Linked Post-War & Contemporary Art evening events start a week of themed auctions in the French and British capitals
For the second year in a row Christie’s is turning its spring Post-War & Contemporary Art auctions into a channel-crossing series of events — 20th/21st Century London to Paris — that draw on the connections between these two historic art centres. It will start with a relay evening sale in London and Paris on 28 June.
The works on offer in the French capital are by artists from throughout Europe and Asia who share a common interest in pushing boundaries. One example is a key lot in the Paris Evening Sale by Yves Klein, one of the 20th century’s most radical artists. During a short career before his death from a heart attack in 1962, aged 34, Klein created works that would blur the lines between painting and performance, artistic concept and object. Cosmogonie sans titre, (COS 31) made in 1960, is a rare example that mixes two of Klein’s signature motifs: the usual natural elements found in his Cosmogonies series with the direct imprint of a woman’s body most associated with his Anthropométries.
‘There are only two works like this in the artist’s catalogue raisonné, which means this is truly special,’ says Etienne Sallon, Christie’s Paris Head of Evening Sale and Associate Director of the Post-War & Contemporary Art Department. ‘It's also a very interesting way to combine figuration and abstraction. Klein was criticised when he started the Anthropométries series because some curators at the time thought that it was going back to a sort of classical figuration, which was not the case.’
In fact, Klein’s use of the female form in his works at that time was a continuation of his earlier practice, and he would have nude models in his studio even when he was working on his minimalist monochrome paintings in the 1950s, says Sallon.
‘He was also doing something extremely important with this work — he renounced making his mark directly on the surface of the canvas,’ Sallon adds, directing the model to use her body to apply the paint instead. ‘It was very conceptual, and that's why it's so important today.’
In a similarly radical gesture, the Japanese artist Kazuo Shiraga (1924-2008), a leading member of the influential Gutai movement, also opted to forgo using his hands, creating bold, swirling paintings with his feet. ‘The canvas was laid on the ground and he would hang himself on a rope to perform an intense choreography, spreading the fresh paint with his feet to create these explosive compositions,’ Sallon explains, as can be seen in Kyoka Kenro (1982).
Shiraga, who was influenced by seeing an exhibition of Jackson Pollock’s drip canvases in Tokyo in 1951, was creating his foot paintings at the same time Klein started his Anthropométries. ‘Both artists involved the body in their work and the painting was a result of this performance,’ says Sallon. ‘The performance itself is almost more important than the final piece.’
Another artist who found novel ways to apply paint to his canvases was Hungarian-born Simon Hantaï (1922-2008), who arrived in Paris in the late 1940s and started working with the Surrealists, before breaking away from them and embracing abstraction. To create two of his best-known series, Études (1970) and Tabula (1972), both of which will be in the evening sale, Hantaï would take canvases and fold them either in very uniform grids or more randomly, before applying paint. When they were unfolded, parts of the untouched canvas would remain visible, like a painterly Rorschach test. There are two works by Hantaï in the sale, a monumental Tabula (recto)/ Étude (verso), 1972.
‘It was a very strong gesture because he introduced something random,’ says Sallon. ‘The result is always extremely beautiful, but at the same time they have a very conceptual approach that stands apart.’ Hantaï was influenced by Pollock as well as Matisse, especially the latter’s cut-outs, and these connections are explored in a major exhibition dedicated to Hantaï’s work now on view at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris (Simon Hantaï: The Centenary Exhibition, until 29 August).
One of France’s most important living artists, 102-year-old Pierre Soulages, is also represented in the evening sale with a key work, Peinture 143 x 202cm, 4 décembre 1970 (1970). The painting serves as ‘a bridge between Soulages’ more historical works and future Outrenoir works from the late 1970s’, says Sallon. It is from a lesser-known period of the artist’s career, when he had already gained critical and institutional recognition but Pop and conceptual art were pushing older movements aside. ‘He had to reinvent himself,’ says Sallon, ‘and that's how he came to create this new pictorial language, with a more calligraphical approach.’
The top lot in Christie’s Paris Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Sale, which takes place the day after the relay evening auction, is by the action painter Hans Hartung (1904-89). His subtly atmospheric T1962-E7 (1962) is from a period of ‘profound metamorphosis’, says Joséphine Wanecq, Christie’s Head of Day Sale, Post-War & Contemporary Art, when Hartung began to use tools such as rakes, iron brushes and tree branches to scrape paint off his canvases. ‘Through this technique he obtained different effects on the freshly painted surface, forming complex networks of lines that recall engravings,’ she says. The sharp lines also contrast with the soft, misty edges of the blue and brown forms he created using spray paint. ‘Hartung impels a certain rhythm in his work, which echoes the storms and lightning that fascinated him when he was younger.’
The day sale also includes a bronze chessboard sculpture L'Échiquier – petit (1955) by the French artist Germaine Richier (1904-59). It is the original table-top version of the monumental sculptures that can be seen in the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris. The five semi-abstract figures are inspired by the major pieces on a chessboard — the king, queen, bishop, knight and rook. ‘This work is very representative of her aesthetic, mixing human and animal bestiary in a surreal way,’ says Wanecq.
While her sculptures rarely come onto the market, Richier’s profile is sure to rise in the coming years. Collectors and curators are starting to pay more attention to her art, Wanecq explains, and a major retrospective is planned at the Centre Pompidou in 2023. ‘She is being rediscovered by the wider public as one of the most important women sculptors of her time.’