Sotheby’s recently announced that they will offer more than 450 works from the celebrated collection of Ginny Williams across a series of sales throughout 2020, beginning with a dedicated evening auction to be held in New York the week of 29 June.
A pioneering collector and gallerist born in rural Virginia in 1927, Ginny Williams was a larger-than-life personality and dynamic force in the contemporary art and photographs communities in Denver, Colorado, where she lived and worked from the late-1950s onwards, as well as on the East Coast, including her time on the boards of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.
As an avid photographer herself, who studied with Austrian-American photojournalist and photographer Ernst Haas, Williams’s collecting journey began with classical figurative photography, which led her to open the Ginny Williams Gallery in Denver in the 1980s. She later developed a passion for collecting Abstract Expressionist and Contemporary art, with a particular focus on the work of pioneering female modernists such as Agnes Martin, Joan Mitchell, Lee Krasner, Alice Neel and Louise Bourgeois, whose career she impacted as both patron and friend. By the time of her passing in 2019, Williams had assembled the largest collection of works by Bourgeois in private hands, set the auction record for Helen Frankenthaler, and amassed an extensive collection in which the majority of works are by women artists.
Williams’s collection of works by trailblazing female modernists will form the centrepiece of The Ginny Williams Collection Evening Sale, which Sotheby’s will hold the week of 29 June in New York – immediately preceding their Contemporary Art Evening Auction. Additional dedicated auctions include Photographs from The Ginny Williams Collection on 14 July, featuring the work of Diane Arbus, Dorothea Lange and Tina Modotti alongside iconic images of the early-20th century by Edward Weston and Herbert Bayer, and The Ginny Williams Collection Online Sale, open for bidding from 9 – 16 July.
Property from the Ginny Williams Collection will highlight a number of various-owner auctions throughout the year, most notably a group of 50+ works offered in their Contemporary Art Day Auction in June.
In total, Sotheby’s sales of The Ginny Williams Collection are estimated to achieve in excess of $50 million.
Amy Cappellazzo, Chairman of Sotheby’s Fine Art Division, commented: “Ginny Williams was a singular woman and collector. With her fiery red hair, intent gaze and radiant Southern charm, she captivated everyone she met. Decisive and impassioned, Ginny was a collector that stood apart from others – she understood artists, and lived and breathed their work into her collection and her life. She was among the last of a rarefied tribe of old school collectors and dealers, a true artist at heart.”
Sotheby’s live evening and day auctions of Contemporary and Impressionist & Modern Art, previously scheduled for May, will be held the week of 29 June, pending the lifting of certain restrictions and confirmation from the relevant authorities that they can proceed. Clients and visitors can expect extra precautions to ensure the safety of their employees and visitors, as well as creative opportunities for those wishing to preview their exhibitions and participate in their auctions – from in-person and virtual appointment viewings to enhanced digital experiences. They will announce a more detailed schedule in due course, including relevant exhibition plans.
THE GINNY WILLIAMS COLLECTION EVENING SALE
Auction Week of 29 June
Immediately preceding the Contemporary Art Evening Auction
Joan Mitchell’s Straw (estimate $5/7 million) from 1976 is an exceptional embodiment of the paintings that defined the artist’s output in the last decades of her career: larger canvases with expansive gestural brushwork and emboldened colour. Towering over nine feet in height, the present work was painted during Mitchell’s time in the provincial French village of Vétheuil. Influenced by the abundant natural beauty of the French countryside, Straw harnesses the sensory imagery of Mitchell’s longtime influencers Claude Monet and Paul Cézanne alongside the abstract idioms of her male contemporaries Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.
A close friend of Louise Bourgeois, Williams collected the artist’s work in-depth, amassing more than 40 sculptures and works on paper spanning more than four decades of her career. Sotheby’s will offer works from this extensive collection across a number of sales in 2020, beginning with five pieces that will highlight The Ginny Williams Evening Sale. The group features Observer (estimate $1.5/2 million) from 1947-49, a stela-like bronze sculpture of human scale from the artist’s Personages series. Despite a high degree of abstraction, Observer exhibits unequivocally anthropomorphic characteristics.
A superlative and early example from Lee Krasner’s seminal Earth Green series, Re-Echo (estimate $4/6 million) captures the prophetic brilliance and artistic reawakening that overtook Krasner in the months immediately following the unexpected death of her husband Jackson Pollock in August 1956. Emerging from a moment of extreme crisis and charged with immense psychic exigency, Re-Echo serves as both a testament to and catharsis of the emotional turmoil that fueled her practice at this crucial nexus – Pollock’s death marked a personal tragedy, but also an opportunity for Krasner to regain her own personal and artistic independence. Today, the Earth Green paintings are widely considered to be the most pivotal and significant paintings of the artist’s career.
A luminous and monumental canvas extending nearly 15-feet across, Royal Fireworks (estimate $2/3 million) by Helen Frankenthaler is a masterpiece from her highly acclaimed period of production in the mid-1970s. Recognizing Frankenthaler’s significant and distinct role within the American abstract vernacular, Williams set a new world auction record for the artist when she acquired the painting in 2011. With its expansive, saturated hues, Royal Fireworks from 1975 exemplifies the artist’s mature mastery of colour and form in producing complex rhythmic climates on an inspiring scale.
A profoundly peaceful work, Agnes Martin’s Mountain Flowers I (estimate $2/3 million) is a superb example of the artist’s prodigious career. A simple composition with continuous horizontal lines softened by subtle inconsistencies, this 1985 work reflects Martin’s prolonged investigation into the nature of abstraction and the role of the artist, masterfully articulating a balancing act between the understated poetry of delicate mark-making and the muscular prose of modernist geometry.
CONTEMPORARY ART DAY AUCTION
Auction Week of 29 June
Their Day Sale will offer a strong selection 50+ works from the collection, which continue many of the themes from the evening auction. Most especially, the sale features works by women artists working across a number of mediums and techniques – from photographs by Diane Arbus, Louise Lawler and Barbara Kruger, to a group of 13 works on paper and sculpture spanning the career of Louise Bourgeois. Ginny Williams’s interest in Minimalism is represented by works from Donald Judd and John McCracken through to Roni Horn, while Expressionist works by Philip Guston and Franz Kline complete the offering.
PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE GINNY WILLIAMS COLLECTION
Auction 14 July
Ginny Williams’ collection comprised more than 1,000 photographs by the time of her passing. Sotheby’s will present a curated selection of approximately 100 photographs from the collection in a dedicated auction this July, which demonstrates Williams’s passion for the medium as well as her dedication to the work of female creators.
In addition to photographs by Dorothea Lange, Berenice Abbott, Laura Gilpin, Margaret Bourke-White, Annie Leibovitz and Ruth Bernhard, whose work Williams exhibited and passionately championed at her first gallery exhibition in Denver, the auction is highlighted by Tina Modotti’s Interior of Church Tower at Tepotzotlán, Mexico (estimate $200/300,000), an exceptional platinum print executed in 1924 during a visit to the Mexican town of Tepotzotlán with Edward Weston, fellow artist and her lover at the time. Modotti was particularly interested in the intersection of architecture and abstraction, and her photographs of the abandoned convent exemplify her explorations of the sculptural qualities of architectural spaces.
Photographs from The Ginny Williams Collection will feature iconic images of the early-20th century, including Edward Weston’s Dunes, Oceano (estimate $120/180,000) from 1936 and Herbert Bayer’s In Search of Times Past, a unique photomontage. Contemporary highlights include Bernd and Hilla Becher’s Fabrikhallen (estimate $80/120,000), a typology of 9 photographs from 1989, Sandy Skoglund’s Radioactive Cats (estimate $15/25,000), and Robert Mapplethorpe’s Lisa Lyon ($30/50,000), a unique large-format print exhibited in the artist’s lifetime retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Sotheby’s sales of The Ginny Williams Collection will continue throughout 2020