The Artist’s Hand: Highlights of 50th Anniversary Contemporary Evening Auction

The Artist’s Hand: Highlights of 50th Anniversary Contemporary Evening Auction

Discover the top lots of Western art from the upcoming 50th Anniversary Contemporary Evening Auction in Sotheby’s Hong Kong’s Spring Sales series through several fascinating linking threads.
Discover the top lots of Western art from the upcoming 50th Anniversary Contemporary Evening Auction in Sotheby’s Hong Kong’s Spring Sales series through several fascinating linking threads.

E ach of the top lots of the 50th Anniversary Contemporary Evening Auction reveals a fascinating duality between the abstract and the figurative, pushing the notion of abstracting the figurative to its furthest limits. Traces of the “hand of the artist”, a signifier of the artist themselves, was once thought to be an essential component of artistic production and appreciation, but attention has now turned to questions of materiality – texture, weight, colour, hardness, softness – and how these qualities can reveal more about a work’s meaning than simply referencing the artist’s ego.

Roy Lichtenstein translates each of his visions into clean, hard-edged compositions that appear entirely machine-made, whilst Gerhard Richter’s move towards squeegeed works erases traces of human memory and human touch. Antony Gormley welds together open steel blocks to create an approximation of human space and materiality. At the other end of the spectrum, Cecily Brown uses loose gestural brushstrokes that transform into flesh and back again, whilst Rafa Macarrón’s mysterious hybrid characters are formed by a mixture of marker pen, wax, as well as spray, acrylics, gouache and oil paints. Together, these artists define the contemporary, reframing meaning within the process of investigation into the nature of things and capturing the essence of the here and now.

Roy Lichtenstein, Figures, 1977

A personal favourite that remained in Roy Lichtenstein’s own collection during his lifetime, Figures transposes familiar elements of the American Pop artist’s trademark style into the mysterious realm of Surrealism. 1977 marked the beginning of Lichtenstein’s highly acclaimed Surrealist period, and he created a body of work of up to 49 paintings which drew together Picasso’s beached nudes, Dali’s desert landscapes and Miró's organic shapes through the striped and Ben-Day dotted lens of his inimitable style. “I want to hide the record of my hand,” explained Lichtenstein of his machine-made aesthetic and seamless, print-like precision. Indicative of the artist’s increasing tendency in the 1970s and 80s to embrace greater experimentation, Figures has been extensively exhibited in a number of the artist’s most important exhibitions, including 2010’s Roy Lichtenstein: Meditations on Art at La Triennale di Milano, Milan. Figures is a magnificent example of Lichtenstein’s versatile contribution to 20th century art history.

Gerhard Richter, Abstrakte Bilder, 1992

Painted the year after the artist’s breakthrough 1991 retrospective at the Tate in London, Abstrakte Bilder is an exceedingly rare four-panelled painting from the height of the German artist’s stellar abstract practice. By 1992, Richter had mastered the squeegee technique which had allowed him to surrender artistic control to the physical qualities of paint, thus erasing all traces of the artist’s hand. A palpable sense of rhythm and movement exists in the intersecting horizontal and vertical striations as layers of blue and green paint are brushed, dragged and streaked across the canvases, creating a poetic conversation across its counterparts. Abstrakte Bilder was the centrepiece of Richter’s installation at Documenta IX (1992), before appearing as part of the artist’s landmark touring retrospective, Gerhard Richter: Malerei 1962-1993, which travelled to major institutions in Paris, Bonn, Stockholm and Madrid. It was an exhibition that, in the words of critic Doris van Drathen, “reset the standards in contemporary art.”

The Contemporary Day Auction also features Untitled No. 48 (1973), one of Richter’s early abstractions which showcases the artist’s formative experimentations with colour and form on his way one of the world's most important living painters.

“I always need to paint abstracts again. I need that pleasure…there must be something, some higher faculty, some progressive sensibility that we find in abstraction.”
Gerhard Richter

Antony Gormley, Open Hide, 2016

Open Hide is an outstanding example of Gormley’s lifelong fascination with the relationship between the human body and architecture. From the artist’s “Open Blockworks” series, which seeks to open up the body’s boundaries, Open Hide invites the viewer into a continual dance between transparency and density, open and closed, solidity and instability. “I wanted to open the body up. [...] I want to enliven the viewer's inquisitiveness, but also confront them with their own passage through space and time,” explained Gormley. Open Hide’s life-sized proportions encourage the viewer to consciously consider the sculpture through the framework of their own physicality. The hard-edged steel welded shell that represents the corporeal contrasts with the immateriality of the negative space, where thought and emotion exist. Through materiality and spatial relationships, the artist strives to give form to the invisible and profound sensation of living in a body that, in turn, inhabits the world.

“Mass and space, light and dark, line and volume are all at play. The work is a score to be read by the body.”
Antony Gormley 

Cecily Brown, Where They Are Now, 2013

A cacophony of sumptuous, tactile colour and movement, Where They Are Now is an exquisite example of Cecily Brown’s ability to render the physical and emotional interactions between the human form and its environment. Brown embraces the tradition of the nude, deploying loose gestural brushstrokes that coalesce into a kaleidoscope of sensual, intertwined Rubenesque figures. A physical intimacy from the artist’s hand can be felt in every stroke: oil pigments are pressed, smudged and squeezed into the canvas, dissolving the boundaries between the figures and the physical medium which portrays them. Fleshy hues give way to electric shades of pink, orange and grey. Brown was struck by the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s iconic 1968 album cover for Electric Ladyland, and embarked upon an entire series based on this image. Portraying fragmented figures in indefinite space where “the women come and go…it feels more psychological, or something from your memory”, explained the artist. This work made its debut at the artist’s solo exhibition at Gagosian Los Angeles in 2013.

Rafa Macarrón, CAC I , 2021

A self-taught artist and physiotherapist by training, Rafa Macarrón has a carefully studied knowledge of human anatomy that lends his imaginary “hybrid characters” a distinct physicality and materiality. Elongated limbs, bulbous extremities and enlarged heads are “born from a fantastic, surreal, and expressionist figuration”’ inspired by modernists such as Jean Dubuffet, the father of art brut (“raw art”). Exhibited as part of Macarrón’s Quince solo show, the monumental CAC I is one of 15 works created for CAC Málaga and is the largest work by the artist to have ever been offered at auction. This is the first series by the artist to have been titled numerically, and its lack of description frees the viewer to immerse themselves fully in the surreal landscape of Macarrón’s creation. CAC I returns to the predominantly black-and-white palette punctuated with slight shades of fluorine and ochre which characterised the artist’s earliest works.

Afterwork, featured in this season’s Contemporary Day Auction, is an early work from Macarrón, which shows his imaginary characters engaged in everyday situations. The metallic pink-and-purple party room and its curious humanoid and canine inhabitants provide a glimpse of Macarrón’s offbeat humour.

“The materials used in my painting give me total freedom of expression. The spray gives modernity, dynamism, and colour. The pencils and the marker create the weft, the waxes, the acrylics and the gouaches, nuanced transparencies and the oil brings complexity.”
Rafa Macarrón

Contemporary Art Hong Kong Spring Auctions 50 Years New in Asia

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