New Wave / New Beat: Works by Giants of Contemporary Art

By Sotheby's

New York in the late 1970s was a city in decline: half-deserted, broke and rundown, it was the perfect breeding ground for a revitalised creative scene that reasserted New York’s position at the centre of the art world. The Pictures Generation, graffiti art, hip hop, post-punk, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Neo-Expressionism, second wave feminism and gay rights activism: suddenly a socio- political consciousness returned to the forefront of a new contemporary art practice.

Sotheby's Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 26 June and Contemporary Day Auction on 27 June feature a number of the works that emerged in the wake of this significant period,  including pieces by Eric FischlAndy Warhol and Richard Prince in addition to those featured below.

Basquiat's works are direct and furious reflections of a decadent, sadistic society...It is as if the city itself crawled on these canvases and stomped around
Phoebe Hoban, Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art

The artists assembled as part of New Wave – New Beat: Property from a Private New York Collection speak to this exciting moment and its legacy. Issues of race, sexuality, gender and identity politics represent the warp and weft of an inclusive assemblage of contemporary artworks that includes works by Cindy Sherman, navigates the meteoric ascent of Jean-Michel Basquiat, revels in the eroticism of Cecily Brown, and arrives at the political commentary of Henry Taylor. Although the artists presented here may not be exclusively tied to New York, New York is the home of the individuals behind this collection, a collection, moreover, that responds to a creative call-to-arms borne of a specific moment in the history of New York City.

Jean Michel-Basquiat – Untitled

1982 saw Jean-Michel Basquiat explode into the art world’s collective consciousness. Within the space of a year he had gone from underground street artist to the doyen of the New York art scene. His work Untitled evokes the graffiti of the New York subway, the collages and linguistic play of Dada, and brings to the fore a concentration of socio-political angst.

Cindy Sherman – Untitled Film Still #21A, City Girl Close Up

Depicting a smartly dressed career girl surrounded by skyscrapers, Untitled Film Still #21 is perhaps the most iconic of Cindy Sherman’s portfolio of black and white images. Through these works she confronts stereotypical modes of femininity, casting herself as a series of fictional heroines to expose the culturally ingrained subjugatory role of women.

Cecily Brown – The Skin of Our Teeth

The Skin of Our Teeth is among the most corporeal of Cecily Brown’s works. The viewer’s eye is drawn across an orgiastic mass of fleshy tones that evoke body parts and bone in disarray. “I think I was doing a lot of sexual paintings…” Brown said of the work. “What I wanted… was for the paint to embody the same sensations that bodies would.” (Cecily Brown in Conversation with Gaby Wood)

Henry Taylor – C&H

C&H is an exuberant and sensuous snapshot of Henry Taylor’s distinctive way of seeing. This large, vibrant canvas depicts a series of intersecting narratives that involve the black communities of California, portraying friends, family, homeless people, psychiatric patients and colleagues from the art world. The painting, overlooked by the figure of Taylor himself in the background, conveys a sense of a community created through shared history, and the importance of its documentation through art.

Andy Warhol – Rorschach

Rorschach is a stunning example of Andy Warhol’s eponymous series, which mirrors the methods of the famous ‘inkblot’ test. The test, which was invented by the Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach, provided ten different standardised blots of ink on paper which the patient was encouraged to decipher. Warhol invented his own version.

Achieved in a stylised performance not dissimilar to Jackson Pollock’s drip dance, paint was poured onto one side of a canvas and then folded vertically to imprint the other half. The resulting liquescent beings were open to any form of interpretation, where the viewer projects their own desires and fantasies onto the imagery.

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