Lot Content

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
Mario Schifano (1934-1998)
WORKS FROM THE COLLECTION OF ILEANA SONNABEND AND THE ESTATE OF NINA CASTELLI SUNDELL
Mario Schifano (1934-1998)

Cleopatra's Dream

Details
Mario Schifano (1934-1998)
Cleopatra's Dream
signed, titled and dated ‘Schifano 1960-61 Cleopatra’s Dream’ (on the reverse)
enamel and paper laid down on canvas
51 1/8 x 47 1/4 in. (129.8 x 120 cm.)
Executed in 1960-1961.
Provenance
The Estate of Ileana Sonnabend, New York
By descent to the present owner
Literature
A. C. Quintavalle, Mario Schifano 1960-1970, Parma, 1974.
Exhibited
Milan, Fondazione Marconi Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Schifano 1960-1964, Dal monocromo alla strada, February-March 2005, pp. 38-39 (illustrated).
London, Luxembourg & Dayan, Mario Schifano 1960-67, June-August 2014, pp. 12, 18-19 and 49 (illustrated in color).
Sale Room Notice
This work is recorded in the Archivio Mario Schifano, Rome, under no. 02969151016.

Brought to you by

Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

This work is recorded in the Archivio Mario Schifano, Rome, under no. 02969151016.

The sanguine Cleopatra’s Dream is a preeminent work by Mario Schifano, the irreverent avant-garde painter whom art historian Maurizio Calvesi referred to as “one of the greatest of the Italian school of the second half of the century” (M. Calvesi quoted in “Mario Schifano, 63, Avant-Garde Painter,” The New York Times, February 2, 1998, n.p.). The present work was made in a watershed year for Schifano during which he first forayed into unorthodox materials like enamel, parcel paper, and dirt and gained critical attention for his first solo show in Rome. Just one year later, the masterful Italian painter exhibited alongside Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein in the popular “New Realists” show at New York’s Sidney Janis Gallery, a moment that cemented a dialogue with American Pop Art. Made at a significant juncture in the artist’s trajectory, Cleopatra’s Dream beautifully embodies Schifano’s desire to produce gestural yet essentially empty images—screens of departure, “tantalizingly rough and unfinished”— that transcended supposed cultural limitations and medium constraints (R. Smith, “Art in Review: Mario Schifano,” The New York Times, February 9, 2007, n.p.).

A geometric abstraction, Cleopatra’s Dream, features enamel in a vibrant red that has been painted onto parcel paper affixed to canvas. The enamel, a slick, industrial lacquer frequently used as house paint, has been applied in paradoxically gestural strokes to form an oblong rectangular frame. The frame acts as a window onto a scene that the viewer cannot access and anticipates Schifano’s later work in which he visually referenced television screens, using them as windows onto the modern world. In a testament to Schifano’s commitment to materiality Cleopatra’s Dream is sumptuously tactile and textural. The piece combines the unconventional materials of Arte Povera with the brushstrokes of Art Informel and the aesthetic rigor of Minimalism with the punchy palette of Pop Art; the frame is visually evocative of the commercial logos that Schifano would go on to appropriate in later works. Eschewing notions of purity in painting, Cleopatra’s Dream pulls disparate elements together into a potent proto-postmodern fusion.

Schifano’s expressive use of enamel paint in works like Cleopatra’s Dream was groundbreaking in the early 1960s. His artistic application of non-art materials, which in fact predated the emergence of the Arte Povera movement in 1967, revitalized contemporary Italian painting. Schifano’s work of this period looked to the painterly past, but refused to be beholden to the full heft of Italy’s artistic history. It incorporated the industrial immediacy of Pop Art while staying true to his critical European-inflected take on American commercialism. It forged new ground for Arte Povera, the major Italian contribution to Conceptual Art. Cleopatra’s Dream reflects this temporal liquidity both stylistically and titularly; the work’s title could be a romantic reference to a historical figure or a Pop reference to jazz pianist Bud Powell’s 1958 song by the same name.

Moving from Libya to Rome in the aftermath of the Second World War, Schifano began to paint in an Art Informel style and became a leading member of an avant-garde school, Scuola di Piazza del Popolo, in 1959. By the early 1960s, he had risen to international prominence, having caught the eye of major art dealers Ileana Sonnabend in Paris and Sidney Janis in New York. Schifano went on to create works featuring logos and other commercial imagery. In the second half of the 1960s, Schifano turned to cinema, television, and performance; he went on to form an experimental band and, by the end of his life, was making internet art. Schifano remained on the artistic cutting-edge until his last days, pushing not only his own work but also the history of art toward exciting new frontiers.

More from Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale

View All
View All