The spring auction season is a time of excitement: Our senses are alert; our minds, open – we’re in the mood for new adventures and connections. At Sotheby’s, works by major contemporary artists and their Impressionist and Modern predecessors will be shown together in Imagine the Conversation, a stimulating preview exhibition running 29 April to 12 May. Ahead of a blockbuster week of sales, we are presenting these artworks in our redesigned New York galleries and giving them time to simply talk among themselves.
In the pages that follow, we pair artists who might engage in especially lively dialogues. While some of these matchups are purely imagined (Helen Frankenthaler and Cecily Brown, for instance), others might very well happen in our galleries. Take Picasso and Basquiat: two charismatic personalities who experienced meteoric rises to stardom, two channellers of African art who were prone to sociopolitical commentary, two artistically restless souls whose legendary status grew after their deaths. If only these two could have met; in our galleries, their works will do the talking.
We invite visitors to partake in these dialogues. A place where connections are made, echoes found and arguments rehashed, Imagine the Conversation will be an exchange spoken in a language understood by all – that of brilliant creativity.
© THE CECIL BEATON STUDIO ARCHIVE AT SOTHEBY’S, 1960 © IAN BERRY / MAGNUM PHOTOS, OCTOBER 1956
In ultra messy studios that bred success, these Europeans lived radically different lives – Bacon with men, often drunk; Giacometti married the woman who rented the room next door. The artists shared mutual acquaintances but their meetings were few; on a trip to Paris in the early 1960s, Bacon bumped into Giacometti at a café and said he admired his work. Had their conversation lasted, painter and sculptor might have recounted how they each arrived at their own brand of distorted, existentialist figures.
GORDON PARKS/THE LIFE PICTURE COLLECTION/GETTY IMAGES, CIRCA 1956 © THOMAS HOEPKER/MAGNUM PHOTOS, 2001
Frankenthaler thought of her paintings as “full of climates,” and Brown’s lush, at times erotic, compositions emit an almost tangible heat. These powerhouse artists, wranglers of big, athletic canvases, would surely debate the merits of Abstract Expressionism: Frankenthaler having traded its content-charged machismo for Colour Field’s organic fluidity, Brown having absorbed its distinct paint handling and general assertiveness into her very own brand of feminism.
MARK KAUFFMAN/THE LIFE IMAGES COLLECTION/GETTY IMAGES, APRIL 21, 1964, FRED W. MCDARRAH/GETTY IMAGES
These two had slightly different definitions of the word factory – Duchamp seeing it as the place where bicycle wheels and bottle racks are made, Warhol as the improvisational space where his art and parties happened. Beyond that, these men would find themselves tightly connected: The Pop artist couldn’t have existed without the Frenchman’s Readymade revolution, and it was America that made Duchamp a celebrity. And, of course, fame was Warhol’s life-long obsession and a focus of his work.
ARCHIVIO CAMERAPHOTO EPOCHE/GETTY IMAGES, 1985, JANETTE BECKMAN/GETTY IMAGES, 1950
Signature lines, bold figures and formal clarity – these idioms were shared in strikingly similar ways by two artists who might talk about life and death and exchange stories from the front lines of very different wars. Their respective battles changed the art they made: Léger’s experiences of World War I led him to produce machine-like forms reminiscent of tanks and weapons. An AIDS activist who ultimately died of the disease, Haring created iconography (such as the horned sperm) related to his illness and the larger crisis.
Imagine the Conversation will be on view 29 April–12 May at Sotheby’s New York.
LEAD IMAGE: JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT AND PABLO PICASSO. WRÖHNERT/ULLSTEIN PICTURE VIA GETTY IMAGES, 1983, © LEE JAFFE/GETTY IMAGES, 1956