Auction newcomers highlight Phillips' New Now sale

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Auction newcomers highlight Phillips' New Now sale
Matthew Wong, Blue Tree, 2016. Estimate: $50,000-70,000. Image courtesy of Phillips.

NEW YORK, NY.- Phillips’ New Now auction on 30 September will offer nearly 200 works of art, showcasing several artists whose works are newer to the secondary market alongside contemporary blue-chip names. Highlights include works by Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, Matthew Wong, Amoako Boafo, and Genieve Figgis, as well as Robert Motherwell, Richard Prince, Vivian Springford, and KAWS. Following the successful livestreamed season this spring, the New Now auction will be broadcast to phone and online bidders across the globe.

Sam Mansour, Head of New Now, New York, said, “In the past six months, the auction landscape has changed significantly, though the new reality is one that Phillips has been working toward for quite some time. Our March sale, which took place before lockdown, saw a 52% increase in sale total on the previous year and part of this success was due to the fact that, at the time, it saw the highest number of online sale registrants in any 20th Century & Contemporary Art sale at Phillips. We have all taken the plunge into a digital first reality and are delighted to have the opportunity to continue to bring collectors around the globe such a strong selection of artworks through our livestream platform.”

Among the sale’s highlights is Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe’s Old Town Boy, a portrait of rapper Lil Nas X, who soared to stardom after his hit single Old Town Road became the record holder for longest running No. 1 track on the Billboard Hot 100. Lil Nas X also gained media attention for having come out as gay at the height of his hit song’s popularity and this portrait depicts the musician in full country rap swagger. Referencing art historical precedents and directly inspired by the hand painted film posters of his native Ghana, Quaicoe has synthesized his own, specific style of portrait painting that is immediately recognizable and impressive. Old Town Boy is the second work by Quaicoe to come to auction, following Shade of Black, which sold for over twelve times its low estimate at Phillips in July.

Also introduced to auction this year, Matthew Wong had been garnering wide acclaim prior to his tragically early passing in 2019. His sensitively painted compositions call to mind such masters as van Gogh, Derain, Soutine, and Matisse, all mediated through a thoroughly contemporary lens, a fact that is underscored when considering the fact that he began his artistic explorations in photography and first achieved professional recognition independently on social media. Phillips is proud to offer Wong’s Blue Tree, 2016, in the September New Now auction. The work displays a unique energy and dynamism in the artist’s treatment of the leaves, coupled with an endearing, slightly melancholy singularity in the single tree composed within the architectural framework of the arch.

Claire Tabouret has appeared on the secondary market since 2015, but her market has truly matured in the last three years, following her exhibition with Yoko Ono, “One day I broke a mirror,” at the Villa Medici in Rome. The School Smocks, 2016, which will be offered in New Now, is a quintessential example from her oeuvre. Monumental in scale, the work is over six feet tall, portraying five young girls of various ages whose faces appear to glow against the dark fabric robes that surround them and spill over the edges of the canvas.

Phillips’ New Now sales have become a staple in the auction calendar, due to their seamless ability to showcase emerging artists among 20th century and contemporary masters. Alongside those artists who are still actively working today, the auction on 30 September presents a strong selection of 20th century works, including Vivian Springford’s Martinique Series, Alexander Calder’s Flyball Governor, Julian Schnabel’s Restaurant Painting - My View of the World, and Robert Motherwell’s Heiliger Geist. Executed in 1975, Heiliger Geist, an acrylic and paper collage, is among the top lots of the sale. Translated from German as “Holy Spirit,” the work signifies a slightly lofty, religious concept, but also one that also elides well with Motherwell and the New York School’s interest and exploration of the sublime in abstraction. In a The New York Times review of the 1968 Whitney exhibition dedicated to Motherwell’s collages, Hilton Kramer contended that the artist’s goal in this body of work was in “restoring collage to its original position as the medium of a purely pictorial imagination.”

Vivian Springford’s Martinique Series, 1972-1973, is also among the sale’s highlights. This bold concentric pooling of pigment is wholly representative of Springford’s signature “one-shot” paintings, which are created in a single attempt without edits or alteration. This work also exemplifies the artist’s stylistic approach during this time, which was more similar to Color Field painting, while still displaying the influence of Chinese calligraphy and her interest in the immediacy of the medium. In the March 1976 newsletter The Woman in the Arts Foundation, Springford noted that her practice of painting was an “attempt to identify with the universal whole…. I want to find my own small plot or pattern of energy that will express the inner me in terms of rhythmic movement and color. The expansive center of the universe, of the stars, and of nature is my constant challenge in abstract terms.” Martinique Series is one of her strongest manifestations of this ideal.

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