From Op Art to NFTs, Heritage Auction's Modern & Contemporary event travels back to the future

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From Op Art to NFTs, Heritage Auction's Modern & Contemporary event travels back to the future
Victor Vasarely (1906-1997), CHOKK, 1976. Acrylic on canvas, 81 x 75 inches. Estimate: $200,000 - $300,000.

DALLAS, TX.- Heritage Auctions’ May 13 Modern & Contemporary Signature Auction is a decidedly frisky peek at the past, present and future of the definition of art, spanning decades to include masterworks by revered pioneers, celebrated revolutionaries and treasured upstarts. The sale, open now, includes a beer can fashioned into a rattle by Alexander Calder in the 1940s, a hypnotic work made in the 1970s by Op art co-founder Victor Vasarely and three digital “Everydays” by coveted NFT world-shaker and headline-maker Beeple. And everything imaginable in between.

At just 39, Mike Winkelmann is now among the world’s most famous (and expensive) artists – and, certainly, one of its most prolific. In March the man known better as Beeple became a mainstream sensation when his collection Everydays: The First 5000 Days sold at auction for nearly $70 million. In an instant the world wanted to know what a non-fungible token was, and how to get hold of one … or if that was even possible?

Fourteen years ago come May, Winkelmann began posting online a brand-new digital artwork every single day. Hence the “Everydays” moniker given the works, which from the surreal to the silly to the shocking. The artist called Beeple uses political and pop-cultural imagery to comment on, among other things, the very reliance on – and fear of – the technology used to make these images.

Heritage is thrilled to offer in this May 13 event three works that constitute The Everydays - The 2020 Collection: “Bull Run” (No. 61/271), “Into The Ether” (No. 119/207) and “Infected” (No. 14/123). As our online catalog notes, these three pieces – especially “Bull Run,” dominated by an image of a Bitcoin – “epitomize Beeple's signature style, love for digital currencies and quintessential pop culture themes [and] not only serve as gateways into meticulously generated sci-fi worlds, but also as lenses through which we can interpret our own.”

The collection is estimated at $250,000-$350,000, and each NFT includes a physical token, which can be registered on, as well as what he calls an “interface-free, always-on physical artifact of the NFT featuring a signed, numbered titanium backplate with hidden authentication markers.” The buyer will also get – and these are Beeple’s words – “an mf baller-ass box with certificate of ownership and cleaning cloth,” as well as “an authentic Beeple hair sample.” The man puts the fun in non-fungible.

For those eyeing something a bit more tangible but no less tantalizing, among the May 13 event’s myriad centerpieces is a work only 15 years old: Untitled (Multi Red Two Wing Butterfly White Background) by Mark Grotjahn, the native Californian who uses his affection and affinity for art history to carve a pathway to a tumultuous tomorrow. This work, estimated to sell for $200,000-$300,000, comes from his Butterfly series begin 20 years ago; like all of those offerings, this one is rendered in colored pencil, and “mixes the ordered world of the Renaissance with modernist moments that question that order,” as Los Angeles’ The Broad writes of Grotjahn’s enthralling pieces. As The New York Observer noted in 2006, and as Untitled (Multi Red Two Wing Butterfly White Background) makes plain, “Mr. Grotjahn’s ‘butterfly’ compositions are in-your-face and immediate.”

Grotjahn’s Butterflys have fluttered throughout numerous galleries, including the lobby gallery of the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2006, the year of this work’s creation. And as ArtNews noted last year, Grotjahn has become “one of contemporary art’s most sought-after and highest-priced artists.” Heritage is honored to present Untitled (Multi Red Two Wing Butterfly White Background) at auction for the first time.

Joining Grotjahn here is Victor Vasarely, the late Hungarian-French artist who, in the 1930s, helped birth the Op art movement in which the canvas served as a gateway to illusion, confusion and delight. Viewers didn’t just look at his work; they disappeared into it. And the enormous CHOKK from 1976 (estimate: $200,000-$300,000) is decidedly a piece that invites a long stare that eventually becomes an endless escape.

Vasarely was a Cubist, a Futurist, a Surrealist, and the imposing CHOKK – an updated version of his iconic technique of repeating geometric in varying colors and arrangements – has the feel of a work made up of his greatest hits. The units, as he called them, are meant to simulate tunnels and mazes, dice and sound waves, even Slinkys. From some angles the work looks two-dimensional; from others, 3D. Visitors to Heritage Auctions’ galleries have been spotted staring at it for protracted periods, lost in the whirlwind. As Vasarely famously said, "Does not aggressing the retina in fact make it vibrate?"

Another work in this auction that seems to come alive the longer you look at it is Joel Shapiro’s wood, iron and stainless-steel sculpture Giraffe, created for the Central Park Conservancy in New York and making its auction debut here.

The 79-year-old New York native is among the world’s leading sculptors, his works displayed in some of the world’s most prestigious museums, from the Museum of Modern Art to the J. Paul Getty Museum to the Nasher Sculpture Center. His is a particularly fetching brand of whimsy, as his pieces always appear to be alive, in motion, at play with their surroundings. Giraffe (estimate: $150,000-$250,000) is one such piece.

Chuck Close, too, is a maker of works that seem to breathe and stare – “conceptual portraiture,” as the Pace Gallery has called it, “depicting his subjects, which are transposed from photographs, into visual data organized by gridded composition.” These pixelated portrayals by the native of Washington State made Close the “reigning portraitist of the Information Age,” as National Public Radio’s Terry Gross once called him.

1975’s ink-and-graphite Don N., estimated to sell for $150,000-$250,000, is one of Close’s most acclaimed and coveted works, having traveled the world’s galleries in the 1980s and early 1990s. Close in many ways predated and predicted the makers of digital art now seizing today and tomorrow’s headlines. After all, the 80-year-old famously takes pieces of information – the fine-grain details, the seemingly small nothings – to fashion the unforgettable faces that make up his body of work.

From the intimate to the sprawling: This auction also features Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s 1989 diptych for The Umbrellas, Joint Project for Japan & USA, which began to take shape Oct. 9, 1991. That morning, at sunrise, 1,880 workers started opening the 3,100 umbrellas planted in Japan and near Los Angeles for the temporary exhibition that was a worldwide sensation. The few physical, tangible remains of that extraordinary moment, once on display at the Stanford University Museum of Art, are estimated at $100,000-$150,000.

Here, too, among the familiar works of beloved artists – the Blue Dogs of George Rodrigue, the pop art creations of rock-and-roll artist Raymond Pettibon and comic-book fanatic Mel Ramos, the street-side realism of John Register, the startling lifelike work of Duane Hanson – is something almost so plain it’s just extraordinary: a rattle made by Alexander Calder.

This Samba Rattle, made of wood and wire and string and a Ballantine beer can, dates to 1948, by which time he was already deeply revered for his work as a maker of mobiles, as Marcel Duchamp branded the kinetic hanging sculptures. Calder had made other rattles before, dating to the 1920s, but this one – made around the same time as mobiles that hang at the Tate and in the National Gallery of Art – looks almost like folk art, something rustic and simple.

No doubt Robert Wolff, the abstract expressionist to whom Calder gifted the rattle, adored the work. Now, it’s someone else’s turn to own a work so rare and remarkable and unexpected. To misquote the beer-maker’s once-familiar jingle: “Calder and Ballantine/Calder and Ballantine/What a combination/All across the nation.”

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