Mark Rothko, Untitled, signed and dated 1955 on the reverse, oil on canvas, 91⅝ x 69 in. 232.7 x 175.34 cm. Est. $20/30 million. Photo: Sotheby's.
NEW YORK, NY.- On 9 November 2010 Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale will be led by a major 1955 Untitled painting by Mark Rothko which has been off the market for over 40 years (est. $20/30 million)*. The auction also includes major works by many of the leading artists of the 20th and 21st centuries including Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, Gerhard Richter, Roy Lichtenstein, and Robert Rauschenberg among others. All the works will be on view from 5 November with selected highlights on exhibition from 29 October.
The powerful yellow, orange and white canvas of Rothko’s Untitled dates from a period in which the Abstract Expressionists had achieved long-awaited critical acclaim for their dealer exhibitions and were now the subject of solo shows at major museums. Paintings by Rothko and his greatest contemporaries from this time now rank among the most important works in public and private collections today. The year 1955 was a particularly important one for Rothko, and of the 22 paintings he created that year well over half are in international museum collections including the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, The Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Museum Ludwig, Cologne. In the present work, veils of rich citrus yellow and opalescent white are layered onto an orange ground animated by tones that range from warm orange red to cool light orange. Like many of Rothko’s paintings of 1955, Untitled celebrates the artist’s ultimate goal which was to paint works that would envelop, exuding a power and presence that transforms the surrounding space and elicits an emotional and intuitive response from the viewer.
The bold and pivotal Montauk III by Willem de Kooning captures the inherent paradox in which the artist’s unique merging of figuration and abstraction mirrored his thoughts on the elusive and variable quality of life in the 20th century (est. $5/7 million). The work is one of five de Kooning paintings all called Montauk, several of which are in public or major private collections. De Kooning loved the landscape of eastern Long Island which reminded him of his native Holland and moved in 1963 to The Springs, the village close to Montauk which was also home to other artists including Jackson Pollock. The influence of seascape and beaches is seen in the palette and compositions of the figurative abstractions of the 1960s. Montauk III, painted in 1969, serves as a culmination of these sunlit 1960s paintings, and as a prelude to the more abstract and darker colored landscapes of the 1970s.
Housatonic was executed by Arshile Gorky in 1943, a breakthrough year for the artist (est. $800,000/1.2 million). The work is named after the large New England river familiar to Gorky from visits to the Connecticut countryside and exemplifies Gorky’s skill at combining the application of jewel-toned crayon within velvety black ink contours to achieve an array of moods related to the sense of sunshine, shade, rocky precipices, water and foliage. Acquired by businessman and philanthropist Clarence Day in 1974, Housatonic was previously in the prestigious Norton Simon collection.
Further highlights include Race For Survival (Spectre Of Profit) a 1946 postwar steel sculpture by David Smith (est. $1.5/2.5 million) which captures his mastery of Surrealist imagery and his interest in primitive forms rendered into welded metal to produce a powerful image of social consciousness.
Andy Warhol’s iconic masterpiece, Coca-Cola  Large Coca-Cola, is the last of four paintings of individual Coca-Cola bottles executed by Warhol in 1961 and 1962, and the largest of the group (est. $20/25 million). Warhol was fascinated by the Coca-Cola bottle and it was a perfect subject for him – an ordinary, mass produced object, yet loaded with the provocative symbolism of Capitalist America. Coca-Cola  Large Coca-Cola is a superb example of the artist’s homage to advertising, highlighting the relationship between big business and the public through an enlarged icon of consumerism. Soon after its execution, Coca-Cola  Large Coca-Cola was acquired by the noted collectors Mr. and Mrs. Melvin Hirsh, and included in one of the first exhibitions on Pop art – Pop Art USA – at the Oakland Art Museum in September 1963. It was then sold at auction in 1983, when it was acquired by the current owner.
Roy Lichtenstein’s Ice Cream Soda was purchased in March 1962 by an eminent Pop art collector and has remained in the same collection ever since (est. $12/18 million). The painting was featured in one of the earliest exhibitions of Pop art --- Six Painters and the Object --- which opened at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in March 1963. The present work is a classic example of the type of single-object still-lifes in which Lichtenstein elevates commonplace items to subjects of fine art. Like Warhol, he selects an object synonymous with America --- the classic ice cream soda --- but Lichtenstein also chooses objects for certain aesthetic qualities, such as curved contours and reflective or complex surface patterns, particularly glass. The dark outlines of Ice Cream Soda define its ‘objecthood.’ Once delineated, the outlines portray no sense of shadow or modeling, and consequently deny all illusion of volume --- an aesthetic style directly related to commercial graphics.
Exile by Robert Rauschenberg from 1962 has been off the market for nearly fifty years, it comes with distinguished provenance (Castelli and Sonnabend) and an impressive exhibition history, including the Whitney Museum (est. $5/7 million). Exile is one of the earliest works in the important Silkscreen Paintings series and was painted the year that Rauschenberg visited Andy Warhol’s studio as Warhol was experimenting with the silkscreen method. The silkscreen process allowed Rauschenberg to devise a lexicon of screened images that served as ‘found objects’ and appear repeatedly throughout the series in various combinations. Here, the work is executed in deep velvety blacks and varied grey tones that highlight one of Rauschenberg’s most dominant images in the series, The Rokeby Venus by Diego Velàzquez at the top of the canvas, while the white lights, keys and tire are key references alluding to modern transportation and industrialization.
Other Pop Art highlights include The Last Supper, Andy Warhol’s reworking of Leonardo da Vinci’s fabled fresco, one of the most famous religious paintings in the world, and from the last series of works by Warhol prior to his death (est. $4/6 million).
A further highlight of the Evening Sale is Francis Bacon’s Figure In Movement, the most significant painting by the British artist to appear at auction for several years (est. $7/10 million). The 1985 portrait of a man twisting and writhing, which Bacon gave to his doctor, demonstrates the artist’s genius in painting the human figure in motion, and epitomizes the full spectrum of his legendary artistic technique. The painting featured in the 2008 landmark exhibition Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective at Tate Britain which travelled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid.
An important painting by Gerhard Richter from 1966, Matrosen (Sailors) is being sold by the Weserburg | Museum für moderne Kunst in Bremen, Germany (est. $6/8 million). Matrosen (Sailors) represents the apogee of Richter’s legendary ‘Photopaintings’ of the 1960s, and is among the most important works by the artist to be offered at auction. Extending two meters (6ft) across, Matrosen (Sailors) is among the very largest paintings that Richter executed during this period and beautifully summarizes his cerebral response to the new agents of mass media replication and broadcasting that is so often compared as the European counterpart to the breakthrough innovation of Andy Warhol (separate release available).
Recent Contemporary Artists
New Shelton Wet/Dry 10 Gallon, New Shelton Wet/Dry 5 Gallon, Double Decker by Jeff Koons comes from the artist’s ‘The New’ series (est. $3/5 million). The series took the symbolic trophies of suburban middle-class domesticity, such as wet/dry carpet cleaners, and enshrined them in Plexiglas cases to hover eerily while bathed in fluorescent light. By transforming the ‘ready made’ into ‘high art’ Koons draws on the conceptual genius of Marcel Duchamp while the clean lines, acrylic boxes stacked on top of each other and the use of fluorescent lights bring to mind the work of Minimalist artists Donald Judd and Dan Flavin.
Gibbet by Cady Noland is named after the gallows type structure from which the bodies of executed criminals were hung (est. $600/800,000). Noland’s work uses patriotic symbols such as the American flag to draw on the anxiety inherent to post-Vietnam America and explore the realities of the American dream and its shortcomings.
Following the recent artist record set at Sotheby’s for Julie Mehretu in September the upcoming sale includes The Seven Acts of Mercy, a major work from 2004 that is the most important work by this artist to appear at auction (est. $1.5/2 million). White Woman by Richard Prince is one of only eight Richard Prince joke paintings of this size, all of which are in major collections (est. $2.5/3.5 million). Further highlights by recent contemporary artists include Riddle Me This, Batman, 1987, an outstanding illustration of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s terse aesthetic and one of the most significant late paintings by this artist prior to his untimely death the following year (est. $4.5/6.5 million), Frankfurt by Andreas Gursky is one of the monumental poetic images that comments on the relative isolation of humans amidst the magnitude of the world that surrounds us (est. $1.2/1.8 million).
Contemporary Art Day Sale
Highlights of the Day Sale includes a strong selection of European masters such as Abstrakte Bild (767-2) by Gerhard Richter ($350/450,000) in which Richter addressed the expressionistic possibilities in the nature of painting, and Cy Twombly's beautiful 14 Papers from 1983. The exquisitely textured surface is emblematic of the artist's most accomplished works and represents an outstanding opportunity to acquire a top quality work by this most seminal contemporary artist (est. $400/600,000).
The day sale will also offer a selection of nine works from the Collection of the Late Kenneth Noland, the esteemed Color Field painter, highlighted by a group of sculptures and drawings by his friend, David Smith such as Vertical Figure (Construction, Perpendicular), from 1937 ($250/350,000). Other works include Terranean, a 1958 Veil painting by Noland’s colleague, Morris Louis ($400/600,000) and Hans Hofmann’s Round Table, Vase of Flowers/Round Table with Pipe, a 1939 double-sided painting ($150/200,000). The collection will also include two drawings on paper by Henri Matisse to be offered in Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Day sale on November 3, 2010.
Arshile Gorky, Housatonic, 1943. Est. $800,000/1.2 million. Photo: Sotheby's.