No Ordinary Family: Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline: Big Family No 9 Could Sell for Almost $4 Million at Phillips

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What you see: Bloodline: Big Family No. 9, a 1996 canvas by Zhang Xiaogang. Phillips estimates it at more than HDK 30 million, or around $3.8 million.

 

Who is Zhang Xiaogang? He is a contemporary Chinese artist who is best known for his Bloodlines paintings. His parents were government officials, and at one point during his childhood, they were forced to attend a re-education camp for three years. He graduated from the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts in 1982, but it was a three-month stay in Germany in 1992 that transformed his approach to art. He embarked on the Bloodlines series soon after. Zhang turns 60 this year.

 

The expert: Wenjia Zhang, Phillips’s regional director in Shanghai.

 

The lot notes for Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 as an “extremely rare rendition.” What makes it an extremely rare rendition? Because this painting is directly based on a family photo of his parents and his older brother, the first child in the family, celebrating his 100-day birthday. It’s directly based on a family picture, but it’s more of a fantasy picture.

 

How many of the works in the Bloodlines series are based on photos of Zhang’s own family? I think this is one of very few. It may be the only one directly based on a picture of his family. In China, the previous generation all has this kind of family photo. It’s a generational thing, not just his family. I remember my parents’ wedding photo was very similar. And we didn’t have color photos. We only had black and white.

 

Do we know when that photo of Zhang’s parents and eldest brother was taken? I can’t say the exact year, but I think it was 1955, 1956, or 1957. [Zhang was born in 1958 and was the third of four children, all boys.]

 

Zhang painted this in 1996, which is about in the middle of the timespan given for the Bloodlines series. Does that make the painting more interesting to collectors? I personally don’t really think of the year as the most important year. I think it’s the work itself, and I think it’s the most important of his Bloodlines: Big Family series. This work is very romantic, reflecting a romantic part of his character. On the other hand, for the technical part, the brushstrokes and the drops of water on the face [the pink splotches on the right of each face] are very delicate. It makes me feel it’s very special.

 

When you say that the painting reflects a romantic part of his character, what do you mean? It’s because of the smoothness of the colors, the way that he painted, and the light on the painting. I can’t say more. It’s just a feeling.

 

Can you talk a bit about the imagery he’s using here that would have meaning to Chinese viewers? The immediate meaning to us Chinese people is our memories and our family. We all have this kind of photo for special occasions–birthdays, weddings. For him, the image of every figure in the Bloodlines series is a variation on his mother.

 

Why did he use the phrase ‘Big Family’ in the title when the family shown consists of only three people? I don’t think it’s meant to be ironic. It’s about the whole generation [in China] as a big family. For his generation, and less for mine, everyone was part of a big family. We share everything, we work together like a big family. Also, he was not part of the generation where they could have only one child per family. It does not have that meaning. He was not from the only child generation.

 

Where does this painting rank among those in the Bloodlines series? I think he started this series in 1994, after traveling to Germany. He was inspired by Gerhard Richter a lot. I think he came back to China and saw pictures in a library and from that time, he started painting the series. In 1996, his technique becomes more mature. He found the way to paint–this concept of the photo and trying to technically express his thinking of his memory. It’s very delicate. The colors are so beautiful and reflections of the lighting is extremely beautiful. Those things make this painting very different and very important. Also, in 1994 and 1995, his paintings are being chosen for the Venice Biennale [and other important shows]. For him it was a turning point.

 

Bloodlines: Big Family No. 9 explores ideas that Chinese people will recognize right away, but you don’t really need to know anything about Mao or the Cultural Revolution or 20th century Chinese life to fall under its spell. Why do you think it’s so powerful? Good question. What I can say is to share my experience of going to his studio. We’re not exactly the same generation. He was born in 1958, and I was born in 1974. I have no direct experience with the Cultural Revolution. I’m almost 20 years younger than him. When I first entered his studio, I was attracted to the color and the atmosphere of the painting. If it’s a good work, it can attract you. If it’s strong, you can feel it. For me, the work speaks for itself.

 

What’s the auction record for a work by Zhang Xiaogang? Might this work set a new record? I think the record is Bloodline: Big Family No. 3, which sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in April 2014 for HKD $94.2 million, or $12.1 million. Whether it will set a new record, we can’t say. Of course if it can make a record that would be so exciting for us, but we can’t say now. It really depends on the market and on the collectors.

 

What is the painting like in person? It’s very quiet. I think you can be immediately attracted by the painting when you enter a room.

 

How to bid: Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 is lot 12 in Pioneers of Modernism: A Selection from the Scheeres Collection, taking place May 27, 2018 at Phillips Hong Kong.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Phillips.

 

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What a Circus! Christie’s Could Sell a Fernando Botero Circus Painting for $2.5 Million

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What you see: Circus People, a 2007 painting by Fernando Botero. Christie’s estimates it at $1.5 million to $2.5 million.

 

Who is Fernando Botero? Born in Medellin, Colombia, Botero is a sculptor and painter. He might be better known for the former, as several of his bronzes have been installed outdoors in major cities. Botero invariably depicts people and animals with greater size and heft than you might expect–an artistic choice that has become his visual signature. During his long career, he has tackled sober, dark subjects such as the abuses of Abu Ghraib and the death of drug dealer Pablo Escobar, as well as more innocuous images of couples dancing and riffs on Old Masters. Botero is 86.

 

The expert: Virgilio Garza, head of Latin American art for Christie’s.

 

Botero has created about 120 circus-themed paintings. Where does Circus People rank among those images? This is one of the most complete in the sense that it has a circus. It reminds me of his very sought-after family groupings. It could be seen as a multi-character painting by Botero. The narrative is about performers in a circus who are not performing, but at the same time, they are performing. The sword swallower is swallowing a sword. The clown is playing with a baton. The snake charmer has a snake. Botero is saying they’re always performing whether they’re on stage or not.

 

Is Botero still painting and drawing circus scenes, or has he stopped? The whole Botero series started around 2006, from his visit to a small seaside village in Mexico where there was a very simple traveling circus. He started a series. Many 20th century artists have created works about the circus–Picasso, Calder. I think the Botero circus series is ongoing.

 

Is the painting based on real people who Botero saw, or does it show people who he invented after he was inspired by what he saw? Botero works with types. I think he never really depicts a specific person. They’re more sort of types in terms of the circus. They’re typed by profession–the sword swallower, the clown. Looking at his work in general, it’s consistent with the idea that he’s interested in types.

 

How does Botero’s circus series match up to other series of his? Are collectors particularly interested in his circus scenes? There’s demand for them, yes. Botero in general is sought-after. He’s a very popular artist globally and I think the circus is universally understood as a cultural activity. With his bullfighting series, some collectors look for his bullfighting pictures. Some are not attracted to bullfighting. It’s not for everybody. But the circus is universally understood. It’s very ingrained in the culture of Latin America, the U.S., Europe. It’s a family entertainment that people feel nostalgic about.

 

This painting is 63 1/2 inches by 75 1/8 inches. Is that unusually large for Botero? Or is this a typical painting size for him? No. We don’t see large paintings like this all the time, but he as an artist benefits from a larger scale, and his sculptures do, too.

 

Is it unusually large for a work from the circus series? The ones that have come up for auction have been much smaller. This work is very, very emblematic of the series. I think it is super-charming. I love the colors and the scale.

 

Did Botero use brighter colors than he normally would when painting circus images? It’s pretty consistent with other works from his mature style. It’s not unusual in that sense.

 

The painting is fresh to market–it’s making its auction debut. How important is that, considering that the works in Botero’s circus series are relatively recent, and will likely be fresh to market? It’s always desirable to have things that have never been at auction. It’s desirable if it’s old or if it’s new. In terms of auction sales, we like fresh-to-market works because there are new things to say. We try to present Botero and his circus works in an essay accompanying the painting. As an auction house, we try to explain where it sits within his broader production, and how special it is. About this particular sale–we have fantastic material by Botero from the late 1950s to the new millennium. We have a Mona Lisa from 1959 that’s wonderful. We have sculptures from the 1980s to more recent works. We have an Aurora painting from the 1990s that’s very beautiful. He’s very well-represented.

 

But isn’t that true of all of Christie’s Latin American art auctions? You’d think, but demand for his sculpture keeps rising and they’re very hard to get. We’re fortunate to have a nice group but you’re going to see them get scarce. He’s not fabricating new sculptures anymore as far as we know. What is out there is out there.

 

Are collectors more interested in his sculptures than his paintings? Not really. I wouldn’t say they’re more desirable. There’s a healthy market for both. I would say Botero is better known for his sculpture because many are outdoors, and the public is attuned to them.

 

Let’s talk about the size of Botero subjects. We see a circus here, but there is no fat lady, and none of the people are, technically speaking, fat. Botero has always been interested in the idea of volume, from early on. It started with the mandolin. He painted a round musical instrument, and by making the [sound] hole smaller, the scale grew. He started experimenting with variations of scale. Eventually the figures started to become bigger in terms of occupying more space. Botero created a universe very much his own. When he started to translate them to three dimensions with sculpture, by making them rounder and bigger, he created a universe where characters exist and assert themselves by their physicality.

 

What factors shaped the $1.5 million to $2.5 million estimate for Circus People? We think this is consistent with important paintings in the past in terms of scale, quality, and what it represents. Most of his important paintings are paintings of groupings. A family of bullfighters did very well many years ago. I think the picture has the potential to sell among the top ten paintings by the artist.

 

Why will this painting stick in your memory? It’s a beautiful painting. It’s vibrant, and at a very nice scale. It’s joyful, full of energy. It’s a great painting.

 

How to bid: Circus People is lot 44 in Christie’s Latin American Art auction on May 23 and 24, 2018.

 

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Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

 

Also see this May 2018 Christie’s piece on 10 things to know about Fernando Botero.

 

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RECORD! Heritage Auctions Sold an Original 1983 Panel From Gary Larson’s The Far Side for $31,070–an Auction Record for the Comic Strip! Also, Quack!

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Update: The original 1983 art for The Far Side sold for $31,070–a world auction record for original artwork from the comic strip. Hooray! And Quack!

 

What you see: An original panel of comic strip art from 1983 for The Far Side, signed by cartoonist Gary Larson and dated 10-31. Heritage Auctions could sell it for more than $11,000.

 

Who is Gary Larson, and what was The Far Side? Larson created The Far Side, a daily single-panel comic strip that ran from 1980 to 1995. Nothing on the funny pages has been like it before or since. The Far Side reveled in the surreal, the wacky, and the downright weird to the point where it makes little sense to try to explain its humor. You just have to see it for yourself. (Scroll down for relevant links.) Scientists, in particular, loved The Far Side. Larson has had a beetle, a louse, and a butterfly named in his honor. He will turn 68 in August.

 

The expert: Weldon Adams, comic book art cataloging specialist at Heritage Auctions.

 

How rarely does original art for The Far Side come to auction? Fairly rarely. In the past ten years, we’ve had 20 pieces of art.

 

How does that compare to, say, how often original Peanuts art appears at auction? We have about two of Charles Schulz’s Sunday strips in every signature auction we do, and we do them four times a year. For the dailys, three or four in an auction is not uncommon.

 

How does original art from The Far Side find its way to the market? Who has it? Where is it? I think Larson did sell a few occasionally, and he gave some out as gifts. But I have to assume he has the bulk of it.

 

How did this original panel from The Far Side come to Heritage? We’ve sold this particular strip before, in 2013, for $11,352.50. We expect it to go for what it sold for in 2013, if not more.

 

This strip dates to 1983, which is relatively early in the run of The Far Side. Does that matter? To a degree, yes. In general, the older the strip is, the more prized it is. But because Gary Larsons are so rare to come across in the first place, I don’t think it plays a role here.

 

Did Gary Larson do Sunday versions of The Far Side? Are those worth more than the dailys? In the later years, there are Sunday strips, but they’re more or less larger versions of the dailys. Sometimes there are two larger panel single-panel gags. I think they were printed on a larger scale. In other comic strips, the Sundays are physically larger, with more panels. In the case of The Far Side, the Sundays are functionally the same as the dailys, so I don’t know if there’s a difference.

 

How does the strip’s Far-Side-ness, for lack of a better word, influence its value? This scene between the man and the duck is a pretty straightforward joke by the standards of The Far Side. It’s not like Larson’s infamous “Cow tools” panel, which is held up as an example of how inscrutable the strip could be. It’s a good example of The Far Side‘s off-center sense of humor. The Far-Side-ness draws the fans in because it’s so off-center. You don’t have to look very hard to see that Larson was inspired by Charles Addams’s New Yorker cartoons and their very dark laughs. Only later do you think about the implications and go, ‘Oh.’ Gary Larson did slapstick humor with a dark edge. This is just lighthearted and goofy. He was a master of that as well. And ducks are funny.

 

Yeah, about that. Larson’s animals are beloved. His cows are probably the most beloved, but he had great strips that feature ducks, such as the one captioned ‘Anatidaephobia: The fear that somewhere, somehow, a duck is watching you.’ How does the presence of the duck affect the value of this original piece of art for The Far Side? Ducks are inherently funny. They’re essentially nature’s stand-up comedians, and they’re one of Larson’s go-to animals. His cow strips are very popular in part because cows are such a familiar animal in the Western world. Ducks are much the same. It’s a familiar animal, and it’s quick and easy to put a duck in a silly situation. The duck adds to the Far-Side-ness. We’re situated to laugh at a duck, from Donald Duck to Daffy Duck to Howard the Duck. Ducks are masters of comedy.

 

Do animals, in general, tend to add to the value of original art from The Far Side? I’d say probably so. Larson did plenty of strips with people in goofy situations, but where he really shines is anthropomorphism–aspects of making animals human. That’s what brings out the Far-Side-ness, in my opinion. Everyone loves the animals. It’s ideal to have both humans and animals [in a strip]. It sums up the silliness of both sides of the equation.

 

The art is described as being in “excellent condition.” What does that mean? Most comic strip art is in excellent condition. It’s looser than comic book grading. We don’t have a ten-point system for the art. This is artwork that was created on an art table. It was not created with the idea of keeping it in pristine condition. “Excellent” is the top. It means the paper is good quality. It’s not wrinkled or creased. There are no smudges and no lines that don’t belong.

 

What’s the auction record for a piece of original art from The Far Side? I don’t know the overall record, but I do know our record is for a piece of original comic strip art from 1981, which we sold in 2017 for $28,680. It shows a group of rabbits holding up a stagecoach at gunpoint, so it has the goofiness of humans and animals interacting in funny ways.

 

As of April 26, the lot has been bid up to $3,000, and the auction is two weeks away from closing. Does that mean anything? Early bids are always a good sign. It shows that people out there are interested. When you have more bidders, it’s better in general. But it only takes two. The end is where the real frenzy lies.

 

Why will this piece stick in your memory? The Far Side has a habit of sticking in your memory even if you don’t think it does. This one, when I saw it, it reminded me of another strip from The Far Side where scientists are studying the language of dolphins and they’re oblivious to the fact that the dolphins are speaking Spanish. I remembered that because I saw the panel with the duck speaking Spanish.

 

How to bid: The original 1983 comic strip art for The Far Side is lot #91031 in the Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions on May 10 – 12, 2018.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Heritage Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

 

Never seen The Far Side? You have a treat ahead of you. Purchase the collected strips, clear your calendar, and enjoy one of the best binge-reads life has to offer.

 

If you’re curious about the “Cow Tools” strip from The Far Side, see this Reddit thread that debates its weirdness and quotes Larson explaining what he was going for. It includes an image of the panel. The “Cow Tools” cartoon was so enduringly bizarre that it earned an entry on TV Tropes, too.

 

Weldon Adams previously spoke to The Hot Bid about an original Sunday Peanuts strip from 1958 with a Christmas theme. It ultimately sold for $113,525–a tie for the auction record for original Sunday Peanuts art.

 

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SOLD! A Painting by Self-Taught African-American Artist Sam Doyle Drums Up $17,000 at Slotin Folk Art

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Update: Penn Drummer Boy sold for $17,000.

 

What you see: Penn Drummer Boy, rendered in house paint on discarded tin roofing material around 1983 by Sam Doyle. Slotin Folk Art estimates it at $15,000 to $20,000.

 

Who was Sam Doyle? He was an African-American self-taught artist who painted images of people and events in the Gullah community of Saint Helena Island in South Carolina. He made his art with what he could scavenge. Born in 1906, he began painting in 1944 and displayed his works outside his home. Eventually, it evolved into the Saint Helena Out Door Art Gallery. Doyle gained fame after he was included in a groundbreaking 1982 show, Black Folk Art in America: 1930-1980 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. He died in 1985, at the age of 79.

 

The expert: Steve Slotin of Slotin Folk Art in Buford, Georgia.

 

How prolific was Sam Doyle? Do we know? There probably is a finite number of works because he was producing for quite a few years and decorating his environment with images. When he got discovered, collectors bought them and he replaced them. There’s at least a thousand works, or it’s in the thousands.

 

Penn Drummer Boy is undated. Can we narrow down when he might have painted it? The family who owned it bought it directly from his environment. This is 1983 or just right after the Corcoran exhibit. The painting could have been in the yard for a year or two, or he could have just made it.

 

How often did he paint on metal? The majority of his works are painted on old, used roofing tin. Discarded roofing and discarded house paint was almost free material.

 

Is Penn Drummer Boy from his Penn series? This image was repeated. That wasn’t uncommon. It’s an image he’d already done, and when it was bought, he made another, and another, and another. When you’re extremely poor and white people come to your community and say, ‘I want one of those,’ you’re going to make one of those. If you wanted a Penn Drummer Boy, he’d make you a Penn Drummer Boy. His paintings reported what went on in his community. He painted people he knew. No one else was documenting what was going on in his community except for him. He would record people of importance, such as the first black butcher. You get a lot of history in his paintings, but you don’t necessarily realize it.

 

How many Penn Drummer Boy paintings are there? No one knows, but we’ve seen three or four in the last 25 years we’ve been doing this, and we’ve handled two or three.

 

How similar are they? Pretty much everything is similar to the one before it.  If it’s a midwife holding a baby, it’s the same midwife holding a baby. There’s not a lot of variation.

 

Doyle attended the Penn school when he was young, and later he became a father. Is there any chance that Penn Drummer Boy is a self-portrait, or maybe a portrait of one of his kids? I would not know that. I’ve studied this guy and what he looks like, and it’s probably not the same person. It could be a very young version of him, but I wouldn’t even go there. There’s no indication. It didn’t occur to me that it would ever be a self-portrait. He may have done one or two self-portraits [in his career].

 

Was Penn Drummer Boy ever displayed at the outdoor gallery? Everything was displayed in his yard until someone bought it. If you found him and walked onto his property, you could buy it. Nothing was there just for looksies. That was his gallery.

 

Did Doyle call it a gallery? Who knows what he called it. Everything was nailed to the outside of the walls. It was really an all-outdoor environment. Paintings were leaning against each other. It was not what me and you would say is a gallery.

 

How rare is it for a Sam Doyle to come to auction? We’ve been really lucky. We get one or two pieces in every sale, which happens every six months. We’ve certainly sold more than anybody else. We have a really good track record of getting the highest prices for our sellers and for the buyers, making sure what we have is correct. We do a really good job of vetting.

 

Are fakes a problem with Sam Doyle works? There were a few times people tried to pass things off as Sam Doyles, but they’re really quick and easy to spot. We won’t accept those pieces. Anytime money is involved, somebody will try to capitalize and make a quick buck.

 

So faking a Sam Doyle piece is harder than it looks? Right. A trained artist who mimics folk, self-taught, and outsider art still has training in art. After 25 years of doing this we’re pretty aware of what to look for.

 

Penn Drummer Boy is fresh to market–it went from Doyle to the consigner to Slotin. Is that rare? For Sam Doyle and for most of the works in the auction, that’s not rare at all. During the period of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, collectors were visiting artists and buying directly from them. The original buyers have started getting older and need to figure out what to do with their art. If the children don’t want it, they sell it. We get a lot of stuff that’s never been sold or offered before.

 

As of April 6, 2018, about three weeks before the auction, Penn Drummer Boy has been bid up to $3,700. Does that mean anything? What you see online is basically lookie-loos. Most of the action on the piece will be in-house, online, or on the phone. The second that piece hits the auction block, and it’s on the block for 40 seconds to a minute, lots of hands in the auction will bid it up. $3,700 is nothing. It will hit the highest price in-house. That’s where it will go to $15,000, $20,000, $30,000.

 

What condition is it in? Self-taught artists, especially Sam Doyle, work with found material. This has rust, and holes for nails–that’s expected. You want to see that in a piece. You know it’s real. The colors are strong. It didn’t sit in the environment that long. It’s a pristine piece.

 

Why will Penn Drummer Boy stick in your memory? This is a really strong piece, in great condition. Those who bought it bought it right from the environment. I like everything it has going on. Everything you want to see in a Sam Doyle is there. It’s got the history. It’s got the colors. It’s easy on the eyes. It’s an all-around nice piece.

 

How to bid: Sam Doyle’s Penn Drummer Boy is lot 0132 in the Self Taught, Outsider & Folk Art sale on April 28 and 29, 2018 at Slotin Folk Art in Buford, Georgia.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Slotin Folk Art Auction.

 

Steve Slotin previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a sculpture by Ab the Flag Man which ultimately sold for $1,200.

 

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SOLD! A Late, Unknown American Abstract Expressionist Who Was Inspired By the Cave Paintings at Altamira Gets His Due at Rago

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Update: The Louis Tavelli tryptic sold for $5,625–a new auction record for the artist.

 

What you see: Untitled (hunters and bulls), a 1991 tryptic by Louis Tavelli. Rago Auctions estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

 

Who was Louis Tavelli? He was an American musician and abstract expressionist whose art career spanned six decades. Born in Williamstown, Massachusetts, which is home to Williams College and the Clark museum of art, he mostly lived there and in Woodstock, New York throughout his life. Tavelli’s earlier works were influenced by music, but a 1983 trip to Spain with his chamber music group changed him forever. He took a side trip to Altamira, a cave decorated with paintings that are at least 15,000 years old, and after that, his artworks reflected the effect that the ancient, unnamed cave paintings had on him. Tavelli sometimes staged one-man gallery shows and participated in museum shows, but it’s unclear if he ever had steady gallery representation. He died in 2010, at the age of 96.

 

This tryptic is monumental–each of the three panels measures 59 1/2 by 36 inches. Did Tavelli normally work at that scale? “He did like to work big like this,” says Arlen Sam Brown, design specialist at Rago. “He created art his whole life, and it morphed into a graffiti-like style. His earlier works paid homage to music. But there was definitely a switch, a change, and he went a little more Basquiat-like.”

 

This belongs to Tavelli’s Indigenous Peoples Series of works, which he started after viewing prehistoric cave paintings in Altamira, Spain. Are all of the pieces from the series as large? And how many pieces are in the series? “He did do other pieces that were large, but they’re not all on that scale. He did works on paper as well,” she says, noting that there are at least 60 to 70 works in the series.

 

It seems like Tavelli didn’t concern himself with promoting or selling his work. The earliest auction result for him is in 2011, a year after his death. Was he only discovered as an artist after he died? “He had local showings, and he did exhibit his work, but he remained regional. It was not shared publicly until he passed away,” she said, noting that his output is still being cataloged. “What’s exciting about this work is it came to market in a strong capacity. We’ve had the good fortune to roll his work out on a stronger scale, and we’ve had good results.”

 

Rago set the world auction record for Tavelli in June 2017 with an untitled, undated mixed media collage on paper that sold for $4,063 against an estimate of $800 to $1,200. Was that work also part of his Indigenous Peoples Series? And what are the odds that Untitled (hunters and bulls) will set a new auction record for the artist? She says the mixed-media collage is from the same thematic series, and says there’s a “strong likelihood” that the tryptic will break the record.

 

Untitled (hunters and bulls) is estimated at $4,000 to $6,000. Did its large size have any influence on its estimate? “Its size informs the estimate, but it’s not what made the decision,” she says. “We had a discussion with [the consigner,] whose perception was, ‘It’s three times the size, so it should be three times the estimate.’ That’s not the case… We truly believe in being very grounded in our estimations. We believe in basing them on auction results. While Tavelli is being well-received, we maintain our integrity. He’s a relatively unknown artist. I’m not sure if you’d call him an emerging artist. You don’t need to be young to be emerging.”

 

Where do you think the market for Louis Tavelli works is going? “I think the notion that it’s still being shaped is very accurate,” she says. “It’s limitless because it’s fresh. I’ve been pleased and surprised by the reactions to each sale. Tavelli is getting more attention with each one, which is cool.”

 

Why will this work stick in your memory? “It stops you in your tracks, no question,” she says. “It’s a pretty intense piece. The people are almost stick figure-like. It’s almost like a cave drawing.”

 

How to bid: Untitled (hunters and bulls) is lot 2214 in Remix: Contemporary + Classic, a sale taking place at Rago Auctions on April 7, 2018.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Rago Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Rago Auctions.

 

Louis Tavelli has a website.

 

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SOLD! Aboriginal Artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s Monumental 1991 Canvas Commands More Than $430,000 at Sotheby’s

Emily Kame Kngwarreye - Kame-Summer Awelye II (est. £300,000-500,000)

Update: Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s Kame-Summer Awelye II sold for £309,000, or about $430,400.

 

What you see: Kame-Summer Awelye II, a monumental December 1991 canvas by Emily Kame Kngwarreye. Sotheby’s estimates it at £300,000 to £500,000, or $418,000 to $697,690.

 

Who was Emily Kame Kngwarreye? Born in 1910 in Utopia, an Aboriginal community in Australia’s northern territory, Kngwarreye [pronounced ‘no worry’] is one of the most significant and successful Aboriginal artists. She embraced painting late in life, when she was almost 80. Though her career was brief, it was exemplary. Her works started selling for six figures at Australian auctions at the turn of the century. She died in 1996 at the age of 85 or 86.

 

What does the name of the painting mean? “Summer ceremony,” says Tim Klingender, Aboriginal art specialist at Sotheby’s. “Awelye means ceremony. It means singing, dancing, and body painting as performed in traditional [Aboriginal] ceremonies, relating to the Dreaming of one’s totems and country.”

 

This is one of a group of four monumental works by Kngwarreye. Another is in a museum. Do we know where the other two are, and if they have come to auction? And is this the first of the four to go to auction? “The other two are both in private collections, and were both exhibited in the artist’s two retrospectives,” he says. “This is the first of the four to appear at auction.”

 

The lot notes say Kame-Summer Awelye II was painted ‘during a time of intense ceremonial activity.’ Could you explain what these ceremonies were, and how Kngwarreye participated? “Indigenous desert people meet at various times of the year to perform ceremonies, relating to rain, animals, plants, ancestors and initiations,” he says. “At such ceremonies, ancient songs and dances are performed, bodies painted, and sand mosaics are created on the ground and danced upon.”

 

The lot notes say that Kngwarreye might have daubed paint on the torsos of those who participated in the ceremonies. Did the paint patterns she applied to their bodies look in any way like the patterns we see in this painting? “In some cases, yes. In others, they are paintings of her country, Alhalkere,” he says. [Alhalkere is an area in central Australia that’s about 142 miles north of Alice Springs.]

 

In what ways does the painting reflect or represent the Northern Territory landscape? “These paintings are aerial views of ‘landscape’ from above–painterly views of landscape infused with the spiritual energy of the ancestors, or creation, or Dreamtime beings,” he says.

 

The lot notes also state that the painting ’emphasizes the intrinsic connection of the individual to the landscape as a form of personal expression.’ Could you say more about this?  “To artists such as Emily, their inherited country and their connection to it are everything,” he says. “Her paintings are a celebration of that connection.”

 

Kngwarreye was in her early eighties when she made this painting. Do we know if it was difficult at all for her to make a painting of this size? How did she approach its creation? “Amazingly, she could handle large scale works with ease,” he says. “Google Big Yam Dreaming in the NGV to see a work she painted on a massive scale in the second-to-last year of her life.”

 

Why did she, among all of the Aboriginal artists in the Utopia community, break out and gain fame? “Because of the uniqueness and quality and development of her style,” he says. “In such a short period, she produced a phenomenal body of work–some 3,000 paintings in seven years.”

 

How does Kngwarreye’s personal story as an artistic late bloomer play into the demand for her paintings and affect their value? “Not particularly,” he says. “It has always been her art that has drawn attention first and foremost.”

 

What’s the current auction record for a Kngwarreye painting? Does she still hold the record for any Aboriginal artwork at auction? “Her auction record is AUD$2,100,000 [a sum that’s roughly the same in American dollars], for Earth’s Creation 1, sold in November 2017 at Fine Art Bourse in Sydney, Australia. That’s the second highest price for an Indigenous work, and the highest for any Australian woman artist,” he says.

 

How did you arrive at the estimate for this work? “Considerably smaller examples from this particular period have sold for around AUD$500,000,” he says. “A work on this scale and quality is exceptionally rare.”

 

Why will Kame-Summer Awelye II stick in your memory? “This grand painting is joyous, beautiful, spectacular, rare, and grounded in the oldest continuous culture on earth,” he says. “Seen firsthand, the painting’s layers of fine overlaid multi-toned yellow pigments give the painting a depth reminiscent of a golden celestial starscape, like an earthly reflection of the heavens.”

 

How to bid: Kame-Summer Awelye II is lot 38 in Sotheby’s Aboriginal Art auction in London on March 14, 2018.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

 

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UPDATE: WORLD RECORD AT AUCTION FOR ALMA THOMAS: LAMA’s Fresh-to-Market Canvas by African-American Artist Alma Thomas Sells for Almost $400,000

almathomas

Editor’s Note: Today is the first anniversary of The Hot Bid. To celebrate, I’m reposting the first entry–a piece on an Alma Thomas painting at LAMA that ultimately sold for a record sum.

Update: Thomas’s Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C. sold for $387,500 at Los Angeles Modern Auctions on Sunday, March 5, 2017–well above its $125,000 to $175,000 estimate. It also represents a world record at auction for the artist.

What you see: Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C., a 1969 oil on canvas by Alma Thomas.

Who was Alma Thomas? She was a member of the Washington Color School, a mid-20th century abstract art movement based in Washington, D.C. that also included Gene Davis and Kenneth Noland. Thomas was under-appreciated during her lifetime, but she was not unknown; in 1972, she became the first African-American woman to receive a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Thomas died in 1978, at the age of 86. Her art gained fresh attention when President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama displayed her works in the White House. Resurrection, a 1966 Thomas canvas that the Obamas chose for the White House family dining room, shares a mandala-like motif in common with Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C.

Why is Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C. so compelling? “It has an intimacy that you only get when you contemplate a solitary blossom,” says Peter Loughrey, director of modern design and fine art at Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA). “There’s something Zen and eastern about it. The progression of color draws you in to the center of the work. It really lends itself to a one-on-one, personal interaction.”

How does the painting call to mind Washington, D.C.? “It’s extremely abstracted, but it does reference the cherry blossoms that bloom every spring,” says Loughrey, who grew up in the nation’s capital. “It’s inescapable, that pinkish color in the background. It’s what you remember and walk away with.”

Why is the painting estimated at $125,000 to $175,000? Thomas wasn’t as prolific as other Washington Color School artists, and today’s collectors are keen to own her works. Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C. has never gone to auction before; the consigner’s father bought it directly from the artist in 1969. He was a medical student at the time, and he paid her in installments. The lot includes a handwritten letter from Thomas to the proud young owner, telling him,”I hope you will love the painting. So many of my friends wanted to buy it.”

How to bid: Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C. is lot 323 in the Modern Art & Design Auction that takes place on March 5, 2017 at LAMA in Van Nuys, Calif.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.

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