Sotheby’s New York Auctions of Contemporary Art
Sotheby’s fall Evening Sale of Contemporary Art on 11 November 2009 comprises an extraordinary offering of paintings and sculptures anchored by classic works by key artists from the 1960s. The sale will begin with 20 works from the collection of Mary Schiller Myers and Louis S. Myers, noted American collectors and arts benefactors, including two superb works from the 1970s by Willem de Kooning. A major highlight of the various owners portion of the sale, and the cover lot for that section, is Andy Warhol’s 200 One Dollar Bills which is from his first series of silkscreen paintings and has not been seen in public since Sotheby’s sale of the Estate of Robert C. Scull in 1986. David Hockney’s California Art Collector, Jasper Johns’ Gray Numbers of 1957, a splendid Bruce Nauman neon – Violins Violence Silence, and a Jeff Koons painting from his Made In Heaven series will also be offered. Prior to the auction, the works will be on view in Sotheby’s 10th floor galleries from 7 November to 11 November 2009.
200 One Dollar Bills is the monumental masterpiece from Andy Warhol’s first series of silkscreened paintings executed in March-April 1962. It is among the most important works by the artist to ever appear at auction, counting as its peers the spectacular Orange Marilyn (1964) and Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car) (1963 ) sold in 1997 and 2007 respectively. It is also is a powerful declaration of the genesis of Warhol’s major contribution to art history; with his silkscreen technique resting at the center of the ‘Pop Art’ revolution. 200 One Dollar Bills is a quintessential painting of its time: its provenance is the storied collection of Robert and Ethel Scull, renowned as premier patrons of American Art in New York and virtually synonymous with Pop Art through their collection and their relationships with artists. In addition to Warhol, their collection included masterworks by Jasper Johns and Bruce Nauman. Robert Scull provided the financial backing for the Green Gallery (1960-1966) in New York and 200 One Dollar Bills was one of two Warhols purchased by the Sculls from Green Gallery. The work was then purchased by the present owner in the historic auction of Contemporary Art from the Estate of the Late Robert C. Skull held at Sotheby’s in November of 1986. The importance of 200 One Dollar Bills even goes beyond the use of silkscreen and its history of ownership to another long-lasting cornerstone of Warhol’s aesthetic practice: seriality. The monumental “Dollar Bill’” serial paintings are the second earliest serial paintings, executed after the large stenciled soup cans. The subject matter of 200 Dollar Bills was even more suited to Warhol’s themes of seriality, consumerism and universal imagery than his famous soup cans. As the ultimate symbol of desire and attainment, status and worth, need and greed, the dollar bill is without peer in its internationalism and potent symbolism. Made from ink drawings by the artist on acetate picturing the fronts and backs of one and two dollar bills and measuring 203.8 x 234.3 cm, the present work is estimated to sell for $8/12 million.
Property from the Collection of Mary Schiller Myers and Louis S. Myers
Leading off the Evening Sale is a group of 20 works from the Collection of Mary Schiller Myers and Louis S. Myers, noted collectors and arts benefactors from Akron, Ohio. Untitled XV from 1977 is one of de Kooning’s abstract landscapes from perhaps the most exuberant period in the artist’s rich and complex career (est. $5/7 million). Coming on the heels of a long period of abstinence from painting, the present work, and other canvases from the mid 1970s explode with vibrant color and are executed in lush, sensuous paint strokes. De Kooning began spending summers in East Hampton in 1959, following the lead of Jackson Pollock and Arshile Gorky. In 1964 the artist permanently relocated to East Hampton, reveling in the nostalgic remembrances of the Netherlands of his youth. The ocean became a part of his daily regime and de Kooning was captivated by the spectacular light in Long Island and its effect on the reflections in the water. Executed in 1977, the Myers’ purchased the present work from de Kooning’s dealer Xavier Fourcade, in 1979. Also by Willem de Kooning is Large Torso a spectacular bronze which dates from 1974 (est. $4/6 million). Other than Barnett Newman, de Kooning is the only Abstract Expressionist painter to produce major sculptures. For both artists, sculpture served to distill the most quintessential nature of their art: in the case of de Kooning, his role as a master of kinetic touch is rendered as eloquently in bronze as in oil. The present work, along with the full-figured Clamdigger and Hostess, is one of the grandest figurative sculptures created by de Kooning.
Knotted, curling sinews of bronze wind themselves through the face, torso and hands of the figure, almost seducing the viewer into touching the surface and following the muscle sense of the artist’s presence in the working of the sculpture. As with Untitled XV, the Myers purchased the present work from Xavier Fourcade in 1980. Important works by Alexander Calder, Donald Judd, Isamu Noguchi, Alice Neel, Wayne Thiebaud, Lee Krasner and Joan Mitchell from the Myers Collection will also be offered in the Evening Sale.
From another consignor is David Hockney’s California Art Collector, the second painting by Hockney from his first, momentous visit to Los Angeles in 1964 and is the first painting to convey the dramatic impact his new surroundings would have on his career (est. $5/7 million). Hockney’s choice of subject is only the most obvious development, as this new environment would also subtly affect his aesthetic choices of materials and technique. With this painting, Hockney first used acrylic paints and with a new sense of light and color, he depicted his first swimming pool while synthesizing his first impressions of the affluence and glamour of Beverly Hills.
Another highlight is Jasper Johns’ Gray Numbers, which was included in Leo Castelli’s watershed exhibition of the artist’s work in 1958 (est. $5/7 million). Beginning in the mid-1950s, Johns adopted a markedly objective style that stressed the complex semiotics of art as object and art as practice. Focusing on `signs’ and `symbols’, Johns explored art’s ability to communicate and the viewer’s ability to perceive. Gray Numbers of 1957 is one of the early masterworks of this important period for the artist. Fittingly, for over 40 years, the painting was in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art’s first curator, Dorothy Miller, who witnessed and aided Johns’ early rise to prominence in 1958.
Andy Warhol’s 200 One Dollar Bills leads a strong offering of Pop Art which also includes Robert Rauschenberg’s Untitled from 1958, an exemplary demonstration of the artist’s hybridization of new art forms (est. $400/600,000). Rauschenberg had developed the “transfer” technique, usingturpentine to soak images onto his paper, creating a collage of images just as earlier Modernists collaged scraps and objects onto their work. These early `transfers’ demonstrate his keen sense of aesthetic balance and ability to use imagery to reach the subconscious and translate a story or idea into a visual picture. The work was given by the artist to the German composer, Karlheinz Stockhausen in 1962. Stockhausen travelled to the United States that year to stay with a fellow composer and pianist who introduced his houseguest to the New York elite including leading contemporary artists such as Rauschenberg. Both artists, Stockhausen and Rauschenberg, recognized the other’s ability to draw on found objects for inspiration and subject matter in their respective musical and visual art. This bond led Stockhausen to compose a musical score for Rauschenberg and in exchange, Rauschenberg gave him the present work in 1962.
Andy Warhol’s early ‘Pop’ drawing Untitled (Roll of Dollar Bills) is a spectacular example of one of the artist’s earliest and most iconic drawings, similar to another work in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York (est. $2.5/3.5 million). It was created in 1962; a pivotal year for the artist when he was beginning to forge a career as an artist after his time in advertising. In this large drawing (40 x 30 in.), the artist’s innate talent for the medium is abundantly apparent, as well as his genius for infusing mundane subject matter with subtly deep meaning. Money is a subject that fascinated the artist, reoccurring regularly in his paintings and drawings as a reference point for American culture and consumerism. The present work is part of a distinguished collection of works on paper from the estate of New York collector, Leonard Newman. Further works from Mr. Newman’s estate will be offered in the Contemporary Art Day Sale on 12 November.
The Evening Sale will also feature an impressive offering of conceptual and minimalist works by artists such as Donald Judd, Sol Lewitt, and Dan Flavin. Among the highlights is Bruce Nauman’s neon installation Violins Violence Silence from 1981-1982 which twists and turns the English language with a sense of humor and aggression that forces the viewer to contemplate the visual possibilities of words (est. $2.5/3.5 million). Clearly influenced by his conceptual and minimalist predecessors, Nauman’s neon signs by their very nature are meant to draw in our attention; however once they have it, his neon signs undermine it with great genius. After a six year break from working in neon, during which Nauman focused on drawing,printmaking and sculpture, he returned to neon with an enormous outburst of production. He created nearly 50 works in five years and in this time period had six solo shows in the United States and Europe. The present work, along with the piece American Violence, is among his first works from this stage in his career and both utilize provocative language and patterns in a blinding array of color, buzzing and hissing.
Although anchored by classic works from the 1960s, 70s and 80s, the sale also includes a number of interesting and rare pieces by younger artists such as Jeff Koons, Anish Kapoor, Damien Hirst and Richard Prince, as well as a seminal work by Juan Muñoz.
Image: Andy Warhol, 200 One Dollar Bills, March-April 1962, est. $8/12 million. Photo: Sotheby’s