Thoughtfully assembled over the course of a lifetime by a private American collector, the group of works offered in our upcoming Post-War and Contemporary Art sales in New York illustrates the trends and themes that rippled through the New York art world in the 1980s and 1990s. These artists refused to follow the prevailing artistic movements, staying true to a style all of their own. The pieces offered are representative of one of the most significant moments in modern art history.
The artist-provocateur Richard Prince features prominently within this selection alongside Jenny Holzer and Nan Goldin, often loosely grouped together as leading figures of the Pictures Generation. Their groundbreaking work, incorporating photographs, film and advertisements, wrestles with the saturation of media imagery in the modern age. For these young artists, the sense of disillusionment that they experienced during the 1980s and 1990s — from the inequalities of gender, race and sexual orientation to the corruption and scandal that plagued New York City — gave rise to the creation of works that were unlike anything that had gone before.
While the Pictures Generation devoted themselves to the interrogation of visual imagery with a detached aesthetic, another group of artists took up the brush to resurrect painting. Loosely grouped under the moniker Neo-Expressionism, these artists produced lush, gestural paintings that provided a much-needed counterpart to the stringency of Minimalism and Conceptual Art.
In the present collection, paintings by Francesco Clemente such as Red Flowers, above, are typical of his lush, idiosyncratic style. Similarly Don’t Wake Up Daddy, below, by Martin Kippenberger, is a brilliant example of the German artist’s potent blend of abstraction, sardonic irreverence and often autobiographical imagery.
In the work of Abstract Expressionist pioneers such as Willem de Kooning, Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler — whose sublime painting Zarathustra is represented here — the 1980s and 1990s witnessed a final flourish from artists at the height of their powers.
Painted in 1988, Frankenthaler’s Zarathustra is a large-scale, operatic canvas of poured pigment that ranges in hue from shimmering verdant greens to rich amethyst and a shimmering pink evocative of sunrise before a gathering storm. It is a deeply moving work.
In the Dollar Signs, Andy Warhol produced a powerful series of paintings that stab at the heart of the frenzied, market-driven 1980s. Warhol underwent a profound period of reflection during the last decade of his life, and the works he produced during this era have a lasting formal beauty and symbolism. His Heaven and Hell Are Just One Breath Away, created during the final years of his life, speaks to an American obsession with religion and our want for an easy answer to the unknowable mysteries of life.