Andy Warhol’s 1976 acrylic and silkscreen work on canvas Hammer and Sickle. Est. £2-3 million. Photo: Sotheby's.
LONDON - Sotheby's Contemporary Art Evening Auction on Thursday, June 25, 2009 will be spearheaded by three exceptionally rare Andy Warhol paintings from an important European collection - Mrs McCarthy and Mrs Brown (Tuna Fish Disaster), Hammer and Sickle and Diamond Dust Shoes - and features Peter Doig’s painting Almost Grown, which ranks in the very highest tier of the artist’s prodigious repertoire of landscapes. Comprising 40 lots, the sale is expected to realise in excess of £19 million.
Cheyenne Westphal, Chairman of Contemporary Art Europe, and Oliver Barker, Senior International Specialist, Contemporary Art, said: “We are thrilled to be offering such an exciting selection of work that is, without exception, fresh to the market. Many of these works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Peter Doig, Alexander Calder and Gerhard Richter have been exhibited in the world’s top international museums and we are delighted to be able to present them at auction for the first time.”
Andy Warhol’s rare 1963 painting Mrs McCarthy and Mrs Brown (Tuna Fish Disaster) (est. £3.5-4.5 million) is of paramount importance to Warhol's legendary Death and Disaster series. This stunning silver, two-metre-wide canvas brilliantly illuminates how the agents of mass media, replication and multiplication, undermine and anaesthetise the significance of their subjects, here emblematised as a quotidian catastrophe. Having both tragically died from food poisoning after eating contaminated tins of tuna, the previously anonymous Mrs. McCarthy and Mrs. Brown - two housewives from a Detroit suburb who became victims of a freak catastrophe - were thrown into the public spotlight. This provided Warhol with the perfect subject to critique the relationship between death and celebrity in America with his infamous silkscreen and manifests the logical bridge with Warhol's portraits of celebrities who were similarly touched by tragedy. Mrs McCarthy and Mrs Brown (Tuna Fish Disaster) is considered to be the prototype for the silver Liz and Elvis paintings that immediately followed. Warhol's exceptional aptitude to seize the most potent images of his time defines him as the consummate 20th-century history painter and Mrs. McCarthy and Mrs. Brown is central to this stimulating and provocative body of work. The present work is unique in the series as the only painting to have its own title rather than the Tunafish Disaster label.
Andy Warhol’s 1976 acrylic and silkscreen work on canvas Hammer and Sickle (est. £2-3 million) was most recently exhibited at the Tate Gallery, London. The work’s motifs are loaded with political symbolism and painted in a palette of (socialist) red, white and black readily associated with the propagandistic posters of the Soviet era.
Monumental in scale (183 by 219cm), this is among the largest works of the series, exhibited in 1977 as Still Lifes. Warhol conceived of the idea of painting the hammer and sickle series while on a trip to Italy in 1975. At the time, the symbol of the hammer superimposed on the sickle was the most conspicuous graffito in the streets of Milan and Rome. Warhol’s Hammer and Sickle reflects an age where religious, moral and political values have grown subordinate to superficial commercial imperatives – translated onto billboard scale using his levelling silkscreen process, it smacks of an era of American promotional advertising where consumerism has triumphed. Hammer and Sickle is a landmark work in Warhol's mature oeuvre and a sardonic comment on the Capitalist/Communist dichotomy that shows Warhol to be the ever pertinent historical commentator of his day.
The third Andy Warhol work from the same important European collection, the artist’s 1980 silkscreen and diamond dust on canvas Diamond Dust Shoes (est. £600,000-800,000), reflects the artist’s interest in shoes which spanned his entire career.
The auction cover lot will be the monumental oil on canvas Almost Grown by Peter Doig (b. 1959), which was executed by the artist in 2000. The painting ranks in the very highest tier of Doig's prodigious repertoire of portentous landscapes and is fine example of his skilled handling of paint. The artist's upbringing in the rural tranquillity of Canada has served as catalyst for many of his best known works and the source for this landscape is the farm of Doig's parents, near Cobourg and the shore of Lake Ontario near Toronto. Almost Grown crystallises the artist’s very best painting in its physical layering of surface upon surface, resulting in a work that is replete with vestiges of memory and experience, and the vast expanse of the canvas affords a monumental rendition of nature. A group of three discoloured photographic sources from the artist's studio shows the basic topographical template for Almost Grown, but as evident from the Doig’s accompanying sketches, from these photos he has developed the composition using the memory of a familiar place as well as his imagination. This work came at the end of an extraordinarily successful decade that saw Doig graduate from the Chelsea College of Art and Design in 1990, win the prestigious Whitechapel Artist Prize, mount a solo exhibition at the gallery in 1991, and become short-listed for the Turner Prize in 1994. Almost Grown is estimated at £1.4-1.8 million.
A major work from Alexander Calder’s (1898 – 1976) career-defining years of the early 1930s, is A Cinq Morceaux De Bois, which comes from a private European collection. The wood, string, rod, and wire standing mobile measures 127 by 92 by 21cm and is one of the artist’s most important standing mobile sculptures ever to be presented at auction. This sculpture, which was acquired by the present owner in 1993 and has remained off the market for almost 16 years, is an exceptionally rare work that exactly captures the artist's revolutionary vision in its earliest form. A Cinq Morceaux de Bois also represents the exact moment when the famous sculptor's art changed from being based in the figurative world to the abstract, precipitating a fundamental shift in the development of sculpture in the 20th century.
The craftsmanship of the sculpture recalls the artist's training at the Stevens Institute of Technology, New Jersey between 1915 and 1919, and his long development of wire animals, performers and maquettes in his infamous Cirque Calder series executed in Paris from 1926. A Cinq Morceaux de Bois is typical of his very best works and demonstrates Calder's capacity to orientate the movement of his mobiles according to both horizontal and vertical axes to heighten the sense of surface animation. From an extremely early moment in his epic career, the sculpture is a definitive testament not only to Alexander Calder's technical skill, imaginative genius and talent for organic composition, but also his ability to breathe life into that which was previously inanimate. It is estimated at £1.2-1.8 million. A further work by Alexander Calder is his 1956 painted metal hanging mobile, Untitled, which is also estimated at £1.2-1.8 million.
Also included is an important oil on canvas by Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985). Arabe Au Fusil comes from the Lindy and Edwin Bergman Collection, Chicago and was acquired by the present owner in 1978. The work, which measures 92 by 73cm, was executed very early in the artist's mature career, in 1948, and materialises the insatiable joy and energy of Dubuffet's interpretation of the visual world around him. Having just spent several months in the Algerian Sahara Desert, during three trips in the late 1940s, he was fascinated by the desert way of life and Arabic culture. The textural depth and energy of the surface, with its faceted slabs of sumptuous colour and the negative relief of lines incised by his vibrant palette knife, exposes Dubuffet's fascination with the flowing continuity of surface, which finds apt analogy with his experience of the Sahara's endless, ever-shifting and desolate landscape. His treatment of the rolling sandy dunes that contextualise the figure are replete with visceral mark-making and an intense assault of texture and colour right up to the very high horizon line. These features evidence Dubuffet's early interest in abstraction, which finally developed fully in his series L'Hourloupe. Arabe Au Fusil marks the inception and development of many technical and aesthetic possibilities that came to occupy much of the artist's career and is estimated at £500,000-700,000.
Andreas Gursky’s (b.1955) monumental vertical format cibachrome print in artist's frame, measuring 307 by 223.3cm, Dubai World II - exhibited at Pinchuk Art Centre in Ukraine in 2008 – highlights the photographic works presented for sale. Throughout his career, Gursky has specialised in photographing the various structures and containers which we as human beings have fashioned for ourselves to play out our existence. In Dubai World II (number 2 from an edition of 6) from 2007, this fundamental theme reaches its zenith. Using a helicopter to look down on the islands from above, his camera looks away from the mainland and its burgeoning skyline of seven-starluxury hotels towards an uninterrupted horizon where sea melts into sky. This is an image propagated by tourist brochures, of holiday getaways like the Maldives, which have become a stereotypical idyll of peace and tranquility - the projected desires of our generation. The photograph was acquired by the present owner in 2008 and is estimated at £400,000-600,000. A further photograph by Andreas Gursky to be featured is his cibachrome print in artist's frame, Shanghai (dated 2000 and numbered 4/6 on the reverse), which is estimated at £200,000-300,000.
Executed in 1988, Exu is one of the last recorded works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, who died prematurely in August that same year from an overdose of heroine at the age of 27. In Exu we see the artist's final self-representation that he left for posterity. In this expressively explosive painting he casts himself as the trickster deity Exu of the Yoruba religion indigenous to Nigeria and Benin which, at the time of the Middle Passage, became common to nascent Diasporic faiths in the Americas. Like Hermes in Classical Antiquity and Saint Anthony in Catholicism, the African spirit – or orisha – Exu is the patron of boundaries and the travellers that cross them. Directing traffic along the road of life, he resides at the crossroads of fortune and is invoked when important decisions are taken. In African mythology Exu is also the personification of death, whose responsibility it is to deliver newly deceased souls to the afterlife. In the present work, the manifestation of Exu closely resembles images of the Egyptian deity Anubis, the jackal-headed god holding a flail associated with the afterlife. In Exu Basquiat creates a multilayered painting which interweaves African-American histories with the story of his art world rebellion and ultimately a prescient vision of his own death. The painting was last exhibited in public at The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston (2005-2006) and is estimated at £1.1-1.3million.
Also offered for sale is German artist Gerhard Richter’s (b.1932) oil on canvas Geweih (Antlers), dated 67, which has not appeared on the market since it was acquired by the present owner in 1994. Extraordinary in its scale (180 by 130cm) and exemplifying Richter's groundbreaking Photo-Painting technique, Geweih is an early demonstration of the artist's sensational painterly technique and historically significant approach to source material. The years between 1965 and 1970 saw Richter at the beginning of this experimentation and with Geweih he consolidates previous advancements and furthers the fundamental relationship between painting and photography that has marked his epic corpus ever since. Executed at the height of his mature development of the monochrome Photo-Paintings, the work evidences the full force of Richter's masterful painterly technique and is a highly significant museum-quality painting. Geweih is estimated at £500,000-700,000.