NEW YORK - It's telling that on her website, the trendsetting fashion designer Anna Sui includes among her favorite things a shortlist of "eccentrics" – dynamic, free-spirited figures like the English aristocrat Lady Ottoline Morrell and the cosmetics magnate Helena Rubinstein. Sui, always in search of inspiration for her next clothing line, is attracted to exuberance, idiosyncrasy and romance. Her edgy, rock-n-roll-infused style made Sui an ideal choice to join the current roster of tastemakers informing Contemporary Curated, a recently introduced editorialized version of Sotheby’s mid-season sale of contemporary artworks.
Fashion designer Anna Sui is one of the guest curators of the Contemporary Curated sale at Sotheby’s.
"I’m obsessed with the 1960s and Pop Art in particular," Sui enthuses. "I think this was the period that really shaped me, and my love for fashion. The '60s will always represent a time of ultimate optimism, revolution, freedom, and infinite possibility." From a pool of more than 300, she naturally found herself drawn to five powerful and iconic works of art, all of which bear the mark of pivotal '60s art movements: Robert Indiana's LOVE (1966-1998); Niki de Saint Phalle's Dancing Couple Vase (2001); an untitled sculpture by Louise Nevelson (circa 1970); Blue Airmail Stamp, an acrylic painting by Andy Warhol, dated 1962; and Tom Wesselmann's Study for Most Beautiful Foot (1968).
Robert Indiana’s LOVE, 1966-1998.
Robert Indiana's brightly colored sculptures fashioned from polychrome aluminum and rendering the word "Love" in stacked letters are among the artist's most charged and recognizable works. This human-scaled example, standing six feet tall, six feet wide, and three feet deep, is artist's proof number one from an edition of just four artist's proofs. Sui is apt to point out that this insistent Pop icon – text, image and object all at once – "became the symbol of a generation." No doubt the starkly contrasting colors and machined, hard-edged patterning of Indiana's work remind Sui of key influencers such as fashion designers Alexander Girard and Rudi Gernreich.
Niki de Saint Phalle’s Dancing Couple Vase.
Sui likewise has a special place in her heart for the slick, candied, bulbous surfaces and fairy-tale-meets-Pop vocabulary of Niki de Saint Phalle's artwork. "I remember great photographs of her in 1960s Vogues," she recalls. "It was so cool to see her work on Park Avenue last summer" – referring to an exhibition of outdoor sculpture commemorating the tenth anniversary of the artist's death. "I used to have a Niki de Saint Phalle inflatable toy snake, and now I'm obsessed with finding another," Sui continues. "I’d love a whole set of her inflatable toys, especially the Nana figures and snakes." Dancing Couple Vase, a two-part sculpture made of painted polyester resin and ceramic, neatly encapsulates what's so vibrant, human, and endearing about the artist's unique style.
Louise Nevelson’s Untitled, circa 1970.
For anyone familiar with Sui's Fall 2005 collection, the designer's choice of this circa-1970 monochrome sculpture by Louise Nevelson should come as no surprise. Nevelson and her layered, geometrically intricate work served as Sui's muse that season. "I wanted the girls in my show to look like they were at an opening of a Louise Nevelson exhibit, like Louise Nevelson groupies," Sui explains. "I always loved the way she dressed – tall Cossack boots, Dr. Zhivago fur hats, Byzantine jewels, ropes of gypsy beads and chains, paisley babushkas, mink eyelashes…" Sui has often dreamed of having Nevelson's puzzle-like three-dimensional sculpture take over an entire wall of her home. "When I saw her retrospective at the Jewish Museum" – in 2007 – "with the galleries of full rooms, all four sides of Nevelson…I was in heaven."
Andy Warhol’s Blue Airmail Stamp.
Regarding her choice of Blue Airmail Stamp, Sui responds by simply asking, "Who wouldn't want to own a Warhol?" What's more, this intimate painting offers a glimpse – rare to see at auction – into that early-'60s moment when Warhol was questioning and reshaping the trajectory of 20th-century art by foisting upon the materials of everyday American life. In a nod to the significance of Warhol's legacy, Sui threw a Factory-inspired party to celebrate her Fall 2001 collection. She recalls, "Zoe Cassavetes filmed it to use as the projected backdrop of the runway show!"
Tom Wesselmann’s Study for Most Beautiful Foot.
In the loose and brushy Study for Most Beautiful Foot, Tom Wesselmann demonstrates his talent for incorporating pattern, still life and figure study into a single cohesive formulation – while, of course, imbuing the work with the hints of sultry sensuality the painter became famous for. Sui, for one, has been smitten with it since first sight. "I always loved this image," she says. "I think I bought my first leopard sheets because of it!"