VAT rate of 17.5% is payable on hammer price plus buyer's premium
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
AMERICA IN THE 21ST CENTURY
During the last decade, a new generation of artists has come to the fore in the United States of America, many of them explicitly tackling the legacy of that nation, be it in artistic, political or socio-economic terms. Over the last half century, the USA has emerged with its own unique cultural personality through the influence of the Abstract Expressionists, Disney, Coca-Cola, Pop, segregation, wars abroad and movies. It is the cultural and historical landscape defined by the last sixty years that today's artists navigate, negotiating an often problematic terrain of associations relating to the issues both within the States and resultant of its increasing influence over the rest of the world, propelled by globalism.
Already in the 1980s, Jean-Michel Basquiat had begun to create an art that was filled with anger, that used the raw energy of graffiti to capture his howl against the status quo. In part, his own position within the rarefied art world of New York and, eventually, the globe, exposed him all the more to the iniquities of being judged by his skin colour. Basquiat created art works which attempted to place black Americans into the artistic and cultural canon, having noticed that the African-American tended to be absent from the art books he had read. Decades later, these issues remain as sensitive, as is exemplified in the South Los Angeles landscape that furnishes African-American artist Mark Bradford with the raw materials for his map-like monumental collages such as Kryptonite. Bradford was born a year after Basquiat, yet it is in the last decade that he has come to prominence as an artist. His works present the viewer with an abstract cartography that speaks of the arbitrary way in which territory is divided, realigned, abandoned or annexed. Maps are palimpsests of power, and this is as true of his native Los Angeles as it is of any foreign arena of war. Bradford's collages are essentially fictive maps made of the detritus from the landscape they seem to depict. They speak of nostalgia, of failed attempts to create utopias. Similarly, French artist Jules de Balincourt, who has been based in Brooklyn for years, often explores a fictitious parallel universe USA in paintings where he combines the deceptively innocent-seeming aesthetics of Outsider art with a surgical analysis of his adoptive homes role as a superpower and also as a land filled with inequalities and hypocrisies. This is as true of his folksy and just plain erroneous maps of the States as it is of The People who Play and the People who Pay, where the dated idyll of a Floridian-style resort is punctured by the race divide, with the white (and unnaturally-tanned) clients lounging around, sunbathing and drinking cocktails while their rooms and lives are attended to by an army of conspicuously black hotel employees. While this scene is imaginary in some ways, it also highlights a situation that remains to this day yet which is thrust into relief by this understated illustration, in the same way that the television series Mad Men throws light on current day race relations by showing that, in many contexts, they have in fact moved on little since the early 1960s period in which it is set.
A rare element of optimism regarding issues of race and, indeed, gender is shown in Liza Lou's beaded sculptures, such as The Vessel, which formed part of her 2006 exhibition at the White Cube, London. There, she also showed several installations including Security Fence of 2005; this was a work which consisted of a razor-wire and mesh fence reminiscent of prisons and concentration camps to which beads had been applied by 50 artisans in South Africa, where the artist has also made a home. In this way, Lou managed to introduce notions of segregation both in South Africa and in the USA, while also implying that each carefully-applied bead hinted at a form of redemption, adding a glimmer of beauty to the stark reality of fence and prison. This same idea of redemption is encapsulated in The Vessel, a gaudy yet seductive vision of Christ which appears dismembered and disjointed, which speaks of horror yet also of hope and of potential forgiveness.
While Lou, who has made her home in KwaZulu-Natal and Los Angeles, joins the ranks of Bradford and de Balincourt in highlighting some of the iniquities still all too present in today's world and today's USA, an intriguing use of race is presented in Kelley Walker's complex oeuvre. The artist, who grew up in Tennessee, often uses subjects that have a racial dimension in part as a deliberate trigger, in order to reveal both the power of images, regardless of what is done to them, and the state of anxiety in which we live, in part because of the pressure of the media and its constant pictorial stream of distress messages from the world around us. His Black Star Press pictures show iconic images from Birmingham, Alabama, where Civil Rights activists were attacked by the white authorities; Walker not only rotates the source pictures having magnified them, but also superimposes expressionistic, screenprinted scans of smeared materials such as toothpaste and, more provocatively, chocolate. He uses an artistic style that makes direct reference to Warhol's Race Riots and also invokes the appropriation artists of the 1970s and 1980s in order to highlight the moral bankruptcy of their distance, of their process. By approaching sensitive subjects in a deliberately insensitive way, Walker reveals the tensions behind the original images and their continued currency - the continued rawness of the issue of racial equality in the States - in our media-saturated, media-savvy world. He illustrates the way in which these pictures have been branded and recycled, be it by the press, by Warhol or by Walker himself - it is no coincidence that his most iconic sculpture series features the recycling sign, as it serves as a key to the rebus of his entire work.
Both politically and culturally, the legacy that these artists have inherited at the dawn of the Twenty-First Century is a far cry from the more optimistic New World, new start mentality and atmosphere enjoyed by the Abstract Expressionists half a century earlier in the wake of the Second World War. Then, the art world briefly shifted its entire centre of gravity to New York, where the likes of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Franz Kline emerged, launching the first true American style. Their legacy was to become a hurdle for the following generations of artists, leapt over in irreverent style first by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg and later by the Pop artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Faced with the what-to-paint, how-to-paint dilemmas instilled by Clement Greenberg and his followers decades earlier, these artists have all found inventive routes for manoeuvre: Walker has removed himself further from the artistic process than Warhol, deliberately flaunting his use of scanners and computers in his work, while adding scans of chocolate stains that lampoon Pollock, while de Balincourt has adopted a pseudo-Outsider aesthetic, remaining firmly and determinedly ensconced figuration; Lou has introduced the distinctly feminine notion of applying beads into the phallocentric art world. Meanwhile Bradford's collages, painstakingly assembled from paper which he snips, cuts, mounts, removes, sands and tears, allow the artist to remove himself from the entire dialogue, explaining: 'the conventional Euro-American narrative of abstractions not my struggle' (M. Bradford, quoted in C. Bedford, 'Against Abstraction', pp. 7-29, Bedford (ed.), Mark Bradford, exh. cat., Columbus, 2010, p. 14).