SOLD! Phillips London Sells Ruud van Empel’s Ethereal Boy & Girl for More Than $88,000

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Update: Ruud van Empel’s Boy & Girl sold for £68,750, or $88,688.

What you see: Ruud van Empel’s Boy & Girl, the first of a limited edition of seven prints, created in 2008. Phillips estimates it at £50,000 to £70,000 (about $64,000 to $90,000).

Who is Ruud van Empel? He’s a Dutch visual artist who pushes the boundaries of photography. Boy & Girl belongs to his World series, which, along with the Moon and Venus series, brought him international recognition. He will turn 59 in November.

No, really, what is this? “It is completely fictional,” says Genevieve Janvrin, co-head of photographs for Phillips Europe. “The children don’t exist. The forest doesn’t exist. It’s all in his head. For every one child you see, he’ll photograph five. He takes photos of leaves, Dutch foliage, and will move the leaves around. It literally takes him months to create each work, The Photoshop tool is his paintbrush. It’s almost like a puzzle, putting pieces together in a different way that confuses you and seduces you at the same time.”

Boy & Girl is a dye destruction print that has been face-mounted on Plexiglas. How do these techniques affect the artwork? “It’s a very shiny print–incredibly shiny,” says Janvrin. “In addition to that, it’s face-mounted on Plexiglas, a very highly reflective polished glass. It really shines at you. It’s not matte at all–full gloss. And it [looks] squeaky clean. The boy is in white shorts in a muddy forest, but no one is mucky. This is not reality. It’s all incredibly perfect and beautiful.”

It’s also fairly large, at 95 inches by 67 1/2 inches. How does that enhance its impact? “When you stand in front of this one, you really feel like you’re there. The foliage is all-encompassing,” she says. “There’s a huge amount of depth in the work. His attention to detail is incredible.”

How often does Boy & Girl come up at auction? This is only the second to appear. Another from the edition sold in 2015 at another auction house for £80,500, or around $126,000.

What else makes Boy & Girl compelling? “For me, personally, there’s a lot more going on than in some of the others [from the series],” she says. “The children are not looking at the viewer, not engaging you. It creates much more of a narrative. They’re moving–where are they going? And they’re very small. That foliage usually comes up to your ankles. You get the sense that the children have almost been shrunk. He usually puts [his child models] in very gendered clothes, but the clothes on these two are very pared down. It’s either an aftermath, or an Edenesque beginning–a powerful discovery of who they are and what they are doing.”

How to bid: Boy & Girl is lot 84 in Phillips’s May 18 Photographs auction in London.

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

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SOLD! Martial Raysse’s Gift to Hotel Chelsea Manager Stanley Bard Commands $50,000–10x Its Low Estimate

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Update: Martial Raysse’s UNTITLED (EYES) sold for $50,000–ten times its low estimate.

What you see: UNTITLED (EYES), a 1963 mixed media collage by the French artist Martial Raysse. He inscribed it, “To Stanley Bard Avec l’amitié de Martial Raysse (To Stanley Bard, with the friendship of Martial Raysse).” Freeman’s estimates it at $5,000 to $8,000.

Who is Martial Raysse? In the 1960s Raysse cofounded the Nouveau Réalisme art movement with Yves Klein and Arman, two fellow residents of the Hotel Chelsea in Manhattan. His compatriots banished him from the group after he abandoned making art from consumer objects to paint on canvas instead. It’s unclear when he moved out of the Hotel Chelsea. Raysse set the auction record for the most expensive painting by a living French artist when his Last Year in Capri (Exotic Title) garnered $6.58 million at Christie’s London in 2011. He turned 81 in February.

Who is Stanley Bard? He managed the Hotel Chelsea for more than 40 years, enhancing and cementing its reputation as an artists’ sanctuary. He died in February at the age of 82. Freeman’s is selling almost 100 works from his personal collection–art that graced his own apartment rather than the walls of the hotel he ran.

What led Raysse to give Bard this work? We’re not sure what the circumstances were, but the two would have met at the Chelsea. “We didn’t know what it was at first,” says Alasdair Nichol, vice chairman at Freeman’s. “Nobody seemed to know. The writing was hard to make out. I loved it as an image even by an anonymous artist. When it turned out to be a Martial Raysse, it made it a more interesting proposition.”

What makes UNTITLED (EYES) so strong? “The bright red color, and the eyes,” Nichol says. “I love it. The moment you see it, it stays with you. It’s a pretty indelible image. It feels very much of its time as well, with the 1960s model eyelashes. The neon color reinforces it. It’s electric.”

How to bid: Martial Raysse’s UNTITLED (EYES) is lot 32 in the Stanley Bard Collection: Life at the Chelsea sale at Freeman’s on May 16.

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

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LAST CALL: Spiral Magic: Wright Has an Onyx Noguchi Sculpture That Could Exceed $500,000

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What you see: Magatama, a 1946 sculpture carved from onyx by Isamu Noguchi. Wright estimates it at $300,000 to $500,000.

Who is Isamu Noguchi? Born in Los Angeles to an American mother and a Japanese father, he grew up in both countries and became a leading sculptor of the 20th century. He also created memorable furniture designs for the Herman Miller company. He created what is now the Noguchi Museum in 1985 in Queens. He died in Manhattan in 1988 at the age of 84.

What does Magatama mean? It’s a word that describes curved beads that appear in jewelry and ceremonial objects from pre-historic Japan.

How often did Noguchi sculpt in onyx? “Pretty darn infrequently. The sculpture itself is unique,” says Richard Wright, founder and president of the eponymous auction house, noting that he made at least one other sculpture in the semi-precious material. Its whereabouts are unknown.

What makes Magatama such a powerful sculpture? “The best Noguchi sculptures, to my thinking, are directly carved in stone. He did work in other materials, but stone is best,” he says. “To me, the striations are almost like a counterpoint. It’s linear, while the form is round and smooth. It’s sensuously curved. He must have enjoyed the opposition of the strong, linear lines over the curved form. And the spiral itself is an ancient symbol of the universal and the infinite.”

How does the sculpture’s celebrity provenance–Noguchi gave it to director John Huston, and it was later owned by actor Tab Hunter–affect its presale estimate? “It’s been 20 years since a Noguchi stone sculpture from the 1940s has come to market,” he says. “It’s never been to auction. It’s clearly a work that’s exceptional and has a nice backstory. It adds collector interest that hopefully translates to additional value.”

Magatama measures just over three inches high, just over five inches wide, and five inches in diameter. How does it feel to hold it in your hand? “It feels pretty good,” Wright says. “I’m sure through its life it was often picked up. The scale of it, the weight of it, the smooth feeling of it makes you want to hold it. It’s impressive. And it does have a really strong presence in person. It radiates an aura.”

How to bid: The Noguchi sculpture is lot 5 in the Masterworks auction at Wright on May 25.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Images are courtesy of Wright.

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NEW RECORD! Heritage Sells Norman Rockwell’s Study for Triple Self Portrait for $1.3 Million–A Record for A Rockwell Study at Auction

Study for Triple Self Portrait, 1960

Update: Heritage sold Norman Rockwell’s Study for Triple Self Portrait for $1.3 million–a record for a Rockwell study at auction.

What you see: Study for Triple Self Portrait, a 1960 oil on photographic paper laid on panel by Norman Rockwell. The final version graced the cover of the February 13, 1960 edition of The Saturday Evening Post. Heritage Auctions estimates the study at $150,000 to $250,000.

Who was Norman Rockwell? He was the best-known and most-loved American illustrator of the 20th century. He created 321 covers for The Saturday Evening Post as well as many works for Look magazine, calendar companies, and the Boy Scouts of America. He died in 1978 at the age of 84.

How many studies did Rockwell make for Triple Self Portrait, and how many have come to auction? It’s unclear, but according to Ed Jaster, senior vice president at Heritage Auctions, Rockwell typically made between five and 10 studies or preliminary works for a Post cover. “To the best of my knowledge, this is the only study for Triple Self Portrait that exists in private hands,” Jaster says. The finished Triple Self Portrait cover art belongs to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.

Where was Rockwell in his career in 1960? Jaster points to the language that appeared on that February 1960 Post cover, which dubbed Rockwell “America’s Best Loved Artist,” and adds, “In the eyes of museum curators and critics, not so much. Rockwell, in his lifetime, never got true recognition as a painter, and never as a fine art painter. He didn’t ascend to major museums until well after his death.”

How close is this study to the final version of Triple Self Portrait? “It’s a nice, tight color study with a fair amount of work put into it,” says Jaster, noting that the differences between the two are few–the final places pipes in all three Rockwell mouths, adds sketches of Rockwell’s head to the left of the easel and changes the Picasso clipped to the right of the easel. Rockwell’s signature also appears on the lower right of the canvas-in-progress, but that’s about it. “This is close to the final composition, and it works as a painting.”

Who is Henry Strawn, the person to whom Rockwell inscribed the study? We don’t know, and we don’t know when he would have received it from Rockwell. We do know that the artist freely bestowed his originals on models, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. “He was a generous guy who didn’t take himself seriously,” says Jaster. “We see a lot of [Rockwells] come out from the families of sitters. One consigner [not Strawn–ed.] was a truck driver who traded him cider and cheese from Vermont.”

What makes Study for Triple Self Portrait special? “Rockwell is almost certainly the most famous illustrator and maybe the greatest illustrator who ever lived,” says Jaster. “Triple Self Portrait is a top 10 painting. It’s a tight study, it doesn’t have a long auction history, and it’s fresh to market. That all makes it wonderful. I hope you can hear the smile in my voice.”

How to bid: Study for Triple Self Portrait is lot #68139 in Heritage Auctions’s American Art Signature Auction on May 3, 2017 in Dallas.

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

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SOLD! A Medium Size American Flag Sculpture by Ab the Flag Man Fetches $1,200 at Slotin

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Update: The medium size American flag by Ab the Flag Man sold for $1,200.

What you see: An undated piece by American folk artist Ab the Flag Man. It is described as a “Medium Size American Flag.” Slotin Folk Art Auction estimates it at $600 to $900, plus $75 for shipping.

Who is Ab the Flag Man? “He has a real name, but no one ever calls him by it,” says Steve Slotin, of Slotin Folk Art Auction, an auctioneer in Buford, Ga., that specializes in self-taught, outsider, and folk art. Ab the Flag Man was born with the name Roger Lee Ivens in Tennessee in 1964. He picked up the nickname “Abstract” during his school days, after asking his teacher about abstract art. It got shortened to “Ab” by co-workers on construction sites. He traces his interest in flags to the age of seven, when he witnessed the military funeral of his father. The sight of his casket covered with a flag never left him.

How long has Ab the Flag Man been an artist? He quit carpentry in 1995 to make art full-time, but it’s unclear precisely when he began–it could have been the late 1980s or early 1990s. He was discovered in a parking lot in Atlanta’s Virginia-Highland neighborhood, where he had set up alongside another folk artist to sell his works. “Specific dates in folk art are hard to come by. It’s not like he came out of art school and we tracked his progress,” says Slotin. “With Ab, people liked his stuff, and it was immediately popular.”

How prolific is he? “We’ve been doing auctions for 25 years, and since we began, we’ve had a few in each auction,” says Slotin. “There’s got to be a thousand pieces out there.”

Does Ab the Flag Man work alone, or does he have assistants? “That’s the thing with folk artists. There’s no team behind them, and no staff that prepares [materials],” Slotin says. “Typically, it’s all them.”

Wait, are there chair legs in there? “You see furniture legs in a lot of his stuff,” Slotin says. “Furniture legs, blocks, parts of house moldings, discards, it varies. It’s all scraps.”

What are the dimensions of this piece? It’s 35 inches long, 21 inches high, and four inches deep. “It really pops out at you,” Slotin says. “It has a lot of movement to it, like it’s waving at you. Most of his pieces have movement, like they’re waving in the wind.”

What else makes this artwork special? “The great thing about almost all of our artists is they’re untrained and unschooled. They don’t have art school or European influences,” Slotin says. “A kid out of art school, who’s trained on what is and isn’t art, makes art that’s pretty homogenized. With Ab, his background is in construction, and his dad passed away–you see his experience in his work. And no one saw it [Ab’s style of flag-themed art] till he started doing it. That’s what I like. What he’s doing is original.”

How to bid: The medium size American flag is Lot 322 in Slotin Folk Art Auction’s Spring Masterpiece sale, taking place April 29 and 30, 2017 in Buford.

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

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SOLD! Papa Flash Made a Splash at Swann Galleries With Milk Drop Coronet, Which Commanded $4,250

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Update: Milk Drop Coronet sold for $4,250.

What you see: Milk Drop Coronet, a photograph taken by Harold Edgerton in 1957 and printed via the dye transfer technique in the 1970s, when Edgerton signed it in pencil. Swann Galleries estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

Who was Harold Edgerton? Harold “Doc” Edgerton was an electrical engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He used his knowhow to create an electric flash that could fire extremely briefly–10 microseconds, or 1/100,000th of a second–allowing his camera to capture events that happen too fast for the eye to see. His mastery earned him the nickname “Papa Flash.” He died in 1990 at the age of 86.

Where was Edgerton in his career in 1957? “He was still at MIT, but by 1957 he had achieved recognition for his inventions and his visionary approach to making images,” says Daile Kaplan, vice president and director of photographs and photobooks at Swann Galleries. “But the photography market didn’t happen until the first galleries opened their doors in the late 1960s and early 1970s.”

Is that why Milk Drop Coronet was shot in 1957 and printed in the 1970s? Yes. “Edgerton did not identify himself as an artist, which isn’t surprising,” Kaplan says, “At the start of the market for photography, dealers realized that a picture of this elegance could be a full-fledged artistic image. Edgerton was a very brilliant man. He acknowledged that his work had taken on a new audience, a new form.”

How does the dye transfer process improve the image? “It’s probably the most stable and vivid technique in relation to reproducing color,” she says, noting that dye transfer is no longer used. “It was the blue-chip technique. The reds [of Milk Drop Coronet] are vivid and saturated–they pop.”

Does Milk Drop Coronet belong to a limited edition? “Multiple prints were made during this period, but it was not a common practice to edition prints. The market was still articulating itself,” Kaplan says. Later, she stated that she had handled versions of the photograph in eight Swann Galleries auctions over the last 10 years: Three dye transfers, two chromogenic (color) prints, and three that were black and white.

What makes Milk Drop Coronet special? “This is one of the top Edgerton images, and I have to say, one of the most popular images of the 20th century,” she says. Speaking of Edgerton’s 20th century stop-motion achievements, she adds, “It’s startling in its prescience. Time is accelerating, people are moving at faster and faster paces. He looked at it from an academic and a scientific perspective, but he was able to articulate in his images what people were beginning to feel.”

How to bid: Milk Drop Coronet is lot 214 in Swann Galleries’s Images & Objects: Photographs & Photobooks auction on April 20.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Swann Galleries.

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SOLD! Alex Katz’s Limited Edition Screenprint, Red Coat, Sells for $32,500 at Phillips

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Update: The Alex Katz screenprint of Red Coat sold for $32,500.

What you see: Red Coat, a 1983 limited edition screenprint co-published by artist Alex Katz and Simca Print Artists. It is number 70 of 73, and there were 12 artist’s proofs. Phillips estimates it at $25,000 to $35,000.

Who is Alex Katz? He is an American figurative artist who launched his art career in the 1950s. He is known for his large portraits and bold colors. His wife, Ada, who he married in 1958, might be his favorite model. She has featured in more than 250 of his portraits, including the original 1982 Red Coat canvas, which is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Katz began making prints in 1965 and has produced more than 400 editions to date. He will turn 90 in July; Ada is about a year younger than him.

What makes Red Coat a strong image, and a strong print? “Not to be vulgar, but red is always a good seller,” says Cary Leibowitz, worldwide co-head of editions at Phillips. “The scale of this is always quite nice–almost five feet tall. The directness of how Ada looks at the viewer, the proportions–everything that could be right is right about it. It’s become an icon.”

How rare is this screenprint of Red Coat? Leibowitz says a print from the edition comes up about once a year on average. “It’s an icon, and traditionally, it sells well,” he says. The record auction price for a print from the 1983 edition is $50,000, set at Wright 20 in 2013. Phillips sold another Red Coat print last year for $47,500.

Does its size–58 inches by 29 inches–pose an obstacle to collectors? “Katz has prints in every scale. Some are larger than this,” Leibowitz says. “He approaches each print almost like a painting. The scale works well for this image.”

What else makes Red Coat special? “It has an unexplainable force that just works,” says Leibowitz. “It’s larger than life and it feels that way, in a good way.”

How to bid: The Alex Katz Red Coat screenprint is lot 13 in Phillips New York’s Editions and Works on Paper Including Works from the Piero Crommelynck Collection auction on April 18.

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

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