields of unfettered expression elicit deep and instantaneous emotions. Yet while Rothko and Newman’s iconic canvases draw immense power from their saturated hues, the purest intention – and ultimate power – of PH-125 (1948-No. 1) lies within the compelling contours of Still’s searing abstract forms. Heller describes: “The subject of these paintings: Edge. Not the edge of the canvas, but the torn, jagged, moving edge which defines shape. Still’s edge is his particular, his singular trademark. It is line, it is form, but it is also more than simply line, does more than just traverse. It is his carrier of movement; it creates direction, speed, and activity.” (Ben Heller in: ibid., n.p.) Nowhere is this more powerful than in PH-125 (1948-No. 1), such that when viewed in person, it is impossible not to feel entirely subsumed by the swirling, sweeping strokes of pigment. Speaking in terms particularly reminiscent of the present work, Heller concludes: “I suggest that our primary response to Still is emotional... We feel, react to, and are stirred by the maelstrom of forces Still assembled... But of course the most immediate of all our responses is to color. Color is broad, flat; it fills and flows. It is mystical, intense, direct.” (Ben Heller in: ibid., n.p.) In every way exemplary of Still’s radical creative vision, PH-125 (1948-No. 1) is a stirring testament to the steely intensity and unwavering purpose with which the artist approached his abstract canvases, never faltering in his determination to express the inexpressible."

Kline

Lot 10, "Mister," by Franz Kline, oil on canvas, 95 1/2 by 79 inches, 1959


Profoundly evocative and structurally elegant, the soaring canvas of Mister, Lot 10, by Franz Kline (1910-1962) is, according to the auction's website, "an irrefutable masterpiece from the height of Franz Kline's practice. Towering above the viewer, we are consumed by the work’s monumental scale and compositional complexity; surging across the canvas, the thick black strokes form a bold architectural structure, yet remain devoid of all figurative tenets. Experimenting with angular and improvisational strokes, Mister is a breathtaking example of Kline's signature bichromatic palette and iconic compositional structure. A highly acclaimed member of the New York Abstract Expressionist school, Kline employed the lyrical compositional balance and commanding abstraction so evident in Mister to cement his artistic legacy, with vigorous impastoed passages of black and rich white delineating its textured surface. The present work was notably acquired by famed magazine publisher and businessman Hugh Hefner shortly after it was painted, and hung in Hefner's Chicago mansion for many years. Vibrating with a visceral ferocity, the jagged strokes of the present work epitomize Kline's unparalleled ability to energize the most basic components of painting, typifying the layered sophistication and extraordinary artistic virtuosity that characterize Kline's enduring legacy.

"Executed in 1959, the present work embodies Franz Kline's highly acclaimed and sophisticated style of action painting. Similar to Pollock's drip, Newman's zip, and Rothko's stacks of ethereal hues, the angular composition of Mister is Kline’s signature, developed after his move to New York and meeting with Willem de Kooning, a physical manifestation of innovation and arresting urgency that transformed art in the post-war period. The pitch-black structure represents the liberation of line from likeness that Kline began nearly a decade earlier in 1950, following his shift from the semi-representational to his mature style. Through thick, spontaneous marks, Kline creates grid-like forms, in which the charcoal-black masterfully balances against the thick strokes of titanium white. The simple monochrome color palette juxtaposes the intense complexities of the composition, Kline's fevered strokes simultaneously appearing utterly precise and improvisational....In Mister, Kline paints not just the black strokes onto the white ground, but also layers thick impasto strokes of white, overlapping and encasing the black, creating an entrancing tension between figure and background.
"The broad, confident gestures in the present work reflect an artistic spontaneity, yet Kline often sketched and produced drawings of his initial abstractions. Blending the improvised and the deliberate, Kline creates a composition that is at once rigorously architectural and unrestrainedly vivacious. Mister resembles a towering structure, the angular marks shooting upwards like a chimney; while entirely abstract, the present work articulates the artist's fascination with the revolutionary industrial and urban forms of the modern age. Likened to both the New York skyline and the landscape of his upbringing in a rural coal-mining community in Pennsylvania, Kline's abstraction represents an internalized response to the gritty and urban environments of his childhood...."

The lot has an estimate of $15,000,000 to $20,000,000.  It failed to sell.


Warhol

Lot 4. "Elvis 2 Times," by Andy Warhol, oil on canvas, 81 1/2 by 71 3/8 inches, 1963

Lot 4  is a large oil on canvas by Andy Warhol (1928-1987) that is entitled "Elvis 2 Times" depicting two identical images of Elvis Presley dressed as a cowboy with his pistol drawn.  It measures 81 1/2 by 71 3/8 inches and was painted in 1963.


It has an estimate of $20,000,000 to $30,000,000.  It sold for $37,032,000.


The auction's website provides the following commentary:


"In the summer of 1963 Andy Warhol was thirty-four years old and, having perfected his silkscreen technique the previous year, was beginning to transform the landscape of visual culture in America. Appropriating the visual vernacular of consumerism, Warhol leveled his silkscreen at subjects he perceived as the most important concerns of contemporary life: icons such as Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, and, of course, Elvis Presley. Multiplying readymade images of these icons gleaned from newspapers, magazines and advertising, Warhol turned a mirror onto the contradictions of quotidian existence.

"For his part, in 1963 Elvis Presley was twenty-eight years old and a cultural phenomenon, having already recorded seventeen number one singles and seven number one albums, starred in eleven films, and grossed tens of millions of dollars. An instantly recognizable figure around the globe, Elvis presented a perfect subject for Warhol. Executed in 1963, Elvis 2 Times captures the undisputed King of Rock and Roll with devastating intimacy and efficiency, rendered on a scale that is physically larger than life. Here we are not only presented with the legendary Elvis, but confronted with the specter of death, staring at us down the barrel of a gun, the character of the lone cowboy, straddling the great frontier and the American dream, epitomizing the glorified glamour of the 'silver screen.' As with Marilyn, Liz and Marlon Brando, Warhol instinctively understood Elvis as not only a celebrity, but a brand: an industrialized construct, designed for mass consumption not unlike a Coca-Cola bottle or Campbell's Soup Can, and exposed that brand as a precisely composed non-reality.

"The source of the present image of Elvis has been identified as coming from a color postcard of Presley posing as a gunslinger for the western film Flaming Star. Warhol was undoubtedly draimessive trinity of fame – musician, actor, sex symbol – and he accentuates this by choosing a manifestly contrived version of Elvis-the-film-star, rather than the raw genius of Elvis as performing Rock n' Roll pioneer. With Elvis 2 Times we are confronted with an iconic figure that is deeply familiar to us, yet one playing a role relating to violence and death that is entirely at odds with the associations of the singer's renowned love songs. Warhol’s depiction of Elvis here displays not so much his ambition to record a physical likeness, but more his love affair with the glamour of celebrity, and the drama of violence. In this context, Elvis becomes an extraordinary embodiment of the two artistic obsessions: the cult of celebrity and the shadow of tragedy. Warhol interrogates the limits of the popular visual vernacular, posing vital questions of collective perception and cognition in contemporary society....

"Elvis 2 Times was executed shortly after he had created 32 Campbell's Soup Cans for his immortal show at the Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles in July and August 1962, and which is now housed in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In the intervening period he had produced the series Dollar Bills, Coca-Cola Bottles, Suicides, Disasters, and Silver Electric Chairs, all in addition to the portrait cycles of Marilyn and Liz. This explosive outpouring of astonishing artistic invention stands as definitive testament to Warhol's aptitude to seize the most potent images of his time. For Warhol, the act of image replication and multiplication anaesthetized the effect of the subject, and while he had undermined the potency of wealth in 200 One Dollar Bills, and cheated the terror of death by electric chair in Silver Disaster # 6, the proliferation of Elvis here emasculates a prefabricated version of character authenticity. Here the cinematic quality of variety within unity is apparent in the subtle differences between the two Elvises, and the repetition of the figure echoes the flickering images of an early reel films, creating the effect of still photographs in motion.
"The self-reflective artificiality of the present work is compounded by Warhol's usage of a silver surface on which to project his subject, a treatment that he reserved for his most celebrated muses: Liz, Marilyn, Jackie, and Elvis. Under Warhol’s directive, Elvis becomes a symbol of the manufacture of the Elvis product, and at the same time denotes the glamor of the silver screen and the fantasies of cinema. Elvis 2 Times presents the culmination of Warhol's unprecedented creative journey to this point of his career; both summation of what had come before and anticipatory touchstone for the artistic landmarks that would follow. Its sublime aesthetic character attests to the technical mastery of the silk-screening technique that he had achieved by this time. This technique was ideally suited to Warhol's aim to distance himself from the painterly process: the regimented dots of the screen here are crisply registered on the flat silver picture plane, divesting the work of an artistic hand or authorial voice. The movie star countenance is reduced to a prefabricated schema of dots, and by faithfully reproducing the alien aesthetic of a found image Warhol recruits the technical process to query issues of authorship and authenticity."

Lichtenstein

Lot 3, "Girl with a Beach Ball II," by Roy Lichtenstein, oil and magna on canvas, 60 by 50 inches

Lot 3 is a large il and magna on canvas by Roy Lichtenstein (923-1997) that is entitled "Girl with a Beach Ball II."  It measures 60 by 50 inches.  It has an estimate of $12,000,000 to $18,000,000 and sold for $14.052,000.

Exh. Cat., Art Institute of Chicago (and traveling), Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, 2012, p. 96, fig. 4, illustrated in color

The auction's website provides the following commentary about this lot:

"Iconic yet mysterious, deeply alluring yet utterly elusive, Girl with Beach Ball II brilliantly exemplifies the virtuosic dexterity with which Roy Lichtenstein thrillingly reimagined art history throughout his celebrated oeuvre. Executed in 1977 at the height of the artist’s celebrated Surrealist period, Girl with Beach Ball II showcases the peerless formal execution and conceptual sophistication which define this pivotal period. The motif of a woman with a beach ball is one that Lichtenstein first adopted in 1961 with his critical early masterwork Girl with Ball (Museum of Modern Art, New York), and returned to nearly 20 years later with the present work and its sister painting Girl with Beach Ball III, and subsequently in Nude with Beach Ball and Nudes with Beach Ball, both from 1994. Operating at various levels of self-reflexivity, Girl with Beach Ball II comprises a survey of the artist’s own oeuvre and the broader history of art, and is an emphatic testament to Lichtenstein’s own astute summation: 'All my art is, in some way, about other art.' (Roy Lichtenstein quoted in: Janis Hendrickson, Roy Lichtenstein, Cologne 2000, n.p.) With other examples of the Surrealist paintings from 1977 and 1978 held in such collections as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, as well as the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, this series showcases the inventive mind of an artist at the creative apex of his extraordinary career.

Engaging in and contributing to a timeless dialogue with his art historical forebears, Roy Lichtenstein subverts the tenets and tropes of twentieth century modernism, weaving these archetypes with his own distinctive pioneering style and signature Pop aesthetic. While Lichtenstein considered Surrealism to be the specific point of departure for this series, the present work in fact fuses references to a diverse range of artists and masterpieces. Eloquently summarizing Lichtenstein’s ingenious engagement with his Surrealist predecessors, scholar Diane Waldman reflects: '[Lichtenstein’s] Surrealist-style works give us Surrealism pared down to its essential vocabulary and enhanced by his own visual commentary. While they do not share Surrealism’s fundamental premise—that a language of art could be shaped from the unconscious—they have captured much of its style, a large measure of its wit, and not a little bit of its pathos (Diane Waldman, “Futurism, Surrealism, and German Expressionism, 1974-80,” in: Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Roy Lichtenstein, 1993, pp. 241-243)

"In the present work, the dramatically foreshortened space between Lichtenstein’s sumptuous blonde and the near horizon bisecting the composition recalls the destabilization of space in the metaphysical landscapes of Salvador Dalí and Giorgio de Chirico. In contrast, the sinuously organic curves of the blonde offer sly reference to the fantastical aesthetic of Max Ernst, imbuing her with an underlying sensuality, and the fragmentation of her face and breasts recalls Pablo Picasso’s radical cubist portraits. While the woman’s pose echoes that of Lichtenstein’s Girl with Ball from 1961, her fragmented figure and the unfamiliar environment of Girl with Beach Ball II confound traditional expectations of the landscape genre, paying homage to Dalí’s exploration of psychological topography, rather than of the tangible realm. In the foreground, the combination of objects – the circus tent, partially concealed crescent moon, seashell, starfish, and rope, amongst others – recalls the seemingly incongruous combinations of Dalí’s so-called 'symbolically functioning objects.'
Unlike his Surrealist predecessors however, whose painstakingly selected forms reference internal forces of the psyche, the crisp forms of Lichtenstein’s landscapes are chosen precisely for their frequent usage in other paintings, both those of the Surrealists and works from Lichtenstein’s own oeuvre. Describing the remarkable skill with which Lichtenstein seamlessly absorbs, adapts, and rearranges such disparate inferences within his Surrealist paintings, scholar Jack Cowart notes: “Lichtenstein, rather, takes stylistic and subject elements and modifies them into a kind of Surrealist slang. He becomes involved in composite-scale tableaux with a rich dialogue of forms—all intuitively modified and released from their nominal sources. The forms assume new roles… In his shallow pictorial space, Lichtenstein’s inanimate forms become animate with sharp sources of light and shadow, and each painting becomes a tableau vivant.” (Jack Cowart, “Surrealism, 1977-79,” in: Exh. Cat., St. Louis Art Museum, Roy Lichtenstein: 1970-1980, 1981, p. 109)

"Breathtaking in its compositional sophistication and in the scope of its referential vernacular, Girl with Beach Ball II presents through the guise of a bewitching blonde numerous elements from Lichtenstein’s own visual vernacular alongside this rich compendium of art historical references, culminating in a captivating homage to art of the past."

The blonde, however, is not "bewitching" and the lot is not "captivating."


Diebenkorn

Lot 6, "Ocean Park #40," by Richard Diebenkorn, oil amd cjarcoal on canvas, 93 by 80 3/4 inches


Lot 6, "Ocean Park #40," is a large oil and charcoal painting on canvas by Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993).  It measures 93 by 80 3/4 inches.

It has an estimate of $20,000,000 to $30,000,000.  It sold for $27,265,000.

The auction's website provides the following commentary about this lot:

"Rendered in a rich, luscious palette and possessing a radiant luminescence, Ocean Park #40 reveals the hallmarks of a painter at the height of his genius as a colorist and compositional innovator, and offers a resounding affirmation of Richard Diebenkorn’s illustrious place in the canon of American abstract art. Executed in 1971, Ocean Park #40 is an early work from Diebenkorn’s canonical Ocean Park series; begun in 1967 and occupying the artist for nearly twenty years, the Ocean Park paintings represent the core of his oeuvre and a singular distillation of light, color and abstraction. The influence and import of the Ocean Park paintings cannot be overstated, with many works from the series held in institutional collections. The particular significance of the present work is demonstrated by its illustrious exhibition history: Ocean Park #40 was first exhibited shortly after its execution in the celebrated 1971 Marlborough-Gerson Gallery exhibition Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series; Recent Work, and was selected for illustration on the cover of the exhibition catalogue. This show not only inaugurated Diebenkorn’s tenure at the Marlborough, but was also one of the earliest shows to premiere his revolutionary new body of work. Ocean Park #40 was also included in the traveling exhibition Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series which was organized by the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in 2011.


"Richard Diebenkorn moved to the Ocean Park section of Santa Monica in 1966 to take up a teaching position at the University of California, Los Angeles. A few months after his arrival in the neighborhood, he moved from a windowless room into a larger studio formerly occupied by the painter Sam Francis. In this new setting, basking in newfound light and space, he began to paint on a far larger scale, his aesthetic focus shifting irrevocably and permanently from the figurative to the abstract. Following a decade of figurative painting, Diebenkorn radically broke from his previous work, and the Ocean Park paintings – named after the neighborhood in Santa Monica – represent a major shift in his artistic career and reflect a remarkable feat of creative reinvention and dexterity that is as impressive as it is rare. Defined by their shared compositional form in which planes of color of various shapes and hues are structured by linear interlocking lines, these monumental, airy and geometric abstractions comprise a profound and intensive investigation of the language of abstract form.

"The environs of Ocean Park – the lilting effects of sunlight, ocean air and open expanses of beach, contrasting sharply with the geometries of nearby streets and buildings – had a great effect on Diebenkorn, and are ethereally evoked with infinite variety throughout the masterful and prodigious array of paintings on canvas and paper that comprise the Ocean Park series. While undeniably abstract, the Ocean Park paintings remain rooted to the landscape that inspired them and invoke a strong sense of place, remarkably capturing and subtly conveying a distinct California sensibility and quality of light. Ocean Park #40 is dominated by a large plane of teal blue that recalls the depths of the Pacific Ocean and environs of the California coast, offset by passages of sandy beige, salmon, and steely grey, and punctuated by jolts of verdant green and royal blue.

"Above all, Diebenkorn’s restless attention to material process undergirds the effect of the Ocean Park canvases, especially the earliest paintings such as the present work, in which colors and forms shift and unfold before the viewer’s eye. The surface of these compositions is built up of innumerable washes of color, each layer gently modifying and veiling those beneath. Planes of color are laid thinly and delicately, one on top of the other, colored lines of paint are drawn and redrawn, nearly covered and then retraced, endowing the composition with a strong sense of Diebenkorn’s place and process, of working and reworking, and ultimately of the passing of time. Diebenkorn shifted colors and shapes as he constructed these works, leaving pentimenti as trace records of old ideas and hints of what might have been; and yet the final composition lays claim to a restful, seemingly inevitable solution. Diebenkorn here reveals his painting as a process of alternating decisiveness and recanting, all advanced through the tactile materiality of paint on canvas. The works possess a profound sense of resolution and revel in the depth and intensity of color afforded by this process. As Jane Livingston describes, 'One of the most important hallmarks of the Ocean Park paintings, evident from the very beginning, is that each one creates its own, self-contained chromatic universe, and each functions within that universe in a structurally self-sufficient way. The sheer complexity is unrivaled in the abstract painting of the era. It might well be argued that, in this sense, Mark Rothko takes a distant second place to Richard Diebenkorn.' (Jane Livingston in: Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art (and traveling), The Art of Richard Diebenkorn, 1997, p. 65)

"Diebenkorn also remained deeply indebted to his art historical forebearers, in particular the great colorist Henri Matisse. Diebenkorn visited the Matisse retrospective at the University of California in Los Angeles in 1966, the same year that he moved to Ocean Park and the year prior to beginning the eponymous series, and Matisse’s brilliant use of color and uncanny capacity to dissolve the distinctions between interior and exterior, between architecture and setting, ignited his own visual proclivities. Indeed, the strong horizontal, vertical and diagonal structure of Ocean Park No. 40, with its unifying chromatic choreography, echo Matisse’s the flattened spatial compositions, in which the 'open window' trope that recurs throughout art history melds so completely with the picture plane that the viewer is uncertain of the spatial relations between the indoor and the outdoor elements. Above all, Matisse’s impact on the artist’s career, and the present work in particular, is irrefutable; Diebenkorn’s visual description of space deeply informed by iconic works such as Tangiers: Landscape seen through a Window (1911-12), in which Matisse’s genius for reductive geometry that implies just enough perspective to suggest shifting interior and exterior space is fully in evinced. Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park No. 40 is therefore truly a synthesis of a lifetime of observation, both of his own surroundings and of his artistic forebears."


Richter

Lot 11, "Abstraktes Bild," by Gerhard Richter, oil on canvas, 78 3/4 by 63 inches, 1992

Lot 11, "Abstraktes Bild," is a large and strong oil on canvas by Gerhard Richter (b. 1932).   It measures 78 3/4 by 63 inches and was painted in 1992.  It has an estimate of $14,000,000 to $18,000,000.  It sold for $23,244,000.


The auction's website provides the following commentary:



"Abstraktes Bild from 1992 represents an aggregation of Gerhard Richter’s pioneering work in the field of abstraction and affords a sublime experience to the viewer. It is a breathtaking masterwork of Richter's epic, eponymous cycle, which is recognized as the preeminent venture in abstract art of the last forty years. Broadcasting an awe-inspiring spectrum of hue, dominated by fiery reds but also evincing intense shades of the other primaries, this is a paradigm of the artist's most arresting and seductive work. Executed on a monumental scale, Abstraktes Bild envelops the viewer entirely and irresistibly into its chromatic expanse. Fundamentally non-representational, the work offers an interaction that is almost unearthly, emanating a shimmering fluidity of color that rushes towards the eye. Richter's intense manipulation of the surface conjures a sensation of infinite paint layering. As the artist stated in conversation with Nicholas Serota in advance of his 2011 Tate retrospective: "Almost all the abstract paintings show scenarios, surroundings and landscapes that don't exist, but they create the impression that they could exist. As though they were photographs of scenarios and regions that had never yet been seen." ('I Have Nothing to Say and I'm Saying It: Conversation between Gerhard Richter and Nicholas Serota, Spring 2011' in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern, Gerhard Richter: Panorama, 2011, p. 19)
"There are four paintings in the 768 cycle to which this work belongs, one of which is housed in the Frieder Burda Museum in Baden-Baden, and there can be no question that the present work is not only the most visually resplendent and vibrant of that cycle, but among the most resolved of the large abstracts that Richter produced in the early 1990s. This period represents the height of Richter’s development of his idiosyncratic style, with the vertical striations of the present work highly cherished and particular to this time. The present work anticipates the sublime Abstraktes Bilder that followed in 1992, examples of which are held in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art as part of the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection, as well as the Hamburger Kunsthalle and the Kunstmuseum Winterthur. Furthermore, the present work was included in Anthony d’Offay’s pivotal survey of Richter’s painting, Gerhard Richter: Painting in the Nineties. This seminal exhibition featured many of the artist’s greatest works of the decade, many of which have achieved exceptional prices at auction, or are housed in institutional collections.
"Richter's inimitably diverse canon evidences more than five decades of philosophical enquiry into the core natures of perception and cognition. Indeed, with its poignant critical reflections and groundbreaking advancements, there can be no doubt that his output has pioneered a wealth of possibilities for the future course of art history. Since the early 1960s he has considered all genres of painting, delving into and pushing the boundaries of theoretical and aesthetic levels of understanding whilst exploring and challenging the fundamentals of their development. However, his odyssey into the realm of abstract painting is often regarded as the culmination of his artistic and conceptual enquiry into the foundations of visual understanding. After decades of exploring the role of painting in relation to competing visual cultures – film and photography, and even painting itself – the emergence of the Abstraktes Bilder stands as the crowning achievement of his oeuvre....

"The present work is an exquisite demonstration of Richter's employment of the squeegee which, since the late 1980s, has been the principal tool with which he executes his abstract paintings. It was this implement that facilitated his desire to introduce spontaneity and chance into his creative approach; indeed, Richter holds no presuppositions in the devising of these works, rather it is by, 'letting a thing come, rather than creating it – no assertions, constructions, formulations, inventions, ideologies' that Richter looks 'to gain access to all that is genuine, richer, more alive: to what is beyond my understanding.' (Gerhard Richter, “Notes 1985” in: Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Ed., Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting, Writings 1962-1993, p. 119) Herein, as formulated by Birgit Pelzer, the Abstraktes Bilder prove that what cannot be articulated, can be made, shown and seen: 'Richter’s painting explores the enigmatic juncture of sense and non-sense. His paintings encircle, enclose the real as that which it is impossible to say: the unrepresentable.'....

"re, we would not be mistaken for taking Richter’s abstractions as analogous to Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, or Yves Klein, and their collective dialogue on the sublime transcendental power of pure color and form. Nonetheless, as Richter points out, although these imposing and enveloping paintings picture and implicate that which lies outside of and beyond our conceptual faculties, they do not point to a higher power. The marks that Richter creates in his abstract works have no representational or celestial function, and according to the artist, these paintings are a matter of 'sheer necessity' because they speak of the real, the present, and the tangible. (Gerhard Richter quoted in: Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Cologne 2002, p. XIII)

"Gerhard Richter’s unprecedented abstract oeuvre stands as culmination to the epic journey of his career, during which he has ceaselessly interrogated the limits of representation, the nature of perception and the operations of visual cognition. Variously evoking something of Monet’s translation of his garden at Giverny, Rothko’s exuberance of transformative color, Kline’s structural expressionism, Pollock’s instigation of autonomous composition, and de Kooning’s transferal of the figural to the abstract, Richter’s abstraction is ultimately without comparison. The vast expanse of Asbtraktes Bild is replete with the most spectacular color, form and texture; a sheer cliff face of unadulterated expression as delivered by the world’s greatest living painter. Within the field of this canvas, acts of unfathomable chaos have touched something not quite of this realm, creating, in short, something that is phenomenal."

Noland

Lot 1, "Rocker," by Kenneth Noland, acrylic on canvas,  54 3/4 inches square, 1958

Lot 1, "Rocker," is a great abstract acrylic on canvas by Kenneth Noland (1924-2010).  It is 54 3/4 inches square and was painted in 1958 as part of the artist's "Target" series.


It has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000.  It sold for $4,255,000.


The auction's website provides the following commentary:


"Captivating in its chromatic intensity and dynamism, Kenneth Noland's Rocker is an iconic example of his breakthrough Target series. Executed in 1958, the year the artist adopted his iconic concentric ring structure, Rocker is a sensational example of Noland's most celebrated and influential series, the apex of his exploration of the unadulterated beauty of color and form and a singular achievement in contemporary art.


"An important early work, Rocker encapsulates a pivotal moment in Noland's highly acclaimed career, underscored by its inclusion in his 1997 Guggenheim retrospective in New York. The classic purity of rich primary colors spiraling within the canvas is juxtaposed with unprimed passages, the modulated spheres vibrating and pulsating, softened by Noland's unique staining technique. The fact that Rocker was executed partially on unprimed canvas marks it as an exceptionally rare work. Unpainted along the edges and between the central sphere and first painted band, the color seeps into the canvas, and when paired with the fervent strokes of the outermost circle, Rocker projects an ineffably raw and passionate intensity. Through the juxtaposition of the geometric circles against the exterior band, which spirals outwards with ferocious marks, Noland creates the illusion of the painting itself transcending the edges of the canvas. The varying widths of bands and dichotomy between light and dark appear to move outward from the painting's center, fluctuating as the eye moves in a triumphant investigation of color and form.

"Rocker embodies a seminal period during which Noland began to employ the circle motif and square canvas with greater urgency, rendering highly evocative works through a dichotomously rigid fixation on geometric forms. The works betray the influence of Josef Albers, employing the same themes and concerns as Albers’ Homage to the Square series, exploring symmetry, harmony, and the juxtaposition of colors. Furthermore, the contrast of control and explosive energy is reminiscent of Adolph Gottlieb’s renowned series of Burst paintings. Within Noland's artistic vocabulary, the circle becomes a symbol of eternity, a complex and organic shape referencing both the tradition of recurrent circular motifs in art history and common structures in the natural world. However, despite their name, Noland's series of paintings are not of targets, as the artist sought to remove all narrative and emotional content from his paintings. Instead, each canvas examined pure color as its subject. Noland explains, 'I wanted color to be the origin of painting...I wanted to make color the generating force.' (Kenneth Noland quoted in: Paul Richard, ‘Look Who’s Back, Letting Color Sing’, Washington Post, 30 September 1977, p. C2)

"Color is Noland's primary instrument; he plays the scores of hues and light, finely tuning the band's width and spacing to imbue his pigments with a precise emotional resonance. Describing his unique ability to produce intensely evocative abstractions from basic geometric forms, Noland explains, 'I had to find a way in each picture to change the drawing, shaping and tactile qualities to make these elements expressive as the color had subsumed the possibility of these parts being on an equal basis of expressiveness.' (Kenneth Noland in conversation with Karen Wilkin in: Karen Wilkin, Kenneth Noland, Barcelona 1990, p. 10) With unparalleled vivacity, the improvisational gestures that frame Noland's target imbue the canvas with a burst of energy. Rocker is an exceptional exemplar of Noland's painterly virtuosity and lyrical use of color to alter the compositional devices of his concentric circles, creating a simultaneously strikingly simplified and profoundly entrancing emotive form."



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