Jeff Koons’ Baroque Egg Leads Sotheby’s Sale of Contemporary Art on May 12th
Sotheby’s May 12, 2009 evening sale of Contemporary Art in New York includes key examples by celebrated artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Jeff Koons, Alexander Calder, David Smith, Cy Twombly, Joan Mitchell, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Ellsworth Kelly and Andy Warhol. It also features an exciting group of property comprising important works by artists who rarely appear at auction. Led by Martin Kippenberger’s self portrait from 1988, Untitled, the evening sale will also include works by Robert Gober, Jeff Wall, Charles Ray, Christopher Wool, Yayoi Kusama and Juan Muñoz.
“This is obviously a very different market from just a year ago,” said Alex Rotter, Head of the Contemporary Art Department in New York. “Therefore, we decided on quite a different approach for this season’s sale. We wanted to ensure that we had an excellent representation of iconic names, which we achieved. We also wanted to include artists whose works have been somewhat scarce and whose appeal, as a result, has remained consistent, among them, Kippenberger, Wool, Gober, Wall and Muñoz, all of whom have been celebrated with recent exhibitions and major museum retrospectives. And so, together with their work, we have included rare and choice examples by Rauschenberg, Calder and Twombly.”
The top lot of the sale is a work from Jeff Koons’ Celebration series that has never before appeared at auction – Baroque Egg with Bow (Turquoise/Magenta) (est. $6/8 million). The Celebration series is comprised of an ambitious body of sixteen paintings and over twenty stainless steel sculptures focusing on toys, presents, and other small childhood objects, all rendered with spectacular attention to detail and phenomenal realism. The present work is an excellent example of the artist choosing an everyday, banal object — a chocolate Easter egg — and exalting it through an obsession with craft. As with many of his works, Koons creates a work of art that appeals to multiple senses, as astounding colors delight our vision and the tactile rendering of the blue foil and pink bow begs to be touched. Executed in 1994–2008, the present work is one of five versions, each of which is uniquely colored.
Leading a section of works from the Pop Art era by Warhol, Oldenburg, Lichtenstein and others, is Robert Rauschenberg’s Transom from 1963 (est. $4/6 million). Transom is one of the artist’s vibrant Colored Silkscreen paintings, a series that followed closely after his groundbreaking Combine Paintings. In the Colored Silkscreen Paintings, Rauschenberg helped pioneer a new artistic technique by experimenting with photo-silkscreens in conjunction with Andy Warhol in the early 1960s. Sourcing images from print media, Rauschenberg created paintings that are a multitude of message-laden imagery in a swirl of color and collaging effect. The artist combined references to The Rokeby Venus by Diego Velàzquez with a vivid slice of New York City into a work of aesthetic urban poetry that speaks to the dichotomy of ‘art’ and ‘life’. A number of choice works by Andy Warhol will also be offered, including a rare example of his Mona Lisa from 1979 (est. $1.5/2 million), and Flowers from 1964, which is distinguished by the crisp quality of its screened image and the bright Pop Art palette of red and green (est. $400/600,000). Kellogg’s Cornflakes [Los Angeles Type], part of the group of boxes created for the Los Angeles County Museum in 1970, will also be offered (est. $200/300,000). From the original set of 100, LACMA retains fifty-seven of the 1970 Kellogg’s Cornflake boxes in their collection; and only ten other extant examples, including the present work, are known to be in collections outside the museum.
From another consignor is Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Red Man One, 1982, a classic example of the artist’s unique savage typology and radical innovations on the contemporary portrait (est. $3/5 million). Basquiat’s use of fragmentation and disfiguration borrows inspiration from primitive art and African masks, bringing a fresh structural approach to the figure in his depiction of portrait archetypes.
Untitled from 1990 by Robert Gober is one of the unorthodox and mysterious objects in the artist’s 1991 installation at the Jeu de Paume in Paris (est. $2.5/3.5 million). This cast wax sculpture is one of two works inspired by a similar fragmented torso with musical notations in a Hieronymus Bosch painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights, and a sheet of music Gober found in the street. As in much of his oeuvre, Gober combines literal details such as hair with metaphorical elements such as music to convey a subversive sense of distant `otherness’ that is meditative.
An exceedingly rare work by Charles Ray will also be offered (est. $300/400,000). Untitled, 1991, is one of the only works on paper in Ray’s oeuvre. It places the artist as the protagonist, accosted by Superman with the demand, “Who the Fuck is Roy Lichtenstein?” With Lichtenstein as his subject, Ray accesses the tradition of artists who appropriated the comic book from the graphic world and repositioned it in the gallery world. Ray’s conceptual approach to this work perpetuates the dialogue since he took no part in its execution (he hired a cartoonist to draw it) forcing the viewer to think critically about high art versus commercial art. We begin by questioning what differentiates a Lichtenstein from a cartoon and end wondering what defines an artist.
A selection of several works from a provocative American private collection will be offered in both the evening and day sales, including a rare work by Jeff Wall, which was part of the major retrospective of the artist’s work in 2007 organized by The Museum of Modern Art in New York and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The formal austerity of the gritty urban exterior of Sunken Area (1996) recalls the work of earlier photographers such as Walker Evans, while the awkward gap between the building and the pavement is an expressive metaphor for the gap between reality and interpretation. (est. $650/850,000). Also the subject of an important retrospective, this one at the Tate Modern, was the Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz whose work rarely appears at auction. Two Seated Figures (Mouth) was executed in 1996 for his memorable installation at Dia Art Center in New York titled A Place Called Abroad and was purchased by the present owner a year later (est. $400/600,000). From the same collection is Richard Serra’s Square Bar Choker (1989) – art at its purest, demonstrating his genius for working with conflicting forces of mass and weight, tension and stability, particularly in the works that balance on interior walls (est. $1.5/2 million). Yayoi Kusama’s Stamens Sorrow from 1985 (est. $700,000/1 million) will also be offered from this collection, along with works by Olafur Eliasson, Evan Penny, Tom Friedman and Deborah Butterfield.
In addition to the Koons, among the other important sculpture to be offered in the evening sale is a very early work by Alexander Calder, Ebony Sticks in Semi-Circle from 1934 (est. $1/1.5 million). Anthony Grant, International Senior Specialist of Contemporary Art, noted, “This large and rare standing mobile of steel, wood and string has been in a private collection for nearly 50 years. It was first exhibited in Chicago at the Renaissance Society in an exhibition of the artist’s work in 1935 where it was acquired shortly thereafter by a Chicago family”. David Smith’s Large Circle (Voltri) from 1962 will also be offered (est. $2.5/3.5 million). Smith’s epic sojourn in Voltri, Italy in May and June 1962 inspired the artist to create a legendary body of work in a flurry of inventive activity. Along with other sculptors, Smith was invited to include one or two works in the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, a yearly arts celebration begun in 1958. Smith was granted access to recently abandoned industrial sites in the nearby town of Voltri, and was so inspired by the found mechanical elements that he produced twenty-seven sculptures in roughly thirty days, an unprecedented pace. Delighted with such an array of sculptural invention, the curator of the festival chose to show them in the dramatic setting of Spoleto’s ancient Roman amphitheatre, creating the penultimate event of the 1962 festival.
Cane Chair-Outside by Richard Diebenkorn from 1959 is an outstanding example of the artist’s new body of figurative work from the 1950s that would surpass his earlier abstractions both in importance and expressive power (est. $1.8/2.5 million). The sun-drenched pinks and yellow contrasted with the rich blues and purples introduce a new chromatic mood into the artist’s palette. In Cane Chair – Outside, one can also observe an affinity between the foreshortened space, luminous color tones, and vertical linear structure of these representational works with Diebenkorn’s later signature series, the Ocean Park paintings.