Art from outer space

Art from outer space

Formed by the most powerful forces in the universe, meteorites can occasionally seem like works of art. Specialist James Hyslop selects exceedingly rare highlights from Deep Impact: Lunar and Other Rare Meteorites, 12-25 August, online

‘Prior to the mid-1990s almost no one — including institutions — viewed meteorites through a lens of aesthetic merits,’ explains the Head of Science & Natural History at Christie’s in London, James Hyslop. ‘That all changed when Darryl Pitt created the Macovich Collection of Meteorites.’ 

As a photographer mentored by renowned art historian Rudolf Arnheim, Pitt was well-suited to the task, and scoured the world for aesthetic meteorites. Pitt assembled the first offering of meteorites at auction in the mid 1990s, breaking new ground by photographing meteorites as sculptural forms. 

‘While the price of such specimens has shot skywards, the market is still nascent,’ says Hyslop. Here he selects seven meteorites from Deep Impact: Rare Meteorites, 12-25 August, that are truly worthy of being labelled ‘art from outer space’.

  • 1
  • Meteorites as Abstract art

‘I remember seeing a photograph of this meteorite — part of the prehistoric Gibeon meteorite shower in Namibia — for the first time as a request for a valuation. It instantly reminded of the work of British sculptor Lynn Chadwick (1914-2003), in particular his cloaked figures.’

Gibeon meteorite, iron, Group IVA, fine octahedrite. Gibeon, Great Nama Land, Namibia. 140 x 73 x 77 mm (5.5 x 2.75 x 3 in). Estimate $3,000-5,000. Offered in
Deep Impact Lunar and Rare Meteorites, 12-25 August 2020, Online

Gibeon meteorite, iron, Group IVA, fine octahedrite. Gibeon, Great Nama Land, Namibia. 140 x 73 x 77 mm (5.5 x 2.75 x 3 in). Estimate: $3,000-5,000. Offered in Deep Impact: Lunar and Rare Meteorites, 12-25 August 2020, Online

  • 2
  • Beauty inside an asteroid

‘Pallasitic meteorites are formed at the mantle-core boundary of asteroids which shatter following cataclysmic collisions with other asteroids. They are exceedingly rare, and arguably the most beautiful extraterrestrial substance known.’

Extraterrestrial gems in a large partial slice of Esquel pallasite, Argentina. 163 x 207 x 3 mm (6.33 x 8 x 0.1 in). Estimate $15,000-25,000. Offered in
Deep Impact Lunar and Rare Meteorites, 12-25 August 2020, Online

Extraterrestrial gems in a large partial slice of Esquel pallasite, Argentina. 163 x 207 x 3 mm (6.33 x 8 x 0.1 in). Estimate: $15,000-25,000. Offered in Deep Impact: Lunar and Rare Meteorites, 12-25 August 2020, Online

  • 3
  • Natural sculpture from outer space

‘The best Gibeons are hands down my favourite meteorites. Shaped by forces in space for billions of years, and then further sculpted by the change of the seasons on Earth’s surface over millennia, choice Gibeons are exquisitely well-balanced, abstract forms. This is a particularly fine example.’

Gibeon meteorite, iron, Group IVA, fine octahedrite. Gibeon, Great Nama Land, Namibia. 309 x 274 x 93 mm (12.25 x 10.75 x 3.66 in). Estimate $50,000-80,000. Offered in
Deep Impact Lunar and Rare Meteorites, 12-25 August 2020, Online

Gibeon meteorite, iron, Group IVA, fine octahedrite. Gibeon, Great Nama Land, Namibia. 309 x 274 x 93 mm (12.25 x 10.75 x 3.66 in). Estimate: $50,000-80,000. Offered in Deep Impact: Lunar and Rare Meteorites, 12-25 August 2020, Online

  • 4
  • Evoking the work of Ken Price

‘I’ve never seen anything like this before and I am unlikely to ever come across something like it ever again. It both mystifies and enthrals. 

‘One surface exhibits fresh, robust regmaglypts [the aerodynamic scoops that result from burning through the atmosphere]. While that detail screams “great meteorite”, the icing on the cake is that, when rotated, this one-of-a-kind specimen closely resembles the curvilinear sculpture of Ken Price.’

Exotic meteorite morphology of NWA 13203, chondrite — L4 
Sahara Desert, North West Africa. 110 x 237 x 188 mm (4.33 x 9.33 x 7.4 in). Estimate $40,000-60,000. Offered in
Deep Impact Lunar and Rare Meteorites, 12-25 August 2020, Online

Exotic meteorite morphology of NWA 13203, chondrite — L4  Sahara Desert, North West Africa. 110 x 237 x 188 mm (4.33 x 9.33 x 7.4 in). Estimate: $40,000-60,000. Offered in Deep Impact: Lunar and Rare Meteorites, 12-25 August 2020, Online

  • 5
  • An extraterrestrial scholar’s rock

‘Originating from the largest meteorite shower since the dawn of civilisation, and recovered shortly after it fell, the character of this piece is uniquely due to the sculpting which occurred during its blazing penetration through Earth’s atmosphere. 

‘It reminds me of scholar’s rocks: fantastically-shaped stones found in nature that have inspired Chinese poets, painters and philosophers for centuries. I wonder how they would have responded to this shapely celestial form?’

Sikhote Alin, iron, coarse octahedrite — IIAB Maritime Territory, Siberia, Russia. 81 x 114 x 77 mm (3.2 x 4.5 x 3 in). Estimate $15,000-25,000. Offered in
Deep Impact Lunar and Rare Meteorites, 12-25 August 2020, Online

Sikhote Alin, iron, coarse octahedrite — IIAB Maritime Territory, Siberia, Russia. 81 x 114 x 77 mm (3.2 x 4.5 x 3 in). Estimate: $15,000-25,000. Offered in Deep Impact: Lunar and Rare Meteorites, 12-25 August 2020, Online

  • 6
  • Splash forms — perfection in nature

‘Asteroids travel at a cosmic velocity of about 17 kilometres per second, or 61,000km/h. The heat and pressure resulting from impacts on Earth instantly liquifies and splashes molten rock into the atmosphere, from where it returns to Earth as solidified glass. Its colour and opacity depend on the amount of silica in the material liquefied. 

‘The shape of the best tektites — from the Greek tektos, meaning melted — are aerodynamic splash forms.’

Bicolite Tektites — When Heaven and Earth Collide, Impact Glass, Bicol Province, Philippines. 60 x 61 x 51 mm (2.5 x 2.5 x 2 in). Estimate $1,000-1,500. Offered in
Deep Impact Lunar and Rare Meteorites, 12-25 August 2020, Online

Bicolite Tektites — When Heaven and Earth Collide, Impact Glass, Bicol Province, Philippines. 60 x 61 x 51 mm (2.5 x 2.5 x 2 in). Estimate: $1,000-1,500. Offered in Deep Impact: Lunar and Rare Meteorites, 12-25 August 2020, Online

  • 7
  • Maintaining perfect balance

‘Only 1 per cent of meteorites fall to Earth in an oriented manner; they don’t tumble as they plunge, but rather plough through the atmosphere maintaining a single axis of orientation due to their balance and angle of entry.’

NWA 13201 — a rare massive oriented meteorite, chondrite, L 45 Sahara Desert, North West Africa. 314 x 268 x 117 mm (12.5 x 10.66 x 4.66 in). Estimate $40,000-60,000. Offered in
Deep Impact Lunar and Rare Meteorites, 12-25 August 2020, Online

NWA 13201 — a rare massive oriented meteorite, chondrite, L 4/5 Sahara Desert, North West Africa. 314 x 268 x 117 mm (12.5 x 10.66 x 4.66 in). Estimate: $40,000-60,000. Offered in Deep Impact: Lunar and Rare Meteorites, 12-25 August 2020, Online

‘The tinting of the above oriented meteorite occurred in the Sahara over time as, literally, a line in the sand. The parabolic ‘heat shield’ curve to the surface represents the most efficient angle at which heat is deflected from an object puncturing our atmosphere. Evocative of primitive art, it’s a shape of which the sculptor Naum Gabo might have approved. It’s one of the most aesthetic meteorites of its kind.’