Phillips de Pury & Company BRIC 2011 Auction Highlights

Phillips de Pury & Company fine art auctioneers, announces the highlights from its BRIC 2011 Evening and Day auctions featuring 203 lots with a low estimate of £7,280,500/$11,657,566 and a high estimate of £10,865,500/ $17,397,883.The Evening sale will feature 39 important works with a low estimate of £5,917,000 /$ 9,474,325 and a high estimate of £8,933,000/ $14,303,556.

Following the thrilling results for the first ever BRIC auctions in 2010, which highlighted the international demand for the best and most exciting art from the fast growing economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China, Phillips de Pury & Company will continue to break new ground with BRIC 2011. Numerous world auction records were achieved last year for KOMAR & MELAMID, EMILIANO DI CAVALCANTI, VLADIMIR YANKILEVSKY & OS GÊMEOS; with outstanding results for ERIK BULATOV, AI WEIWEI, LIU WEI, CAI GUO QIANG & ZHANG XIAOGANG. This is testament to the rich variety, quality and diversity of the art, design and photography offered during these sales. This year’s BRIC sale will focus on artists with longevity and appeal as well as emerging new talent. The sale will offer collectors the opportunity to learn about and buy into these diverse markets in one sale room with a compelling, edited selection of the best available works.

“With this auction we aim to show the new strength and depth of the Contemporary Art Market in Brazil, and the continuing upward trends of the Chinese, Indian and Russian markets.” Henry Allsopp Worldwide Director, Curated Sales and Exhibitions.

The auction catalogue highlights the ‘diasporic’ and ‘global’ character of BRIC focusing on collectors, artists, curators and taste makers from each individual country, featuring interviews with Catherine Petitgas from London, Sylvain Levy from Paris and Dipti Mathur from Saratoga, who have allowed their private homes to be photographed for the first time in BRIC’s editorial giving unique access into their collections. Curator Joseph Backstein writes on seven of the most exciting contemporary artists from Russia and an interview with Thukral and Tagra illustrates the New Delhi-based artists who emerged from a graphic design background to become contemporary Indian art’s most exciting young duo. From China featuring Zhang Huan, primarily a performance artist and one of the artists to emerge from the “Beijing East Village” commune and Gautier Deblonde photographs artist Yang Jiechang in his studio preparing works for his major exhibition in Rennes in May.

Auction highlights include:


Helio Oiticica, Spatial Relief, 1959 (constructed 1991), estimated at £300,000–£400,000 and the first time to be offered at auction. Hélio Oiticica’s Spatial Reliefs are key works within the artist’s aesthetic investigation into the relationship between colour and space. Oiticica’s Spatial Reliefs demonstrate the Neo-Concrete interest in exploring expression through geometry, whereby form is achieved through intuition rather than calculation.

Spacial Reliefs were clearly considered by the artist himself as a significant stage in his creative trajectory. At the occasion of his Whitechapel Gallery exhibition in London 1969, the only international solo show he held during his lifetime, he included the reliefs despite having had already shifted considerably from the neoconcrete experiments of the previous decade. Spatial Reliefs have since been included in all major posthumous exhibitions including Tate Modern’s inaugural temporary exhibition and Documenta X. Tate have recently acquired a Spatial Relief (red) together with other works by Oiticica ranging from the Metaesquemas of 1957 to the Tropicália installation of 1967. This acquisition in effect saved these works from the fire that destroyed much of Oiticica’s estate, in 2009.

Beatriz Milhazes, Eu só queria entender por que ele fez isso (I just wanted to understand why he did that), 1989, estimated at £250,000–350,000. Beatriz Milhazes is one of the most renowned artists of her generation in Brazil. Her work is included in collections around the world and is currently showing at the Beyeler Foundation in Switzerland.

Milhazes emerged in the 1980s in Rio de Janeiro and is connected to a generation of artists that, like their peers in Europe and North America, revived painting following the more politically and conceptually oriented art of the previous decades. Her initial iconography centred on the conjunction of architecture and nature, and she soon developed the technique that defines her practice, giving an overall coherence to her paintings – a combination of painting and collage that is characteristic of the acrylic medium itself. Não sei porque ele fez isso, an early work, it shows several elements that would become predominant in Milhazes’ later practice. A strong composition is constructed out of decorative patterns which present distinct, yet evidently historic, sequences of graphical floral imagery. Milhazes brings together cultural traditions intrinsic to Brazil, whether from the crafts or from the fine arts, yet it also acknowledges a debt to key figures of European modernism, particularly the work of Matisse.

Vik Muniz, The Dream, after Picasso from Pictures of Pigment, 2007, estimated at£45,000–£55,000. In his Pictures of Pigment, Vik Muniz – perhaps the most bewitching contemporary artist working within the realm of artistic appropriation – once again creates a series based upon well-known masterpieces.

Upon close inspection, The Dream reveals itself to be more than a straightforward photograph of Picasso’s celebrated picture of the same title dating from 1932. Muniz has carefully created his composition by piling up layers of brilliantly coloured powered pigment onto the flat surface. This process, in which the artist first creates a unique, ephemeral work, is just one element in the Muniz multi-layered process. After the composition has been completed, Muniz then photographs these fleeting compositions. Although the resulting photographic image is the endgame of the artist’s process, it is also the making of the object that reveals the core of Muniz practice.


Ilya Kabakov, Holidays #10, 1987, estimated at £1,500,000 – £2,500,000. The late 1980s in the USSR were the height of Perestroika, an era that signaled the beginning of the end for the entire socialist system. For Kabakov, it was the period when he formed and implemented the concept of the ‘absolute installation’ – creating, in essence, the contemporary Gesamkunstwerk.

The Holidays installation consists of twelve oil paintings – ten horizontal and two vertical – which were displayed, sometimes in two rows (the vertical ones leaning against the wall), in a room “where the floor was strewn with garbage, old newspapers, overturned tables and chairs” (I. Kabakov, Texts, Vologda, 2010, p. 135). At the first perfunctory glance these works seem to have been painted 40 or 50 years ago, probably commissioned from an art production plant for some public space of the Soviet era. Unlike the 1992 installation Incident in a Museum or Water Music, in this case the supposed artist is a faceless entity, a cog in the great machine of ‘The System’. According to Kabakov, he is “not so much an artist, but a character, a someone”. He is so insignificant that there is not even a need to invent a biography for him. Most of the paintings created are familiar vistas to a Soviet observer; there are cityscapes with recognisable structures, scenes from everyday life portraying heroic feats of labour and leisure time among friends and family. However, an element in these paintings disrupts our initial perception of them as banal mass-produced fodder from the Soviet era – for, like artificial flowers; pieces of coloured foil bloom equidistant from each other on the surface of each canvas.

Meticulously covering the surfaces of each of the 12 paintings in this series with multi-coloured pieces of foil is a method that hammers the message home. The desire to decorate, so characteristic and widespread in the Soviet era, both in public and private life, is quite specifically articulated in this painting from the Holidays series as a “strange way of injecting joy” when “a holiday is layered upon a holiday.” In his interview with Pavel Pepperstein, Kabakov discusses his concept for the Holidays series, emphasising not only physical or semantic layering, but also the layering of time. Decades stretch out between the imaginary creation of the paintings and the moment when decorations were added to them, thus underlining the enormous gap between the signifier and the signified.

Komar & Melamid, Double Self-Portrait, 1984, estimated at £250,000–£350,000. Double Self-Portrait by Komar and Melamid is a notable highlight in the history of Russian art of the second part of the 20th century. There were very few selfportraits of ‘non-conformist’ artists during that period, for social as well as artistic reasons but nevertheless, Komar and Melamid created a huge amount of double self-portraits. The earliest one was the Double Self-Portrait made as part of the Sots-Art series in 1972. According to Komar and Melamid, the Double Self-Portrait of 1984 is “the author’s replica” of the earlier version. However, considering the changes that the artists made in it, and the period when it was made, we can ague that it was not in fact just a ‘replica’, but a work with its own significant place in the history of Russian art. The Sots-Art series was not only a body of new work, but the starting point of a new movement in Russian art.

In 1972, the Double Self-Portrait was a very important statement which proclaimed the starting point of this new strategy. It was like a visual manifesto, ironic and self-affirmative at the same time. Painted in a pompous style, borrowed from pseudo-Byzantine monumental tradition, it shows profiles of the artists with a red background in tondo format, as if they were ‘great leaders’. The inscription says: “Well-known Artists of Early Nineteen Seventies. Moscow”. The only detail that contrasts with all this over-the-top seriousness is the subtle smile on the artists’ faces.

The Double Self-Portrait of 1972 perished in a fight during the infamous ‘Bulldozer Show’ on 15 September 19741, which was a milestone in Russian history. Although the show itself was bulldozed into destruction by the authorities, and the artists beaten or arrested, it subsequently brought a certain freedom for the artists to exhibit their works.

The Double Self-Portrait of 1984 was made in celebration of the tenth anniversary of that event. However, this version has two major differences from the original. Its inscription, instead of lauding “Well-known Artists”, says in the mixture of English and Russian: “Sots-Art”. This version of the Double Self-Portrait of 1984 by Komar and Melamid was chosen as one of the symbolic highlights of the recent and most important exhibition of Moscow Conceptual Art, curated by its major advocate Boris Groys. The exhibition, entitled Total Enlightment, was shown in Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt in the summer of 2008 and was a milestone in the understanding of 20th century Russian art history.


Bharti Kher, Invisible People, 2006, estimated at £300,000-£400,000. Invisible People is a large pentaptych created by Bharti Kher in 2006. The work consists of five separate reflective aluminum panels layered in a plethora of felt bindis of varying shapes and sizes. The spot of vermilion on the forehead, long a marker of Indian, specifically Hindu identity, appears here in its modern incarnation: a piece of adhesive fabric, available a variety of colours, shapes and combinations to suit every dress. A mark of identity, the bindi has become a leitmotif in Kher’s vocabulary. Used as a material to articulate and animate her intentions, the bindis act as a medium, much like paint or clay, but with an inherited narrative creating a second skin to her works.

Subodh Gupta, There is always cinema (IV), 2008, estimated at £200,000-£300,000. Subodh Gupta is best-known for his sculptures made from accumulations of everyday objects such as antiquated machinery and stainless steel cooking utensils. In this work, an old door found by the artist has been cast in brass and then placed beside the original, suggesting that even the most banal detritus can reveal an exotic or precious concealed identity. Raised in the rural area of Bihar, the artist calls on his own life experience to express the harsh contrasts typical of a country in which the simplicity of rural culture and increasing urban globalization exist side by side. By translating these experiences into art, he confronts the viewer with formal simplicity laced with a complex web of references. Echoing equally in this clever, beautiful work are art historical references to the ready-made, to minimal art with its seriality, and to appropriation art.

Rashid Rana, Veil IV, 2007, estimated at £250,000– £300,000. Veil IV depicts five women, each anonymous, standing side-by-side in serial succession. The shapes of their bodies blur beneath the voluminous folds of fabric and facial expressions and sentiment are deliberately effaced by the veils. Each wears the chador, hijab and niqab; and while the colours may vary as do, barely perceptibly, the height of those underneath, there are otherwise no individual characteristics by which to identify the subjects of the photograph. The subjects of the photograph, though, are two fold, as anyone aware of Rana’s work will know. On a macro level, five Muslim women, bodies fully obscured; on a micro level, hundreds of Western porn stars, limbs splayed for the camera, and anyone with access to the internet and a computer. Rana here exposes the hypocrisy of Western thought, whereby thousands of women are also suppressed and rendered faceless whilst wearing nothing at all: porn stars, the erotic oil of the billion-plus dollar adult industry machine.


Zeng Fanzhi, The Mask Series no. 21, 1994, estimated at £800,000–£1,200,000 Dating from 1994, the first year of this series, Zeng Fanzhi’s Mask Series No. 21 sounds a hugely important grace note to the defining sequence in his constantly evolving oeuvre.

Many questions have been asked about the true meaning of the mask in Zeng’s work, from the semiotic to the metaphysical. Fifteen years ago, Johnson Chang saw it as a covering, a façade. “A mask represents a stable identity,” Chang posited. “By assuming a public face, the self has assumed power.” Such a reading dovetails nicely with the artist’s own commentary, particularly the closest he has offered to a defining interpretation for the entire series: “The true self will always be concealed. No one appears in society without a mask.” Other interviewers have drawn Zeng out on the moment when he relocated to Beijing from his native Wuhan, and the Hubei Academy of Art where he received his training in the early 1990s. “After I came to Beijing, I didn’t have many friends with whom I could truly open myself,” he famously told Li Xianting in an interview. “So I think the paintings are a reflection of things in my heart, not necessarily all people’s. It’s just my personal feeling.”

Mask Series No. 21 belongs to the earliest group of Mask paintings, and was shown in the original solo show Behind Masks at Hanart TZ Gallery in Hong Kong with which the series debuted. It was later shown in the exhibition China! At the Kunstmuseum Bonn in 1996, Zeng’s most important exhibition to that point. At the time, eminent critic Li Xianting declared the series a new stage in Zeng’s artistic development, calling it “a strong departure from the intense and explosive quality of his earlier work”, exhibiting “a new quality of detachment and rationalism”.

This particular example, aside from exhibiting all the traits which make the early Mask paintings so important (the rigid poses, the Western dress, the flesh still reminiscent of the earlier Hospital triptychs) tweaks the common understanding in two main ways. First, in depicting an ambiguously female figure, it suggests the full range and vision of Zeng’s Mask project. From the very beginning, it suggests, the series was not about presenting a single self-portrait visage, but about depicting contemporary Chinese society in all its complexity. Second, it includes a seemingly superfluous toy in the yo-yo. Toys occur throughout the early Mask paintings, starting with the wooden dog in the bottom left corner of Mask Series No. 1. Asked about the significance of the yo-yo, Zeng replied simply that “it carries no special meaning; I just thought of a yo-yo while making the painting, and decided to incorporate it directly into the composition.” Distinguished by its composition and vintage, Mask Series No. 21 is a key early work that offers unique insight into the breadth and depth of the entire Mask series.

Yang Shaobin, Untitled No. 15, 2000, estimated at £120,000–£180,000. Much like the work of Francis Bacon, Yang Shaobin’s powerful and often dark canvases lie on the cusp of abstraction and figuration. In the present lot, two ghostly figures evolve out of a cloud-like shape. The intense colours blur into one another, allowing a dynamic and free movement of the paint out of which the artist creates the two heads, building them up like a sculptor. Yang Shaobin’s extraordinary talent lies in his masterful use of oil paint, being able to apply it thinly like traditional Chinese ink. The atmosphere he achieves is very evocative, even alarming at times, but there is always a strong sense of the works’ painterly quality. The traditional renaissance notion of sfumato (to shade) is used by Shaobin in an extreme and expressive way, inviting us to see the development from the ‘shade’ to the figure fully developed; reminding us of the very essence of painting, which at a detailed level is always abstract.

Liu Wei, Profile of worker, 1992, estimated at £100,000–£150,000 This work was painted in 1992 in the style of Cynical Realism, the term defined by the art historian and guru of contemporary Chinese art Li Xianting in relation to the neorealistic trend that emerged in Beijing after 1989. The playful humour that is present in Liu’s work reflects the scepticism and disenchantment that he and his contemporaries felt after the brief idealistic period between the Cultural Revolution in China and the tragic events of suppression that took place on the Tiananmen Square in Beijing in June 1989 and lead to return to the state of high control and conservatism. The artist’s unusual choice of presentation is seen in the tight framing, the extremely realistic twisted profile of the worker and the landscape that seems to be glued to the sculpted, scarified face of the portrayed man. The emerging tension causes both discomfort and fascination. Dreamlike figures are painted directly on the wooden frame forming a frieze. It depicts surreal and mythical animals, flowers, the raging Pagoda Sea, and naked humans whose eyes converge on the canvas and who could have easily been the subject of Paul Gauguin’s expressionist paintings. Liu reveals the subconscious reality through the frame where there is a direct reference to dreams, as well as through the canvas which focal point is the extremely realistic, detailed human face that gives the viewer the impression of obsession. Like Zhang Xiaogang, the artist places the human figure in the centre of his practice and, thus, continues the figurative tradition of contemporary Chinese avant-garde art. Liu Wei’s art is distinguished by its ability to modulate classical figurative language and marry it with the distorted and troubling context of surrealism.

Image: Ilya Kabakov, Holidays #10, 1987 estimated at £1,500,000 – £2,500,000. Photo: Phillips de Pury & Compan

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