Lot 531
  • 531

Lisa Yuskavage

350,000 - 450,000 USD
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  • Lisa Yuskavage
  • Dusk
  • signed and dated 2012 on the overlap
  • oil on linen
  • 77 by 60 in. 195.6 by 152.4 cm.


Greengrassi Gallery, London
Private Collection, Sydney
Acquired by the present owner from the above


This work is in very good condition overall. There is evidence of light wear and handling to the sides of the canvas. Under ultraviolet light inspection there is a small area of restoration along the right edge, approximately 36 inches from the bottom. Unframed
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.

Catalogue Note

Lisa Yuskavage’s works are characterized by an ongoing engagement with the history of painting, referencing formal impulses including Baroque, Mannerism and Color Field painting. Her oeuvre involves a re-emergence of the figurative in contemporary painting, while her subject matter boldly ventures into the taboo, exploring issues of desire, lust and sexuality. Influenced equally by porn and formal portraiture, Yuskavage creates paintings that have altered the artistic tradition of rendering the female body. She has developed her own genre of the female nude: lavish, erotic, cartoonish, vulgar, angelic young women cast within fantastical landscapes or dramatically lit interiors. Rich, atmospheric skies frequently enhance the psychologically-charged mood. Hailed as a great colorist, with Dusk, Yuskavage distinguishes herself from her other candy-colored canvases. Here she departs somewhat from her previous work in that she fills the space with a lush, richly decorated background thereby animating the figures contained within and adding a new level of refinement and compositional complication. Yuskavage seems to be more fully engaging with the old master tradition by creating livelier and even more conventional settings for her compositions.

From her exploration of art history, Yuskavage has gleaned many lessons from masters, both old and new, on how to handle perspective, employ color, and reproduce light and texture in order to captivate the viewer. It is the fusion of the technical skill and mastery of these classic techniques that she employs coupled with her contemporary renderings of the most widely utilized subject matter in the Western world, the female nude, which allows for Yuskavage’s work to so successfully communicate a more robust and conflicted vision of feminine beauty. Yuskavage, with her confrontational approach, seems intent to simultaneously seduce and repel the viewer. She asks us both to look and admire her sensual (although often exaggerated) nude girls and at the same time to move past the notion of the traditional “male gaze.” Positing a new way to engage the desire of the eye, Yuskavage sets out to examine the expanse between and interconnections within the worlds of 1970s soft focus pornography and traditional images of the female beauty as rendered by old master such as Vermeer, Bellini, Bronzino and Rembrandt.

Her work strengthens the vitality that oil paint has in its ability to render light and flesh. Upon first glance at Dusk, the central figure's exaggerated features (her breasts and torso) appear cartoonish. But unlike caricature, Yuskavage's painting technique follows a slow process, in which she builds up the canvas surface with the utmost care and deliberation. Rosy and ripe, the pneumatic breasts appear painted in tickled and licked manner, brushed lightly and gently smeared—teasingly intimate. She handles paint with extreme sophistication, a technique that she shares with her contemporary John Currin. That the figure is so exquisitely painted and the subject matter so provocative and prohibited problematizes the issue of painting itself. The hypersexualized women are erotic and distorted while simultaneously constituting some of the most convincingly cultural narratives in contemporary art.

Yuskavage's work floats between euphoric fantasy and terrifying dream.  Executed in 2012, Dusk belongs to a body of signature works by the American artist. Using the female as subject matter, the present lot belongs to a series that adopts darker shades of paint to infuse the painting with more of a subtle and elegant appearance, as opposed to her more electric and aesthetically poignant canvases. With its palette of dark blues, pinks and purples, Yuskavage uses the female as a sex object, revealing parts of her body enticing her audiences’ gazes. Frozen in her pose, the viewer is left to imagine the woman beyond what Yuskavage visually discloses, namely the primary subject’s face which seems to be obscured by her hair. The background figures also appear incomplete. Through the use of the sexuality and femininity, the artist captures the essence of beauty never crossing the line where sexuality becomes vulgarity, infusing her sitter with a sense of innocence and shyness.

Whether the artist is consciously or unconsciously perpetuating or abolishing stereotypes of the female form, Dusk delves into the human psyche to illuminate our understanding of ourselves and investigate emotions that make us feel at once guilty and powerful. As Roberta Smith points out, “Yuskavage has approached this form from both the outside and the inside: her distortions exaggerate the way women are objectified both by society and by themselves. But her real subject is, I think, the inside, the female soul and psyche.” (R. Smith, “A Painter Who Loads the Gun and the Let’s the Viewer Fire It”, The New York Times, January 12, 2001, p. E53). The attractive, voluptuous and engaging compositions she presents are a means of inviting viewers in to examine both the inner soul of her art, but more importantly that of today’s women. Yuskavage ultimately produces works that are compassionate yet staggeringly harsh; playful and yet forcefully introspective.