Although Murillo may execute a painting in a matter of hours, the process leading to its creation can take months; cut up and stitched together in different sections, folded, unfolded, left to assimilate studio debris, Murillo allows the environment of his studio to accumulate on his canvas.
‘My studio is a cradle of dust and dirt, of pollution,’ he told BOMB Magazine. ‘I don’t tidy up at the end of each production process. It’s all very much on purpose; it’s a continuous process, a machine of which I’m the catalyst. Things get moved around, I step on them, and they get contaminated. It’s not about leaving traces, it’s about letting things mature on their own.’ (Click the link below for full lot notes)
Despite the geometric abstraction of his forms, Chillida’s sculptures are rooted in the organic and elemental. Pure and unembellished, the rich, burnt umber surface recalls the serenity and warmth that rises from the sun-scorched earth of his Basque homeland, while the artist’s skillful manipulation of the material recalls the metalworking traditions practiced in the blacksmiths’ workshops of his native San Sebastián. This nostalgic relationship with the earth represents a significant connection between the artist’s country, his materials, and his sculptural practice
As Gaston Bachelard once wrote, ‘[Chillida] is familiar with the complex soul of iron. He knows that iron has a strange sensitivity’ (G. Bachelard, quoted in I. Busch, Eduardo Chillida, Architect of the Void: On the Synthesis of Architecture and Sculpture, Chillida 1948-1998, exh. cat., Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, 1998).
‘Richter has taken to flaying the painted skin of his canvases with a spatula in broad strokes or long, wavering stripes leaving behind abraded, shimmering surfaces that at their sheerest and most luminous look like the Aurora Borealis suspended above various red, orange, yellow, green, blue or violet planets.’ (R. Storr, Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2002).
In the 1980s, Richter began to freely overlay his canvases with colourful streaks and drags of pigment using his signature squeegee. As Dietmar Elger has observed, ‘for Richter, the squeegee is the most important implement for integrating coincidence into his art. For years, he used it sparingly, but he came to appreciate how the structure of paint applied with a squeegee can never be completely controlled.’ (G. Richter quoted in D. Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Chicago 2009).
Sculpture éponge rose (SE 207) is one of only seven extremely rare examples of Yves Klein’s celebrated Sculptures éponges rendered in the exquisite madder rose shade that made up a third of his unique colour triad: International Klein Blue (IKB), gold and rose.
At a pioneering exhibition at the Galerie Iris Clert in 1959, Bas-Reliefs dans une forêt d’éponges, Klein displayed an array of sponge sculptures alongside his already well-known monochromes. Installed together the sponges became an otherworldly forest, a mystical environment that envisaged a new immaterial landscape. The viewer became an active participant in the exhibition, seemingly immersed into the midst of a strange parallel world. (click on the link below for full lot notes)
Executed in his signature International Klein Blue pigment, Yves Klein’s Relief planétaire (RP 17) is an outstanding sculptural painting, mirroring the topographical contours of the Nice coastline where the artist was born.
Inspired by the first human voyage into space on 12 April 1961, the same year as the creation of the present work, Klein believed that the Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin had provided scientific proof of his belief that Earth was blue. The series from which the present work comes explores the way in which humanity perceived itself and its place in the universe with the advent of space travel, responding to Gagarin’s statement: ‘I saw the sky very dark and the earth blue, of a deep and intense blue.’
Before travelling to Nice for the summer he acquired physical relief maps of France at the Institut Géographique National and in August he created his first Relief planétaire, a map of the Grenoble region infused with IKB. Between September and November 1961 he went on to create approximately twenty further works in this series. A plaster cast of the original map was made before being painted uniformly in IKB.
Standing at nearly a metre tall, Lucio Fontana’s Concetto Spaziale, Attese is an exquisite monochrome tagli, the pristine white canvas dramatically penetrated with three elegant vertical slashes.
The minimal white canvas can be seen to inform the artist’s acclaimed installation the following year at the XXXIII Biennale di Venezia. Commenting on this work, Fontana explained: ‘I wanted to create a “spatial environment”, by which I mean an environmental structure, a preliminary journey in which the twenty slits would be as if in a labyrinth containing blanks of the same shape and colour’ (L. Fontana, quoted in S. Whitfield, Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., London, 1999).
‘I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them … leaving a trail of the human presence and memory trace of past events.’ (F. Bacon, 1955, quoted in Francis Bacon and the Tradition of Art, exh. cat., Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna, 2004).
Shrouded in silence amidst a deep black void, Study for a Head (1955) occupies an outstanding position within Francis Bacon’s celebrated series of Papal portraits. A deeply human portrayal of Bacon’s most enduring subject, it stands as one of only a handful of works depicting Pope Pius XII; the current, living incumbent at the time of the painting, who reigned from 1939 until 1958.
Where Bacon’s previous Papal portraits had given birth to screaming, agonised phantoms, bordering on caricature in their formal contortions, Study for a Head presents a figure submerged in existential contemplation, riddled with the same quiet dignity and introspective tension that was to define Bacon’s first self-portrait the following year.
‘We have lived very closely together since we met in 1958. We hardly spend any time apart. So I am always around.’ (E. Baselitz, quoted in M. Auping, Georg Baselitz: Portraits of Elke, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, Fort Worth, 1997-1999).
Painted with a lyrical passion in a brilliant array of vibrant colours, Elke (1965) is a romantic celebration of the enduring love between Georg Baselitz and his wife, Elke Kretzschmar Baselitz, a definitive relationship in the artist’s life. Composed as a tender love letter to a beloved wife, here Baselitz recalls Elke as a young woman in the early years of their marriage.
Married to the artist for over 50 years, Elke remained a prevailing subject within her husband’s portraiture, a mark of the love Baselitz holds for her and evidence of the support she has offered him throughout his career. In many ways, for Baselitz painting Elke is a form of self-portraiture; she represents as important a subject as himself.
Looking back on that important year of 1982, Basquiat remarked: ‘I had some money: I made the best paintings ever’ (J.-M. Basquiat, quoted in C. McGuigan, New Art New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist, The New York Times Magazine, 10 February 1985).
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Three Delegates is one of only a handful of canvases which features three of the artist’s dramatic yet superbly accomplished heads. The title Three Delegates refers to a childhood visit made by Basquiat to the United Nations Headquarters building in New York, where the father of a friend was working at the time. The multicultural membership of the organisation resonated with the artist’s own diverse ethnic heritage.
The human head was one of Basquiat’s most distinctive recurring subjects, and represented a particular source of fascination for him during the crucial years of 1981 and 1982. As a child, the artist was entranced by a copy of Grey’s Anatomy given to him by his mother, and his obsession with the structure of the human skull was to become a key driving force behind much of his work.
Frequently returning to Switzerland throughout his life, Gerhard Richter’s landscape is a poetic representation of a well-loved destination. The dramatic, awe inspiring mountains, combined with the lake’s placid surface gave rise to an inspirational moment for many artists, including Alexandre Calame, Albert Bierstadt, John Ruskin and most notably J.M.W. Turner. Like many artists before him, Turner initially headed south in search of light and in 1819 travelled to Italy, later visiting Switzerland in the 1840s where he was captivated by the sublime beauty of the mountain landscape.
In many ways this can be seen to resonate with Richter’s own travels in 1969, beginning further south in Corsica where the study of light dominates his works, and then later to Switzerland where he seems to have encountered the same sense of awe and sublime as Turner did over a century before him.
‘We came back from [the Sahara] absolutely cleansed of all the intoxications, really refreshed and renewed, as well as enriched in the ways of savoir-vivre.’ (J. Dubuffet, quoted in Prospectus et tous écrits suivants, vol. 2, Paris 1995).
Housed in the same private collection since 1958, Jean Dubuffet’s Bédouin sur l’âne (Bedouin on a donkey) is among the largest, most majestic and visionary paintings created following the second of the artist’s three seminal sojourns in the Algerian Sahara.
Drawn to warmer climes by the post-war coal restrictions during a freezing Parisian winter, Dubuffet and his wife Lili made their first trip to the small oasis of El Goléa in February 1947, returning periodically over the next two years. During these visits, Dubuffet spent much time in the company of the Bedouin people, whose influence was particularly prominent in this southern region of Algeria. His depictions of these figures stand as a testimony to his deliberate immersion in local culture.
Untitled (New York City) marks Cy Twombly’s return to and reinvestigation of a kind of handwritten mark that the artist had first explored in the mid-1950s while sharing a studio with Robert Rauschenberg in Fulton Street, New York. There — inspired by the then dominant examples of Jackson Pollock and Jean Dubuffet but also by the work of John Cage whom, with Rauschenberg, he had encountered at Black Mountain College — Twombly had embarked on an ambitious series of large ‘handwritten’ black and white paintings.
Belonging to the final ‘type’ of ‘blackboard’ paintings that Twombly made, Untitled (New York City) is one of a number of works that begin to reveal the exact moment or place where the graphic art of writing and drawing starts to fuse into and become the more cohesive, plastic art of painting. It is exactly this aspect of these works that Twombly set out explore with the similarly formatted ‘blackboards’ he began in New York in 1970, and of which Untitled (New York City) is one of the first examples.
Executed over a three-year period of unprecedented success for Howard Hodgkin during which he represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1984 and was awarded the Turner Prize in 1985, In the Green Room is one of the largest paintings made by the artist in the first 35 years of his career.
Rendered in a vibrant palette of forest green and royal blue, overlaid by a dappled pattern of brilliant, sunset orange brush marks, In the Green Room is a stunning, large scale example of Howard Hodgkin’s commitment to painting, and its emotive potential. Referring to the pistachio green paint with which he decorated the walls of his partner Antony Peattie’s sitting room in Cornwall shortly after they first met, this work evokes the personal and professional happiness Hodgkin enjoyed at this time.
With its dynamic mark making and invigorating colour scheme, In the Green Room also reflects the artist’s vivacity and self-assurance at this most stimulating moment in his life.
For Race Riots and Salon Gatherings is an iconic example of Theaster Gates’ groundbreaking, politically-engaged practice. In a series of wooden frames, made from old mouldings, mantle pieces and floor boards, various lengths of decommissioned fire hoses are coiled, folded and stacked behind panes of glass. Haunting vestiges of America’s past, they reference the hoses used to violently disband peaceful Civil Rights demonstrators in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963.
Over the last five years Gates has risen to wide international acclaim, with major solo exhibitions at the Milwaukee Art Museum, 2010, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 2013. His exhibition at the 2010 Whitney Biennial, under the direction of Francesco Bonami, was followed by an invitation to documenta (13) in Kassel, Germany, curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev.
Gates’ response to the events of the 1960s were celebrated in the solo exhibition An Epitaph for Civil Rights at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, where the present work was shown in the year of its creation.
Extending over two and a half metres in length, Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Donna nuda che avvita una lampadina (Nude woman affixing a light bulb) (1968) is an important early mirror painting depicting the nude figure of Maria Pioppi, his life-long artistic collaborator and companion. Standing alone against a vast, empty reflective field, she reaches upwards to affix a light bulb.
In this painting, Maria’s back is turned to the viewer while she faces inwards into the reflective space of the painting. The idea was that the viewer would then catch sight of their own reflected image standing in the space of the mirror painting and caught in the act of looking at this provocative nude.
‘The mirror paintings could not live without an audience,’ Pistoletto said, not long after this work was made. ‘They were created and re-created according to the movement and to the interventions they reproduced. The step from the mirror paintings to theatre — everything is theatre — seems simply natural... It is less a matter of involving the audience, of letting it participate, as to act on its freedom and on its imagination, to trigger similar liberation mechanisms in people.’ (M. Pistoletto, interview with G. Boursier, in Sipario, Milan, April 1969).