"If Richard Estes attempted to sit in front of a building and simply draw or paint what he saw, his work would look like any other academic realist work. It would lose the clarity, accuracy, and immediacy of detail for which it is known and admired. As he sat there working, the traffic would move, the light would change; if the artist were to move a micro-fraction of an inch, all reflections would change radically. Over a longer period, as he tried to record every detail, the window display would change, as would the weather and the seasons. For the Photo-Realist, change and movement must be frozen to one second in time, which must be totally and accurately represented" (L. Meisel, Photo-Realism, New York, 1980, p. 13).
Photo-Realism emerged in the late 1960's at a transitional moment in the art world. By this time, the vital energies of most Abstract Expressionists and their descendants had been drained and the spark and snap of the decade old Pop Art movement was losing its freshness and becoming as established as its abstract predecessors. A sure sign of Pop painting's decline was Warhol's decision in 1965 to announce that he was no longer painting. Minimalism, Post-Minimalism and Conceptual art were fertile developments that were still being explored, but their concerns were essentially in the realm of sculpture and performance.
Championed by the entreprenurial and tireless Louis K. Meisel, Photo Realism burst onto the scene, drawing imagery from Pop Art and combining it with a sure draftsmanship and masterly painting quality of the most rigorously trained academic artists. For the first time in decades, a genuinely realist painting style held the attention of the art world. What distinguished them from academic exercises was their bold vision of contemporary life that simultaneously critiqued society while revelling in its beautiful forms.
Photo-Realism appropriated Pop Art's subject matter and applied the critical approach initiated by Conceptual Art. Photo-Realism engaged in a dialogue about the camera's influence on 20th century art and aesthetic perception. As Meisel states, Photo-Realism captures a second in time unlike any one seen before: the split second seen through a number of vantages as well as the an important moment of confluence of ideas about painting. Umberto Ecco writes, "The Photorealists produce a reality so real that it proclaims its artificiality from the rooftops" (U. Ecco, "The Fortresses of Solitude", Travels in Hyperreality, New York, 1983, p. 7).
The following four paintings by Ralph Goings, Charles Bell, Ron Kleeman and Richard Cottingham are quintessential examples by the masters of Photo-Realism. Sundaes Shakes by Goings, Cat by Bell, Mongoose by Kleeman and Great Northern by Cottingham are examples of their most popular images, executed during their most sought after periods. Rounding out Christie's offering of the movement are classic works by Richard Estes (see Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale) and Chuck Close (see Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Sale Afternoon Session). Together, this selection of works provides an unprecedented opportunity to view the full range and expressive power of an influential art historical moment that resonates in contemporary art to this date.