6 Decades of Female Contemporary Artists

Launch Slideshow

Headlining the upcoming Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 16 May are a stellar group of works by women representing a range of artistic movements from the Abstract Expressionist work of Joan Mitchell and Lee Krasner to the Minimalism of Agnes Martin.

6 Decades of Female Contemporary Artists

  • Julie Mehretu, Arcade, 2005. Estimate $2,500,000–3,500,000.
    Honored as a recipient of the MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ Fellowship Award in 2005 and, more recently, of the U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts in 2015, Mehretu has garnered widespread acclaim as amongst the most influential artists of her generation; featured in innumerable prestigious exhibitions and biennales worldwide, her distinctive output has become instantly recognizable for its complex compositions and mythical worlds that, unfolding before the viewer, toe the line between the real, virtual, and imagined.
  • Cecily Brown, Confessions of a Window Cleaner, 2000–1. Estimate $3,000,000–4,000,000.
    A visceral and commanding exploration of painting’s elusive power of suggestion, Confessions of a Window Cleaner encapsulates the ethos of Brown’s singular artistic project. Its evocation of human flesh through bold gesture and vivid color perfectly illustrates the artist’s reflection that she wants “there to be a human presence without having to depict it in full.”
  • Louise Bourgeois, Arch of Hysteria, 1993-1994. Estimate $3,000,000–4,000,000.
    Arched to an extremity that belies its lithe grace, the curved figure of Arch of Hysteria achieves the powerful geometric allure of abstract form: beginning with the hands, the eye can follow the curving arms upward into nimble shoulders, over articulated ribs and taut navel, and down the arc of the legs to finally rest upon the delicately flexed toes, mere inches from the outstretched fingertips. Within the bronze form, Bourgeois describes the subtle nuances of the human body with extraordinary specificity, rendering every curve, pucker, and rib with painstaking intention.
  • Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, No Words of Gratitude, 2012. Estimate $250,000–350,000.
    Trained to paint from live models, Yiadom-Boakye’s subjects are pulled from her imagination, each a conflation of experiences, memories, and art history. The figure is carved out of the composition in sturdy broad strokes, recalling the brusque paint application of Manet, while her serene balletic posture, clasped hands, and confident outward gaze suggests Degas’ Little Dancer Aged 14. More than an amalgam of nineteenth-century European painting, No Words of Gratitude is both a rigorous formal exercise and renegotiation of race and pictorial representation.
  • Helen Frankenthaler, Newfoundland, 1975. Estimate $1,500,000–2,000,000.
    Painted in 1975, Newfoundland follows a series of momentous changes in Frankenthaler’s life. In 1970, she closed her 83rdStreet Studio after a decade of working there, and in 1971 divorced Abstract Expressionist painter Robert Motherwell after thirteen years of marriage. Channeling the tumultuous emotions of this period into her work, Frankenthaler hurled herself into her canvases, those of the 1970s revealing a particularly bold and tempestuous nature.
  • Agnes Martin, Untitled #12, 1981. Estimate $4,000,000–6,000,000.
    Separated into linear sections of color by Martin’s precisely outlined graphite rows, soft blue and pale pink bands span the work’s surface, presenting a hypnotic optical experience that allures and seduces the viewer. Using merely acrylic and pencil, Martin imbues color in the present work with an incandescent luminosity and creamy, supple body. A hallmark of her unique style, Martin’s horizontal graphite lines are abundantly rewarding for those who inspect them carefully, challenging the prerogative of the flawlessly straight line. Martin’s controlled pencil lines are plain, fragile, and restrained, while avoiding a type of mechanistic perfection of execution.
  • Lee Krasner, The Eye Is the First Circle, 1960. Estimate $10,000,000–15,000,000.
    In its unavoidable psychic urgency, The Eye is the First Circle speaks to the pivotal juncture at which Krasner found herself at the end of 1950s; still reeling in the wake of Pollock’s fatal car crash in 1956, followed closely by her mother’s passing in 1959 and the cancellation of a planned exhibition at French & Co. that same year, Krasner plunged into a new series of paintings, her emotional turmoil serving as crucial catalyst for the first, monumental Umber paintings. Amongst the earliest works in the series, the present work was painted in Springs, East Hampton, where Krasner had moved her practice into Pollock’s former studio in the barn, the larger space enabling her to experiment on canvases far more massive than any she had used before.
  • Yayoi Kusama, The Pacific Ocean, 1959. Estimate $2,000,000–3,000,000.
    Diagnosed with obsessional neurosis, Kusama struggled with hallucinatory visions of infinitely oscillating, kaleidoscopic patterns throughout her childhood in Japan. It was not until her arrival in the United States, however, that Kusama found the means of channeling her psychosomatic visions and tendencies into the paintings that would form the beginning of the iconic Infinity Nets series. Working with a focus both obsessive and meditative, Kusama would move her brush across the canvas with precise, minute flicks of the wrist, carefully weaving the complex skein of overlapping loops to create an undulating pattern that calls to mind the simultaneously mesmerizing and terrifying glimpse of infinity one experiences before a seemingly endless expanse of shimmering water. A stirring testament to Yayoi Kusama’s captivating mastery of spatial abstraction, The Pacific Ocean is unquestionably a pivotal exemplar of the artist’s revered oeuvre, one of the first red Infinity Nets - if not the very first. Further testifying to the significance of the present work, The Pacific Ocean was acquired by Beatrice Perry, Kusama’s first and most formative art dealer, directly following its execution.
  • Joan Mitchell, L'Arbre de Phyllis, 1991. Estimate $3,000,000–5,000,000.
    Serving as triumphant conclusion to a long and exceptional artistic evolution, the striking visual dynamism of L’Arbre de Phyllis reveals the artist’s affinity for the American action painters, among whom she lived and worked in the initial decade of her mature career. As one of the few women to garner significant critical acclaim within the predominantly male Eighth Street Club, Mitchell is remembered by art history as the leading female voice of the Abstract Expressionist movement.
  • Jenny Saville, Reflective Flesh, 2002–3. Estimate $2,000,000–3,000,000.
    Born in Cambridge in the United Kingdom in 1970, Saville grew up as a teenager in the 1980s at a time when body regulation and the diet industry were on the rise. Coming of age in an era where women were continually presented with the message that slender is synonymous with beautiful – that the smaller, the thinner, the lesser, the better – had a profound impact on Saville’s artistic practice. As if in search for an antidote, her colossal paintings refuse to be contained or confined. With their richly painted abundance of lush, female corporeality, they are at once overwhelming and empowering in their potency.
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