NEW YORK.- This November, Sotheby's is pleased to offer an outstanding assemblage of Contemporary Art, ranging from Post-War masters to Pop icons to some of the most dynamic artists creating works today. The top lot of the sale is Mark Rothko's seminal work, No. 6 (Yellow, White, Blue over Yellow on Gray) from 1954 which is estimated to sell for $9/12 million. Also included are iconic works by Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Louise Bourgeois, Gerhard Richter, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jeff Koons. The evening sale is estimated to bring a total of $79,755,000 - 106,605,000. Prior to the sale, the works will be on public exhibition at Sotheby's in New York from November 6-9.
"This sale reveals sublime quality and rarity to a level that I have not seen in years," commented Tobias Meyer, Worldwide Head of Contemporary Art at Sotheby's. "It is a collection of masterpieces representing an outstanding survey of Post War art."
Many consider the works from 1954 to represent the zenith of Mark Rothko's creative powers, and the present oil on canvas displays the artist's elimination of all elements of figuration, providing the viewer with a nonobjective composition of amorphous forms for which the artist is so well known. No. 6 (Yellow, White, Blue over Yellow on Gray) was one of eight works by Rothko chosen for his first museum exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1954, and is one of two that remain in private, anonymous collections. This large-scale (94 ½ x 59 ¾ in.) painting displays Rothko's absolute authority over color surface, texture and composition. Here, three soft-edged, luminescent rectangles of lemony yellow, milky white and ultramarine blue are stacked weightlessly on top of each other, floating horizontally against a gray ground, resulting in a mesmerizing effect.
Throughout his oeuvre, the female figure was the touchstone in Willem de Kooning's integration of figurative elements within the Modernist plane, creating a mature style in which he thoroughly embraced both figuration and abstraction in a manner unique among his contemporaries. Clamdiggers, a masterful work by the artist in 1963 (est. $3.5/4.5 million), was created shortly after his departure from the artistic community of New York City to the Springs on Long Island. There is a great sense of fluidity in this oil and graphite on paper, making the figures 'float' on the paper. Like Two Women in the Country, a much earlier work from 1954 that is in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., Clam Diggers is a classic testament to de Kooning's genius for figure/ground compositions, his abiding love for the commonalities of paint and flesh, and his ability to revisit motifs throughout his oeuvre with a freshness and willingness to reinvent himself.
Chief among the works by Jasper Johns is a breathtaking work on paper entitled 0 Through 9 which is estimated to sell for $7-9 million and will grace the cover of the catalogue for this sale. After leaving New York in 1961, Johns headed for Edisto Beach, South Carolina. At this time he created a series of nine paintings and one drawing entitled 0 Through 9 for his exhibition at the Gallery Rive Droite, Paris in 1961. This series demonstrated that Johns was as devoted to drawing as he was to painting, and indeed 0 Through 9 is a work of impeccable finish. His attention to detail is clearly visible and, at the time, this was Johns' largest drawing (54 1/8 x 41 5/8 ins.) - on a par with the paintings in the same series. What is perhaps most interesting is the wide variety of techniques employed by Johns to create a work of such depth and dimension. The only real comparison would be to a work by Picasso or Braque, or even the Grisaille works of the 15th century. 0 Through 9 was formerly in the collection of Mrs. Ethel Scull and was sold at Sotheby's in November of 1986 for $880,000, a record for a Contemporary drawing at the time.
Estimated at $3/4 million, Green Target from 1956, is one of the earliest Targets Johns ever made and one of the last paintings in private hands that served to launch Johns' career. This rare work of sweeping green translucent pigment over wax encaustic and a collage of newspaper scraps is indeed one of the prototypes of Johns' art and creative vision, made at a time when he had not yet exhibited a painting. In fact, the first painting Johns exhibited was a green Target (Green Target, 1955, New York, Museum of Modern Art) at a 1957 show at the Jewish Museum. Leo Castelli saw this work at the exhibition preview and the two met by chance the next day at Robert Rauschenberg's studio. Castelli offered Johns a show on the spot, and it opened on January 20, 1958 featuring the present work. Every painting sold with the exception of White Flag, which the artist still owns. The measure of this success lies in the fact that on January 25th, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the Director of The Museum of Modern Art acquired three paintings from the show for the museum.
No motif is more associated with Johns' pictorial language than that of the American Flag, with Flag, his first creation from 1954-55, gracing the walls of The Museum of Modern Art. Over the years, the artist continued to explore and manipulate this iconic image, divesting it of color, experimenting with texture, and altering its orientation. This manipulation of form reaches its apotheosis in the present work Untitled (Flag) which was painted in 1971 and is estimated to sell for $3/4 million. Here, canvas strips, dipped in wax, become the stripes of the flag; cut out canvas stars are the stars; and Johns divests the flag of all color. It still says 'flag,' but not in the way one is accustomed. It is the surface - the sheer beauty of the encaustic - that captivates the viewer, while at the same time fully embracing the original subject.
The November sale features several works by Alexander Calder including a small stabile entitled Cages Stone and Fourteen Dots (est. $1/1.5 million). Executed in 1947, this is a wonderful example of Calder incorporating found objects, in this case a stone, into his art.
A much later work, Moon over Satellite, is a harmonious integration of solid shapes with linear, ethereal elements that gracefully and unpredictably move within a given space. This hanging mobile, created circa 1970, is also estimated to bring $1/1.5 million. Both of these works have been in a private collection for more than 30 years.
Also included this fall is Louise Bourgeois' Spider IV, a bronze wall relief cast in 1998. Suspended on the wall, the legs of Spider IV alternatively grip their way upward while coiling reflexively in repose, suggesting both action and contemplation. Estimated to sell for $700/900,000, this is one of the artist's greatest sculptures employing the signature motif of her oeuvre.
While Pop Art was viewed by some as too readily recognizable and easily accessible to qualify as great art, it belied a deeper conceptual aesthetic sense of how modern media was affecting modern life. No one was a more astute observer of this phenomenon than Andy Warhol, and his playful attitude toward his art and public persona masked a serious engagement with the angst and contradictions of the twentieth century. His Death and Disaster series masterfully illustrates this. Included in the sale is Warhol's vibrant 5 Deaths Twice I (est. $5.5/6.5 million). This screen-printed work from 1963 depicts anonymous victims and indiscriminate death. By using vivid cadmium red color together with visual aesthetics, a rigorous composition and careful choice of subject matter, Warhol created a painting of power, beauty and tragedy.
Influenced by American Pop Art, Gerhard Richter, along with Sigmar Polke and Konrad Leug, formed the Capitalist Realists in 1963 and was dedicated to the objective depiction of consumerism in an increasingly bourgeois Germany. Richter's use of photographs, such as the family