Lot 4
  • 4

Nate Lowman

150,000 - 200,000 GBP
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  • Nate Lowman
  • This Marilyn
  • signed and dated '11 on the overlap
  • oil and alkyd on linen
  • 198.4 by 84cm.
  • 78 1/8 by 33in.


Maccarone Gallery, New York
Sale: Phillips de Pury & Company, New York, Guggenheim International Gala Auction, 7 November 2011, Lot 3
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the overall tonalities are softer in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. There is a very faint semi-circular watermark to the bottom of the composition, which is visible in the catalogue illustration and inherent to the artist's choice of media and working process. No restoration is apparent under ultraviolet light.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Executed in 2011, This Marilyn represents the next chapter in the iconic American artistic tradition of depicting sex symbol Marilyn Monroe, transforming Willem de Kooning’s archetypal 1954 portrait into a cool, grungy, and graphically simplified composition. Utilising “80s surfboard hues” of oil paint overlaid with a screenprint pattern of glossy alkyd, suggesting Xerox-copy distortion, Lowman transposes a quintessential work of Abstract Expressionist gesturalism into a ghostly figure punctuated by saturated pink lips and breasts (Aimee Walleston, ‘Trash, Treasure’, Art in America, 5 June 2011). Exhibited at his ironically-titled Trash Landing show in New York, where the Marilyn series debuted, This Marilyn’s larger-than-life scale mimics the monumental format of de Kooning’s canvases. Born from de Kooning’s notoriously aggressive handling of paint, This Marilyn continues Lowman’s career-defining investigation of popular - or ‘trash’ - culture and its intimate relationship with violence, also brilliantly expressed by his notorious Bullet Hole paintings. Embodying the irreverent, experimental, and street-art influenced milieu shared by Lowman and such artists as Chris Wool and Dan Colen, This Marilyn confirms Lowman’s status as among the most sought-after young painters in America today.

Lowman’s inspiration for this series is rooted in the violence that accompanies America’s popular obsession with the attractive female blonde, epitomised by the iconic Marilyn Monroe. The ultimate embodiment of zaftig seduction, submissive and yet unattainable, Monroe’s image transcends her personal biography and occupies the status of a cultural symbol. Lowman approaches his art from this angle, clarifying that he does not have “a connoisseur’s interest” in Monroe’s biography, but rather is “more interested in other people’s interest” (the artist quoted in: Ibid.). Growing up in California, the O.J. Simpson trial assumed mythic proportions in Lowman’s imagination, and from this event Lowman hit upon de Kooning’s energetic and fragmented portrait of Marilyn Monroe as source imagery. He has explained: “de Kooning… painted her so violently. It’s one of the only de Koonings I can think of that’s not ‘woman with a number.’ It’s a person, so it has this extra weirdness to it. So, I thought about this violence towards blond women, and weird anger management, and what if de Kooning and O.J. were the same person” (the artist quoted in: Maxwell Williams, ‘Nothing is Finished’, Flaunt Magazine, Issue 119, Spring 2012, ). Lowman fomented the idea slowly for several years until its powerful fruition in 2010, when he began working on the present series of paintings.

Lowman’s analogistic connections between disparate elements of popular culture, art, and psychological analysis form a thematic web underpinning his ambiguous engagement with female celebrity iconophilia. This complex position strongly echoes Andy Warhol’s definitive depictions of Marilyn Monroe, begun almost immediately following her premature death in 1962 and branded with an aura of macabre tragedy even as they celebrated her glamour. Lowman has similarly compared the obsessive artistic drive to repeat certain motifs - another trait he shares with Warhol - to the deviant mental imbalance of a passionate crime: “I like the psychosis of it… I imagine it’s why serial killers get a weird joy out of killing the same way every time. I just do it until I’m done with it” (the artist quoted in: Fan Zhong, ‘Apr. 30: Nate Lowman Shows in New York’, W Magazine, April 2011). Lowman’s comparison is hardly coincidental; in a way, it critically hyperbolises the interpretation of de Kooning’s Woman paintings as cathartically and hysterically aggressive deconstructions of the female nude. While Lowman finds pleasure in mimicking the gestural technique typical of Abstract Expressionism, his conceptual approach is distinctly postmodern, introducing a measure of distance and self-awareness. Stylistically, the Marilyn series reveals this added degree of remove, established by its pastel swathes of oil and elements of seriality.

With his studio (shared with artist and friend Dan Colen) situated in New York’s Lower East Side, the association between Lowman and Richard Prince’s appropriation art is obvious, especially given that Prince himself has recently produced series after de Kooning. Yet the Marilyns show that Lowman has internalised Prince’s critiques of authorship and originality and, belonging to a younger generation, now conceptualises his art differently. For Lowman, his art is about “language”: “It’s not about a fixed idea or a fixed subject, but it’s about the possibilities that you can open up… I love that there’s just things floating in the world that are parts of language and little pieces, and then ideas occur, and if everything lines up, [you are communicating]” (the artist quoted in: Maxwell Williams, Op. cit.). This Marilyn thus combines multiple languages - that of graffiti, DIY culture (in the Xerox quality of the screenprint), Abstract Expressionism, and soft, kitschy 1980s hues - to arrive at an utterly unique recombination. Lowman has expressed the pleasure he takes in fabricating these works: “It’s the most fun thing you could ever do - you get into the rhythm - and I set out to make three, and I figured if one of them was awesome, then I’d destroy the other two, but I really loved all of them, and they’re so fun to make, so I started making them over and over” (the artist cited in: Ibid.).