NEW YORK.- Christies today announced that it would offer a world-class collection of Abstract Expressionist works from a private American collector at its May 13 Evening Sale in New York. The collection of three museum quality works includes Mark Rothkos No. 15, 1952, Sam Franciss Black, 1955 (estimate: $4,000,000-6,000,000) and Adolph Gottliebs Untitled, 1960 (estimate: $1,500,000-2,000,000).
We are thrilled to present this jewel of a collection at our May Evening sale, said Brett Gorvy, international specialist and co-head, Christies Post-War and Contemporary Art Sales. This is an extraordinary grouping of Abstract Expressionist work, in which each painting is of the highest museum quality and has the potential to achieve record prices at auction.
Rothkos No. 15 with its impressive scale and glorious red and yellow colors demonstrates extraordinary power and monumentality. 1952 was a groundbreaking year for the Abstract Expressionists and it was Rothkos most creative year. With this painting his mesmerizing use of intense color is evidenced in an unprecedented manner. The paintings large scale (90 x 77) was Rothkos optimum format and nearly consumes the viewer. With No. 15, one can see how Rothko set out to shape the viewers experience. The paintings scale forces it into the viewers environment. There are few better examples of Rothkos signature style. For this reason, No. 15 has the potential to set a new world record, as it did when previously sold at auction in 1999.
I start by painting the entire canvas white. As other colors are added, it becomes less intense. I add black to bring back the intensity, [for black is the color which] burns with the possibility of all colors. Sam Francis
Black, with its cell-like forms suggesting both microcosmic and/or macrocosmic entities, reflects Franciss detached world view and his deeply spiritual and meditative approach to art. Having begun to paint while bed-ridden after an airplane crash in 1943, he became obsessed with patterns of light and the play of light on the ceiling as manifested in this work. What interested him most, however, was what he described as the quality of light itself, not just the play of light. But the substance of which light is made. Black celebrates this fascination, displaying an amorphous swarm of black cells at the center of the canvas that generates attention at the heart of the work and gives a vague sense of non-symmetrical structure. Radiating with the vibrant energy of this color, the black swarm of cells seems to burn like coals, bound into a unique, almost life-like entity.
Black was originally acquired by Franz Meyer of the Kunstmuseum Basel in 1955 when Meyer visited Franciss Paris studio. While acquiring works for the museum, Meyer was able to choose top works for himself, including Black.
"There is no such thing as good painting about nothing. We assert that the subject is crucial and only that subject matter is valid which is tragic and timeless." - Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko in a 1943 letter to The New York Times, articulating the tenets of the new abstract art.
Aldolph Gottlieb, like Rothko was a member of the New York School and one of The Ten Abstract Expressionists. His seminal Burst paintings presented two individual images, an irregular spherical shape with a soft halo around it and an expressionist, jagged edged cluster, both acting as intriguing metaphors. In Untitled, the richly colored sphere hovers, glows, vibrates, and continually shifts. It is mesmerizing in its isolation and rich, dark tone, perhaps suggesting a setting sun. The artists late minimalist works, including this one, are a conversation in which the individual parts interact with one another, creating something ambiguous, as the artist intended. Painted during his breakthrough years, Untitled is a very rare, early work that contrasts strong reds against a black burst. With an estimate of $2,000,000-3,000,000, this works starting estimate is already a record price for the artist. Auction: Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale - May 15, 2008.