T he New York Sales are always a major event on the global art scene, and this fall season’s auctions are no exception. Across six auctions, Sotheby’s is offering works by an enticing selection of artists whose swiftly recognizable, iconic works stand out the moment you enter the room. Now on public view through 17 November, the auctions include names such as Pablo Picasso, René Magritte, Paul Gaugin, Andy Warhol, Yayoi Kusama, Tamara de Lempicka, Mary Cassatt, Claude Monet, Cecily Brown, Yoshitomo Nara and Damien Hirst.
Read on for a selection of only a few of the extraordinary works coming to auction.
Over three hundred works ranging from Abstract Expressionism to the present day will come to the block at Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Auction on the evening of 16 November.
Echoes of America in Andy Warhol’s “White Disaster”
Andy Warhol’s White Disaster [White Car Crash 19 Times] is one of the week’s headline attractions. Here, a monochrome accident plays with our simultaneous desire and shame regarding the impulse to rubberneck when faced with a disaster. The accident itself is anonymous, but the Warhol’s fascination with celebrity is present in the memory of how many of his famous subjects were also victims of public disasters. Over a dozen other works by Warhol, including a Marilyn Monroe screenprint series, will also be available the following day, 17 November, at the Contemporary Day Auction.
Willem de Kooning
Metamorphosis: The Willem de Kooning Decades Collection
Three works on offer from the de Kooning Family Collection constitute a succinct retrospective of the artist’s long career – the most recent, titled The Hat Upstairs, dates to 1987. The two remarkable earlier works are Montauk II (1969) and Untitled (1979). Collectively, these three masterpieces reflect the artist’s long and celebrated evolution.
Francis Bacon’s Portrait of Lucian Freud
It was a brilliant case of game recognizing game when Francis Bacon portrayed fellow artist Lucian Freud in Three Studies for Portrait of Lucian Freud. Executed two decades into an exciting friendship, these are the earliest of five triptychs that Bacon painted of Freud. They nod to all eras in the British portrait tradition: the intimate 12-by-14 size of each study recalls the earliest quasi-anonymous Plantagenet and Tudor efforts at individualized human representation, while the shifting angles on the face suggest Anthony van Dyck’s Triple Portrait of Charles I. However, the muscular, swirling phantasmagoria and psychological intensity are firmly twentieth century and entirely Francis Bacon.
Alighiero Boetti | Mappa
Monumental in size and scope, Alighiero Boetti’s Mappa (1989–91) recognizes the unprecedented questioning of the world order that took place in that era: the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Tiananmen Square protests, the release of Nelson Mandela from Victor Verster Prison. The work was embroidered by Afghan craftswomen working in Peshawar, Pakistan. Prior to the current sale, this rare version of Mappa held pride of place in Boetti’s grand 2011–2012 retrospective, traveling from Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid to the Tate Modern in London and on to The Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Robert Gober, Untitled
Robert Gober’s Untitled is one of many treasures coming to auction from The Mallin Collection. The present work is the second of an edition of two – plus the artist's proof, which is now the collection of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. Untitled depicts no ordinary drain. As critic Roberta Smith wrote: “It takes a moment to see that the drain is embedded in the center of a ghostly male torso, like a supernating wound. And it takes less time than that to feel the immense sense of loss that is so endemic to our times.… If a contemporary crucifix is possible, this may be it.”
Seldom has there been a collector as intrepid or ardent as David M. Solinger, a former president of The Whitney Museum of American Art and savant across genres and cultures. His dazzling collection is replete with works bearing an impressively short chain of provenance. Over half the works in the The David M. Solinger Collection Evening Auction left the hands of the artists for exhibition at galleries in cities like Paris and New York, where they were acquired by Mr. Solinger, and are now available for the first time since the Eisenhower administration.
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning’s Collage Vibrates with the Energy of New York City
Continuing Sotheby’s rich lineup of works by de Kooning, Collage (1950) is a prime example of his most celebrated period. As Dr. David Anfam explains: “Collage represents a historic nexus. Past, present and future trends coalesce in a masterful mix – an interface between figurative shards and an ambiguous whole. Classical draftsmanship – note the precision-honed contour lines – meets avant-garde boldness. The resultant pictorial tumult whooshes across our visual field with almost frightening speed.”
Alberto Giacometti and the Dawn of Post War Sculpture
This version of Trois hommes qui marchent (grand plateau) is the fifth in an edition of six and comes to auction for the first time, having had but one owner since its original purchase from Galerie Maeght in Paris in 1952. It fits within Giacometti’s postwar fascination with walking figures and the kinetic energy of people rushing in crowds.
Painted on the day that the German High Command unconditionally surrendered, marking the end of World War II in Europe, Jean Miró’s Femme, Etoiles marks the culmination of his “Constellations” series, begun five years earlier. Miró described this seminal group of 23 paintings, distinguished by frequent motifs of birds, stars and female figures, as “one of the most important things I have done.” Other works from the series hang in The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
The abstractions of Jean Dubuffet encompass multiple styles and periods, and this week of sales will see six of his creations from four different decades, encompassing the range of his life and story. Épisode shows an energetic dance of rounded, interlocking and cartoonlike puzzle shapes. Rendered in black, white, red and blue, the work is reminiscent of both the French and US flags, a design that exemplifies his acclaimed 1960s “L’Hourloupe” cycle.
Pablo Picasso and the Collision of Muses
The woman sitting in the armchair in Pablo Picasso's Femme dans un fauteuil is a mystery: while the curves of her upper body bespeak a gentle rest, the readable emotions are as conflicted as the many-angled presentation of her body. Are the long-lashed eyes closed in blissful rest, or are they narrowed in anger? One hand appears to rest placidly while the other could be waving in greeting or gesturing in annoyance. We simply don’t know – and must content ourselves with the ambiguity.
The Modern Evening Auction on 14 November will begin immediately after the auction of The David M. Solinger Collection. The two sales promise to make for a blockbuster night, with an atmosphere as effervescent as the Champagne.
Expert Voices: A Conversation on Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure with Tim Marlow and Simon Stock
If you’re familiar with Reclining Figure: Festival, it may be because you’ve seen this sculpture, or another version of it, in a museum. Close inspection reveals details not immediately apparent in the many photographs that exist of this sinuous and aerodynamic figure. Casts exist at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the National Galleries, Edinburgh, and this copy of Reclining Figure has spent its nearly its entire life indoors (except when loaned out for exhibitions), lovingly maintained first by the Moore family and later by the present owner.
Bridget Riley Reflects on the Enduring Legacy of Mondrian
Composition No. II is a quintessential example of Mondrian’s bold, bright style, which inspired flattering tributes from Yves St. Laurent, the pop-rock iconography of The White Stripes and the exterior of The Hague City Hall. Painted in 1930, Composition No. II shows that, as critic Stephen Bayley said, “Mondrian has come to mean Modernism.” When this painting last sold at auction for $2.2 million in 1983, it set a record for the highest amount ever paid for an abstract work.
The William S. Paley Collection
Expert Voices: Sharon Kim on the William S. Paley Collection
Former president of CBS and New York’s Museum of Modern Art, William S. Paley was at the forefront of shaping American culture and taste; now, twenty-nine works from his 40-year collection are coming to auction at Sotheby’s, including incredible works of modern art, such as Picasso’s Guitare sur une table. Like Three Musicians (1921), the pride of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection, Guitare sur une table features a musical theme set in the aftermath of the First World War. Unlike its earth-toned counterpart, Guitar Sur une Table showcases a brighter, springtime palette and roots itself in the tradition of the still life rather than figuration.
Tamara de Lempicka & Bernard Boutet de Monvel
Expert Voices: Scott Niichel on Tamara de Lempicka
Tamara de Lempicka and Bernard Boutet de Monvel were two of the brightest stars of Art Deco portraiture, and November’s auctions feature a mini-capsule of their work: de Lempicka’s Portrait de Romana de la Salle and Boutet de Monvel’s Autoportrait Place Vendôme and Portrait de S. A. le Maharajah d’Indore. These works showcase Art Deco at its sumptuousness finest – in a moment of fresh optimism between the two wars in Europe. As de Lempicka once said, “I was the first woman who did clear painting – and that was the success of my painting. Among a hundred paintings, you could recognize mine.”
Two works by Egon Schiele, created at the start of the artist’s short but pivotal career, are coming to auction this week, including one of his celebrated portrayals of women, Stehendes Mädchen in Weissem Unterkleid (Standing Girl in White Petticoat ), and an electrifying self-portrait painted when Schiele was barely twenty years old. In it, he seems to announce himself to prewar Vienna and the world with a wry, twisted smile, as if to welcome the twentieth century.
Expert Voices: Helena Newman on Giacometti's Caroline
Caroline was not this sitter’s real name, but it’s the name used in the roughly thirty oil paintings that Alberto Giacometti painted between 1961 and 1965 of his late muse and model Yvonne Poiraudeau. Best known as a sculptor, Giacometti’s “Carolines” mark a high point in his output as a painter; other canvases are held in the collections of the Tate Gallery, the Centre Pompidou and the Art Institute of Chicago.
René Magritte Through the Eyes of Surrealism
Blue eyes float in an arabesque of pearls set against a beach background. In Shéhérazade, Magritte converses with the female figurative tradition. A tribute to the eternally celebrated classic story book The Thousand and One Nights, also called The Arabian Nights, this painting is the final of three that Magritte made about the great fictional storyteller Scheherazade. It is memorable both for its rarity and for its lovely floating eyes – now an icon of Surrealism.
The Now Evening Auction, on 16 November, is a concise and rigorously selected presentation of the hottest emerging and established living artists to come to market. It is always closely watched and widely reported on, both as an event and as an indicator of future art history.
Healing with Art: Yoshitomo Nara's Pivotal Shift into the Emotional Landscape
The full impact of Nara’s Light Haze Days / Study is best translated to human terms when confronted in person. Roughly 46 square feet, its unearthly dappled pastel doll eyes are the size of a baby’s head as they seem to flutter before you at eye level.
Eyes Wide Shut comes from a breakthrough period for Cecily Brown, who arrived on the art world stage at the turn of the twenty-first century and has since become one of our most famous living artists. The palette and vigorously sensual brushwork derive from the artist’s fascination with the human figure, while the overall composition defies easy interpretation. Several generations into Abstract Expressionism, Brown finds new things to do with oil paint.
Großer Geist is German for “Great Spirit,” and Thomas Schütte’s bronze both embodies and bows to the spirit of praise and awe. The outstretched figure bends beneath the heavens, full of wonder and praise – or humbled by it.
“I want to make work that explores something that I haven’t seen in painting before. I guess it’s really a question of being generational – making art that belongs to your generation in some way.” That’s what Avery Singer, a star of her generation, says about her work Kundry. Painted in 2018, it uses the timeless medium of paint on canvas to show the digital form of a mythological heroine as represented in a nineteenth-century opera.
Hundreds of artworks coming to auction this November are on public display at Sotheby’s New York, 1334 York Avenue, beginning Friday, 4 November. Exhibitions of The Modern Evening and David M. Solinger auctions will be on view until Monday, 14 November, with exhibitions of The Contemporary Evening and Now Evening auctions remaining on view until Wednesday, 16 November.
Auctions are scheduled from the evening of 14 November through the afternoon of 17 November; please see The New York Sales for exact times and dates.