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It is like a hunt.
So begins the widely anthologized, wildly rapturous essay by Jean Dubuffet titled “Empreintes” (1957) in which the artist describes his improvisational monoprint procedure. (The title translates as “fingerprints” or “footprints,” connoting imprints, impressions, traces, tracks.) Dubuffet proclaims that his approach to the technique, involving a sheet of paper pressed onto an inked but otherwise unaltered plate, results in “richly adorned surfaces like the depths of the sea or great sandy deserts, skins, soils, milky ways, flashes, cloudy tumults, explosive forms, oscillations, fantasies, dormitions or murmurs, strange dances, expansions of unknown places.”
Laleh Khorramian has exploited the iconographic potential of monoprint as a generative process in her studio for some years, using it to make animations that are both epic and intimate. There are no animations in Unearth, Khorramian’s current two-venue exhibition at September and Elizabeth Moore Fine Art in Hudson, New York — no moving images at all, in fact, except a two-and-a-half-minute video of dialogue in text looping on monitor—but the immersive fiction of this recent work has a durational dimension owing to its material complexity, multifaceted presentation, and grand thematic and narrative sweep.
A major undertaking, the show includes dozens of works — monoprints, of course, as well as sculptures, installation, light boxes, window treatments, sound, collage-based works on paper, drawings, and, at Elizabeth Moore, a room-filling, maze-like arrangement of enormous hanging “tunics,” dated 2017, that are essentially two-sided paintings shaped like robes for very large people. These are emblazoned with spray-painted disks, dots, grids, bars, chevrons and the like, ranging in graphic complexity from the logo-like simplicity of “The Surveyor East” to the layered, ornate, and data-rich visual matrix of “The Keeper (Guard of the Inner Sanctum).”
Elsewhere in the gallery is a selection of 16 square, smallish, casually made drawings in colored inks with a fidgety, febrile touch. These clusters of hatchings are titled “Peaks 1” through “Peaks 16” (all dated 2019) and many do indeed coalesce into the features of a craggy landscape; others are less about depiction than about the rhythms, textures, and density of mark-making. Their relationship to the tunics, materially and conceptually, is obscure at first — though one senses that, between the two, something evidentiary is afoot.
Khorramian’s erstwhile reliance on monoprint methods of moving pigment around reappears in “Vestment Illustrating the First Colony Formed in the Fault Lines Beneath the Ocean’s Stratosphere on the Fourth Moon of Golis” (2019; ink, oil, acrylic, and spray paint on polypropylene; 79 by 46 inches). A symmetrical, robe-like shape cobbled together from shards of color and oddments of graphical information, its most distinctive feature is a snaking passage of shadowy monoprinted blotches that alludes to eyes, lips, remote mountain ranges and otherworldly vistas. This eerily specific but unwilled approximation of recognizable imagery, like that which Dubuffet describes, complicates both the scale of the work and its pictorial space.
This particular idiom of making — assembling nonreferential imagery into meta-pictures that also merely hint at description — manifests in several large, utterly engrossing collages at September.
The majestically funky “Egg Rig” (2019, ink, oil, acrylic, and spray paint on polypropylene, 70 by 89 inches) builds on the hallucinatory suggestion of Dubuffet’s essay. The central section of this fragmentary, visually fleeting composition evokes a boxy, skeletal contraption above a churning patch of blue. The title points to an oil derrick at sea, but the pictorial or narrative impetus for the egg-shaped vignette surrounding it remains puzzling.
A trio of quasi-architectural sculptures dominates September’s capacious main gallery. “Portal” (2019), a house-of-cards style construction made primarily of plywood, seems to be made mostly of openings, windows, oculi — vantage points that open up onto one another, like hall of mirrors without the mirrors.
You must step into and through “Portal” to get to “Pod” (2019), a stall or kiosk built for one, as enclosed as “Portal” is open. Seated in the shadowy interior, you face a tall, narrow light box emitting spectral colors in a column of horizontal bars that taper gradually downward. You are alone with someone’s thoughts (but not yours) as a soothing robotic voice recites recondite events past and future, including something about an entity called Corp Corp gaining control of Mars, and the activities of a certain Lieutenant Swimm. A reference to the depletion of Earth’s oil deposits resonates with “Egg Rig.”
Nearby stands “Druid (Tower)” (2019) at around nine feet high, also in plywood with colored gels covering an array of LED lights. It’s roughly hourglass-shaped but hexagonal in plan. Equipped with castors and therefore mobile, it looks vaguely medical, designed perhaps for use by a futuristic ER technician on the go.
Even a partial inventory of Unearth’s myriad constituent elements should include mention of the window works at September, such as “The Scrolls of Rola: ‘The Battle of the Choir’” (2019; oil on polypropylene, lighting gels; 85 by 42 inches). In these inherently anti-illusionistic spaces, the data-like flavor of Khorramian’s design aesthetic comes to the fore — as does the sole appropriated image in the show (I think), a cropped illustration of a riderless camel standing near a tent in a desert. This surely is a clue! Is the work about the ephemerality of “home”? The illusory nature of privacy? Scarcity of natural resources?
If Khorramian’s interdisciplinary strategy is to disorient viewers, we become reoriented perhaps a bit too quickly. A wall text just inside the entrance to the September show divulges the backstory that encompasses this body of work: it comprises the only known artifacts of an ancient, technologically advanced civilization from another galaxy that met a mysterious but likely calamitous end on Earth. The text raises the possibility that some members of this extraterrestrial race have escaped our planet.
This clever conceit allows Khorramian — who clearly loves making all kinds of things — ample room to maneuver, and she deftly ranges across mediums and materials. My reservation about her strategy is that this conceptual cover is summarily thrust upon the viewer, announced literally at the door of the gallery, as a wall text reminiscent of the “didactics” museums use to contextualize exhibitions. It explains the show and accounts for its material diffuseness, and in so doing diminishes its weirdness. The issue is control: why is the viewer’s interpretive latitude constricted? Given so much to look at and otherwise absorb, one could otherwise enter the work in any number of ways.
On the other hand, in an ingenious twist, Khorramian buries a significant plot point amid this abundance of information. According to the audio component of “Pod” (the text of which is available at the gallery desk), the dialogue between Corp Corp and Swimm — the subject of that all-text video — apparently occurred during “the first Mars-based exploration of Earth,” around 2500 CE. The artifacts on view are unearthed in the year 2534, and in the decade preceding 2550 “the first timeline of the Rola is established.” This item concludes that very timeline, which can only mean that the viewer is transported to some point even further in the future. Now that’s a surprise.
Khorramian has been building this narrative architecture for years, so that it’s well established by now and probably familiar to followers of her work. As a stranger in this strange land, a newcomer to this world, I would have preferred to find my own way. Of course, the textual GPS at the gallery door no doubt saved me a lot of time and wrong turns, but then getting well and truly lost is part of the pleasure of a looking at art.
In Dubuffet’s ecstatic inventory of the morphology of blotted ink there’s no mention of extraterrestrials, but he attests to a mystical experience of materials as the vehicle of sentient beings, insisting that “the being — more or less whimsical or spectral — populates materials we believe to be inert, in immense numbers; that supposedly deserted places are as rich in events as the heart of a great city […]” He seems to say that not only are we iconophiles, yearning to discern imagery in the arbitrary ebb and flow of pigment, we are lovers also of stories. We hunt for them.
Khorramian elaborates on Dubuffet’s premise, leaving us clues, setting us up, leading us on. (Roland Flexner is also working in this neighborhood, with extraordinary economy of means that contrasts, almost comically, with Khorramian’s maximalist aesthetic). Oblique but not willfully cryptic, Unearth might be an open-ended allegory for our time, or an archetypal tale of banishment and return, or maybe pure escapist reverie. In any case, it’s beautifully and convincingly realized, and I eagerly await the sequel.
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Last night, on the evening of the 2019 Whitney Biennial’s official opening, a crowd of over 150 activists gathered at the Whitney Museum for their largest action yet: a culmination of Nine Weeks of Art and Action, a protest series spearheaded by Decolonize This Place (DTP) to oppose Whitney vice chair Warren Kanders. In a surprise move, the protesters marched from the Whitney Museum to Kanders’s townhouse in Greenwich Village to end the night.
In recent months, many have called for Kanders’s removal from the museum board for his connections to weapons manufacturing. Kanders is the founder, chairman, and chief executive of the Safariland Group. In late 2018, US immigration officers launched Safariland-branded tear gas at asylum seekers at the US–Mexico border. Safariland products have been used globally in Puerto Rico, Gaza, and beyond; the company also signed a $7.3 million contract for ballistic equipment with the New York Police Department in 2016.
DTP says its protests were inspired by a letter signed by nearly 100 Whitney Museum employees expressing their dismay at Kanders’s connection to the border clash, demanding “the development and distribution of a clear policy around Trustee participation,” and for “[Whitney] leadership to convey our concerns to the Board, including that they consider asking for Warren Kanders’ resignation.”
Prior to this evening’s action at the museum, the Chinatown Art Brigade, WRRQ Collective, and NYU’s Asian American Political Activism Coalition held an “Anti-Displacement Walking Tour and Public Action,” trekking from Manhattan’s Chinatown on the Lower East Side to the Whitney Museum, demonstrating in front of cultural hotspots in the neighborhood and identifying the modes of displacement that have affected the neighborhood. Chinatown Art Brigade accuses the Whitney (which moved to the Meatpacking District in 2015) and the neighboring High Line of displacing businesses in the area, which have since relocated to Chinatown.
Starting at the corner of Stanton and Chrystie Streets at 3pm, the group of approximately two dozen carried a banner bearing the phrase “CHINATOWN IS NOT FOR SALE.” Other protest materials warned, “The community is watching.” Along the tour, they stopped to demonstrate in front of the ICP, New Museum, Museum of Chinese in America, a pop-up called OnCanal, Canal Street Market, and the Hotel 50 Bowery.
“We need housing and health care, not more white box galleries and luxury hotels,” the activists recited in a speech made in Mandarin and English in front of the New Museum. “Museums and nonprofit spaces have no business partnering with real estate developers who only profit off of our community without giving back.”
One bystander, who identified himself as a Queens resident named Sachel Martin, was watching the protest at the International Center of Photography and he told Hyperallergic: “I’m ready to move out of New York City … I can’t stand someone pushing someone out of something that they don’t belong … who the hell are they to push someone out of their crib … that’s bullying to me, my brother. I’m anti-bully. I stand for these people.” After his conversation with Hyperallergic, Martin walked with the protesters for a few blocks down Bowery joining in with the “Chinatown is not for sale” chants.
The crowd grew as the tour continued; along the way, Whitney Biennial artist Eddie Arroyo, whose work deals with gentrification in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood, joined the tour. Two plainclothes NYPD officers walked the tour route but did not confront the activists.
Outside of the Canal Street Market, one of the vendors, Robert James, came to confront the protestors, visibly distressed. “What these people did here by putting us here was amazing for this neighborhood,” James, who calls himself a longtime Lower East Side resident, told Hyperallergic. “It didn’t hurt anybody or displace anybody.” He was met with chants from the protesters saying, “Fire to the gentrifier” until he returned into the market and the group moved on to Hotel 50 Bowery.
There, one speaker declared: “Chinatown is not just a tourist destination or a place to get a cheap dumpling, it’s a place where people live and work.”
When the group reached the Whitney around 6:30 pm, activists unfurled banners from the museum’s outdoor terrace on the 6th floor. Down on Gansevoort Street, the crowd of protesters cheered and whistled as they saw the banners, one reading “WHEN WE BREATHE/WE BREATHE TOGETHER,” covering the building’s facade.
Activists banged pots and pans to draw attention to their cause while the line quickly grew outside of the museum with eager art lovers anticipating one of the largest art events in New York. An activist handed out stickers designed by Mark Newgarden and Patrick Pigott in collaboration with biennial artist Nicole Eisenman, which show a tear gas canister with the captions, “Support the arts with military-scent maximum-choke” and “More tears than an ex-chair.” The sticker also features an asylum-seeker being choked by the tear gas while carrying a sign reading “Amnesty.” A large police force was waiting outside, but no clashes occurred between the police and the protestors. The designed appeared to be based on the Garbage Pail Kids stickers that were popular in the United States in the 1980s and 90s.
An autonomous collective of artists called (D)IRT handed out altered Whitney Museum Guides, detailing the Kanders controversy and calling out a number of other board members, to unexpecting museum patrons.
Wasim, a museumgoer who was leafing through the pamphlet, told Hyperallergic that he doubts the effectiveness of the protest. “It would be cool to see them protest in real admission hours and actually turn people away from paying,” he said. His friend, a student who preferred to stay anonymous, was far more skeptical: “This kind of stuff is happening everywhere. People are so accustomed to it that people are desensitized to a lot of stuff. I don’t know what this [protest] is doing other than creating a spectacle.
“We mean war for Kanders. We mean war for Safariland,” Shellyne Rodriguez from Take Back the Bronx said inside, kicking off the event inside the museum’s lobby.
Amin Husain, an organizer with DTP, started by addressing the art press in New York. “We are concerned that these protests are being pitted against the Whitney Biennial artists,” he said. Husain read a statement printed on the back of one of the posters distributed at the event:
“White supremacy does not get to measure the risk — or the level of safety — we take in resisting white supremacy,” Husain said.
Nardeen Kisewani from Within Our Lifetime, a youth group for Palestine, said that Kanders has also profited from the Iraq War in addition to ammunition that his company sells to the Israeli army. “The extent of his crimes is deeper than we probably know,” she said.
The activists then posed an ultimatum to the Whitney Museum. Husain said: “Fall is the deadline. We will be back if necessary, and our tactics will escalate further.” The activists also demanded that the museum establish a decolonization commission that would include community members.
Nitasha Dhillon, an organizer with DTP thanked the Whitney’s staff before leading the activists out of the museum’s lobby. “You started everything,” she said to the staffers and apologized to them for having to clean after the group’s pizza party protest several weeks ago.
The Whitney Museum’s press office declined Hyperallergic’s request for comment.
In the galleries of the museum, patrons were introduced to the controversy surrounding Kanders via Forensic Architecture’s commission for the biennial, “Triple-Chaser,” which incorporates video footage of the use of Safariland-produced grenade canisters on civilians. Forensic Architecture also provided a printed map detailing Safariland’s presence around the world, explaining that the London-based research group has “found evidence of tear gas manufactured by Safariland being used against civilians in fourteen countries, including six states or territories of the United States.”
“Triple-Chaser” also looks into the potential use of open tip match bullets made by Sierra Bullets in Gaza; Sierra Bullets was acquired in 2017 by the Clarus Corporation, of which Kanders is the executive chairman, for $79 million. The video concludes by informing the audience that after sharing its findings with the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), the center has served legal notice to Sierra Bullets indicating that the export of its bullets to the Israeli army may be aiding and abetting war crimes.
Over 50 of the 75 artists participating in the biennial have also added their signatures to a letter titled “Kanders Must Go,” initially signed by 120 prominent scholars and critics earlier that month. The letter, published on the Verso blog, states that the supporting artists and academics’s aim is amplifying the staffer’s demands for ideological and financial reform at the museum.
“Universities and cultural institutions like the Whitney claim to be devoted to ideals of education, creativity, and dissent beyond the dictates of the market,” the letter states. “Yet, these institutions have been historically entwined with the power structures of settler colonialism, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and capitalism.” Those institutions, the letter continues, “provide cover for the likes of Kanders as they profit from war, state violence, displacement, land theft, mass incarceration, and climate disaster.”
Husain then invited the protestors to march to an undisclosed location nearby. The DTP organizer revealed the destination only a block before they arrived at Kanders’s home in Greenwich Village — to which protesters cheered. At the vice chair’s doorstep, they gave impassioned speeches in front of his townhouse and deployed smoke to represent Safariland tear gas. There, they burned sage, blew horns and raised chants like, “Warren Kanders you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide” and “Fuck Kanders.” Police escorted the group throughout the march.
Protestors also distributed a note to Kanders’s neighbors and students of the New School who reside in college dorms nearby, informing them of the presence of a “profiteer of state violence” on their street. “Mr. Kanders, your tear gas was used against my people,” said one activist from Comité Boricua En La Diaspora. “We’re taking our city back. You’re not safe if we’re not safe.” The protestors warned neighbors that they will be “getting less sleep” as long as Kanders lives on their block.
Neighbors and pedestrians appeared confused. “I can’t figure out what this is about,” said one onlooker to Hyperallergic, “They’re talking about Palestine, Puerto Rico … they’re covering everything.”
The protestors vowed to return to Kanders’s house every time a civilian is killed by his companies’ weapons and ammunition. “If you take peace from the people, we take peace from you,” Kisewani, from Within Our Lifetime, said.
The activists ended their protest in front of Kanders’s house with a chant: “We will be back.”
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It took me several weeks to decide whether to write about Lucian Freud: Monumental at Acquavella Galleries, an exhibition of the painter’s large-scale “naked portraits.” Not that the show isn’t grand or noteworthy, which it is, but because, on the face of it, Freud the artist is so completely out of step with the zeitgeist — the deadest and whitest of dead white men, an insatiable sexual adventurer and the grandson of Sigmund Freud, for God’s sake, whose interests, points of reference, and practice never departed an inch from a thoroughly Eurocentric perspective.
To focus attention on Freud while the world is burning down around us felt at best irrelevant, if not irresponsible; the critical blinders required to assess a well-known body of work that, in the scheme of things, should have been written off as retrograde and parochial, patriarchal and hegemonic, seemed as much an ethical question as an aesthetic one.
But a couple of things nudged me back in Freud’s direction. One was the coincidence of visiting Monumental on the same day that I saw the Neo-Conceptual group show Formula 1: A Loud, Low Hum at the CUE Art Foundation, organized by Mira Dayal and Simon Wu, artist/curators in their 20s. The immediacy of the materials and ideas presented in that exhibition made me question why I was heading up to Acquavella’s Gilded Age townhouse in the first place: nothing seemed farther from the contemporary frequencies emanating from Formula 1 than the malerisch mystique enveloping Freud like stale cigarette smoke.
But when I got there, the paintings — not all, but more than I expected — were riveting. The relentless cruelty of Freud’s gray light, which I found deadening in past viewings, suddenly felt as piercing as the flash of a strobe, edging his forms with a sculpted, impenetrable blackness. The perspectival distortions of the floors and walls, which turn the rooms he painted into a collapsing house of cards, no longer came off as mannerisms, but as signifiers of a world losing its bearings. And the transubstantiation of paint into flesh possessed an audaciousness as blunt and unyielding as the steel and concrete on display in Formula 1.
The other thing that brought Freud to mind since I saw Monumental was the new Whitney Biennial, which previewed this week. There is a startling number of paintings included in the show, but for the most part, these works, whose subjects often touched on social issues, were more concerned with content than with the thingness of the paint, which is what Freud, at his best, turns into an obsession.
Monumental is comprised of 13 paintings, several of them problematic, especially “Irish Woman on a Bed” (2003-04), a dark-haired nude whose clumsily painted legs seem to belong to a much larger torso, with a head that’s smaller still, as if Freud had to squeeze it to the size of a grapefruit to fit it on the canvas.
By contrast, in the striking “Leigh Bowery (Seated)” (1990), a frontal view of the performance artist who also posed for the famous “Naked Man, Back View” (1991-92), now in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and one of the main draws of this show, Freud ran out of room on the original canvas, laid it over a much larger support, and continued painting from there.
Other works are simply strange, like the well-known “Sunny Morning—Eight Legs” (1997), on loan from The Art Institute of Chicago, in which David Dawson, Freud’s longtime assistant and an artist in his own right (who curated the current exhibition), sprawls naked on a bed (or a platform done up like one), embracing a sleeping whippet named Pluto, while a pair of legs (also Dawson’s) is glimpsed on the floor beneath the sheets. In his essay for the exhibition catalogue, Dawson writes that the legs were added because “the painting demanded a sort of drama” — a capricious gesture made convincing solely through the solidity of the paint.
That incongruity is more than matched by “Large Interior, Notting Hill” (1998), in which Dawson is again pressed into service, but this time as a substitute for the model and actress Jerry Hall, who, according to the catalogue essay from Michael Auping, the former Chief Curator of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, “decided she could no longer commit the time required, and Freud simply replaced her with Dawson.” Which might sound unremarkable, except that Dawson is naked and suckling a baby at his breast.
The transexual nature of the image, which Freud treats entirely casually — Dawson is set far back in the room, while the writer Francis Wyndham dominates the foreground, relaxing on a leather love seat with a book of Gustave Flaubert’s letters, as Pluto, again asleep, curls at his feet — uncannily plumbs the heart of one of today’s fiercest cultural debates. Completed more than 20 years ago, Freud’s intentions for the painting, as Auping puts it, weren’t “about gender but [to portray] an intimate, tranquil moment: the man absorbed in his book, the sleeping dog, the figure gently breastfeeding the baby.” He then quotes Freud:
Freud’s indifference to the connotations of his imagery, when applied to our current context, creates a charged, even trailblazing statement. Who would have thought that aesthetic detachment could be a prescription for social equality? But Dawson’s unplanned hermaphroditism ultimately makes sense if, in Auping’s words, Freud “portrays gender with brutal accuracy, [but] didn’t seem to favor one or the other in his portraits. There are approximately the same number of male portraits as female.” Citing “Large Interior, Notting Hill,” he concludes, “their parts could even be interchangeable.”
Flesh, of course, is Freud’s fixation, and if it doesn’t matter whose skeleton it’s attached to, it’s also true that none of it is delectable — an unlikely impression from an unrepentant roué who fathered uncountable children. The ridiculously long sessions he required of his sitters — as Auping describes it, “for hours a day, a couple of times a week, for months at a time” — resulted in a buildup of paint that seemed an end in itself.
Sometimes he lost control of the mounds of impasto — as he did in “Ria, Naked Portrait” (2006-07), the most recent work in the show, in which the subject’s face disintegrates into leprous scabs of white, pink, and beige — but more often the paint becomes the form it is describing, sharply contoured into the surrounding field while pushing off the canvas into real space.
It is this consummate control of form, and the palpable presence it engenders, that felt so vital even against a Neo-Conceptual backdrop: the helmet-like head and dangling foot of “Leigh Bowery (Seated)”; the divan in “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” (1995); and, most ravishingly, the fabric patterns in “Sleeping by the Lion Carpet” (1995-96) and “Portrait on Gray Cover” (1996). In the latter picture, the diagonal rightward pitch of the female nude’s bed is held in check by the green, blue, yellow, and pink bedspread rising like a bulwark from the canvas’s bottom edge. The massed pigment of the fabric pattern is absolutely mesmerizing — a cluster of matte colors that, while still reading as paint, feels materially inseparable from the thing it represents.
The sheer power of Freud’s formal articulation manages to propel his paintings into the political moment, almost in spite of themselves. His forlorn, isolated figures and grotty interiors, which once might have felt like tamped-down versions of his friend Francis Bacon’s succubi of existential despair, now resonate appallingly with the steep cultural and social decline fated by Brexit, if it ever takes effect. Aside from the one woman of color among Freud’s nude subjects (“Naked Solicitor,” 2003), the folds and stretches of clammy Caucasian flesh splayed out for inspection amid sullied and tattered surroundings can easily be taken as symbols of the morbid nostalgia and hard nationalism that impelled the narrow vote to go it alone.
Freud’s career paralleled the dismantling of the British Empire, and his pitiless eye tracked not only the dissolution of colonial privilege, but also, through the forensic inspection of unsound bodies, the undermining of the grand traditions of Rembrandt and Velázquez, subverting the painterly splendor he so revered with the grating realities of quotidian life. It is most likely not a denouement he anticipated, but here we are.
Lucian Freud: Monumental continues at Acquavella Galleries (18 East 79th Street, Upper East Side, Manhattan) through May 24. The exhibition is curated by David Dawson.
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Artist Lutz Bacher Whose Work About Violence Intimacy and Memory Resisted Categorization Is Dead ARTnews
Because of the thrillingly multifarious nature of her art, and her general disinclination to explain it, Lutz Bacher has long been one of those rare artists who escape any single, easy summary. Such figures have to be discussed in anecdotes. There was the time when Bacher blanketed a gallery’s floor and courtyard with sand, the time she had illustrations from Playboy repainted, and the time she videotaped one of her dealers at work for months.
Over the course of more than 40 years, Bacher produced work in seemingly every medium, from scrappy collages to sprawling sculptures, all the while addressing—in modes that are poetic, wry, and bracingly direct—subjects like political terror, male-induced violence, the unfixed nature of identity, and the slipperiness of memory. She was, in other words, an essential artist for America at the present moment. Her death on Tuesday, of a heart attack in New York, ends one of the great, strange, original artistic runs of the past half-century.
Bacher—whose name is a pseudonym she adopted in the 1970s—was selective about the biographical information she shared, but certain facts are known. She was born in 1943, making her either 75 or 76. She was long based in Berkeley, California, and moved to New York in 2012. She was married for more than four decades to Donald C. Backer, a radio astronomer and professor, according to Galerie Buchholz, which represented her, and she is survived by her son, David A. Backer; her daughter-in-law, Una Grewal; her granddaughter, Annika Backer; her sister, Jo-Anna Lutz Jones; and her brother, Patrick B. Lutz.
Much has been made of Bacher’s elusiveness—the fugitive mystery she cultivated—but even when her art is enigmatic or restrained, it regularly centers on visceral matters like desire and danger, sadness and rage.
Her 1975 Men at War photographs derive from an image she found of sailors relaxing on a beach during the Vietnam War, reshot and cropped so as to draw out the intimacy and homoeroticism between young men who were trained to kill. The Lee Harvey Oswald Interview (1976) is a series of collages composed with photocopied pictures of the assassin and an interview she conducted with herself about him.
Copies and borrowings proliferate in Bacher’s work, often for the purpose of plumbing popular culture’s vulgarity and its dissolution of private space, both physical and psychic. Her “Jokes” series, which she began in 1987, pairs images of celebrities (Jane Fonda, Henry Kissinger) with ribald and menacing jokes, and in the 1990s, she commissioned commercial painters to make copies of pinup illustrations that Alberto Vargas made for Playboy. Her photo work Jackie and Me (1989) takes paparazzo Ron Galella’s stalker-ish photos of Jackie Kennedy Onassis in Central Park, and adds to them captions in his voice.
Bacher also approached her own immediate surroundings with a gimlet eye, and a focus on how history is written and recalled. Olympiad (1997) is a video tour of the 1936 Olympic Stadium in Berlin shot on aged tape, the image slipping in and out of legibility. From October 1997 to July 1998, she videotaped her dealer Pat Hearn at work in her Chelsea office, later editing some 1,200 hours of footage into a 40-minute piece that became a tribute to the storied gallerist when she died in 2000 at the age of 45.
While taking up au courant topics and techniques from appropriation and the critique of institutions to surveillance and the male gaze at various points in her career, Bacher could never be easily slipped into one category or movement. At the same time she was cribbing Vargas paintings, for instance, she was also making a work like Big Boy (1992), a cushy, blown-up version of the kind of anatomically correct doll that might be used to identify child abuse.
Unsurprisingly, such restless experimentation made Bacher something of an “artist’s artist” for much of her life. But her profile gradually grew, and the past decade saw a number of key outings, including exhibitions at MoMA PS1, in 2009; the Kunsthalle Zurich, the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, and Portikus in Frankfurt, in 2013; and Secession in Vienna in 2016, a show for which she placed huge, worn tubes across the floor.
In 2012, Bacher appeared in the Whitney Biennial, scattering hundreds of old baseballs across a space that had been used for a performance series—melancholy traces of movement and touch, of energy spent. A blank video projection shifted from black to white, accompanied by a snippet of the soundtrack from The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) as two lovers talk. “What are you thinking?” one says. The other replies, “I am thinking how happy I am.”
That piece remains one of the most beautiful artworks I have ever seen, a peculiar, delirious mixture of the specific and the abstract, the intimate (a couple in private) and the vast (all the action those balls were a part of). Bacher was a master of such surprising creations. In her hands, ingenious, spare ideas, executed with panache, yield outsized results.
A photo of military men, manipulated by Bacher, leads to an exegesis on camaraderie, war, and sexuality. Hours and hours of deadpan footage, distilled down, becomes a documentary portrait, a history, a memorial. And an adopted name, committed to over a lifetime, comes to represent a different way of being in the world.
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Having tackled subjects like superheroes, fashions of first ladies, and the pomp and circumstance of Catholic imagery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual costume exhibition is typically a campy affair. But what happens when it decides to become a little too self-aware (or very self-unaware) and mounts a show entirely devoted to the elusive style that is camp?
Andrew Bolton, the Wendy Yu curator in charge of the Costume Institute at the Met, has tackled that theme for this year’s spring exhibition, Camp: Notes on Fashion (a tip of the chapeau to Susan Sontag’s essay on the subject). Bolton boasts that it “[a]dvances creative and critical dialogue about the ongoing and ever-evolving impact of camp on fashion.” One little point he’s missing, though, is right in the text the exhibition is based off of: “To talk about Camp is therefore to betray it,” Sontag writes. So how can we advance a dialogue on camp if it becomes neutered when we dare speak of it?
The exhibition is divided into two sections: One, a more historical approach to camp featuring everything from Versailles to Oscar Wilde to Andy Warhol, and the other, more modern, a collection of contemporary couture that wrestles with the idea of “camp.”
Upon entering the first, narrow gallery, visitors hear the bright version of “Over the Rainbow” from a young, hopeful Judy Garland, and as you leave you hear a version she sang later in life, shortly before her death, that sounds more like a mournful funeral dirge. Seems campy enough, right? Mostly, it’s just distracting, exacerbated by a cacophonous typewriter noise ostensibly meant to represent Sontag pounding away at her essay on camp, of which difficult-to-read quotations are plastered on the glass all over the gallery to accompany Tiffany lamps and other objets d’art she references in her text as being examples of camp.
In the last gallery, a rainbow of vitrines displays modern couture with a camp sensibility. Each vitrine flaunts two or three ensembles, all assembled to adhere to themes such as, “Being-As-Playing-A-Role,” which features Björk’s infamous swan dress, or “Dandyism in the Age of Mass Culture,” which is just stuffed Gucci logo-emblazoned outfits.
In Sontag’s seminal essay on the style, she describes one of the creative sensibilities of camp as a refusal of “[b]oth the harmonies of traditional seriousness, and the risks of fully identifying with extreme states of feeling.”
The problem with the exhibition is that it’s simultaneously too self-aware and too clueless to capture the essence of camp. It’s an exercise to see what from the Met’s permanent collection could be combined with the modern designers they want to showcase (such as a 1934 Cadmus painting of a fleet coming in, mingling with a TV Dinner-inspired cape from Moschino’s last collection). None of it really goes together, let alone encapsulates the theme, and for such a complicated subject, the show is narrowly small. Maybe it’s because last year’s exploration of Catholicism and fashion was the museum’s largest costume exhibition to date, so it had to reign it in this year, but “camp” is certainly not something that benefits from reigning in.
It’s all too highbrow. Loans from Versailles and Moschino couture sound campy, but it falls short the same way the Costume Institute’s punk exhibition did: It’s not so much about the theme, but rather how that theme trickled up to higher echelons of society.
The Met has taken camp to stuffy levels that don’t do it justice. It missed the humor of camp, the democratization it requires — the camp classic Showgirls isn’t brilliant from the standpoint of film scholars, it’s brilliant from the standpoint of Queer people making fun of it. Likewise, this exhibition isn’t even bad enough to be reexamined as a camp classic — it just misses the point entirely.
One of the most glaring failures isn’t even in the exhibition, but in the gift shop: For $125, you can purchase a silk scarf designed to look like a link of rainbow bandanas, a reference to the hanky code gay men used to cruise each other when openly doing so would be illegal. A highly sexualized secret language has been coopted for and by straight people to make a buck — not unlike the general atmosphere of camp, itself a secret language, improperly decoded for the masses. It’s the perfect metaphor for the Met’s serious fail at exhibiting the “failed seriousness” of camp, as Sontag would put it.
Camp: Notes on Fashion continues at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute (1000 5th Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan) through September 8.
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Week in Review is a weekly collection of news, developments, and stirrings in the art world. Subscribe to receive these posts as a weekly newsletter.
The estate of artist Robert Indiana is attempting to stop reproduction of the famed pop artist’s works under the claim that licensing agreements for those works, including his famous “LOVE” artwork, ended when the artist died in 2018. Notices were filed in a New York federal court terminating licensing agreements between the estate and Michael McKenzie, the Morgan Art Foundation, and Simon Salama-Caro. McKenzie’s American Image Art represented a part of Indiana’s artwork late in his life, while the Morgan Art Foundation owns the rights to Indiana’s “LOVE” and Salama-Caro served as Indiana’s agent and an adviser to Morgan. McKenzie and Morgan plan to fight the filing in court. [Press Herald]
Czech Culture Minister Antonin Stanek will step down after coming under scrutiny for his dismissal of Jiri Fajt, former director of Prague’s National Gallery, earlier this month. Many believed the firing was politically driven, and international museum administrators, including Hartwig Fischer at the British Museum and Max Hollein at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, signed a letter condemning the decision. [The Art Newspaper]
At the unveiling of over 200 ancient Egyptian artifacts recovered after Brazil’s National Museum caught fire in September, the museum’s director Alexander Kellner called out the museum’s lack of federal funding. While the ministry of education, the administrator of the museum, has supported the rebuilding process with 2.5 million reais (~$620,000), the museum requests an additional 1 million reais (~$248,000) as soon as possible. “We’re not going to be able to continue these cool activities you’re seeing here without help,” Kellner said. [TAN]
The Peruvian government will restrict access to the historic site of Machu Picchu through May 28, limiting the number of tourists that can pass through the Incan citadel’s Temple of the Sun, Temple of the Condor, and Intihuatana Stone. The initiative is a step towards long-term preservation of the site. “These measures are necessary to conserve Machu Picchu, given the evidence of deterioration” on its stone surfaces, says the country’s culture ministry. The national authorities will apply new, permanent rules on June 1. [ArtDaily]
Jorge Pérez, whose name bears the Pérez Art Museum Miami, established a program called CreARTE to distribute $1 million in grants annually to visual arts groups. In partnership with the Miami Foundation, the program will center artist fellowships and residencies, art education and access, and creative spaces. [Miami Herald]
David Adjaye will design New Delhi’s renovated Kiran Nadar Museum of Art. The museum has resided inside a shopping mall for the past nine years, but will expand to accommodate its over 6,000 artworks. The news was announced at the 2019 Venice Biennale, where Adjaye was participating in Ghana’s first pavilion at the fair, and Kiran Nadar (the museum’s founder) was curating the Indian pavilion. [Archinecht]
Anish Kapoor will become the first foreign artist to install work in the Forbidden City’s Imperial Ancestral Temple in Beijing. [artnet]
One of Claude Monet’s iconic haystack paintings, “Meules” (1890), sold for $110,747,000 at Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on May 14, becoming the first Impressionist to surpass a $100 million price tag at auction and setting a record for the French artist. The painting is one of only four paintings from Monet’s Haystacks series to come to auction in the 21st century. The sale brought in a total of $349,859,150.
This and other notable sales and acquisitions are chronicled in our latest Transactions story.
More News from This Week
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In Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds: Surviving Active Shooter Custer, on view at MoMA PS1, the Cheyenne and Arapaho Nation artist, activist, and teacher makes the case that America’s atrocities against Native people permeate into our culture today.
Organized by Curator Ruba Katrib and Curatorial Associate Oliver Shultz, the solo show of 200 works includes a major piece called “Health of the People is the Highest Law” (2019), which deals with Native health issues; as well as the title piece, which connects past violence against Native Americans with current events. The show also features a series of pastel text drawings from 1987 called “American Policy II,” Edgar Heap of Birds’s more personal “Blue Tree” (2005–2017) monoprints, and sign pieces called “Trail of Tears” (2005) that are a part of his public art practice.
Sheila Regan: Could you talk about your aims for Surviving Active Shooter Custer, which seems to reach into history in order to bring context into current discourse about gun violence?
Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds: People get very upset about certain shootings, but of course Custer was the main terrorist that came to our country. Being citizens here, it’s important to look at Native history and compare it to the empire’s behavior toward indigenous populations, which is pretty devastating.
SR: How does looking at that history inform current debates around gun violence?
EHOB: The Republic was built on violence. That was where all the genocide happened, and it’s still with them in a certain kind of shadowy way. If you go back to how the British and other colonial powers came here — even the kind of medieval thing that Columbus did with cutting off their hands, and in the Pueblo revolt, they cut off their feet. America, the Republic, even in its colonies — has been in an incredibly vicious, violent relationship with Native people.
No one ever dealt with that violence historically. There’s no Holocaust museum for Native people. We’ve lost 50 million Native people, but there’s no remark about that anywhere in the government. Like any disfunction, if you don’t deal with your disfunction at home, it just gets worse.
SR: Can you talk a little about some of the text in the piece? For example, “Make Uterine Hats your Sport.”
EHOB: That’s actually from the Sand Creek Massacre. The Chivington militia were really destined and determined to erase the womb of the Cheyenne babies — the future babies and women. They actually cut out the uterus and wore it as a hat ornament during the massacre. It was sort of their sport — the Cheyenne Uterus.
And then “Fort Marion Cheyenne Camp X-Ray” is about how after the massacre of the Washita with Custer, when they took the women away to be raped, and they took the men — one of my relatives, Heap of Birds, was one of them — and made them POWs. There were no charges. There were no trials, and no due process. I take that and compare it to Guantanamo. They take you and put you away and no one knows where you are, who you are. They can do what they want with you.
SR: The pieces read like poems. How do you go about constructing the text?
EHOB: First I write a note, sometimes in my phone, and then I put them on a vellum piece of paper in my studio and rework it. Then, when I’m getting ready to go to the print studio, I would have three-word phrases and put two of them together, so I would have a total of six words. Then I put them on to a newsprint, and I put the newsprint over on the light table, so I’m actually painting on a clear plate of glass with a clear liquid, doing a monoprint.
I’m ghosting all my prints now, and I intend to hang them like this to talk about this loss. The ghosts are Native citizens today. We’re what’s left from the massacres. I don’t have to repaint them. I just put a second piece of paper off of each plate. They have a whole different kind of feeling for the lighter tinted piece. The ghost is the remnant of the murders — all the people that have come and gone and the ones that remain are represented by the ghost.
SR: Your other new installation, “Health of the People is the Highest Law,” seems to reference different health issues that affect Native communities — everything from diabetes and heart failure to suicide rates. What prompted you to use art to take on this topic?
EHOB: In my own family and in my reservation, we have a lot of problems with health. In Indian country there’s this major catastrophe we are living through. A lot of it comes from the massacre era.
They made the Indians stay on the reservation, and delivered them all this food. It later became a USDA food program. But all that food was horribly unhealthy — high sugar, high salt, high fat, and preservatives. They made the tribes eat that — they couldn’t go hunt elsewhere. Actually the tribe was healthier in 1830 than they are today.
Today we have huge problems with diabetes and heart disease and liver disease, particularly from alcoholism from being so dysfunctional and depressed. The tribe is really struggling, and a we have a lot of amputees. I have an uncle who lost all of his fingers. He lost all his legs, but he still was a drummer and dancer in the pow wow.
I wanted to call for a return to corn beans and squash — and go back to a healthier time of what we put in our bodies.
SR: One panel I found poignant reads, “Cirrhosis is from having no mentor.”
EHOB: They took the chiefs and warriors away. The first step of any American engagement with the enemy is to kill the leadership. That kind of thing is what brings the cirrhosis — when you have this lack of leadership for many generations.
I’m a priest and an instructor in the ceremony. I have young men right now who I am mentoring to go through the ceremony for four years, and I have another young man who asked me to take him through four years after this coming year. So I’m not just making art about it, I’m living what I’m talking about.
SR: Are there any other pieces you wanted to talk about that are part of this show?
EHOB: The “American Policy II” from 1987 is significant. That work is sort of the nucleus of my text work before it progressed to printmaking, so it’s nice that PS1 shows the historical legacy of how I got to where I am today.
SR: Sounds like you’re not planning on stopping any time soon.
EHOB: Yeah, and I’m retired from the University of Oklahoma from teaching in June. My career in the public realm is getting more recognized but I’m very productive in the print studio. I don’t have any time to spare.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds: Surviving Active Shooter Custer continues through September 8 at MoMA PS1, 11 W. 53 St., Manhattan. The exhibition is organized by Ruba Katrib, Curator, with Oliver Shultz, Curatorial Associate, MoMA PS1.
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Jeff Koons Rabbit Goes for Record $91.1 M. at Rock-Solid $539 M. Christies Contemporary Sale ARTnews
A potent combination of record-setting Pop art masterworks and a stainless steel rabbit sculpture by you-know-who drove Christie’s postwar and contemporary evening sale in New York on Wednesday night to a sizzling $539 million finish, in-between pre-sale expectations of $422.3 million to $605.2 million.
Just five of the 56 lots offered failed to sell, for a wafer-thin buy-in rate by lot of nine percent, and 47 of the 51 sold lots made over $1 million. Ten made over $10 million, and and three went over $50 million. Seven new artist records were set.
The evening’s result vaulted past last May’s $397.2 million total on 58 lots sold, led by Francis Bacon’s Study for Portrait (1977), which made $49.8 million. It takes up position as the sixth-highest mark for an evening sale in history for this category.
(All prices reported include the hammer price plus the buyer’s premium: 25 percent of the hammer price up to and including $300,000, 20 percent on the price from that up to and including $4 million, and 13.5 percent for anything beyond that. Estimates do not include premium.)
In terms of pre-arranged financial guarantees, 16 involved third-party support, through which the backer receives a financing fee for the risk taken, and one was a standalone guarantee from the auction house.
The evening got off to an auspicious start with property from early Pop art collectors Robert B. and Beatrice C. Mayer, led off by James Rosenquist’s Marilyn II (1963), depicting the head of the screen goddess in pie-shaped sections, with one green and one red balloon attached to the oil on canvas. It made $2.66 million against an estimate of $2 million to $3 million. The couple acquired the work in 1964 from the Green Gallery in New York, which run by the late, great talent-hunter Richard Bellamy.
A second Rosenquist, Director (1964), scaled at 90 by 62 inches, includes a painted folding-chair in front of a depiction of a giant, whitewall tire. It sold to a telephone bidder for $3.14 million (est. $2 million–$3 million). It last appeared in public at the traveling Rosenquist retrospective organized by the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in 2003–04.
The Mayer cavalcade continued with the spectacular 8-foot-high Robert Rauschenberg composition Buffalo II (1964), a virtual graphic novel of 1960s America, from the photographic visage of the recently assassinated President Kennedy (when he was still a U.S. senator) to the purloined image of a Huey helicopter in Vietnam. The oil-and-silkscreen-on-canvas masterpiece roared to a record-shattering $88.8 million (est. $50 million–$70 million). It obliterated the previous mark for Rauschenberg, set by Johanson’s Painting (1961), which sold at Christie’s New York in May 2015 for $18.6 million.
Bidding opened at $38 million and Pace Gallery head Marc Glimcher took an early lead at $55 million before being swept away by a gauntlet of telephone bidders that drove the work to a hammer price (before fees) of $78 million.
“I was so proud of my bid,” Glimcher said as he exited the salesroom. “I felt like a big man for three minutes but they [the other bidders] were toying with me.”
The Mayers acquired the painting from Leo Castelli in 1965, for $18,000, a year after its appearance at the Venice Biennale, where Rauschenberg received the Golden Lion award, according to the dealer’s widow, Barbara Castelli.
Christie’s guaranteed the painting and judging by its performance, the house might have profited beyond whatever was left of the buyer’s premium (which may vanish into the pocket of the seller).
Other Pop art classics from Mayer included Roy Lichtenstein’s comic book–lifted Kiss III (1962), which sold to another telephone bidder for $31.1 million (est. $30 million–$50 million) and Andy Warhol’s 40-by-40 inch Liz (Early Colored Liz), 1963, which sold to Larry Gagosian for $19.3 million (est. $20 million–$30 million). Liz’s jet-black hair, accentuated turquoise–hued eye shadow, and ruby red lipstick, set against a blue background, retains its arresting freshness. Both works carried third-party guarantees.
The couple acquired the Warhol from the Castelli Gallery in 1965 for $1,200, according to Barbara Castelli.
Other Mayer kit included Tom Wesselmann’s Great American Nude #26 (1962), bearing a collaged mix of name brands, like the Coca-Cola six-pack and Beefeaters’ Gin bottle, as well as a large reproduction of a Matisse painting. It sold to art trader Jose Mugrabi for $2.42 million (est. $1.5 million–$2 million).
The Mayer motherload delivered a whopping $157.2 million (122 percent above its low estimate, according to Christie’s), but it was hardly the only evening attraction, as evidenced by Alexander Calder’s sleek Fish (circa 1952), a stunning mobile containing colored glass shards suspended by wire and string, meant to resemble fish scales.
Backed by a third-party guarantee, it elegantly swam upstream, selling to Marc Glimcher for $17.5 million (est. $12.5 million–$16.5 million). Speaking of fresh to market, the Calder last sold at auction at Sotheby’s New York in November 1987 for $198,000.
But the uber lot that everyone seemed to be waiting for was Jeff Koons’s stainless steel Rabbit from 1986, a mirror-finish sculpture cast from an edition of three plus one artist’s proof.
Offered from the storied collection of American publishing-magnate S.I. Newhouse, the sculpture (another from the edition) first appeared at the Sonnabend Gallery in a 1986 group show along with works by Ashley Bickerton, Peter Halley, and Meyer Vaisman, all onetime members of the dispersed International With Monument gallery.
Perfectly cast to mimic a blow-up toy balloon, complete with a protruding nipple at its backside, the sculpture became an instant touchstone of the downtown zeitgeist. “It seemed to me instantly,” the celebrated curator Kirk Varnadoe wrote in Artforum in 2003, “by involuntary reflex—and still does by long reflection—that this bunny is one of those very rare hits at the exact center of the target.”
Newhouse acquired the work privately in 1992 for $1 million from the New York artist Terry Winters, who had his first solo exhibition at Sonnabend in 1984.
Bidding opened at $40 million and in relatively short order attracted four telephone bidders plus seasoned dealer Robert Mnuchin, cell phone plugged to his ear, presumably speaking with a client.
The bidding war lasted for 10 minutes and 40 seconds, according to Christie’s and Mnuchin nimbly made the winner offer of $80 million, or $91.1 million with premium.
When asked as he left the salesroom what he made of the record price, Mnuchin, a former equities maven at Goldman Sachs, said, “What can I say? I’m not a predictor and can’t imagine any more than I would [in terms of price] what happens on Wall Street.”
The sculpture shattered the artist’s previous mark, set at Christie’s New York in November 2013 when Balloon Dog (Orange), from 1994–2000, fetched $58.4 million, also, at least at the time, the highest price garnered for any living artist.
Wednesday night, it handily beat David Hockney’s six-month-old record for the highest price of a living artist, nudging past Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), from 1972, which made $90.3 million at Christie’s New York last November.
Christie’s built a special room to display the Koons all by its lonesome at its Rockefeller Center headquarters that resembles a baroque art temple or some variant of it in a luxurious shopping center. It was a perfect Instagram setting.
Remarkably, or so it seems in this current market, the Koons was offered “naked,” without any form of guarantee.
Another Newhouse item, Andy Warhol’s 22-by-28 inch Little Electric Chair (1964–65) sold for $8.22 million (est. $6 million–$8 million) and Roy Lichtenstein’s Song Dynasty–influenced Landscape with Boats (1996) went to another telephone bidder for $6.52 million (est. $7 million–$9 million). Both were backed by third-party guarantees. Newhouse acquired the Warhol at Sotheby’s London in June 2001 for £1.65 million, or about $2.34 million.
Christie’s Newhouse sales—six Wednesday night, combined with the bullish proceeds of five from Monday evening’s Impressionist and modern auction—have so far totaled $216.3 million.
Though Warhol’s market has appeared a bit sleepy of late, that even held true for the instantly recognizable, roughly 82-inch high, silver-toned Double Elvis (Ferus Type), 1963, which brought only a single bid to hammer at $48 million—with premium, it bumped up to $53 million (est. $50 million–$70 million). It was also backed by a third-party guarantee.
Double Elvis was included in the artist’s first solo show in Los Angeles at Ferus Gallery in October 1963. Warhol sent gallerist Irving Blum a roll of unstretched silkscreened Elvis paintings and simply instructed Blum to cut them up as he saw fit. Blum had a first-row seat tonight to watch his progeny move to a new home. Another version sold last May at Christie’s for $37 million.
Sculpture played a big role throughout the evening, as Louise Bourgeois’s monumental and definitely creepy bronze Spider (1997) spun to a record-setting $28.1 million (est. $25 million–$35 million). It also came with third-party backing.
Other highlights of the evening ranged from Frank Stella’s early and spectacular masterpiece from his short-lived “Black Paintings” series, Point of Pines (1958), which made a record $28.1 million (est. $25 million–$35 million), to Willem de Kooning’s sumptuous painting Untitled 1 (1975), which made $10.1 million (est. $10 million–$15 million). Color-charged and trophy scaled at about 81 by 70 inches, it debuted to tremendous acclaim at the Xavier Fourcade Gallery in New York in 1979.
Not everything went for multiple millions, but there wasn’t much on offer under seven figures. However, a cartoon-centric KAWS composition, Kurfs (Tangle), 2009, bearing wall power at 72 by 96 inches, eventually went to a telephone for $2.66 million, way beyond its $600,000-to-800,000 estimate.
In a feel-good moment, the last lot, Jonas Wood’s meditative Japanese Garden 3 (2019), offered to benefit Global Wildlife Conservation, shot to a record $4.93 million (est. $500,000–$700,000).
The evening action resumes with a double-header on Thursday at Phillips (at 5 p.m.) and Sotheby’s at 7 p.m. Don’t be late.
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