W riting in this magazine last year, Joachim Pissarro characterised The Macklowe Collection as giving the artists within it “mini-monographic displays showing works from various points in their careers. This circumstance underlines the deep commitment to specific artists, and following them across different stages in their careers.” The response to November’s sale was testament to the art of collecting in its highest form. Each of the 35 works offered was sold, in what was the most valuable single-owner auction ever staged.
This spring, that historic $676.1 million sale will be followed by a further 30 works from this celebrated collection. From Gerhard Richter to Andy Warhol and Willem de Kooning, leading names from the previous sale return with artworks from crucial moments in their careers, which act as critical counterpoints to those offered in the November sale. These artists will be joined by others whose presence in the collection has not yet been explored. These include Jean Dubuffet’s radical Grand Nu Charbonneux, which has featured in almost every major exhibition dedicated to the artist.
Tracing the pinnacle of Western artistic achievement across the last eighty years, from Giacometti and Picasso through to Sigmar Polke, Cy Twombly, Roy Lichtenstein, Jeff Koons, Agnes Martin, Mark Grotjahn among many others, each work in The Macklowe Collection shows the artist at their absolute zenith.
Video Highlights from the Macklowe Collection
Mark Rothko & Willem de Kooning
Encapsulating a critical point in the history of American abstraction, these two exceptional works by Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning also capture a specific juncture in the careers of both artists.
Never before exhibited publicly, Untitled is one of Rothko’s 19 canvases executed in 1960. Situated between his two seminal commissions of the Seagram Murals in the late 1950s and the de Menil Chapel of the mid-1960s, Untitled is a quintessential example of Rothko’s evolving abstraction of emotion, with a new palette of deeper reds, purples and blues.
Created a year later, de Kooning’s Untitled was executed as he began building a new home and studio at Springs on Long Island. As he left Manhattan for this town on the bay, the luminous atmosphere of the landscape infused the artist’s works. Untitled is a work that links de Kooning’s appreciation of landscape with his explosive gestural abstraction of the mid-1970s.
Painted just before his death in February 1987, Self-Portrait comes from the Fright Wig series, Andy Warhol’s final body of work. His face is obscured by a veil of camouflage – a fitting device for an artist obsessed with the transience of life and the enduring power of the image. The series was arguably Warhol’s last attempt to give himself an iconic status to rival that of Marilyn Monroe, but seems to reflect his realisation that he would never experience the true legendary standing that could be endowed only after death.
Self-Portrait is joined by another of Warhol’s key late works. Hammer & Sickle from 1976 is the finest rendering of his interpretation of the infamous Communist symbol, bringing a characteristic, provocative bravura to rival works such as Campbell’s Soup Cans and Marilyn Monroe.
These two landscapes by Gerhard Richter are representative of an important moment in his career. The ethereal and evocative Ohne Titel (grün) is an early exploration of making a painting between photorealism and abstraction. Exceptionally rare and singular in its compositional structure, it is one of the fullest, most chromatically engaging musings in its sequence. Ohne Titel (grün) was selected for Richter’s pivotal presentation at the German pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1972.
Richter’s Seestück (Seascape), painted a few years after the Biennale, evokes the Romantic landscapes of Friedrich, Constable’s cloud studies and the light effects of Turner, while remaining resolutely contemporary. Seestück (Seascape) blurs the boundaries between painting and photography, capturing aspects of Richter’s photo-based paintings and anticipating his abstract tendencies, while addressing the late 20th-century debate around the role of painting.
Alberto Giacometti & Jean Dubuffet
These two works afford a compelling insight into the treatment of figuration in the years after the Second World War. Alberto Giacometti’s 1958 Diego sur stèle II depicts one of the artist’s favoured subjects, his brother, and, within a series of three works, this is the most radically modelled. The significance of this series is further underlined by Giacometti's selection of both Stèle II and Stèle III for his seminal Venice Biennale exhibition in 1962. The only work by Jean Dubuffet in The Macklowe Collection, Grand Nu Charbonneux is the first large scale nude the artist painted and the progenitor of his acclaimed series of Corps de Dames works.
Cy Twombly & Robert Ryman
Although created nearly 35 years apart, Cy Twombly’s Synopsis of a Battle and Robert Ryman’s Swift both explore the potential and limitations of abstract art.
Twombly created Synopsis of a Battle in 1968, during a period of intense inspiration and productivity. One of his celebrated Blackboard paintings, it is both calligraphic and painterly. Partly inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s sketched prototype of a fighting vehicle, Twombly’s scribbled markings evoke a lecturer’s chalkboard, mathematical notations, or architectural blueprints. They convey a new pictorial mode that suggests the legacy of Abstract Expressionism’s “all-over” painting and the often reduced palette and conceptual mark making of early Minimalism.
Measuring a staggering seven feet in height and created with breathtaking technical precision, Ryman’s Swift represents a singular and elegant articulation of Ryman’s career-long investigation into the possibilities, constraints and essential truths of abstract painting. Both Twombly and Ryman are also geographically linked as in the late 1960s, the artists were both working in New York, only a few doors apart.
Created nearly two decades apart, Plastik-Wannen (Plastic Tubs) from 1964 and The Copyist from 1982 provide a snapshot into the development of Sigmar Polke’s art. His canvases from the 1960s can be seen as a contemplation of the seductive but empty promises of a consumer society. One of a handful of oil paintings from the time, Plastik-Wannen (Plastic Tubs) features a palette and strong contours reminiscent of American Pop, yet by leaving the canvas unfinished, Polke hints at the state of post-war Germany.
In the 1970s Polke abandoned painting in favour of photography and film, returning to the medium in the 1980s. A little-seen masterwork from this period, The Copyist evokes Renaissance and Baroque depictions of St Paul, but the figure can also be seen as Polke himself, perhaps questioning how for centuries, artists relied on copies rather than observing reality.
Hoovers belongs to The New series, with which Jeff Koons first made his mark in the art world. This significant sculpture from 1980 harks back to Marcel Duchamp’s idea of presenting everyday objects as works of art, yet has added irony given these brand-new vacuum cleaners are entirely protected from the dust and dirt they are designed to remove. The unused Hoovers remain in a state of perfection – were they to be used, Koons explained, the artwork would be immediately destroyed.
Part of Koons’s Banality series, Popples is a witty and subversive example of the artist’s celebrated brand of critical Post-Modernism. Based on a popular 1980s toy and cartoon character, the sculpture is elevated by being crafted in porcelain rather than cotton and polyester, with each detail of the plush toy recreated by skilled craftsmen.
The exhibition is free and open to the public.
Cover image, from left to right: Jeff Koons, New Hoover Convertibles, New Shelton Wet/Dry 10 Gallon Doubledecker, 1981–86. Estimate: $3,500,000-4,500,000; Jeff Koons, Popples, 1988. Estimate: $1,500,000- 2,000,000; Sigmar Polke, The Copyist, 1982. Estimate: $3,000,000-4,000,000