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Sotheby's announces an auction coinciding with WorldPride NYC & Stonewall Uprising anniversary
Andy Warhol, Male Torso, 1976. Courtesy Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s announced BENT., a live auction on 27 June 2019 in New York celebrating the LGBTQ experience through a diverse and wide-ranging selection of art and artists. The exhibition and auction not only coincide with New York’s annual Pride celebration, which this year includes WorldPride as well, but also the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising – six days of rolling street protests by gay, lesbian and transgender individuals that became one of the defining moments of the modern gay rights movement.

Comprised of works spanning photographs, Contemporary art, antique and rare books, prints and drawings, the sale offers outstanding pieces dating from the 19th Century to today by both celebrated and lesser-known artists alike who made significant contributions to the representation of LGBTQ artists in the public sphere, including Andy Warhol, Catherine Opie, David Wojnarowicz, David Hockney, Francis Bacon, Gillian Wearing, Peter Hujar, Robert Mapplethorpe and Martin Wong, among others.

A portion of Sotheby’s buyer’s premium will be donated to The Center, providing programs for health, wellness and community connection for New York’s LGBTQ community.

All of the works from the BENT. sale will be on public view in Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries from 19 – 26 June.

Benjamin Doller, Chairman of Sotheby’s Americas commented: “Among the of things that make me proud to work at Sotheby’s is the early and continued support the company has shown towards the LGBTQ community. Throughout the AIDS crises, Sotheby’s routinely hosted charity events to raise money and awareness. Tragically, like so many others, we lost numerous colleagues to this epidemic, however our management and staff could always be counted on for comfort and support. And I am proud to note that the tradition continues today, with the community well-represented across our global organization – from executive leadership to recent graduates embarking on their careers. Perhaps most importantly, we are pleased to offer a portion of our proceeds from the sale to support The Center, which has provided programs for health, wellness and community connection for the LGBTQ community of New York City since its founding in 1983. We do this in the memory of the many colleagues we lost to AIDS, and to help promote diversity and tolerance in all aspects of life.”

Robert LaVigne’s powerful and historically important Nude with Onions (Peter Orlovsky) is among the stunning paintings on offer in the June sale (estimate $150/170,000). Executed in 1954, the colorful portrait is one of the most recognizable images of the 20th Century Gay Liberation movement and bears witness to the romantic relationship between LaVigne, Peter Orlovsky, and famed Beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

After meeting LaVigne on the street in San Francisco, Ginsberg visited the artist’s apartment where he saw the rendering of Orlovsky, who was living with LaVigne at the time, and remarked: “I looked in its eyes & was shocked by love.” Ginsberg moved in with the pair, and in short order, stole Orlovsky from LaVigne, causing a rift in their relationship, though the trio ultimately resumed their friendship. In 1955, the couple commemorated their relationship with a commitment ceremony in San Francisco. Shortly after meeting Orlovsky, Ginsberg composed his important autobiographical poem Malest Cornifici, tuo Catullo, in which he addresses Jack Kerouac – one of the poet’s muses, along with Orlovsky. Similarly, LaVigne served as inspiration for characters in two Kerouac novels: Robert Browning in Big Sur and Levesque in Desolation Angels.

Ginsberg and Orlovsky inevitably became symbols of the Gay Liberation movement. The well-known Richard Avedon photograph from 1967 that captures the two men nude and embracing, was widely circulated at the time as a poster and appeared on the cover of the Evergreen Review. Orlovsky, a poet and actor in his own right, was at Ginsberg’s side when the poet died in 1997. Although Ginsberg several times expressed his desire to own the present work, it remained in LaVigne’s possession until 2008.

Further highlights of the paintings on offer include Ludwig von Hofmann’s Bathers (estimate $40/60,000), one of several works in the sale on offer from the collection of music mogul and member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Mr. Seymour Stein. The oil on canvas is further distinguished as once being in the collection of another music legend: Sir Elton John. Stein is best known as the co-founder of Sire Records and former Vice President of Warner Bros. Records. Over the course of his illustrious career, the Brooklyn-born entrepreneur signed some of the biggest names in music to the Sire label: the Ramones, Madonna and Depeche Mode, among many others.

The June sale also presents an impressive selection of rare books and manuscripts, including an important presentation copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. New York: (William E. Chapin for the author,) 1867 (estimate $70/100,000). The present work is inscribed to the poet’s companion, Peter Doyle, Washington, 29 April 1868. Whitman likely met Doyle in Washington, D.C. sometime in early 1865 while Doyle was a streetcar conductor, and despite a number of dissimilarities – Whitman was already 45, an accomplished literary figure and an ardent Unionist, while Doyle was just 21, virtually illiterate and a Confederate veteran — they remained friends, lovers, and correspondents for many years.

In addition, a fine copy of the first edition of Leaves of Grass. Brooklyn: [For the author by Andrew and James Rome,] 1855 will be on offer in the June sale (estimate $150/200,000). Of the 795 copies comprising the first edition and printed on the small handpress of the Romes in Brooklyn, only 337, including the present work, were bound in the publisher’s dark green coarse-ribbed cloth, the most ornate of the original cloth bindings. Published in July 1855 and met with extreme controversy due to its vivid sexual imagery, Leaves of Grass today is regarded as one of the most important contributions to the canon of American poetry by one of the country’s greatest literary minds. Whitman notoriously reworked the compilation of poems until his death in 1892, resulting in markedly different versions. One of the most attractive, if fragile, books in American literature, Whitman’s self-published poetical manifesto was also at least partially typeset by the author. The present work is part of the first issue, before the insertion of press notices and before the deletion of much of the gilt from the covers and page edges. Underscoring the rarity of these treasured poems, the present work bears an engraved frontispiece portrait of Whitman by Samuel Hollyer, drawn after a photograph and printed on thick paper, which retains its original tissue-guard.

A diverse group of twelve works by Andy Warhol chart the development of the iconic artist’s career: from delicate 1950s drawings of male figures to his powerful and brazen nudes created in the mid to late 1970s. The group is led by two prints each depicting a Male Torso, rendered in electric hues and dating from 1976 and 1977 respectively (estimates $90/120,000 each). Notably, the acrylic silkscreen on canvas from 1976 was a gift from Warhol to Victor Hugo, partner of famed designer, Halston and frequent model for the artist’s Torso series.

Further highlights of Contemporary art include a strong selection of works by Martin Wong, David Wojnarowicz and Luis Frangella. In particular, Untitled (Steak on a Plate with Warriors) from 1987 presents a collaboration between Wojnarowicz and Frangella, offering a window into the thriving queer art scene of downtown New York in the 1980s (estimate $12/18,000). The present work on paper will make its auction debut in the June sale, having resided in the same private collection since it was acquired directly from Frangella.

The selection of photographs on offer are highlighted by Catherine Opie’s Dyke from 1993 (estimate $20/30,000). The last from an edition of only eight, the striking work from Opie’s Portraits series offers a blunt visual counterpoint to mainstream heterosexual culture. Rather than focusing on her subject’s face, in the present photograph Opie trains her camera on the back of a woman whose cropped hair and fair skin are punctuated by a tattoo of the word ‘dyke’ at the nape of her neck. By claiming a moniker that in other contexts might be a slur, the sitter proudly owns her sexuality – and by extension, her chosen community – etching it permanently on her body. The vivid blue damask used for the backdrop alludes to traditional materials and conservative values, as does the Old English font of the tattoo. Opie brilliantly juxtaposes the overall formal harmony of the picture with its subversive context to make a complex image exploring nuances of sexuality and gender.

Selected Images by PaJaMa – the photographic collaborative comprised of Paul Cadmus, and married artists Jared and Margaret French – further accentuates the June offering (estimate $15/25,000). The group of 10 photographs was gifted to Jon Anderson, who was Cadmus’ lover for the last three decades of his life. Included among the gelatin silver prints are portraits of the artists themselves, as well as Fidelma Cadmus, George Tooker, José Martinez and others, many of them titled by Paul Cadmus in pencil and four with ‘Collection of Paul Cadmus’ and ‘Collection of Jon Anderson’ stamps on the reverse. Beginning in 1937, and over the course of nearly two decades, the trio collectively staged photographs set against the backdrops of Fire Island, Provincetown, and Nantucket, among other locations. Their psychologically and sexually charged images were inspired in part by Carl Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious and often served as studies for the artists’ subsequent paintings and works on paper, four of which are also on offer in the sale. The appearance of the present photographs in the June sale marks a rare opportunity for collectors to acquire works by PaJaMa – extant photographs by the trio rarely appear at auction, as they were printed and gifted sparingly.

Further highlights from the photographs on offer include Annie Leibovitz’s portrait of Bette Midler, New York City, which depicts the icon engulfed in a bed of red roses (estimate $15/25,000). Midler became recognized as a champion of the LGBTQ community in the 1970s after frequently performing at the Continental Baths, a gay bathhouse in New York City. A variant of this image, taken after she starred in the film The Rose, was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine dated December 13, 1979.

In addition, Gillian Wearing’s Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say (Queer and Happy) from 1992-1993 encapsulates the artist’s exploration of the difference between the private self and the public persona (estimate $12/18,000). Lissa Rivera’s Poolside, Family Home from 2015 is another highlight from the impressive selection of photographs on offer (estimate $3/5,000). Rivera began her photographic series Beautiful Boy in 2014 as a way to offer her friend, BJ Lillis realization of his “genderqueer” identity, which he expresses through wearing women’s clothing. Rivera has noted, “So much of identity is constructed from looking at pictures; looking at photographs and looking at a film can really change who you are.” Lillis’ lithe form, sleek bathing cap, red lips, and intense gaze evoke the starlets of classic cinema and the work of 20th-century fashion photographers, such as Cecil Beaton and Slim Aarons.

Christer Strömholm’s captivating gelatin silver print, Carla/Wanda, Hôtel Gérando, Paris rounds out the group (pictured right, estimate $3/5,000). Strömholm was a photographer and educator widely known as the father of Swedish photography. His photographs of transgender women in the 1950s and 60s in Place Blanche district in Paris were published in 1983, as Les Amies de Place Blanche.

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