LONDON - Following Sotheby’s third most successful year ever (2011) for global auctions of Contemporary Art, which totalled $1.17 billion, the company presents its forthcoming Contemporary Art Evening Auction. The sale, which will be staged in London on Tuesday, February 15th, 2012, will include an array of major artworks by established Post-War and Contemporary artists including Gerhard Richter, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Alighiero Boetti and Alberto Burri, and will also feature an exceptionally strong British Art section, comprising works by Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Bridget Riley, Leon Kossoff, among others. The Evening Auction is estimated to realise in excess of £35.8 million*.
Commenting on the forthcoming sales, Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby’s Chairman of Contemporary Art Europe, said: “With the outstanding total of $1.17 billion achieved for Sotheby’s global sales of Contemporary Art in 2011, Sotheby’s leads the market in this field. Attesting to last year’s successes, the Evening Auction we have been able to assemble this winter will be led by numerous desirable and fresh-to-market artworks by internationally collected blue-chip artists such as Gerhard Richter, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Francis Bacon, Takashi Murakami, Andy Warhol and Lucian Freud, among others, and the sale carries a pre-sale low estimate of £35 million which is in-line with the various-owners Contemporary Art Evening Auctions we staged in February and June last year.”
Gerhard Richter's Eis (“Ice”) of 1981 is the definitive paragon of the artist’s landscape paintings. The breath taking frozen seascape was based on a photograph the artist had taken in Greenland, while on a solo retreat in 1972. Widely acknowledged as a reflection of Richter’s psyche, Eis, whose cold landscape shows no sign of life, poignantly captures the artist’s struggle with his marriage and illustrates his physical and emotional exodus from his troubled life in Dusseldorf to a polar haven. The painting carries an estimate of £2–3 million.
Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (“Rot”), which was executed in 1991, exemplifies Richter’s intellectual inquiry into abstraction. The 1990s saw the artist’s thematic use of red colour throughout a monumental series of canvases. This abstract work is at once challenging and dense yet strikingly beautiful. Chromatically expansive, the sweeping red hues and pulsating greens, yellows and greys of Abstraktes Bild, for which Richter deployed a squeegee as his primary tool, masterfully explores the relationships between the instinctual, the spontaneous and the arbitrary. It is estimated at £2.5-3.5 million.
Illustrated on the first page is one of the most important highlights in the sale, Jean-Michel Basquiat's Orange Sports Figure, an unrivalled pictorial masterpiece and an exceptionally rare work to come to auction. The work, estimated at £3-4 million, was painted in 1982, the definitive year for Basquiat’s oeuvre. Adorned with his trademark crown, this work engenders a powerful and ambiguous scrutiny of black athleticism: the aspirational black sports figure is celebrated yet simultaneously satirised by an autobiographical allusion to Basquiat's Haitian heritage – the cheap labour destination for the export manufacture of baseballs, an American sport notoriously regarded as predominantly white. This racial tension is powerfully presented by Basquiat’s inimitable and remarkable synthesis graffiti, primitivism and abstract expressionism.
Nero Plastica, a marvellous volcanic topography of molten black plastic, is demonstrative of Alberto Burri’s poetic use of fire as an artistic tool. It follows in the wake of Burri’s Combustione legno, which realised the remarkable price of £3,177,250 at Sotheby’s London in October 2011. Nero Plastica has never before appeared at auction, presenting an exciting debut of a work from Burri’s most important corpus of works. Heralded as the first artist to introduce the unpredictability of this natural phenomena into artworks, Burri began executing his first corpus of dedicated plastic works in 1960, of which this work, made in 1965, is a fine example. The visceral qualities of the work belie Burri’s past as a qualified doctor, then as a prisoner-of-war from 1944-45, during which time he turned to art. Nero Plastica appears to reference a living and bleeding body, lacerated and tortured by the atrocities of war. The work carries an estimate of £800,000-1,200,000.
Figure with Monkey by Francis Bacon, which depicts a suited man reaching towards a caged monkey, captures an important theme within Bacon’s oeuvre whereby man and beast appear indistinguishable and interchangeable. Executed in 1951, this remarkable work followed a stay in Zimbabwe and Southern Rhodesia during 1951. During his travels Bacon produced wildlife paintings and a small series of encaged, screaming monkeys. The present work, in which the open-mouthed, bestial scream of the monkey forms the focal point of the painting, presents Bacon’s fascination with wild animals and his impulse to expose man’s primal nature. Scarcely reproduced and rarely exhibited since its creation, the re-emergence of this significant early work marks a moment great art-historical significance. The work is estimated at £1.8-2.5 million.
In the wake of the strong prices achieved for works on paper by Lucian Freud in 2011, including the auction record which was established by Sotheby’s London in June 2011**, the sale will include an outstanding group of works on paper by Lucian Freud. This exceptional and encyclopaedic fresh-to-market private collection of five drawings spans more than four decades and attests to Freud’s masterful draughtsmanship. Combined, these extraordinary works are estimated to realise in excess of £1.5 million. Highlighting the group is Lucian Freud’s black charcoal on paper Lord Goodman, executed in 1985. This masterful portrait magnificently illustrates the artist’s inimitable analysis of the human subject and his incomparable aptitude as a draughtsman. Paralleling a smaller drawing of the same sitter that is now held in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery, this drawing is of museum quality and ranks in the very highest tier of works on paper by Freud from the 1980s. Freud's Lord Goodman is one of the outstanding portrayals in the medium of Lucian Freud's entire oeuvre and is estimated at £400,000–600,000.
Mappa is a superlative example from Alighiero Boetti’s famed series of bold map tapestries, in which Boetti uses world maps to delineate geographical territories and conceptualise the evolving geopolitics of the Cold War. The work, estimated at £700,000-900,000, was acquired directly from the artist and will be offered for sale for the first time. Mappa was designed in 1983 in Trastevere, Rome and subsequently sent to Kabul, Afghanistan to be embroidered. Boetti was fascinated with the culture and indigenous craft of Afghanistan, a territory that had been off limits to the artist following political unrest in 1979. The embroidered text around the map poignantly alludes to the artist’s protest against the Soviet military occupation that prohibited him from returning to his beloved Kabul; translated from Italian, it reads “Give birth to the world in Kabul Afganistan”. Boetti simultaneously draws attention to his artistic powers of creation in re-imagining the world, while also alluding to the transitory nature of the political world versus the seemingly unchangeable geography of the planet.
Appearing at auction and on public view for the first time, Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (numbered 768-4) represents one of the most vivid and commanding works from the artist’s astounding opus of abstract paintings. With its powerfully graphic vertical stripes, this work which is estimated at £3-4 million, belongs to a cycle of abstracts executed in 1992 for which Richter innovatively implemented a squeegee as his paintbrush. The result is an extraordinary visual tension between controlled action and chance. Richter explained his technique as “letting a thing come, rather than creating it… in order to gain access to all that in genuine, richer, more alive: to what is beyond my understanding.” (Gerhard Richter, “Notes 1985” in: Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Ed., Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting, Writings 1962-1993, London 1993, p. 119). The present work’s remarkably complex, monochromatic scheme makes it an irrefutable rival to Richter’s other extraordinary abstractions currently held in the prestigious collections of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; the MoMA in San Francisco; the Kunstmuseum Winterthur in Switzerland; the Hamburger Kunsthalle in Germany and numerous others.
Takashi Murakami’s vibrant Open Your Hands Wide, Embrace Happiness!, which carries an estimate of £600,000–800,000, is a superlative example among his animé-inspired floral motifs, a globally-recognised trademark of the renowned artist. The motif has notably been embraced in collaborations with Louis Vuitton and hip-hop artist Kanye West. According to Murakami, the present work’s endless, repeating plane of flowers stems from his time teaching schoolchildren how to draw flowers at a preparatory school. His initial repulsion by overtly “cute” flowers, which made him feel uneasy, soon blossomed into artistic appreciation. Murakami explains, “I really wanted to convey this impression of unease, of the threatening aspect of an approaching crowd” (the artist cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Serpentine Gallery, Takashi Murakami, 2002, pp. 84-85).
Diamond Dust Shoes by Andy Warhol is an impressively large-scale, glittering composition of acrylic and ‘diamond dust’ depicting women’s shoes provided to the artist by iconic fashion designer Halston, and references his early days as a fashion illustrator on Madison Avenue. Warhol recognised high-heels as an agent of glamour, and when re-visited this emblematic theme in 1980, he employed his new silkscreening technique using diamond dust – a direct reference to movie-star glamour, high fashion, fame and money, subjects Warhol loved and frequently explored. For the present work, which is estimated at £700,000-1,000,000, Warhol took a series of Polaroid pictures of the shoes, selected one to print, then finished the composition using large crystals of pulverized glass to achieve brighter sparkle than that of real diamond dust.
Roy Lichtenstein's Nude in Apartment is a spectacular late work executed in 1995, and which has never before appeared at auction. It references the early images of ladies from his Cartoon series, for which the artist is internationally acclaimed. Dominating the work is the life size female figure facing a full-length mirror. In other important works, the artist has employed mirrors, windows and other reflective surfaces to explore rich, complex visual interactions with light. This work is estimated at £600,000-800,000.
Leon Kossoff’s Christ Church No. 1, August 1991 is an arresting image of an iconic landmark of London’s East End, and the first of Kossof’s Christ Church series to have ever been offered for sale. For the Christ Church paintings, Kossoff made a dedicated pilgrimage half-way across London to revisit the East End, where he spent his formative years amongst the area’s immigrant community. Kossoff, born to a Jewish family of Ukrainian descent, found the Christ Church’s imposing Christian architecture to be a representation of foreign territory. His intense rendering of a bold icon of Christianity expresses his own assimilation into an ostensibly hostile culture, in which he and other London immigrants like him are outsiders. The painting is also highly indicative of Kossoff’s lifelong artistic engagement with London’s particular inner-city urban landscape. “London, like the paint I use seems to be in my blood stream,” Kossoff wrote. “It’s always moving – the skies, the streets, the buildings, the people who walk past me when I draw have become part of my life” (the artist in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate Gallery, Leon Kossoff , 1996, p. 36).
Bridget Riley’s exuberant Tabriz, executed in 1984, belongs to the cycle of “Egyptian Palette” paintings produced following Riley’s travels in Egypt in the winter of 1979-1980, which had a profound influence on the artist. Riley was immediately struck with the art found in the tombs of the Pharaohs, which depicted magnificent scenes in a surprisingly limited number of hues. Tabriz, estimate at £250,000-350,000, is among the most optically arresting and jubilant of this important series. In keeping with Riley’s inimitable technique and inspired colour palette, the present work is restricted to only six colours of uniformly sized lines. The result is a spectacular optical illusion, which distorts the width of the lines and even the tone of the pigments, creating a rhythmic, pulsating effect.
*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium
**Lucian Freud’s Beach Scene with a Boat, colour chalk and pen and ink, executed in 1945, sold at Sotheby's London on June 15, 2011, £2.6 million ($4.2 million)