LONDON - An extensive section of Christie’s London evening auction of Post-War & Contemporary Art is dedicated to contemporary figurative sculpture. From McCarthy, Muñoz, Gormley, to Schütte amongst others, the rich array on offer constitutes a survey of the re-emergence of figurative work, with its incisive commentary on the conditions of contemporary society and human interaction. Going beyond the traditional sculptural vernacular, the assembled works are created out of a wealth of media including lead, ceramic, fake fur and resin amongst others, which push the boundaries of our perceptions.
Arno Verkade, Head of the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction: “This season's Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction will offer an unprecedented group of sculpture, charting the reemergence of figurative sculpture over the past twenty-five years. Executed in a variety of mediums, from fibreglass, lead, ceramic to fake fur, all of these works question human existence through their insightful and profound portrayals of different aspects of the body.”
One of the most perceptive commentators of modern culture and society, Paul McCarthy (B. 1945) delves into the myths and stereotypes of American popular culture. Forming part of McCarthy’s most celebrated series of work dating from the early 1990s, Bear Sculpture invokes the stuffed teddy bear, its humanist face contorted into a mischievous grin as it squats (estimate: £550,000-750,000). At once humorous and unsettling, Bear Sculpture piques the viewer’s curiosity by presenting a familiar character in an unconventional pose. Ostensibly benign, the larger-than-life bear stoops as if to offer a friendly greeting. However this impression is shattered when the viewer realises the real reason for its crouching stance. The juxtaposition of the beloved childhood teddy bear, symbolic of youthful innocence, with its crude human action is characteristic of McCarthy’s exploration of the American psyche in which he exposes the perversions and contradictions inherent in contemporary values.
Equally striking, McCarthy’s 2006 sculpture Piggies also plays out one of the artist’s complex and fanciful allegories (estimate: £600,000-800,000). Cast in a lustrous resin finish, the readymade and hand sculpted elements combined in Piggies form part of a larger dialogue in McCarthy’s oeuvre, focusing on the iconic pirate and pig figures as the manifestation of gluttony, plunder and destruction, and have featured in various exhibitions including the artist’s solo exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, London in 2006, and the outdoor sculpture installation at the Botanic Gardens in Utrecht in 2009.
Closely linked to the artist’s seminal video-installation works Caribbean Pirates and Pig Island, both created in collaboration with McCarthy’s son Damon, the works were inspired by the Disney Land ride ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and developed into the sprawling, on-going installation that McCarthy has continually developed in his studio since 2001.
Reach is one of Antony Gormley’s earliest bodycase sculptures in lead (estimate: £220,000-280,000). Executed in 1983-1984, Gormley (B. 1950) had only begun to explore the phenomenology of the body the preceding year, perceiving it as an axis of physical and spatial experience. Instantly recognisable, the human form represented in Reach has become synonymous with Gormley’s oeuvre, constituting an important precursor to the artist’s subsequent representations of the human body, such as the artist’s masterpiece, Angel of the North (1996). Reach was moulded from the artist’s own body, the lead bodycase divided by vertical and horizontal solder lines that map a hermetic carapace covering the plaster mould inside.
Part of a vanguard of artists who espoused a return to figurative form, Juan Muñoz (1953-2001) came to prominence in the mid-1980s with his own unique meditation upon the failures of communication and human solitude, revealing a latent existentialism within the artist’s work. On October 11, Christie’s evening auction of Post-War & Contemporary Art will feature two important sculptures both created in 2000, only a year before the unexpected death of the celebrated Spanish artist. A Caballito frente al Espejo (Piggyback) is a unique sculpture, which perfectly demonstrates the succinct visual language that the artist used in order to probe aspects of the human condition (estimate: £500,000-700,000). Communication and co-dependency are running themes in his sculptures and installations, and both are encapsulated in Piggyback. Here the artist presents two figures interacting, one supporting the other in a precarious shoulder lift; both appear to be on the brink of collision with the mirror, into which the laughing figure gazes. Unique amongst the Piggy Back sequence, of which one is held at the Speed Art Museum, Louisville, the mirror adds several dimensions to the composition. Questions of identity arise, as the laughing man guides his colleague towards their Doppelgänger. Also executed in 2000, Biting your Nails is thought to be based on the artist himself, fraught with nail biting anxiety (estimate:£300,000-400,000).
Thomas Schütte’s Ohne Titel (Doppelkopf) (Untitled (Double Head)) serves an irreverent blow to the architects and architecture of power (estimate: £200,000-300,000). Perched atop an apparently precarious pedestal, the two faces are conjoined like a contemporary Janus, the Roman god who presided over all beginnings and transitions. Created in 1993, Untitled (Doppelkopf) was undertaken shortly after the artist’s visit to Rome to stay at the Villa Massimo in 1992. This was the same year that Schütte’s sculptural installation Strangers was displayed at Documenta, and it was here in Rome during the ‘Clean Hands’ political scandal, famously implicating Andreotti and Craxi, that Schütte decided to create a new sculptural vernacular. Through his sculpted figurative forms, Schütte began to tackle the corruption bound up with the armature of political power. A student of Daniel Buren and Gerhard Richter, whose 18 October 1977 cycle of paintings caused such furor in Germany, it is perhaps unsurprising that Schütte’s iconoclastic Untitled (Doppelkopf) presents such an uncompromising challenge to the powers that be.