In 1959 and 1970 respectively, Sotheby’s held its first standalone sales of ‘Impressionist and Modern Art and ‘Contemporary Art’. Both sales – or rather sale categories – spoke to their time in terms of both content and approach.
Now, in lockstep with a changing art world and a new approach to collecting, Sotheby’s is reframing both the content and the nomenclature of its Marquee November and May New York sales, with the introduction, starting this fall, of a ‘Modern’ Evening Auction, a ‘Contemporary’ Evening Auction, and an entirely new sale, ‘The Now’ Evening Auction, showcasing some of the most celebrated and promising talents on the art scene today.
“One of the most exciting aspects of working with today’s collectors is not only their enormous passion but also the tremendous fluidity of their approach: their drive to identify the visual dialogues between works produced at very different moments. Our newly-framed sales of Modern Art and Contemporary Art will provide the perfect context for those conversations to be heard. At the same time, we are seeing the rapid emergence of a new generation of collectors who feel a real connection with the art of their own time, and for them we have created The Now Evening Auction, bringing together both newly canonized artists and the latest rising stars.”Brooke Lampley, Sotheby’s Chairman & Worldwide Head of Sales for Global Fine Art
“Our approach to redefining the Marquee Evening Sale categories, as well as introducing an entirely new category, are a direct reflection of feedback we’ve received from clients and the trends we’ve noticed in collecting over the past several years. In fine-tuning our approach to Modern and Contemporary art, as well as adding The Now sale, we have created greater flexibility and more opportunities for buyers and sellers to engage with Sotheby’s within a sale structure that mirrors the current demands of the market.”
Mari-Claudia Jiménez, Sotheby’s Chairman, Managing Director and Worldwide Head of Business Development,
Global Fine Art
These three new-format sales will commence the day after the historic sale of works from the Macklowe Collection on 15 November.
THE MODERN AUCTION
EVENING SALE: 16 November│ DAY SALE: 17 November
“The term Modern Art encompasses an extraordinary range of movements and isms, but fundamentally it can be understood as art that arises from and responds to a Modern world. That world abruptly came into being in the late 19th century and endured, in many ways until the dawn of the digital age…an urban, industrial, global world where people and ideas intersected for the first time, where engines of war wrought catastrophe while miracles of science and technology unlocked new dimensions of creative possibility. The art of this world rejected history and tradition in favor of innovation and experimentation. It was as much about the soul and psyche of the artist, as well as their materials and technical process, as the ultimate imagery.”Julian Dawes, Sotheby’s Head of Modern Art, Americas
The Modern Evening Sale will showcase those titans of art history who defined this relentlessly epic period, for the first time uniting masterworks of the European vanguard with their American heirs in a single marquee sale that transcends art movements to reveal a holistic vision of Modern Art. Ranging from the Impressionists through Van Gogh, the Pointillists, and Fauves, to Cezanne, the Cubists and the spectacular disruption of the 1910s, Picasso, Duchamp, Surrealism, the Bauhaus, and the trans-continental passing of the baton to the American Abstract-Expressionists, the Modern sale will shine a light on the stylistic synergies that connect these various artists and schools.
Leading the Modern Art sales this season will be one of the great titans of 20th-century modernism, Alexander Calder, whose work converses so fluently with that of his forbears and his successors. Calder’s Untitled from 1949 (estimate $10/15 million) is a magnificent early example of the artist’s iconic hanging mobiles, the bold forms, simple shapes, and delicate suspension of which speak to Modernism and Surrealism, while the movement and play of light and shadow hint both back to Impressionism and forward to Abstraction.
Of impressive scale and refined palette (with a sole scarlet element boldly distinguished against a black framework), the mobile consists of fifteen metal elements of different sizes, suspended along the remarkable wingspan of the piece to create a harmonious and balanced whole.
The beauty and importance of this piece are matched by its exceptional provenance: soon after it was made, it was acquired by Brazilian architect Henrique Mindlin who installed it in his award-winning residential project, the George Hime House, in Petrópolis, Brazil. For the last two decades, the work has formed part of a distinguished private collection.
As previously announced, the sale will also feature Frida Kahlo’s Diego y yo (Diego and I) from 1949, Kahlo’s last fully-realized bust-length self-portrait. Diego y yo is among the finest examples of Kahlo’s self-portraits, which are some of her most famous, coveted, and emblematic works. Estimated in excess of $30 million, the painting could not only set a new auction record for the artist but could also become the most valuable Latin American artwork ever sold at auction.
THE CONTEMPORARY AUCTION
EVENING SALE: 18 November │ DAY SALE: 19 NOVEMBER
“The definition of what makes something Contemporary is constantly evolving. As much as the term speaks to the art of today, for us it has come to define an entire generation of artists who changed the course of art history during the latter half of the Twentieth Century. This is a generation of artists that responded to the social, political, and technological changes that permeated the world at this moment, through work that challenged the status quo of representation and shook the very foundation of the visual arts. At the same time, what is happening today builds on that important legacy, while reflecting an entirely new generation of creative minds operating within an ever-changing world. The art of the past 20 years has ushered in a new era of artists and collectors seeking the ultra-contemporary, which can only be defined as ‘The Now’.”
David Galperin, Sotheby’s Head of Contemporary Art, Americas
The Contemporary Auction will focus primarily on art spanning the latter half of the 20th century, beginning with the seismic shift in post-war art inaugurated in the 1950s by artists such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, who eschewed Abstract Expressionism and the European-centered modernist structure that preceded it. They would pave the way for a number of significant artistic developments, such as pop art, minimalism, conceptual art, feminist art, arte povera, through to new media, and the critical postmodern inquiries of the 1980s and 1990s.
A star lot of the Contemporary Evening Sale, Philip Guston’s Ominous Land (estimate $6/8 million), from the Estate of Gabriele and Robert Lee, is an exceptional, large-scale piece, from the artist’s highly-regarded late body of work, treating one of his most powerful motifs. The hooded Klan-like figures, hinting at the violence and civil strife of ‘60s America, fuse politically charged imagery and satirical self-portraiture, creating a powerful social commentary that remains just as relevant and meaningful nearly 50 years later.
This work is particularly noteworthy for the fact that it is one of the last works in which the artist incorporated the critical iconography of the hooded figure. A testament to the Lees’ prescient eye, the painting was purchased directly from David McKee Gallery in 1974, where it was lauded by critic Roberta Smith in Art Forum. Soon after, in 1980, it was included in the landmark retrospective of Guston’s work. Its appearance at auction now is timely, coming as it does some six months before the opening of Guston’s long-awaited retrospective. (2) Furthermore, no hooded figure painting of this quality by the artist has ever come to auction.
“The new Contemporary Art Marquee auction platform calls into focus the significant plurality of visions and artistic innovations that reshaped the trajectory of art history in the second half of the Twentieth Century, and set the stage for subsequent generations of artists.”
Charlotte Van Dercook, Sotheby’s Head of Contemporary Evening Auctions, New York
For both the Modern and Contemporary Auctions, the parameters of date will be somewhat flexible and works will be offered in the sale to which they are best suited stylistically and aesthetically.
THE NOW EVENING AUCTION
EVENING SALE: 18 November
The introduction of “The Now” auction speaks to the emergence in recent years of a skyrocketing market focused on the art of today. There is a stronger than ever interest from collectors around the world – both established and new – in the art of our time. This new evening auction will focus on art executed in the last 20 years, offering the most exciting, cutting edge works on the market and providing a masterpiece context for well-established, newly canonized artists such as Mark Bradford and Yoshitomo Nara, as well as heightened visibility and a relevant art historical context for younger artists, establishing the masters of today and tomorrow.
Starring in the inaugural edition of The Now Evening Sale is Yoshitomo Nara’s early, large-scale Nice to See You Again (estimate $8/12 million), executed in 1996 and coming to market for the first time in more than 15 years. Nara is one of the leading international artists of our time, and this depiction of the seemingly innocent but menacing little girl is his best-known subject.
Determinedly thrusting her knife at the viewer, Nara’s heroine stands as a symbol of infantilized innocence raging against an oppressive and more powerful world. As Nara puts it: ‘I kind of see the children among other, bigger, bad people all around them, who are holding bigger knives.’ A similar work, Knife Behind Back, was sold for a record-breaking $25m in 2019, since when Nara has remained one of the most in-demand artists working today.
The sale will also feature Mark Bradford’s Method Man from 2004 – a standout example of the artist’s acclaimed abstract practice, executed at a pivotal turning point when he embraced a larger scale and began to broaden the scope of his practice, incorporating not only the endpapers used from dying hair in his mother’s salon, but also materials sourced from the streets of his immediate neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles – discarded posters, newsprint, magazines, and endpapers.
Acquired in the year it was executed, the work has been held in a private collection ever since.
“This sale context provides the opportunity to be highly selective and curatorial. In lending connoisseurship to these markets and elevating exceptional examples, we are providing a previously absent standalone platform for 21st-century masterpieces and showcasing to the widest possible audience the diverse array of artists that we believe will form the apex of the next generation of Contemporary Art.”
Lucius Elliott, Sotheby’s Head of The Now Evening Auctions, New York