1. From cigarettes to cups of tea — works of art that transform the seemingly unremarkable
‘I first started smoking when I was nine,’ confessed Sarah Lucas. ‘And I first started trying to make something out of cigarettes because I like to use relevant kind of materials…There is this obsessive activity of me sticking all these cigarettes on the sculptures... It is a form of sex, it does come from the same sort of drive. And there’s so much satisfaction in it.’
A euphemism for female sexual independence and male impotence, the cigarette embodies the eroticism and lewd humour that is central to Lucas’ provocative practice. In Drag-On, a cigarette-coated dragon advances menacingly towards the viewer, its wings spread dramatically and teeth bared. Evoking the posture of the fearsome beast that appears in Paolo Ucello’s Saint George and the Dragon (c.1470), the work merges traditional English imagery with the seedy hedonism of pub culture.
Lucas has lent a portion of her cigarette stash to I SCREAM DADDIO, her commission for the 2015 Venice Biennale, where she is currently representing Britain.
Main image at top: Sarah Lucas (B.1962), Drag-on, 2003. Cigarettes, resin and jesmonite. Estimate: £350,000-450,000. This work and those below will be offered in our Post-war and Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 30 June at Christie’s in London
Danh Vo, Untitled (A-Z without J) — E, 2011. Gold leaf on cardboard. Estimate: £150,000-200,000
Danh Vo fled Vietnam in 1979 at the age of four, travelling with his family in a boat built by his father. Rescued at sea by a Danish merchant ship, the family ended up in Copenhagen where they stayed. This year, Vo is representing Denmark at the Venice Biennale.
Danh Vo’s cardboard shipping boxes start in the recycling piles, after a product has completed its economic arc. Collected and flattened, they are sent to Thailand where gold leaf is applied. ‘They return reborn and revalued by their surface rather than their contents,’ says Vo. ‘The gold is a visa signalling a new mobility, and an empty container previously filled with Evian or Budweiser, for instance, gets recharged.’
Fittingly for an artist so closely associated with near-destruction, flux and repair, they are works that lend otherwise unremarkable fragments glistening significance.
Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985), Tasse de thé V (Cup of tea V (Utopian)), 1966. Vinyl paint on canvas. Estimate: £350,000-450,000
In Jean Dubuffet’s Tasse de thé V (utopique), a vision of a teacup, saucer and spoon appears from an interlocking jigsaw of red, white and blue cells, cut and spliced from multiple aerial perspectives.
Executed in January 1966, it is a highly accomplished large-scale example of Dubuffet’s celebrated Ustensiles Utopiques paintings, in which the artist painted a series of ubiquitous, everyday objects, following his signature l’Hourloupe style — a flat style, using primary colours, which sought liberate art from traditional representational strategies.
Under the spell of l’Hourloupe, banal manufactured objects became sites of ‘Utopia’, visionary reappraisals of the formerly unstudied paraphernalia of daily existence. The present work takes its place alongside the depictions of bottles, wheelbarrows, chairs, stoves, scissors and cafetières that had been his focus since 1964.
2. Three artists who swapped the paintbrush for fire, nails and thrift shop finds
Alberto Burri (1915-1995), Bianco plastic P, 1970. Plastic, acrylic, combustion, vinavil on cellotex. Estimate: £2,000,000-3,000,000
Towering over the viewer, two metres in height, Alberto Burri’s Bianco plastica P presents an imposing monolithic expanse of white with a black void at its centre. Executed in 1970, the work combines materials that became characteristic of Burri’s practice: plastic, cellotex, and fire. The fire may not be burning any more, but its traces are there for all to see in the variegated textures of the deliberately wrinkled, darkened mass of plastic.
Burri’s use of fire was far from random, or uncontrolled: instead, he had developed techniques that allowed him a surprising degree of precision, as is evidenced in the photographs and videos of him at work. These reveal the artist taking a blowtorch to clear sheets of hanging plastic, dabbing out the flames, cutting, pulling and manipulating the scorched surface. The surface of the picture gives evidence of heat and smoke, giving a visceral sense of that moment of creation, as the fire danced across the plastic.
Brent Wadden, Alignment (13), 2013. Hand-woven fibres, wool, cotton and acrylic on canvas. Estimate: £30,000-50,000
Brent Wadden’s Alignment (13), 2013, is a monumental example of the artist’s unique fusion of painting and weaving. Using a back-strap loom, the artist blends acrylic yarns and hand-spun wools, creating individual weavings that are then stitched together and mounted onto large-scale raw canvas. Merging bold geometric patterns with traditional craftsmanship, Wadden’s Alignment works straddle the boundaries between fine art, folk art and contemporary design.
Raised in Glace Bay, Canada, Wadden is part of a group of young artists who have reacted against the fast pace and instant gratification of contemporary society, turning instead towards age-old traditions of craftsmanship. The artist creates his weavings using a variety of natural and synthetic materials, often salvaged from old projects or sourced from thrift shops, eBay, craigslist and family members. His works thread together social and artistic histories, creating rich tapestries whose stories are embedded in their wavering surface patterns.
Enrico Castellani (b.1930), Superficie Allumino, 1984. Acrylic on shaped canvas. Estimate: £350,000-500,000
With its glistening, crenelated surface stretching over one and half metres in length, Superficie alluminio is a spectacular example of Enrico Castellani’s landmark Superfici: immaculate shaped canvases that bridge the gap between painting, sculpture and architecture.
Stretched over a grid of evenly placed nails, the rhythmic undulations of the canvas result in the unique topography of crests and valleys, activated by the play of light and darkness that takes place upon the work’s rippled membrane. Harnessing the natural energy of the canvas, pulled taut over the stretcher, the work appears to vibrate, exuding an autonomous dynamism and throwing the materiality of the surface into a quivering state of flux.
3. Images created in response to some of the 20th century’s biggest political shifts
Zeng Fanzhi (b.1964), Mask Series No.11, 1997. Signed in Chinese and signed and dated in English ’97 Zeng Fanzhi’. Estimate: £700,000-1,000,000
‘In the mid-Nineties, China was transforming very fast,’ said Zeng Fanzhi. ‘Chinese officials started wearing suits and ties. Everybody wanted to look good, but it also looked a bit fake. I felt they wanted to change themselves on the surface, and these are the feelings that I represented in the earlier Mask series.’
Representing his most important body of work to date, Zeng’s Mask paintings express his own feelings of isolation and alienation within the social, political and economic upheavals of Chinese culture during the 1990s. Tapping into the psychological anxiety of a country caught in the throes of radical transformation, the Mask paintings capture the increasingly prominent void between public and private. Reduced to faceless archetypes, the figures in Mask Series No. II confront the viewer like cardboard cut-outs of human emotion: metaphors for a population disoriented by cultural change.
Andy Warhol (1928-1986), Lenin, 1986. Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas. Estimate: £2,200,000-2,800,000
‘Every time I go out and someone has to be elected president or mayor or something else, they put their images on all the wall and I think I do the same,’ said Andy Warhol.
Warhol’s Lenin series builds on those ideas first developed in 1972 with his works profiling the Communist leader Mao. The cult of personality perpetuated around Lenin after his death meant his image was widely disseminated as a symbol of the Communist cause — the former leader elevated to celebrity status through his own media ‘factory’.
Emerging from an inky black background, Warhol’s Lenin takes on a near-spectral quality conveyed through the striking glow of his tracery. Standing nearly two metres tall, his imposing face looms out of the inky black darkness. The outline of Lenin’s face along with the details of his features and beard are all rendered in electric, almost Day-Glo, lines of red and yellow — deftly mirroring the colours of the Soviet flag.
Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild, 1989. Oil on canvas. Estimate: £2,500,000-3,500,000
Abstraktes Bild was created at a time of seismic political change. The German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was collapsing and the European continent was soon to throw off the mantle of repressive communist regimes.
Richter’s dark reflection on the events of 18 October 1977, which saw the deadly culmination of the prolonged struggle between the Red Army Faction (RAF) and the West German state, is a series of 15n paintings rendered from stark photocopies of the original photographs of the mysterious death scenes and subsequent funerals of the figureheads of the far-left leaning terrorist group: Gudrun Ensslin, Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof and Jan-Carl Raspe.
Carried out in a palette of diametrically contrasting lead white and grey, the October cycle of paintings suspend their images in thick, velvety oil paint. This rich texture is translated into the viscous waves of pewter paint, which spread in white-inflected ripples across the canvas in Abstraktes Bild.
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