Update: The 1985 Untitled Ed Moses painting sold for $28,125.
What you see: Untitled, a 1985 oil and acrylic on canvas by Ed Moses. Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) estimates it at $18,000 to $25,000.
The expert: Clo Pazera, specialist at LAMA.
First, could you briefly introduce Ed Moses, and talk about why his work continues to speak to us? Moses was an L.A.-based artist, born and raised in Los Angeles — he went to UCLA, and first started exhibiting with Ferus Gallery in 1957. Ferus was a foundational L.A. gallery and a lot of the fellows — mainly fellows — who exhibited there had attended Chouinard, like John Altoon, Larry Bell, and Ed Ruscha, but Moses went to UCLA. Moses did spend some time briefly in New York, where he met Willem de Kooning and other abstract artists of that cohort — that may be one of the reasons that his works are more abstracted than, say, Ruscha or Bell… though in 1969, Moses had a show at Riko Mizuno Gallery and cut out big chunks of the ceiling so the artwork was essentially the light dancing across the floor. So even though he was mainly a painter and collagist throughout his career, he did experiment with other mediums and movements.
How prolific was Ed Moses? Has someone done a catalogue raisonné for him? He was pretty prolific. He produced a significant body of work throughout the years — not quite so many prints, he definitely focused more on drawings, collages, and paintings. Nobody has done a catalogue raisonné of his works yet. I know that the Ed Moses estate is currently still active, but I’m not sure whether they have plans to start a raisonné or not.
Can you give a rough number for how many works Ed Moses might have produced over his lifetime? Certainly I would say in the hundreds, but I don’t have a real ballpark figure.
Is there a period during his career that collectors prefer more than other periods? If so, does this work belong to that period? Throughout the decades, Moses’s style transitioned pretty significantly. In the early 1960s, he really focused on works-on-paper, and then in the 70s, he transitioned back to his roots in painting. By 1985, he was mainly working as a painter, and this work is a great example of the style that he solidified in that era.
Where was Ed Moses in his career in 1985, when he made this untitled work? At this point, he was mid-career. This was around when he was picked up by L.A. Louver Gallery, which went on to represent him for another 15 or so years.
How is it typical of his work—what marks it as an Ed Moses painting? Also, are there any ways in which this 1985 painting is atypical of his work? This is a pretty typical example of Moses’ work. He utilizes the diagonal grid pattern pretty frequently, it was one of his favorite motifs from the mid-seventies to his death.
Thank you for mentioning the diagonal grid pattern–I meant to ask about it. How often do diagonals come up in the work of Ed Moses? Why did it hold his interest? Yes, the diagonal grid comes up often in his work. In the early 1970s he became very interested in Navajo textiles, so many of his paintings have a textile-like quality to the compositions, which I see reflected in this work.
How often did Ed Moses tend to choose these colors—red, green, and black? Moses definitely used red quite a bit in his work, and red and black tended to be one of his favorite color palettes. The addition of green comes up less often.
This work is untitled. Did Ed Moses usually decline to name his paintings? He did title paintings, but also often enough would leave them untitled. He would frequently have obscure titles that seemed to refer to something, but it was unclear what that was, such as Down-Broz #1 or Mug-Po.
How often do Moses paintings come to auction? Since he was an L.A.-based artist, we see his works pretty often. Outside of L.A., they don’t come up quite so much. Moses is definitely a LAMA mainstay — we are the auction house to go to for his works.
Ed Moses died relatively recently, in 2018. What effect, if any, has his passing had on his market? Have you seen an uptick in consignments, or have things been steady? Oftentimes when an artist dies, counter to common belief, their prices will go down. But we actually set the world record for Ed Moses shortly after his passing, when we sold an Untitled work from his Hegemann series — estimated to sell for $30,000 – $50,000 — for $100,000.
What is this untitled Ed Moses painting like in person? Are there aspects of it that the camera doesn’t quite pick up? Moses’s works always have a lot of texture to them, which doesn’t always come through in images. A lot of abstract artists really lay on the paint, but Moses really liked to utilize the texture of the substrate, which is something that you can’t always detect in a photograph.
The substrate? What is the substrate? The bottom layer, like canvas, linen, or paper.
How did you arrive at the estimate of $18,000 to $25,000? In my role as an auction specialist, I look at what similarly sized works from a similar period have been offered for in the past. This is a really beautiful example of Moses’s work of that era, so we have confidence that the hammer price will exceed our low estimate.
Why will this untitled Ed Moses piece stick in your memory? It’s surprisingly playful — within his chosen structure of the grid, it’s easy to become absorbed in his breadth of mark-making, from watery paint blossoms to the artist’s own footprint.
How to bid: Untitled by Ed Moses is lot 21 in the Modern Art & Design sale taking place February 16, 2020 at LAMA.
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