LONDON - Sotheby’s forthcoming series of Contemporary Art sales in October will be the highest value ever staged in this season. In addition to the annual 20th Century Italian Art sale (scheduled for Monday, October 15th), an Evening and a Day Sale of Contemporary Art will also be held (on Friday, October 12th and Monday, October 15th, respectively). The total pre-sale estimate for the series stands at £48-68 million, demonstrating the growing significance of the month of October in London’s Contemporary Art market, since the inception of the annual Frieze Art Fair in 2003.
The Evening Sale will feature highlights in a variety of sections once again, from classic Pop to the strongest ever selection of Chinese Contemporary works. Meanwhile the 20th Century Italian Art sale will include works by some of the key Italian artists of the 20th century, with highlights including works by Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni and Alighiero Boetti.
Untitled (Blue Divided by Blue) is an extraordinarily rare work on paper by Mark Rothko (1903-70), one of only four recorded works on paper made by the artist in 1966. In the second half of the 1960s, Rothko’s palette had become increasingly somber. At the time, he was consumed with the greatest commission of his career – the monumental murals for the De Menil Chapel in Houston. Unlike the darker, melancholic palette of those works, the incandescent rays of celestial blue here radiate like a chink of optimism in a period of the artist’s life which was becoming increasingly blackened with the onset of despair. Estimate: £2,200,000-2,800,000.
Andy Warhol’s (1928-87) Jackie, from 1964, is the outstanding example from this celebrated series from the father of Pop art. The revered First Lady is captured looking characteristically glamorous and smiling just moments before her husband’s assassination, an event that irrevocably altered the political landscape. Bought from the Leo Castelli Gallery in the 1960s, the work has remained in the same collection; its status further elevated by the registration of the silkscreen which renders the image with utter clarity. Unlike the majority of the works from this series, this example shows in peerless detail the President by her side in the final moments of a private relationship played out in a public arena. In a picture that speaks volumes, Jackie enshrines on canvas one of the defining moments of modern American history. It is estimated at £800,000-1,200,000.
Francis Bacon’s (1909-92) Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne is a masterful depiction in a rare diptych format of one of the artist’s closest female friends. The completed work was Bacon’s gift to Dr Paul Brass, who, following on from his father Dr Stanley Brass, was Bacon’s personal physician and with whose family Bacon maintained extremely close ties until the end of his life. The appearance on the market of this exceptional work, the final portrait that Bacon painted of his friend and one which has only ever been on view to the public once (at the Marlborough Gallery in 1994) is an unprecedented event. The painting is entirely fresh to the market and is estimated at £1,500,000-2,000,000.
Measuring over two metres in height, Adenosine is a huge work from Damien Hirst’s (born 1965) breakthrough series of Pharmaceutical paintings. As one stands in front of it, the 99 spots, each of a different colour, seemingly pop in a brilliant chromatic display. What makes this example so special is the date: made in 1992, it is one of the earliest works in the series, made in the same year that the artist was nominated for the Turner Prize. One of the most important artists of his generation, this truly seminal work shows Hirst hitting his creative stride. The work is estimated at £1,800,000-2,500,000.
Raqib Shaw (born 1974) draws upon his Indian ancestry and European education to shape his layered paintings. A masterpiece on a grand scale of bewildering technique and glowing opulence, The Garden of Earthly Delights III was recently exhibited at MoMA in New York, as part of the 2006 exhibition ‘Without Boundary: Seventeen Ways of Looking’ and is by far the most important work by the artist ever to be offered at auction. The painting is one of the largest of the artist’s most significant series of works – one of which holds a prominent place in the MoMA’s permanent collection. Shaw took his inspiration from the 16th-century epic triptych of the same name by Hieronymus Bosch and reworked the themes of hedonistic pleasure, extreme bliss and whimsical Surrealist fantasy. The monumental triptych is estimated at £400,000-600,000. Untitled (Head), a monumental painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-88) dates from 1981, the artist’s breakthrough year, when he made the transition from the streets of Brooklyn to the hallowed gallery spaces of Chelsea. To the right-centre we see a wonderfully expressive head which stares aggressively out of the picture plane. Part skull, part self-image, it reveals Basquiat’s early fascination with anatomy, primitivism, and his Haitian and Puerto Rican cultural heritage. To the right, what looks like a grid of Manhattan streets, is in fact the court of play for the New York street game Scully. Literally and metaphorically bringing the street into the art gallery, here we see the young and brilliant spirit of Basquiat at the moment that his graffiti-inspired iconography revitalised the art world of the 1980s. The work is estimated at £2,500,000-3,500,000.
Further highlights include works by Banksy (born 1975), considered by some to be the spiritual heir of Basquiat. The rise of Banksy through the art market over the past year has been stratospheric, and the success of his works included in Sotheby’s June sales has merited the inclusion of a number of pieces in this season’s sales once again.
The Rude Lord, one of his celebrated ‘Crude Oils’ series, in which he applies his street graffiti motifs to fine art paintings by other artists, was exhibited at Banksy’s first show in Los Angeles last year and is estimated at £150,000-200,000. David, Banksy’s life-size resin, fibreglass, enamel and wax version of Michelangelo’s High Renaissance masterpiece, one of an edition of three, is estimated at £120,000-150,000.
The Chinese Contemporary section of the sale is particularly strong and in addition to paintings by Zhang Xiaogang, Zeng Fanzhi and Cai Guo Qiang, the section will be highlighted by a major work by Yue Minjun (born 1962). Yue Minjun’s The Pope was sold in Sotheby’s June Contemporary Art Evening Sale for £2,148,000, a record price for a work of Chinese Contemporary Art at auction. This time he is represented by Execution, painted in 1995, and arguably the artist’s most vehement, candid and politically loaded work in the wake of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989. Monumental in scale and in meaning, the artist references two of Western art history’s most infamous and politicized paintings – Francisco de Goya’s The Third of May 1808: The Execution of the Defenders of Madrid (of 1814), and Edouard Manet’s own interpretation of that work, The Execution of Emperor Maximilian, from 1867-68. The work is estimated at £1,500,000-2,000,000.
Among the works in the 20th Century Italian Art sale, standout pieces include Lucio Fontana’s Concetto Spaziale of 1955, a work of waterpaint and coloured glass stones on canvas. The work represents the fully-evolved climax of the spatial investigations that Fontana had initiated with his first cycle of holes in 1949. He had started adding pieces of glass to the painted surface from 1952, which led to his stones series, amongst which this example is outstanding. The year of this work was one of exceptional activity for Fontana, he held one-man shows in Milan at the Galleria dello Zodiaco and the Galleria San Fedele, both of which addressed religious themes. It is estimated at £600,000-£800,000.
Another standout piece is Alighiero Boetti’s (1940-94) M