Lot 5
  • 5

JOHN MCCRACKEN | Untitled (Red Plank)

400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • John McCracken
  • Untitled (Red Plank) 
  • incised with the artist's signature and date 76 on the underside
  • polyester resin and fiberglass on plywood
  • 84 1/8 by 11 3/4 by 1 1/4 in. 213.7 by 29.8 by 3.2 cm.


Private Collection, Los Angeles
Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles
Acquired from the above by the present owner


This work is in very good and sound condition overall. The surface is clean and smooth. Under close inspection, there is light evidence of wear and handling, most notably at the edges where minute and unobtrusive surface abrasions are visible at the extreme lower front corners. Visible only under very close inspection and in raking light, there are scattered, extremely minor and faint superficial scratches to the surface.
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

Untitled (Red Plank) is a totemic monument to Minimalism created by the quintessential West Coast artist John McCracken. Produced in 1976, the year McCracken moved from New York City to Southern California, the work represents the deep influence of both coasts on his oeuvre. The streamlined industrialism of Donald Judd and Carl Andre is merged with the “Finish Fetish” associated with Californian artists Ken Price and DeWain Valentine. Created exactly ten years after his first plank sculpture, Untitled (Red Plank) exemplifies what had already become the artist’s signature series: the simple rectangular form; the thoughtful choice of color; and the high finish that removes evidence of the artist's hand despite being handcrafted. McCracken began his plank series in 1966 while exploring simplicity and reductivism in his work. The pieces of plywood leaning against the wall of his studio, waiting to be transformed into blocks, seemed to be the simplest idea McCracken could imagine. The artist began covering the plywood with fiberglass and colored resin to create forms of pure color, unadulterated by signs of human touch.

Yet the simplicity of form is highly specific: the planks vary in height and so also in the angle at which they are leaned against the wall. Untitled (Red Plank) stands at just over 6’8”, just the right height to be within the human scale without being personified into an abstract human figure. The colors and titles of the works are also unique; McCracken often intuits such decisions while he executes the work, reinforcing the mysterious self-possession of the planks. While he sometimes gives them names of shapes or ideas they evoke, the title of the present work is explicitly minimal, stating only what it is: a red plank. As McCracken has reasoned, “I was always primarily interested in form alone, but then to make a form, you have to make it out of something. So color seemed a natural material to use, because color is abstract. If you make a form that appears to be composed of color, then you have something, an object, that's pretty abstract” (John McCracken in conversation with Thomas Kellein, cited in: Exh. Cat. Kunsthalle Basel, McCracken, 1995, p. 22). 

McCracken's plank is a painting-sculpture hybrid. The painted wood has moved away from the wall but still interacts with and relies upon it for support. “When you set things vertically they go with everything but when you set them at an angle then you have something that shifts away from our reality. It's partly in the world and partly out of the world. It's like a visit” (John McCracken in conversation with Dike Blair, cited in: Dike Blair, “Otherworldly,” Again: Selected Interviews and Essays, Chicago 2007, p. 82). Untitled (Red Plank) is simultaneously a minimalist reduction and multi-dimensional exploration of the viewer’s space, perfectly embodying the questions that fascinated McCracken most in his oeuvre.