Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction will be led by
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled from 1982, a monumental masterpiece that has been virtually unseen since it last appeared on the market in May 1984. The landmark canvas is one of a number of iconic American post-war paintings in a sale that also features Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly, as well as European masters including David Hockney, Rudolf Stingel and Gerhard Richter. The work is estimated to fetch in excess of $60 million.
Grégoire Billault, Head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Department in New York, commented: “It is an enormous pleasure to bring a Basquiat of this magnitude to the market. The scale, subject matter, date and freshness, combined with recent record prices and increased demand for the artist’s work, make May the ideal time to present a masterpiece of this caliber – a truly outstanding achievement of recent art history – to the market.”
Jean-Michel Basquiat completed Untitled in 1982 at a time when he was virtually unknown to the art world. Exhibited only in a small group exhibition called Fast at Alexander Milliken Gallery in New York from June to July of that year, Untitled entered the distinguished private collection from which it is being offered just two years later in 1984, when it was purchased at auction for $19,000. Never loaned for public exhibition since its acquisition 33 years ago, the appearance of the painting to market is made all the more remarkable given that it has been known only from a small thumbnail picture in the artist’s catalogue raisonné.
Untitled is among the most important paintings by the artist still in private hands. The vast 72 1/8 by 68 1/8-inch canvas marks a critical moment in the artist’s career, executed in the same year that the artist had his seminal first solo exhibitions at Annina Nosei Gallery in New York and Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles. Intricate layers of forcefully applied and impastoed oilstick, acrylic, and spraypaint in a spectrum of electric color coalesce in an intensely worked, rich surface that exemplifies Basquiat’s singular command as a master colorist and draftsman. Exploding in a torrent of irrepressible gestural energy that reflects Basquiat’s early beginnings in graffiti, the painting further inaugurated the beginnings of a new mode of figurative painting that took hold of the New York art world in downtown Manhattan in the early 1980s.
Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction in New York on 18 May 2017 will feature Roy Lichtenstein’s Nude Sunbathing.
Painted in 1995 and exemplary of Lichtenstein’s late, great genius, the work revisits one of his signature subject matters: the female form. Rare to the market, Lichtenstein’s limited group of Late Nudes were the first series he undertook following his major 1993 career retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, and were the very last major paintings that occupied the final years before his death in 1997. Examples from the series are represented in the world’s most renowned institutional and private collections, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Fondation Beyeler, and the Broad Art Foundation, among others.
Nude Sunbathing will be offered at auction for the first time and is expected to fetch in the region of $20 million. Having been unveiled in Hong Kong, the work will be shown in London 7-12 April before the New York exhibition opens on 5 May.
“Benday dots, a vibrant red, and a seductive female temptress make this the ultimate late Lichtenstein,” commented Amy Cappellazzo, Chairman of Sotheby’s Fine Art Division. “Reimagining the archetypal women that dominated his iconic early ‘60s paintings, Nude Sunbathing is unabashed in its sensuality. Lichtenstein’s larger-than-life nude in repose confidently occupies the entirety of the canvas, endowed more with the strength of her own desire rather than the vulnerability of the comic-book damsels that defined Lichtenstein’s early Girls.”
Taking inspiration from two of his most significant art historical influences – Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse – Lichtenstein abstracts the female body to its very simplest form, defined primarily by his trademark graphic line and boldly colored Benday dots. What distinguishes his 1990s Nudes from his earlier works are the varied planes of gradated Benday dots within the composition, which model the figure with great depth and heightened dimensionality. Nude Sunbathing is unique among this vaulted series of Nudes in that it is dominated primarily by a single color: the blistering contours of red that shape both her figure and the background.
Basquiat’s exceptional rendering of a single skull-like head draws many parallels with the artist’s most celebrated works, perhaps most significantly Untitled from 1981 in the collection of The Broad, Los Angeles. The canvas is populated with a range of Basquiat’s greatest icons: most remarkably dominated by the complexly detailed anatomical head, the three-pointed crown and all-over scrawled typography. The work is estimated to fetch in excess of $60 million.
The first painting in the catalogue for the momentous 1999 exhibition, Andy Warhol: Hammer and Sickle at Thomas Ammann Fine Art in Zurich, Hammer and Sickle occupies a lofty place in Andy Warhol’s oeuvre. Dated 1976-77, the present work was acquired by renowned gallerist and founder of the Dia Art Foundation Heiner Friedrich and his wife Philippa de Menil the year after it was painted (estimate $6/8 million). The finest work of Andy Warhol’s late 1970s series and notable for its pristine paint application, this composition is one of four known large-format paintings that match the icon on the Soviet Flag, of which two are held in museums: the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Museum Brandhorst in Munich.
The large-scale Untitled #13 from 1980 is quintessential Agnes Martin. Enveloping the viewer with stunningly soft and muted colors, and mesmerizing patterns, the work is reminiscent of the artist’s full-scale works from 1968, when she moved to New Mexico. Previously exhibited in San Francisco, New York, Amsterdam, Paris, and many other locations, the acrylic, gesso, and graphite on canvas comes to auction this season with a pre-sale estimate of $5/7 million.
With gestural brushwork and a beautiful combination of bold and pastel tones, Silex Scintillans is an energetic and vibrant work that highlights many of the most celebrated aspects of Cy Twombly’s creative output in a rare triptych format (estimate $5/7 million). Titled after Henry Vaughan’s Silex scintillans – a collection of religious poems published in 1650 – the present work embodies the artist’s newfound interest in the late 1970s and 1980s of classical themes and inspirations, including religion, love and fate.
Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild utilizes the artist’s signature spatula technique to scatter accents of red, yellow and blue across a 78 3/4 by 63-inch canvas painted in luminous ivory. Acquired in the year it was painted from Galerie Liliane & Michel Durand-Dessert in Paris, and having remained in the same distinguished collection for over twenty-five years, Abstraktes Bild makes its auction debut on 18 May with an estimate of $12/18 million.
Rudolf Stingel’s Untitled is an exceptional paradigm of the artist’s electroplated copper reliefs. The 2012 work, estimated to fetch $5/7 million, is particularly rare in its monumental configuration of six joined panels, measuring 94 1/2 by 141 3/4 by 1 1/2 inches overall.
Building, Pershing Square, Los Angeles is a critical early landmark of David Hockney’s era-defining painted visions of Los Angeles, encapsulating the very genesis of his lifelong enchantment with the magnetic allure of Southern California (estimate $6/8 million). Significantly regarded as one of the very first paintings Hockney made after arriving in the city in January of that year, the work was included in his first American exhibition at Charles Alan’s gallery. Acquired in April 1974 by the pioneering Los Angeles dealer Paul Kantor, Building, Pershing Square, Los Angeles has remained in the same family collection until the present day.
Also by the artist, Gauguin’s Chair has been shown in major exhibitions around the world including David Hockney: Espace/Paysage at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, in 1999 and David Hockney: Maleri 1960-2000 at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek from 2001-2001. Estimated to fetch $2.5/3.5 million, the work is an outstanding example of the artist’s mastery of color and form.