SOLD! Philip Lloyd Powell’s Spectacular Circa 1960 Double Bed Commanded $10,000 at Freeman’s

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Update: The Phillip Lloyd Powell circa 1960 double bed sold for $10,000.

 

What you see: A double bed designed by Phillip Lloyd Powell circa 1960. Freeman’s estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

 

Who was Phillip Lloyd Powell? He was an American studio furniture maker, working alongside fellow masters who settled in New Hope, Pennsylvania in the middle of the 20th century. Sometimes he literally worked alongside fellow masters–he and Paul Evans shared a studio for about a decade and occasionally collaborated on pieces. He was self-taught and largely worked alone. He died in 2008 at the age of 88.

 

The expert: Tim Andreadis, department head of 20th century design at Freeman’s.

 

How prolific was Powell? It’s estimated he produced upwards of a thousand pieces, but that might be a little liberal in retrospect. It might be 800 or so, and he did a lot of interior commissions, which would not have been freestanding furniture.

 

How many beds did Powell make? I’ve only seen two or three come to market, and I’ve seen one or two other headboards or footboards come up. I’d rate those as a five or a six. I’d rate this bed as a nine or a ten–it’s fully carved, fully realized. I haven’t actually seen a four-poster bed quite like this.

 

Was this double bed a commission, or did he build it on spec? He did it specifically for this client [the consigner], who commissioned it around 1960. It has the wonderful sculptural detail that you want to see with Powell pieces. Undulating lines… it packs a lot of visual power. It’s not a quiet piece. And it has a built-in bench at the footboard. The design is elegant and functional. You can sit on the bed as you dress and put on your shoes. The client loved the bed. The only reason she’s selling is she’s downsizing and it won’t fit in the new place. When we met [for the first time–she has consigned to Freeman’s before], the bed was one of the first things she showed me. She’s very proud of it and understands that it’s a masterwork for Powell.

 

I understand that Powell and Paul Evans shared a studio space for about a decade, and that time would have included 1960. Was Evans involved with this bed commission at all? No, no. My understanding, coming from the client, is that she only worked with Powell. Some clients were drawn to one or the other [Phillip Lloyd Powell or Paul Evans]. A lot of clients were very comfortable with Phil. He was really personable. He was not necessarily a businessman. He was not looking to scale up. Paul Evans wanted to scale up and take his art to as many people as possible. Phil liked an intimate relationship with a client, where they could really build something together.

 

What was Powell’s attitude toward wood? Was he the sort who liked to squirrel away choice pieces for the future, like his neighbor George Nakashima did? He did. He put away slabs that would be useful on a project. And black walnut [which he used for this bed] is very carveable, easy to work with. With somebody like Wharton Esherick, wood was more of a means to an end. Powell was more in the Nakashima camp, with woodworkers having a love affair with the material. I can’t see him working with another type of material. I can’t see his works cast in bronze.

 

I see that Powell uses an ebony butterfly join in the headboard. Did he get the idea from Nakashima? Butterfly joins are a way to keep wood from splitting further. In this backboard the join is much more decorative, as the two pieces of wood are separate. The join is meant to be a focal point and meant to create visual interest. As for Nakashima, there must be some influence there, but I don’t know if he got it directly from George.

 

This is a four-poster bed. Does it actually function as one? Can you place a canopy on it? The client did not have a canopy on it. I don’t think it was ever intended to have a canopy on it. The posts give a sense of verticality to it. I think the client wanted to create a sense of height, give it another dimension. The ebony caps on the posts highlight the sense of height and upward motion that you wouldn’t otherwise have if there was just a headboard and a footboard. If you want a canopy on it, you could have one, but it would need to be modified.

 

Would modifying the bed to allow a canopy spoil its value? Not if it’s done correctly. I think it would be beautiful either way. What you lose is you won’t see the ebony caps on the top. The posts really draw your eye upward and you see the black detail, which echo the butterfly joins.

 

And this Powell bed corresponds to the size of a modern double bed? It does, yes. It’s intended to have a mattress and a box spring.

 

Where does Powell rank among the New Hope, Pennsylvania artisans? He’s right up there, easily in the top three. George Nakashima, Paul Evans, and Phillip Lloyd Powell are the big three of the period. He has a sensual quality to his pieces that you don’t necessarily get from the other guys. And I think a lot of people like the quietness of his work. This is definitely louder for a piece of Powell. They’re not always loud, but they pack a lot of visual impact.

 

Are beds harder to sell than other types of furniture? Beds can be tough. Not everyone is looking for a bed. But if you’re looking for a statement, this is that.

 

Why will this Powell bed stick in your memory? I’ve never seen another one like it. I’ve never seen another bed this expressive. It’s a beautiful piece to see, to touch, to handle. Having met with the client and seen it in her home, where she had it for almost 60 years–that stays in my mind, how much it meant to her. It’s hard not to have the enthusiasm be infectious. I’m excited to see where it ends up.

 

How to bid: The Phillip Lloyd Powell double bed is lot 74 in Freeman’s Design sale scheduled for June 4, 2018.

 

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Tim Andreadis previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a George Nakashima Sanso table with Conoid chairs, which sold for $187,500; an Albert Paley coffee table that commanded $8,125; and a Wharton Esherick sculpture that set a world auction record for the artist.

 

This entry on The Hot Bid appeared first on the Freeman’s website, posting on May 22, 2018.

 

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

 

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Sitting Pretty: A George Segal Bronze Could Sell For $150,000 at Freeman’s

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What you see: Woman in White Wicker Rocker, a 1985 limited edition bronze by George Segal. Freeman’s estimates it at $100,000 to $150,000.

 

Who was George Segal? He was an American painter and sculptor known for rendering human figures in white, giving them something of a ghostly appearance. He worked in bronze and plaster, and he is credited with being the first to use plaster bandages as a sculptural medium. He created everyday scenes of people riding a bus, waiting for subway trains, and crossing streets, and he made works that memorialized the Holocaust and commemorated LGBT rights. Segal died in 2000 at the age of 75.

 

The expert: Anne Henry, senior specialist of modern and contemporary art at Freeman’s.

 

How often do George Segal works come up at auction? Regularly. He did a lot of editioned works in multiples. There have been between 20 and 30 works at auction per year in the last few years.

 

Segal made Woman in White Wicker Rocker in 1985, relatively late in his life. Does that matter? This [sculptures dating to the mid- to late 1980s] is right in where you want to be for works that bring consistently strong prices. It’s in the sweet spot of his career.

 

Woman in White Wicker Rocker features a seated figure. How does the bronze compare to his other works depicting people sitting? He did a lot of seated figures. A lot of his iconic sculptures feature benches and chairs. He seems to return to positions of waiting or pausing, maybe capturing [the figures] in thought and inviting us to do the same. Here, the woman’s position is very relaxed. The wicker chair implies summertime and the outdoors. It conveys serenity and relaxation.

 

This is a bronze and not a plaster. Does that matter? I think it does matter in a practical sense, and it physically matters. Bronze is heavy and weighty. It feels more permanent than plaster. In terms of whether it would be more desirable to collectors, that’s tough to say. A plaster Woman on Wicker Chair was offered in March and it failed to sell. It was similar [to the bronze] and it was unique. Our estimate is lower than the estimate for the unique one. It will be interesting to see how the bronze does. The highest prices out of the top five [at auction for George Segal] are all bronze but two, but it’s important to note that the medium is not the only factor. Four out of the five had multiple figures. The fifth was a lone figure in the subway.

 

Do we know who his model or models were for Woman in White Wicker Rocker? He almost always used friends and family. His wife, Helen, frequently modeled for him, and it’s quite possibly her likeness.

 

The woman has a slight smile on her face, while other George Segal figures… don’t. Does that matter here? Is Woman in White Wicker Rocker more attractive to collectors because of her smile? Part of the appeal of all his works is their mysteriousness. You don’t really know what’s going on in the moment of waiting or relaxing [that he depicts], and you don’t know what’s going on in their heads. I think some collectors might find the slight smile more appealing, but some might seek out the tension that’s visible in other works. Segal does cover a wide range of subtle feelings. I don’t know that one is more desirable than another. The mystery is always there. That’s what he shoots for.

 

Will the Freeman’s offering be the first time that Woman in White Wicker Rocker has gone to auction? No, it’s not a debut. The last one was up in November 2012 and it brought $170,000. There were not too many others before that. An edition of five is nice and small. You wouldn’t expect to see other results.

 

The bronze is fresh to market. How does that affect its desirability? It’s been privately owned for 30 years, and it was bought from the gallery close to the date of execution. That’s something that collectors hope to see. And only one other has been offered at auction. That shows it’s relatively rare on the open market.

 

How much does the bronze weigh? We don’t know, but I can tell you that it took four very strong crew members to lift it. It’s not something one or two people can pick up. It’s quite heavy.

 

What is it like in person? There’s a feeling of relaxation, and because it’s a life size work, it feels very realistic and approachable. But because you can’t make eye contact with it, there’s ambiguity and mystery about it. It feels as if the figure is ultimately in her own psychological space. You feel her feeling of relaxation, but you’re not 100 percent invited to interact with her. The environment she’s in feels private. That’s what I like about George Segal’s work–it’s open to interpretation. The answers are not all there, which I think is interesting.

 

How to bid: George Segal’s Woman in White Wicker Rocker is lot 5 in 18 Works from the Bachman Collection, which takes place at Freeman’s on June 4, 2018.

 

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The George and Helen Segal Foundation has a website.

 

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

 

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SOLD! Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 Commands $4.8 Million at Phillips

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Update: Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 sold for HDK $38,350,000, or $4.8 million.

 

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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RECORD! A Piece of Thomas Stearns’s Glass Masterpiece Sold for $737,000 at Wright–A New Auction Record for the Artist

Stearns La Sentinella di Venezia

Update: The segment from La Sentinella di Venezia (The Sentinel of Venice) sold for $737,000.

 

What you see: One of the three elements of La Sentinella di Venezia (The Sentinel of Venice), a 1962 glass sculpture by Thomas Stearns. Wright estimates it at $300,000 to $500,000.

 

Who was Thomas Stearns? Born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Stearns came to the glassworks of Venini in Murano, Italy in 1960, and stayed for two years. He spoke virtually no Italian, had no previous experience with blown glass, and saw his design ideas scorned by the Venini factory’s grand master. Undaunted, he collaborated with a young house master, Francesco “Checco” Ongaro, and produced innovative sculptural pieces that heralded the arrival of the studio glass movement. Stearns died in 2006, at the age of 69 or 70.

 

The expert: Sara Blumberg, a consultant for Wright.

 

How did Thomas Stearns come to have a residency at Venini? This is a two-part answer. He was given a grant by the Italian government for glass and fiber art, and it came with a Fulbright Travel Grant. It was a combination of the two things.

 

About a month after his arrival Stearns showed a clay model and drawings to the grand master of Venini. And the grand master was… is ‘offended’ the right word? I think it’s the right word. It’s an island industry. Sticking to historical references is part of that history. A young man came in with a completely different notion of what to attempt. It flew in the face of traditional ideas of not just the Venini glassworks, but every glassworks on Murano. He was offended by it because he felt it indicated no respect for glassmaking and the way it was being done.

 

Why did Ongaro take the risk of working with Stearns? I think he was curious. It was a chance to prove himself and step up in the glassworks, which was not easy to do. He saw it as an opportunity. It was a very unusual circumstance to have a person like Stearns in their midst. It was probably a very exciting event.

 

What made it exciting for the Venini workers to have Stearns there? His being a foreigner is a major piece of the puzzle. And he was there on the floor, among the workers. In terms of the social hierarchy–Stearns speaks to this in his essay [you may have to scroll down to locate it]–he gave mixed signals. He was there to work, but he would take the director’s private launch back to [the mainland at the end of the day]. He could not be pegged.

 

How many pieces did Stearns and Ongaro make? There’s no way we can answer that. What we do know is there’s a very limited number of works in general. They weren’t made with an eye toward mass production. His pieces were sculptural glass. Certainly there was a great deal of loss in the making of the pieces. Records weren’t kept. We rely on understanding their rarity rather than any real count.

 

Stearns spoke pretty much no Italian, and Ongaro spoke pretty much no English. How did the two manage to work together successfully? The basic answer is that Stearns prepared design drawings [that were like] comic strips–a series of frames that showed one step, then the next step. And he made clay models to indicate the idea. They developed a language in common. There was a back-and-forth that has to do with the more technical aspects, but they were able to communicate and share as artists do.

 

So, explain what happened at the 1962 Venice Biennale. Venini submitted six works by Stearns, and they win a gold medal, at least briefly… The Biennale was about showing what the glassworks were capable of. You put your best foot forward. There was a lot of excitement within the company and without [about Stearns’s work]. Venini got a call that it had won the Gold Medal for Glass, but when they got to the pavilion, they discovered a blob of glue [on the display case] and no medal. They got another call saying the medal was withdrawn when they [the judges] learned the works were not Italian-made. Had there been any indication up front [that Stearns being American was a problem] they would not have submitted.

 

What was the fallout from that? It’s not known to us. At the time, we didn’t have that answer. But if you consider the place and the culture… again, this is a very small place, a very tightly controlled place. There’s a sense of tradition. It would be a scandal here [for a medal to be taken away because the designer wasn’t a native] but it was not a scandal there. It had to do with the pride of Murano. It was an outpouring of devotion to tradition. It may not make sense to us, but it made sense to them.

 

How did Stearns come to create The Sentinel of Venice? This is the last work he created [at Venini]. It was intended to be a three-part conceptual piece that was meant to speak to his time in Venice. He felt strongly about Venice as a place and feared for its safety. It was a tribute to a place where he spent a short but meaningful time. All his feelings about Venice are what he intended to imbue in the piece.

 

Does this piece of The Sentinel of Venice resemble the other two? It’s not markedly different, but it’s different. We’re talking a very similar coloration and idea. If you want to see the other two, you can see them online. [Here’s one of the three, which sold at Christie’s in 2001 for $102,800 against an estimate of $80,000 to $100,000; the other was broken and only exists as a shard.]

 

I realize we can’t hop in a time machine and watch Stearns and Ongaro make this piece, but can you give me a notion of how difficult it would have been to realize this segment of The Sentinel of Venice? A variety of techniques were employed. There are multiple elements here, all working in concert. That’s really where you encounter the difficulty. Combining techniques is exceptionally difficult because they fuse and anneal at different rates. It’s hard to control when you get this complicated or this large. What makes this piece unique is these techniques had not been combined in the past in this way, and in such a sculptural way.

 

How did Stearns’s work at Venini influence the American studio glass movement, which got its start around the same time he was in Italy? In a couple of ways. One was the sheer artistry and the experimentation of it all, experimenting with forms in a new way. That was one aspect. Another was the studio work–one or two people working in concert, doing very small projects. It’s different from making piece after piece as the glassworks was. There is no feeling that [Stearns works] are prototypes for mass production. They were viewed as sculptures, as artistic endeavors. It’s more about sculpture than utilitarian objects.

 

How often do glass works by Stearns come to auction? They’re rare. There were great losses [when he and Ongaro were making them]. A limited number of works come up. We’ve [Blumberg and her partner, Jim Oliveira] curated auctions for seven years and we’ve handled glass for almost 30 years. We see them every two or three years or so.

 

What’s the auction record for a Stearns, and for a work from Venini? The answer for both is Facades of Venice, which sold for $612,000 at Sotheby’s New York in 2016. There were two vessels in the lot, and they were sold as one lot.

 

What are the chances that The Sentinel of Venice will meet or exceed that sum? I hesitate to answer that, because I don’t know. It’s a possibility, absolutely. It’s an extraordinary event for it to come to auction and to have it in a collection that’s so focused on postwar glass. Facades, they got a good price for them. I think this is as exciting, if not more exciting. It’s very particular and thrilling.

 

Have you handled The Sentinel of Venice? Many times. It’s unlike anything I’ve held in glass. It has a beautiful weight. It’s a large piece for a piece of glass, very monumental. It’s a very exciting feeling to look at it and hold it. You can understand what his intention was, and you can feel the strength in it. Visually, it feels like a painting, from every angle. It’s really a painting in three dimensions.

 

How to bid: The piece from Stearns’s La Sentinella di Venezia is lot 160 in Important Italian Glass: A Private Chicago Collection, which takes place on May 23, 2018 at Wright.

 

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

 

See Wright’s short biography of Thomas Stearns and read Stearns’s 1989 essay, The Facades of Venice: Recollections of My Residency in Venice, 1960-1962. [You may have to scroll down a bit to find it.]

 

Sara Blumberg appeared on The Hot Bid in June 2017, talking about a 19th century Italian macchie vase that ultimately sold for $8,450.

 

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SOLD! U Got The Look! The Purple Tunic Prince Wore in a 1998 BET Interview and a Famous GIF Sold for $16,000 at Julien’s Auctions–Double Its High Estimate

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Update: The Prince-worn purple tunic with gold details sold for $16,000–double its high estimate.

 

What you see: A custom-made purple tunic with gold piping and tassels, worn by Prince during a lengthy interview with Tavis Smiley on the BET channel on October 27, 1998. Julien’s Auctions estimates it at $6,000 to $8,000.

 

Who was Prince? A native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Prince Rogers Nelson was the son of musicians and showed musical talent at the tender age of seven. He burst onto the pop-culture scene in 1979 and became one of the greatest musicians of all time. His hits include 1999, Purple Rain, Little Red Corvette, When Doves Cry, Let’s Go CrazyKiss, Raspberry Beret, U Got the Look, and heaps of others. Songs he wrote became hits for others: Nothing Compares 2 U put Sinéad O’Connor on the map, and Manic Monday did the same for The Bangles. In 1984, at the peak of his Purple Rain fame, Prince became the first singer to simultaneously claim the number one album, single, and film on the charts and at the box office. He died in 2016 at the age of 57 of an accidental overdose of painkillers.

 

The expert: Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions.

 

This Prince-worn tunic is purple. Is it inherently worth more than a Prince-worn garment in a different color? Yes. It does have an impact. When people think of Prince, they think of purple. Prince has a huge fan base that wants to own something from his career. He created his own style and his own fashion statements. It’s iconic. It’s so Prince.

 

Was it custom-made? Do we know what size it is? Most of Prince’s stage clothes were custom-made. There’s no label present in this one. He was a small guy, and a shy man, but on stage, he took on a whole other aura. If he liked a designer, he’d go back to that designer again and again. Prince himself was slight in build, but he wore items that could be loose-fitting and comfortable.

 

Have you tried it on? I have not. It’s on display in Ireland now [as of late April 2018]. A lot of people have come to see the exhibition. We’re really happy to bring the collection to the auction block. It’s going to be historic. It’s the greatest collection of Prince items to come to the auction block at one time. It comes soon after we sold a teal guitar of his, which was estimated at $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $700,000–a world record for Prince.

 

Prince didn’t wear this tunic on stage, but he did wear this during a long, well-known 1998 interview with Tavis Smiley on the BET network. [Scroll down for a YouTube link to the interview, which lasts more than an hour.] How does that fact–he didn’t wear it on stage, but did wear it in a notable taped interview, which we can still watch today–affect it? The value of iconic items worn by a celebrity are determined by provenance, authenticity, and performance. Did he wear it on tour? Did he accept a Grammy while wearing it? Did he sit down with Oprah Winfrey or Tavis Smiley? Yes, that does affect the value. If you own the tunic personally as a fan, you can take it out during a dinner party, knowing that it’s Prince’s, and you can play the Smiley interview–it takes on a life of its own. It’s what collectors love.

 

Another interesting detail is the Smiley interview is the source of a popular Prince GIF, and Prince is clearly wearing this tunic in the GIF. [Pull up any list of Prince GIFs and it’ll be there, but you can also scroll down for a link.] How, if at all, does its Internet notoriety affect its value? Because it’s so new, it’s hard to factor in the impact, but it certainly keeps his memory alive. This generation, sharing GIFs, will be curious to know who that is, and what it means, in years to come. It can be hard to quantify, but it celebrates Prince and keeps him current. That’s key to the value of a celebrity and what his items are worth.

 

Mayte Garcia, Prince’s ex-wife, consigned the tunic and several other Prince items  to the auction. Why is she selling now? There always comes a time when a window opens in a person’s life. It can be financial. It can be cathartic. It can be a downsizing move. I think she wants people to enjoy them. She’s storing these iconic objects, and that’s a burden. She’s letting them go knowing they’re going to go to museums and the homes of fans, where they’ll be cared for and appreciated for years to come. I think it’s what anybody would want, to share the life of an iconic celebrity as Prince.

 

Why will this purple Prince tunic stick in your memory? If you see a sparkly glove, you know it’s Michael Jackson. You see it’s purple and you know it’s Prince and not anybody else. Not Kurt Cobain. Not Elvis. It’s Prince. And [compared to his stage costumes], this is almost understated, almost regal. He wore it for an important interview, at an important time in his life. It’s understated and totally Prince. Twenty years later, it’s a classic piece anyone can put on and wear, male or female. He was androgynous in his dress, and it’s comfortable.

 

How to bid: The purple tunic Prince wore during the BET interview is lot 135 in Music Icons: Property from the Life and Career of Prince, offered in New York by Julien’s Auctions on May 18, 2018.

 

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

 

Martin Nolan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a Joseff of Hollywood simulated diamond necklace worn by Hedy Lamarr, Ava Gardner, and several other Hollywood actresses, as well as a once-lost 1962 Gibson acoustic guitar belonging to John Lennon that sold for $2.4 million–a record for any guitar at auction.

 

See the 1998 BET Prince interview, conducted by Tavis Smiley. It’s the source of that classic, peerless, eminently useful Prince GIF.

 

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BOOM! That Amazing Australian “Fireworks” Opal Commanded $162,500 at Bonhams

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Update: The Australian black-bodied “fireworks” opal sold for $162,500.

 

What you see: An exceptional black opal with a “fireworks” pattern, found at Lightning Ridge in New South Wales, Australia. Bonhams estimates it at $120,000 to $140,000.

 

 

The expert: Claudia Florian, co-consulting director of Bonhams’s natural history department in Los Angeles.

 

 

Where are opals found? They can come from different locations. They can be found at the sites of former volcanic activity, or where silica deposits itself in a sedimentary fashion. Australia is an example of the sedimentary form. The colors that the opals will have depend on the trace elements in the spot where they are found. The opals at Coober Pedy, Australia have a white body color. A thousand kilometers away from there, at Lightning Ridge, the opals have a rich, deep, black body color in which you find this play of fire. It’s a much more dramatic contrast.

 

 

Is Lightning Ridge in New South Wales, Australia known for opals? Yes. The first major discovery was made in 1905. This particular opal was found 20 to 30 years ago. It’s never been up at auction before.

 

 

How did this opal become so wildly colorful? It’s a very random occurrence, actually, that determines whether opals have a pattern or not. What makes the color so vivid is really the beauty of nature and the way the spherules [tiny spheres] of silica manage to create a pattern.

 

 

Did the opal come out of the ground looking like this, or did a stone-cutter bring out its beauty? Its beauty would have to be revealed by the stone-cutter. Miners can agonize over keeping an opal in its rough state or cutting it away.  It’s an unknown thing until you actually open it up, and you need an expert polisher who will work with you to take away the layers until they reveal the best-looking stone. The cutter kept it as large as possible with a gem-quality pattern. Those are decisions you have to make when going through the gem-cutting process.

 

 

Do winning bidders tend to keep an opal as-is, or do they have it set in a custom piece of jewelry? It’s a little bit of both. I have male and female customers. Men like to invest in opals and see them as an asset class, as a segment of their portfolio. Women tend to buy smaller stones that they can mount into a ring or a pendant. They tend not to go for specimen-size opals. Guys will buy the superlatives, such as the world’s biggest black opal.

 

 

Why is the word phenomenon in quotes in the title of the auction? I’ve been doing auctions for 35 years. I set myself a challenge–how could I package it in a way that looks different and fresh, and try to educate people? By focusing on the vocabulary of gemology, and what’s behind it. When we go to gemological school, we focus on what are known as “phenomenal” gemstones. It’s a reference to optical phenomena. Opalescence is an optical phenomenon. Iridescence is an optical phenomenon. You can have a sapphire that’s transparent, and you can have a sapphire with inclusions that line up along a six-ray radial axis, so when you cut and polish it into a cabochon shape, you see a six-ray star. That’s an optical phenomenon called asterism. Rubies can have it, and even peridots and garnets can have it. I decided [for this auction] in addition to focusing on the world localities of opals, I’d make a theme of gems with optical phenomena.

 

 

Are there any aspects of the opal that the camera did not catch? I think we got a pretty darn good photo of it, but the beauty of opals–the color shifts with the shift in light conditions. They’re best seen in person. But the photographers at Bonhams are the best in the business.

 

 

The lot notes call this “one of the most memorable pattern opals to be offered at auction in the last decade.” What makes it so memorable? Over ten years of doing opal auctions, I’ve had a few pattern opals. Red is the rarest color. It’s the money color. The more red there is in an opal, the more money you’re going to get. With red, it starts at $1,200 to $1,500 a karat, and it can go up to $20,000 a karat. When you see really broad patches with red predominant, that’s a lot rarer. For me, this is one of the best I’ve seen.

 

 

How to bid: The exceptional black opal with a fireworks pattern is lot 3147 in The World of Gold, Opals, and Other “Phenomenal” Gems sale taking place May 15, 2018 at Bonhams Los Angeles.

 

 

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

 

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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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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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