Friday 10 October 2014

London Calling | Phillips highlights & trends

Friday the 10th of October 2014 - Contemporary art renowned auction house Phillips announced the highlights from the inaugural Contemporary Art Sales at 30 Berkeley Square. The 240 lots within the Evening and Day sales carry a pre-sale low estimate of £21.3m / $34.8m / €27.3m and a pre-sale high estimate of £30.7m / $50m / €39.3m. The Evening Sale will offer 47 lots carrying a total pre-sale low estimate of £16m / $26m / €20.5m and a pre-sale high estimate of £23m / $37.5m / €29.5m. Contemporary works from the German school; Kippenberger, Kiefer and Richter to American artists such as Koons, Wool and Warhol, along with younger artists such as Tauba Auerbach and Sterling Ruby, and the emerging artist Wyatt Kahn, are expected too outperform.

As the only international auction house to concentrate exclusively on contemporary culture, Phillips has established a commanding position in the sale of Contemporary Art, Design, Photographs, Editions and Jewelry. Through the passionate dedication of its team of global specialists, the company has garnered an unparalleled wealth of knowledge of emerging market trends. Founded in London in 1796, Phillips conducts auctions in New York and London and has representative offices throughout Europe and in the United States. In a recent Press Release, clearly setting a footprint for the season, the Auction House is informing us for certain works on sale in the coming evening & day auction:

Untitled, 1990
ESTIMATE £1,800,000 - 2,200,000

Untitled, was executed in 1990, a pinnacle moment in Christopher Wool's early exploration into painting and a benchmark year resulting in the production of several of Wool's most iconic paintings. The 1980’s was a time when painting was relishing a revival by the sentiment of the Neo-Expressionists. Conceived and dominant in Germany, Neo-Expressionism developed as a reaction to the supremacy of conceptual and minimal art of the 1970’s and returned to the portrayal of the recognisable, including everyday objects and the human form. Wool, reluctant to be directly associated, instead interrogated the conception and visual limitations of painting, redefining its possibilities. The continual examination into the discourse of contemporary painting was at the heart of Wool’s practice.

A large format alkyd and acrylic on aluminium, Unititled navigates seamlessly between the abstract and the figurative. The composition consists of two large scale avian forms; both sit against a pure white aluminium ground. On first glace each symbol looks indistinguishable but on closer inspection minor nuances in paint application and surface imperfections become increasingly visible, providing an insight into Wool’s newly developed method. The large scale of Untitled permeates rawness and life to both birds, each confined within the limitations of the aluminium sheet, they give the impression that at any opportune moment they might come to life and escape the picture plane.

U.L., 1985
ESTIMATE £1,500,000 - 2,000,000

Gerhard Richter first engaged with the beginnings of geometric abstraction in his colour chart works carried out in the late 1960’s. Returning to them in the early 70’s he integrated chance into his choice of palette rather than constraining his selection to the industrial paint charts from which he started. In this decade he also began his painting technique referred to as ‘Vermalung’, or ‘Inpainting’. This method involves the reworking of figurative painting to such an extent that most or all of the original image is eradicated. The inspiration for this transformation can be seen to lie in the artist’s interest in the ‘Art Informel’ movement, which denoted an improvisatory methodology and a highly gestural technique. The subsequent canvases feature a think impasto with clearly visible, sweeping and impulsive brushstrokes.

Alongside his American contemporaries including Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Cy Twombly, Richter was testing the perimeters and possibilities offered by minimalism and abstraction. His most celebrated breakthrough occurred in 1977, in the execution of the Abstraktes Bild series; colourful, bold paintings that feature a variety of surface textures and techniques. His development of abstraction carried on to dominate his oeuvre through the 1980’s. In 1985, when this particular lot was created, Richter was revelling in his period of highest critical acclaim and attention.

Four Marilyns (Reversal Series), 1986
ESTIMATE £1,200,000 - 1,800,000

Four Marilyns (Reversal Series) represents the emblematic peak of Andy Warhol’s famed career. Featuring the image of both celebrated and tragic American Hollywood icon, Marilyn Monroe, the present lot distils the paradigm of fame into an alluring play of silhouette and colour. Characteristic of Warhol’s masterful play with subject and technique, Four Marilyns (Reversal Series) includes the added dimension of a forward progression as well as a certain lingering and melancholic nostalgia. The painting alludes to the transformative power of art, in which a symbolic act of transference can result in instant immortalisation. Within the work there lingers an inherently retrospective and introspective quality that belies the artist’s own complex relationship with celebrity.

Warhol, who was a public figure in his own right, was fascinated by the notion of stardom; Monroe was the singular and intense object of his obsession in both life and death. Considering the actress a kind of kindred spirit whose talent was often undervalued and overlooked by her peers, Warhol eschewed this reputation, instead manufacturing a legacy of his own for Monroe, and in turn, creating one of the most enduring images of his career. After the actress’ premature passing on August 5, 1962, Warhol reacted with a series of paintings so pointedly astute that they remain closely associated with the actress to this day. Warhol represents Marilyn at the peak of her career and in the glare of the public spotlight; yet, the work was executed almost fifteen years after the actress’ death. The original representation of Marilyn by Andy Warhol acquired iconic status in 1962, soon after Marilyn’s death, when the artist first paid tribute to the star in his painting Gold Marilyn. This first interpretation marked a life-long creative obsession with the film star that would not only define the artist’s career but also cement the actress’ legacy in the collective mind.

Untitled (Fold), 2010
ESTIMATE £800,000 - 1,200,000

Untitled (Fold) forms part of Tauba Auerbach’s internationally acclaimed series of works that push the possibilities of canvas to the limit. In this particular lot, the artist plays with the viewer’s uncertainty: Auerbach uses the doubt incurred by the unusual choice of materials to question the presentation and perception of the work as a whole. This piece exemplifies the artist’s series in its pioneering approach to dimensionality: occupying a seemingly impossible space between the second and third dimension, the artist herself classifies her work as spanning the ‘2.5th dimension.’ Begun in 2009, this collection of elegantly subtle works engages with the limitations of perceptible reality as well as its failures and omissions.

Untitled (Fold) is not as straightforward as it first appears before us. The large-scale canvas features a collection of creases that span the work’s length to create the illusion of fluidity and movement across the surface. Yet, on close inspection, it becomes clear that the canvas is in fact taut against the wooden stretcher. The use of this trompe l’oeil technique, which literally ‘tricks’ the viewer's eye into perceiving sculptural movement across the work, is used to great effect. Untitled (Fold) resembles a highly realistic representation of a wrinkled piece of textile, either fabric or paper, but is, in fact, entirely painted on the flat surface of the canvas.

Tauba Auerbach’s own attention to detail and interest in exploring the planes of reality easily place her into the lineage of still life painting, although her own technique is completely unprecedented. In Untitled (Fold), the subject matter becomes both medium and method. The artist’s consideration for and awareness of dimensionality, perception and presentation render the piece a kind of topographical study on the relationship between material states and the interaction of elements.

Jim Beam - Observation Car, 1986
ESTIMATE £800,000 - 1,200,000

Creating work with a façade of visual seduction has remained one of Jeff Koons's signature points in crafting new pieces, ever since the premiere of his Pre-New series in 1979, which first captured viewers’ imaginations with its exhibition-style presentation of mundane objects. His Luxury and Degradation series, first exhibited in 1986, pushed the envelope on addressing contemporary tactics of consumer advertising. Focusing on alcohol, the show was a testament to the lengths to which corporations will go to promote their products, even to dehumanize their consumer. By elevating and highlighting the specific tactics employed by advertising firms, Koons was able to showcase the main concept within the advertisements- the luxurious lifestyle promised to the consumer. As the centerpiece in the show, the Jim Beam J.B. Turner Train represented the most sculpturally complete embodiment of the shows overarching message. Beautifully wrought, Jim Beam—Observation Car, 1986 is one of the finest examples of Koons’s work— and a symbolically profound entry in his series.

Koons’s work in the Luxury and Degradation series is a combination of sculpture and painting, a collection of both advertisements and the paraphernalia used to transform alcohol into a toy for adulthood. The Jim Beam—Observation Car, 1986, was one of the most exciting projects within the series for Koons personally, as it brought into account the concept of temptation.

Untitled (from the series Krieg Böse/War Wicked), 1991
ESTIMATE £700,000 - 1,000,000

This monumental 1991 painting Untitled , from the eponymous series Krieg Böse , is painted in the same year of the first Gulf War and is replete with symbolic motifs that ridicule the American macho attitude of imperialist aggression. The painted letters “USW” on the naval gunboat are a stand-in for the German expression “und so weiter”, which translates as “and so on and on”—his comment on the never-ending futility of war. The letters are formally juxtaposed with Kippenberger’s most frequent motif, the fried egg, with its qualities of birth, nourishment, fertility, and fragility of mortality (it can break). The opposition between war and the egg sets up a lyrical duelling duet of life and death, which mutes the more direct confrontational politics of the painting. Any possible stridency of the political (Kippenberger has always kept his distance from that) is neutered not only by the presence of the egg, but also by the incongruity of Santa Claus’ presence on the gunboat. A persona beloved and oft-assumed by Kippenberger, Santa is the bearer of good news and gifts, and his bells ring out in light-hearted contraposto to the gravity of the political. Additionally, in Germany, Santa is the one who punishes children for bad behaviour, the bad behaviour in this case being war.

Guns, 1981
ESTIMATE £500,000 - 700,000

Arguably one of the most influential artists to emerge from post-war America, Andy Warhol was a master at carefully curating his public persona, he infamously quipped that ‘everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.’ Although hungry for fame and public approval, the artist remained intensely private, masterfully evading exposure of his innermost private life and his imagery was often deeply personal.

Guns, part of the artist’s Guns and Knives series, is an intimate glimpse into the mind of the artist after a near-death encounter almost ten years prior (1968), in which marginal Factory figure Valerie Solanas attempted an assassination on the artist’s life. Like Marilyn and Jackie, Warhol had achieved celebrity status, making him a target for radicals like Solanas. The resulting gunshot left the artist permanently disfigured—the bullet from the gun had entered the left side of his torso and ricocheted through his abdomen, creating a grotesque patchwork of scarring across the artist’s chest.

Physically and psychologically wounded, Warhol bravely followed in the art-historical tradition of memento mori, which reflects on the fleetingness of human existence. In Guns, there is an added tinge of irony: the work is Warhol’s personal confrontation with the darker side of fame.

5-Fluorotryptamine, 2007
ESTIMATE £550,000 - 650,000

5-Fluorotryptamine, 2007 is an impressive example of Damien Hirst’s spot paintings from the Pharmaceutical Paintings series. Within the myriad of different spot painting categories his Pharmaceutical Paintings are the beginning of his continued exploration into the genre, ranging from 1986 to 2011.

5-Fluorotryptamine, on a superficial level is playful in quality with its multi-coloured dots, but upon closer observation, one realises the subversive subject matter underpinned by the chemical compound title. The work serves as a critique of our dependency as an over medicated society and the unregulated dispersal of pharmaceutical prescriptions. 5-Fluorotryptamine’s visual pleasure rises out of the several hundred uniquely coloured spots that are arranged in a geometric grid, equidistant from one another. The pattern implies order, but when inspecting the colours closely, one realises that no two spots are the same pigment, instead each differs slightly creating an effect that generates an underlying sensation of chaos.

Untitled, 2000
ESTIMATE £400,000 - 600,000

One of the most skilled and renowned sculptors of our time, Anish Kapoor has created works that seem to—and often do—retreat into the horizon, melt into the floor and disappear into the wall, destabilising our every notion of physical and spatial reality. His works are both present and absent, solid and ethereal, infinite and illusive, true and false. His geometric and naturalistic designs, for which he first came to recognition in the 1980s, are composed of a variety of materials from stainless and Cor-ten steel to aluminium, wax, resin, fibreglass, and stones such as marble. His masterful use of a diverse range of media reflects Kapoor’s versatility and his dexterity with both the natural and the fabricated.

In the mid-1990s, Kapoor began to engage more heavily with the concept of the void or concavity, emphasizing the taut dichotomy of positive and negative space. It is since this moment of artistic revelation that Kapoor’s sculptures particularly seem to recede into the distance and distort the space around them. Kapoor’s sculptures warp our perception of space, time and self. Yet the void is only one element of the experience of viewing a work such as Untitled, 2000.

In Untitled, 2000, Kapoor clearly embraces the oblivion of the void, but equally, and seemingly paradoxically, the wholeness of surface reflections. These two dueling points—that of nothingness and that of everythingness—are contained just below the work’s surface. Brushed and finished to a high polish in an enticing, deep cherry red, Untitled is first and foremost, reflective. Upon approaching the sculpture, the viewer is confronted not only with their own image, but with the image of the entire world that inhabits the space around them. Enclosed in this dense concave disc is the entirety of the environment in which it exists. Yet the depth below the surface is undeniable. The concavity leaves the surface behind, sucking the viewer down a galvanised rabbit hole of the infinite.

Für Paul Celan, 2004
ESTIMATE £400,000 - 600,000

Over the past thirty years Anselm Kiefer’s intensive and probing journey into the national and collective memory of post-war Germany has taken many forms. Of his immense oeuvre of sculpture, intimate works on paper and photography, Kiefer’s richly textured canvases stand apart as direct windows into the artist’s exploration of emotionally and politically charged historical narrative, physically confronting the viewer with their monumental scale.

While Kiefer’s ideas have since expanded beyond the sole territory of Holocaust memory, he continues to use the canvas as a battleground for his exploration of myth and memory. His process echoes the same shamanistic tendency of his teacher Joseph Beuys, an artist most known for his challenging installations and performances that attempted to reconcile personal trauma inflicted by war. Beuys’ performances, or ‘Actions,’ used the human body and physical environment to explore political and social messages, while his use of felt and fat acted as symbolic talismans. Similarly, Kiefer has built a personal rolodex of symbols to investigate these same issues. The materials he uses hold rich symbolism for the artist, but also reveal the emotional and structural influence of poetry on his artistic process. Kiefer has said that he ‘would like to be a poet, and use nothing but a pen.’ In Für Paul Celan Kiefer uses myth and symbol to construct a rich landscape in the manner reflective of that by which a poet composes a verse. He plays on the interaction between single elements, merging and layering them to form a new and capacious lot.

Left Handed Drummer, 1997
ESTIMATE £400,000 - 600,000

Barry Flanagan’s work has been recognised throughout the world as two-fold in its profundity. The first part lies in his ingenious ability to summon joy from the sober material of cast bronze, rendering powerless any oxidisation through the sheer joie de vivre of his subjects. But almost paradoxically, Flanagan’s work inspires profound contemplation, as the hero of his later three decades of work, the hare, has influenced a wealth of symbolic, historical, and altogether cultural exploration of its meaning and presence in art. Left Handed Drummer, 1997, is one of the most important examples of Flanagan’s mature work and an emblematic portrait of his spirited protagonist, presenting us with an uproarious figure as serious as it is determined to please.

Flanagan’s use of the hare as an artistic model and symbol stems from the concept of what he terms the 'surrogate figure.' As opposed to Flanagan’s prolific work in stone, sand, and other mediums, his work in bronze is almost always figurative, with the hare as the central figure. The surrogate in question is meant to bring into context the absurd joy of life, its anthropomorphic face an easy palette for our own self-projection. This marvellous half-way point between man and animal exists to test our own powers of relatability. If we have the ability to empathise with a two-dimensional portrait of a human being, why not a three-dimensional sculpture of a personified animal?

Flanagan’s artistic sensibilities in the present form were generated over the long period of his many artistic phases of the 1960s and 1970s. Born in Wales, his early aptitude for visual art was readily apparent, and he attended the Birmingham College of Art in 1956-1958. The contemporary obsession with American Abstract Expression took hold with Flanagan, but not by means of conventional paint. Flanagan found himself steeped in sculpture, employing sand and other malleable materials to create work that was as personal as it was abstract, and he often drew upon nostalgic feelings to inspire him in their creation.

Stay in Tonight, 1986
ESTIMATE £400,000 - 600,000

As a keen observer of modern culture, no one explores and recontextualises cultural tropes like Koons. From his exploration of the Duchampian readymade in 1979’s the Pre-New, which would remain a staple of his work for the next 30 years, to his courageous challenges to perceptions of artistic etiquette in his Made in Heaven and Puppy series, Koons continually finds ways to create a dialogue with the viewer while maintaining a staggering degree of innovation in his art. Few artists possess this sensational gift for reliably monumental work, and Koons has achieved his stature through the marvelous skewering of our existing cultural norms. In Luxury and Degradation, his landmark 1986 series that took as its subject liquor advertisements and promotional materials, he employed appropriation as his most lethal tactic, presenting us with Stay in Tonight, 1986, a work that embodies his overarching project, integrating seduction, desire, material greed, and vicarious living all within the space of a single canvas.

As with much of Koons's work, Stay in Tonight is a study in the differences between high art and low art. The liquor advertisement that it draws from would certainly be considered an excellent piece of formal advertising, but, as with his contemporary Richard Prince’s use of cigarette advertisement appropriations, it is Koons’s choice to elevate the piece that allows it to stand on its own. This technique differs somewhat from Koons's experiments with the readymade—the present lot is once divorced from its original context, blown up to fit the space of a canvas. It is almost a hybrid—a piece of commercial advertising set intentionally upon canvas, historically reserved only for artistic work.

Too Close, 2001-02
ESTIMATE £400,000 - 600,000

Painted in 2001, Too Close forms part of Richard Prince’s Joke Painting series. Since beginning his career in the late 1970’s, Prince has engaged in the use of a wide range of media encompassing photography, painting and sculpture. This experimentation with technique reflects the artist's endeavour to find a perfect form of representation for his creativity. This lot falls into his painting collection: carried out using acrylic on canvas, Too Close features a centered, justified and monochrome text on a grey canvas. The light, largely pastel colour palette contrasts with Prince’s earlier, bolder paintings and lends levity to the final outcome that compliments the light-hearted theme of the work.

SP37, 2008
ESTIMATE £400,000 - 600,000

Incorporating personal explorations of a host of subjects ranging from waste and consumption to aberrant psychologies and hip-hop culture, Sterling Ruby has been celebrated by The New York Times as one of the most interesting artists to emerge out of the twentieth century. Comfortable with a host of media and techniques, the artist’s prolific output includes video, sculpture and ceramics as well as his signature monumental spray-paintings like the present lot, SP37. Of all the modes of production in Ruby’s practice, his paintings are the most formally abstract, playing with our perception of societal and structural dimensions. Influenced by the ubiquity of street art, the artist takes a novel approach to graffiti and spray paint, adopting a highly sophisticated treatment of material, method and surface.

Ruby’s paintings are among his most recognizable body of work, revelling in the ephemerality of experience and the medium’s greater incrimination of authoritative bodies and systems. Born in 1972 and working in Los Angeles, the artist’s personal connection to graffiti exposes his roots in its deep visual language. Speaking about his early exposure to the sub culture, the artist said: ‘My first interest in art was actually through the punk movement, when I was 12 or so. It was a big thing for me, getting introduced to music that had an aura that looked a certain way... Getting involved with a movement that had an activity associated with it that was perhaps transgressive.’ This ‘transgression’ pervades the nuanced and elegant visual abstractions of Ruby’s hallucinatory spray paint works. The Day Sale will offer 194 lots carrying a total pre-sale low estimate of £5.3m / $8.7m / €6.8m and a pre-sale high estimate of £7.6m / $12.5m / €9.8m.

“We are very proud to present a great selection of blue-chip artists in our Contemporary Art Day Sale including works by heavy-weight blue-chip artists; Andy Warhol, Mark Tansey, Richard Prince and George Condo to fresh to market, emerging artists; Aaron Garber Maikovska, Ryan Estep and Nick Darmstaedter.” Henry Highley, Head of Contemporary Art Day Sale.

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