NEW YORK.- Sothebys
May 12, 2009 evening sale of Contemporary Art in New York includes key examples by celebrated artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Jeff Koons, Alexander Calder, David Smith, Cy Twombly, Joan Mitchell, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Ellsworth Kelly and Andy Warhol. It also features an exciting group of property comprising important works by artists who rarely appear at auction. Led by Martin Kippenbergers self portrait from 1988, Untitled, the evening sale will also include works by Robert Gober, Jeff Wall, Charles Ray, Christopher Wool, Yayoi Kusama and Juan Muñoz.
This is obviously a very different market from just a year ago, said Alex Rotter, Head of the Contemporary Art Department in New York. Therefore, we decided on quite a different approach for this seasons sale. We wanted to ensure that we had an excellent representation of iconic names, which we achieved. We also wanted to include artists whose works have been somewhat scarce and whose appeal, as a result, has remained consistent, among them, Kippenberger, Wool, Gober, Wall and Muñoz, all of whom have been celebrated with recent exhibitions and major museum retrospectives. And so, together with their work, we have included rare and choice examples by Rauschenberg, Calder and Twombly.
The top lot of the sale is a work from Jeff Koons Celebration series that has never before appeared at auction Baroque Egg with Bow (Turquoise/Magenta) (est. $6/8 million). The Celebration series is comprised of an ambitious body of sixteen paintings and over twenty stainless steel sculptures focusing on toys, presents, and other small childhood objects, all rendered with spectacular attention to detail and phenomenal realism. The present work is an excellent example of the artist choosing an everyday, banal object -- a chocolate Easter egg -- and exalting it through an obsession with craft. As with many of his works, Koons creates a work of art that appeals to multiple senses, as astounding colors delight our vision and the tactile rendering of the blue foil and pink bow begs to be touched. Executed in 19942008, the present work is one of five versions, each of which is uniquely colored.
Leading a section of works from the Pop Art era by Warhol, Oldenburg, Lichtenstein and others, is Robert Rauschenbergs Transom from 1963 (est. $4/6 million). Transom is one of the artists vibrant Colored Silkscreen paintings, a series that followed closely after his groundbreaking Combine Paintings. In the Colored Silkscreen Paintings, Rauschenberg helped pioneer a new artistic technique by experimenting with photo-silkscreens in conjunction with Andy Warhol in the early 1960s. Sourcing images from print media, Rauschenberg created paintings that are a multitude of message-laden imagery in a swirl of color and collaging effect. The artist combined references to The Rokeby Venus by Diego Velàzquez with a vivid slice of New York City into a work of aesthetic urban poetry that speaks to the dichotomy of art and life. A number of choice works by Andy Warhol will also be offered, including a rare example of his Mona Lisa from 1979 (est. $1.5/2 million), and Flowers from 1964, which is distinguished by the crisp quality of its screened image and the bright Pop Art palette of red and green (est. $400/600,000). Kelloggs Cornflakes [Los Angeles Type], part of the group of boxes created for the Los Angeles County Museum in 1970, will also be offered (est. $200/300,000). From the original set of 100, LACMA retains fifty-seven of the 1970 Kelloggs Cornflake boxes in their collection; and only ten other extant examples, including the present work, are known to be in collections outside the museum.
An impressive group of seminal works from the 1980s and 1990s includes the cover lot of the May sale, Martin Kippenbergers Untitled from 1988 (est. $3.5/4.5 million). Untitled is one of the masterpieces in the canon of the artist's self-portraits which were key to his commentary on the rightful place of painting as pre-eminent among the visual arts. For Kippenberger, Picasso was the heroic ideal, as both a painter and a larger-than-life figure. For the series painted in the late 1980s, in which Untitled is a key work, the inspiration is the famous photograph by David Douglas Duncan of Picasso in his swimming trunks. As a critique both of himself and the art market of his time, Kippenberger does not glorify his image as the new Picasso: he depicts himself in his underwear and his beer belly acknowledges that he is not aging well, while his dejected posture and sideways glance signal his self-mocking recognition of failure in the pursuit of the `triumph of painting. At the same time, he is also challenging his fellow painters and the hubris of the 1980s art market. The present work is one of seven from this series of self-portraits executed by the artist and has remained in a private collection since 1994.
Untitled from 1990 by Robert Gober is one of the unorthodox and mysterious objects in the artists 1991 installation at the Jeu de Paume in Paris (est. $2.5/3.5 million). This cast wax sculpture is one of two works inspired by a similar fragmented torso with musical notations in a Hieronymus Bosch painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights, and a sheet of music Gober found in the street. As in much of his oeuvre, Gober combines literal details such as hair with metaphorical elements such as music to convey a subversive sense of distant `otherness that is meditative.
An exceedingly rare work by Charles Ray will also be offered (est. $300/400,000). Untitled, 1991, is one of the only works on paper in Rays oeuvre. It places the artist as the protagonist, accosted by Superman with the demand, Who the Fuck is Roy Lichtenstein? With Lichtenstein as his subject, Ray accesses the tradition of artists who appropriated the comic book from the graphic world and repositioned it in the gallery world. Rays conceptual approach to this work perpetuates the dialogue since he took no part in its execution (he hired a cartoonist to draw it) forcing the viewer to think critically about high art versus commercial art. We begin by questioning what differentiates a Lichtenstein from a cartoon and end wondering what defines an artist.
A selection of several works from a provocative American private collection will be offered in both the evening and day sales, including a rare work by Jeff Wall, which was part of the major retrospective of the artists work in 2007 organized by The Museum of Modern Art in New York and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The formal austerity of the gritty urban exterior of Sunken Area (1996) recalls the work of earlier photographers such as Walker Evans, while the awkward gap between the building and the pavement is an expressive metaphor for the gap between reality and interpretation. (est. $650/850,000). Also the subject of an important retrospective, this one at the Tate Modern, was the Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz whose work rarely appears at auction. Two Seated Figures (Mouth) was executed in 1996 for his memorable installation at Dia Art Center in New York titled A Place Called Abroad and was purchased by the present owner a year later (est. $400/600,000). From the same collection is Richard Serras Square Bar Choker (1989) - art at its purest, demonstrating his genius for working with conflicting forces of mass and weight, tension and stability, particularly in the works that balance on interior walls (est. $1.5/2 million). Yayoi Kusamas Stamens Sorrow from 1985 (est. $700,000/1 million) will also be offered from this collection, along with works by Olafur Eliasson, Evan Penny, Tom Friedman and Deborah Butterfield.
From another consignor is Jean-Michel Basquiats Red Man One, 1982, a classic example of the artists unique savage typology and radical innovations on the contemporary portrait (est. $3/5 million). Basquiats use of fragmentation and disfiguration borrows inspiration from primitive art and African masks, bringing a fresh structural approach to the figure in his depiction of portrait archetypes.
In addition to the Koons, among the other important sculpture to be offered in the evening sale is a very early work by Alexander Calder, Ebony Sticks in Semi-Circle from 1934 (est. $1/1.5 million). Anthony Grant, International Senior Specialist of Contemporary Art, noted, This large and rare standing mobile of steel, wood and string has been in a private collection for nearly 50 years. It was first exhibited in Chicago at the Renaissance Society in an exhibition of the artists work in 1935 where it was acquired shortly thereafter by a Chicago family. David Smiths Large Circle (Voltri) from 1962 will also be offered (est. $2.5/3.5 million). Smith's epic sojourn in Voltri, Italy in May and June 1962 inspired the artist to create a legendary body of work in a flurry of inventive activity. Along with other sculptors, Smith was invited to include one or two works in the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, a yearly arts celebration begun in 1958. Smith was granted access to recently abandoned industrial sites in the nearby town of Voltri, and was so inspired by the found mechanical elements that he produced twenty-seven sculptures in roughly thirty days, an unprecedented pace. Delighted with such an array of sculptural invention, the curator of the festival chose to show them in the dramatic setting of Spoletos ancient Roman amphitheatre, creating the penultimate event of the 1962 festival.
Cane Chair-Outside by Richard Diebenkorn from 1959 is an outstanding example of the artist's new body of figurative work from the 1950s that would surpass his earlier abstractions both in importance and expressive power (est. $1.8/2.5 million). The sun-drenched pinks and yellow contrasted with the rich blues and purples introduce a new chromatic mood into the artist's palette. In Cane Chair Outside, one can also observe an affinity between the foreshortened space, luminous color tones, and vertical linear structure of these representational works with Diebenkorn's later signature series, the Ocean Park paintings.
Among a group of three works by Cy Twombly is an extremely rare and early canvas from 1951, Myo (est. $250/350,000). At the time, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock stood as twin pillars in the canon of American art, having indelibly stamped their different styles and interpretations onto the emerging New York school of Abstract Expressionism. Their predominance was pervasive and inescapable for younger artists, born from 1925-1930, such as Rauschenberg, Warhol, Johns and Twombly, who were embarking on the path toward their own artistic identity. The challenge for Twombly and his fellow artists was to absorb the influences and lessons of such strong work while forging toward an independent style. In many cases - Johns and Twombly among them - few works of these early years survive, and they are prized for the insights they provide into the talent and development of artists who would in their turn be elevated to premiere places in American art. Myo is among twenty-eight paintings from 1951 recorded in the artists catalogue raisonné that were painted in his hometown of Lexington, Virginia and at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Seven of these paintings no longer exist and nine, including Myo, were listed as present whereabouts unknown.