NEW YORK - Sotheby’s announced it will offer Chant 2, the most important painting by Bridget Riley (b.1931) ever to come to the market, in its Evening Auction of Contemporary Art on Tuesday, 1st July 2008. Estimated at £2-3 million, Chant 2 is arguably the single most pivotal and groundbreaking work in the entire output of this much celebrated and highly regarded British artist. It was executed in 1967 and in the following year Riley triumphed at the 34th Venice Biennale, winning the International Prize for Painting, with a show that included this work. She was the first British artist ever to win the prize.
As her very first large-scale inception of colour, Chant 2 has appeared in most of Riley’s major retrospectives around the world. Its appearance at auction in July coincides with the opening weeks of a major retrospective of the artist’s work at the Musee d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris (8th June – 28th September 2008). This follows its recent exhibition at the Neues Museum, Staatliches Museum für Kunst und Design, Nürnberg where it was on temporary loan.
Francis Outred, Senior Director, Head of Evening Sales at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Department in London said: “For a female artist who made her name painting in black and white, Bridget Riley is now one of the world’s leading experts in colour. Her work represents the most concise view of how we look at pictures. We could say it’s the matrix for all art – depicting the basics of form and colour and how the eye responds to them. As her first essay in pure colour, Chant 2 is clearly a very important painting and for this reason, I fully expect it to change the market for her work.”
Bridget Riley is a pioneering abstract painter of her generation. Francis Outred adds: “After Bacon, Riley is arguably the single most important figure in Post-War British art. As the Godmother of Op Art, Riley’s career has been marked by successive innovations. Her work has inspired a whole movement, not only in the world of art, but also in fashion and design.”
Prior to executing Chant 2, Riley’s first solo show in America in 1966 at the Richard Feigen Gallery in New York was a sell-out success and she was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s landmark ‘The Responsive Eye’ exhibition the same year - an exhibition positioning her at the head of a prestigious group of influential artists as diverse as Josef Albers, Kenneth Noland and Victor Vasarely, who were
loosely known as the proponents of an art form which shocked or disrupted vision through optical devices or perceptual ambiguities. Giving rise to the term Op Art, the artists included in the exhibition were brought together by their empowerment and dramatisation of static forms in order to stimulate psychological responses.
When painting Chant 2, Riley advanced her formal optical investigations and adopted a new visual language of colour, driven by a desire to investigate the optical energies in certain formal units. Her engagement with colour served ends which were not simply formal but perceptual, with the perception of colour serving increasingly to convey the experience of light.
Through the apparently simple means of enlisting just two colours - blue and red the artist generates in Chant 2 an inspirational effect that overwhelms the senses. While the stripe maximises the edge between two colours, the fluctuating bands focus visual energy towards the centre of the canvas. Investigating the chromatic character of light, Riley has here built an atmospheric space that exists between the viewer and the canvas.
The scale of this work is also significant. Riley herself has talked of scale being fundamental to the effect of her paintings of the period, explaining that it was necessary to increase the scale to prevent focused looking. Indeed, the monumental scale of this work at 231.1 by 228.6cm (91 by 80 in) allows the spectator to be absorbed by this indefinable viewing experience.
Among its other appearances at international exhibitions, Chant 2 was showcased at Tate Britain, London in an exhibition dedicated to Bridget Riley in 2003. At that time, Paul Moorhouse, Tate Gallery Curator said of the work: “The importance of a painting such as Chant 2 was in demonstrating that relinquishing absolutes, and working instead with pictorial elements which are entirely unstable, had enormous visual and expressive potential.”
Together with two other keynote works, Cataract 3 and Late Morning, Chant 2 was fundamental to Riley’s unprecedented success at the 34th Venice Biennale and it was this historic event that firmly established her reputation among the highest echelons of international contemporary art. Distinctly accountable for this success, Chant 2 is a significant masterwork and signposts a critical watershed in Bridget Riley’s phenomenal output. It will be unveiled at Sotheby’s, New York in early May 2008.