Thursday, November 5, 2015


Phillips sales of 20th Century & Contemporary Art in New York will be led by  

Willem de Kooning’s Untitled XXVIII, 1977.

Rendered in creamy yellows, crisp whites and sky blues, the work perfectly captures the artist’s absorption in the natural world of Springs, East Hampton, New York. The painting is estimated to sell for $10 million to $15 million.

Willem de Kooning spent his entire artistic career exploring the lustrous tactility of oil paint—pushing, pulling and scraping paint in search of the perfect moment, one of balanced tension and retention. The mid-1970s saw de Kooning produce a body of work that captured his absorption in the natural world of Springs, East Hampton, New York. Untitled XXVIII, 1977 seizes a glimpse of the landscape in an inspired attempt to hold onto the temporal chaos of the sand, wind, and sky. It fuses the anthropomorphic and the natural, the abstracted landscape containing incipient human shapes. The underpinning of every canvas, every visceral brush stroke, whether figural or natural, reveals de Kooning’s impulsive painterly actions. De Kooning’s life-long affair with his landscape is undeniable throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, culminating with this miraculous series of landscapes of 1977 in which the present lot is included.

Gladiateurs au Repos, 1928-29
Estimate $4,000,000 - 6,000,000

Gladiateurs au Repos is a large-scale, historical painting by Giorgio de Chirico, dating from 1928-29, celebrating the gladiators who had become one of his key pictorial themes. This painting, with its armed figures looming larger than life and full of color, was one of three that dominated the celebrated Hall des gladiateurs in the home of de Chirico's dealer, Léonce Rosenberg, the founder of the famous avant-garde Galerie de l'Effort Moderne. The room featured a total of eleven canvases by the artist; of this group, several are now in museum collections.

Gladiateurs au Repos has a distinguished history, featuring in a wide range of exhibitions and publications. The picture has seldom changed hands: it was acquired by the writer and diplomat Filippo Anfuso in the 1930s, and remained in the collection of his heirs until just over a decade ago. By the time de Chirico painted Gladiateurs au Repos, he was living in Paris, having returned there after a sojourn in Italy. De Chirico had returned to Paris in part because of the enthusiasm the Surrealists had shown his pictures. De Chirico's paintings tapped into a mysterious universe, in which the past appeared vivid and real, continuing to unfold parallel to our own existence.

Femme rouge et pelote verte, 1932
Estimate $4,000,000 - 6,000,000

Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret 1887-1965) is known, without a doubt, as one of the most influential and famous architects of the 20th century. What the general public knows very little about, however, is that in reality he was a painter and plastic artist in search of aesthetic perfection all his life. Between 1918 and 1927 Le Corbusier and the painter Amédée Ozenfant created Purism, a response to Cubism which forged a vital link between avant-garde practices in early 20th-century painting and architecture through its return to clear, ordered forms expressive of the modern machine age.

The Purist works set the stage for the exploration of the canvas as a space rather than a surface, and after this period Le Corbusier moved away from simplification and transparency towards more complex pictorial arrangements. This movement can be seen in his work beginning in 1927 with the loosening of the Purist syntax and the introduction of what he referred to as objets à réaction poétique. From this point onward he turned to both natural and mythic subjects in addition to machine-inspired iconography, and began incorporating the female figure into his paintings. Femme rouge et pelote verte reveals his interest not only in objets à réaction poétique, but also his fascination with the female form.

Untitled, 1941
Estimate $3,500,000 - 4,500,000

Alexander Calder, as both a painter and a sculptor, was rooted in the Abstraction-Création movement alongside Jean Arp and Piet Mondrian, and was truly a pioneer of kinetic art. As the artist recounts in 1920s Paris, responding to Mondrian’s geometric forms on canvas, “I suggested…that perhaps it would be fun to make these rectangles oscillate and he, with a very serious countenance, said: ‘No, it is not necessary, my painting is already very fast…’ This one visit gave me a shock that started things.” The shock resulted in the creation of the “Mobile,” a term coined by the father of Dada, Marcel Duchamp, turning Calder’s early sculptures into even more dynamic forms, central to the artist’s influence, one that extends well beyond early-20th century Paris.

The present lot Untitled 1941 embraces the essential characteristics of Calder’s mobiles with biomorphic forms and kinetic presence in a sculpture that is both colorful and dynamic. This standing mobile is firmly rooted to the ground on a three-legged base, a common feature of Calder’s works from the early 1940s, which then extends upwards into two delicate sides of graceful, elemental movement.

Untitled (P271), 1997
Estimate $3,000,000 - 4,000,000

Christopher Wool's Untitled (P271) presents visually arresting panoply of signifiers and found decorative motifs, realized on a large-scale aluminum panel in stark black and white. The work radiates with its layers of half-meditated, half-improvised patterning, including flowers, fleurs-de-lis, hatchings, and undulating lines. The painting's surface reveals the energetic process of its facture, riddled with white pentimenti and the inky remnants of Wool's screening process. The aluminum pane is roughly bisected across its middle, traced with the outline of the many frames used to create its composition.

Wool approximately replicated the patterns in either segment, creating a dizzying double image. Through this process, he invokes the multiple legacies of American Post-War painterly abstraction, Pop Art, and Minimalism, consciously addressing the challenges that face contemporary image making. Wool invokes - through overprinting, clogging and silkscreen slippage - a unique grittiness and intensity less prevalent in Warhol's paintings. In Untitled (P271), Wool also embraces pentimenti, engaging with erasure by using white semi-opaque paint. The work becomes a complex field of decorative elements partially obscured, yet rendered more intriguing.


Bullwinkle, 1961
Estimate $2,500,000 - 3,500,000

An icon of 20th century American sculpture, John Chamberlain has utterly radicalized the way in which form, modeling, and composition are arranged in the sculptural canon. His metal works, produced from castoff automobile components and other industrial rubble, are archetypal of the power of sculpture to preserve organic composition and the immense painterly shapes. Chamberlain’s admittance to the lionized exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1961, aptly titled “The Art of Assemblage,” enabled his work to find context among heavy-hitters such as Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp.

The present lot was constructed the year of the show, and it is evident that 1961 was particularly significant to the formation of his oeuvre and the understanding of his materials. The genius of Bullwinkle lies not just in the sheer marvel of the metal, contorted and bound, almost weightlessly suspended, but in Chamberlain’s innate ability to transform an act of ruin into an act of creation. Bound to a wall, the present lot commands the room in which it is installed, exerting equal if not greater power as Chamberlain’s sculptures in the round. ]

The Sad Sink, 1985
Estimate $2,000,000 - 3,000,000

Robert Gober’s early and seminal work from 1985, The Sad Sink, is a profound realization of the artist’s emotional, formal, and conceptual investigations within his nearly four decade long art practice. Through his depiction of seemingly mundane objects such as a sink, crib, chair, along with isolated body parts, Gober explores themes of family, religion, sexuality, alienation and memory, both collective and private. With painstaking and meticulous detail he renders these thought-provoking sculptures by hand to build a universe that investigates the psychological and symbolic power of the objects in our everyday lives.

Having grown up in a Catholic household, Gober was deeply involved in the proceedings of the Church, an experience which has heavily influenced the symbology throughout his oeuvre. Just as Gober may have felt cornered by the competing psychological draws of his familial history and religion against his own sexuality, the sink sits silently and remotely unto itself. With no faucets, no water, it is useless as a sink, and yet, in its silence, the power of the object and the artist’s intent reverberates stridently from the corner outward. The viewer cannot help but think of the young child, caught guilty and sent to contemplate and reflect on the transgression in the corner, back to the room, face to the wall.

Birthday, 1999
Estimate $1,500,000 - 2,500,000

Ever exploring the connotations within creating, John Currin's Birthday is replete with emblems notably absent from historically-rooted, narrative paintings. Portraiture serves as Currin’s primary vehicle to establish an array of symbols, taking shape in subtle transformations and dialogues between the minute and the monumental. Almost nowhere more so is this evident in his oeuvre than in the present lot, with the jarring curve of our subject’s smile, the dimples hugging its edge, the cheeky curl of her lip just beneath her nose.

Contemporary culture has directed our tendencies to search for meaning in narrative or in subject, and yet Currin asks us to revisit our strategy. In Birthday, we immediately appraise a woman in the throes of a celebratory toast, candle light dancing against the black of her festive attire. Her gaze is cast elsewhere, a frozen moment capture with an unbridled sense of joy that is almost off-putting in its candor. The restaurant in which she dines is draped in richly textured curtains, with a floral still-life arrangement atop a nearby table, as if plucked straight from Rococo tableaux. This pastiche of excess holds up a mirror to the decadence of the generation in which Currin grew as a painter—an America of gluttony, exorbitance, and overindulgence.


Para IV, 1959
Estimate $2,000,000 - 3,000,000

In the late 1950s, Morris Louis forged a bold new direction for abstract painting by focusing on the unadulterated force of pure color on a truly epic scale. Acclaimed as a leader of the Color Field movement, Louis drenched his large-scale canvases in diaphanous veils of color that envelop the viewer. Turning away from the gesture-laden and heavily encrusted surfaces that characterized so much of Abstract Expressionist painting, Louis created compositions that allowed the color to flow and breathe across open expanses of white canvas. Para IV 1959 is a luminous example of this radical new direction, and is a masterpiece of Louis' mature style.

Louis' investigation of pure color and light places him in an art historical lineage that can be traced back to the experiments of the French Impressionists, and even further back to Turner. In the present work, he focuses on the contrasting force of plumes of brilliant colors, which seem to explode from within the core of the canvas. Using thin washes of Magna, a type of new acrylic resin paint, Louis imparted an extraordinary luminosity to his canvases. His paint, which soaked into the weave of the fabric, seems to become one with the surface and retains both the paint's original coloration and its fluid character. Rejecting the gestural painting style of the Abstract Expressionists, Louis is considered a profoundly intellectual painter, focused exclusively on color and texture.

Untitled BB64, 1962
Estimate $2,000,000 - 3,000,000

Kazuo Shiraga is one of the leading artists in the Gutai Art Association, founded by the painter Jiro Yoshihara in 1954 in the area around Osaka and Hyogo prefectures in western Japan. Gutai enlisted approximately sixty painter-members during its 18 years of existence and led the postwar Japanese art scene to avant-garde innovations truly contemporaneous to the spirit of experimentation shared by artists around the world. Shiraga became the poster-child of this group with his sensational action painting using his bare feet, a method he had already begun to experiment with prior to joining the group in 1955.

Untitled BB64, which is being sold as part of Phillips’ Provenance: Japan selection, is an exemplary work from Shiraga's mature period, a time when he achieved capturing the balance between the beautiful and the grotesque. His long-time interest in classic hero stories such as the action-filled Suikoden (Water Margin), a fourteenth-century Chinese novel about 108 outlaws, formed his belief that painting must carry force and individualism as strong as those represented by the characters.

The thick impasto of his painting was then created by the artist boldly stepping onto blobs of oil paint on an un-stretched canvas laid flat on the floor; after depositing a large amount of paint directly from paint tubes onto the canvas. Shiraga, then, holding onto a rope hung from the ceiling, swung around in the paint as it oozed out from under his feet. As he slipped and turned, his feet created a swoosh of calligraphic lines, turning the colors’ entanglement and merging with little care for human intention. In Shiraga’s work, the paint as material became both the subject of the work and an agent of the artist's body reviving his presence in mind each time it is seen by the viewer.

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