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Reverse Study

Reverse Study

The soul never thinks without an image.—Aristotle.

Thank you, Nilani, for asking I contribute something about my preparation of the rapidly approaching May auction. I naturally obliged that early Spring afternoon, knowing I need not divulge massively confidential information like the sticky circumstances of consignors or the drama of internal politics or the complications of pricing strategies or locations of secret tunnels and trap doors within the landscape of 20 Rock to keep it fresh. All of which if I were to share, while juicy, would belong firmly within the lowbrow, despicable quadrant.

In truth, all I had to do was look to the art I see everyday within those walls for inspiration. The quality of the works on the market this Spring 2010 season are vastly superior to those in the past year and it is with great anticipation that the Impressionist and Modern sales are held this week and the Post-War and Contemporary sales next. I have been fortunate to work within Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Department for nearly 3 years now and the volume of work I see during the course of a season and the access I have to it never ceases to floor me.

Working intimately with these works requires extensively involved cataloguing procedures, complete photo documentation of the recto, verso, side edges, framing, details of all labels and markings on verso along with any visible condition issues, in natural and under ultraviolet light. By the end of the season, it is always staggering how many photographs I manage to amass of each work. That being said, I thought I might share some of those photographs with you. Behind the scenes, and literally behind the object.

Here is a selection of photographs of works from the upcoming sale that I find choice. All are reverse studies of works that are installed upon the wall, whereby the reverse is rarely if ever seen, but, where the true story lies–ownership, exhibition, and condition history, and frequently artist signatures and inscriptions. To see the face of the works come and see them live at Christie’s during our sale preview May 7-11 or visit them cyberly at www.christies.com.


Lot 71: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Extra Cigarette, 1982 (33 1/8 x 33 1/2 x 1 7/8 in.) est : $800,000-1,200,000

Jean-Michel Basquiat used many found objects as supports in the early 1980s. Here he used a six paned window wooden frame for canvas with a reverse entirely black with acrylic and signed and titled in oilstick.

Lot 58: Claes Oldenburg, Soft Pay-Telephone (Ghost Version), 1963 (49 x 22 x 8 in.) Est: $900,000 - 1,200,000


Dwan Gallery label on Oldenburg

Sidney Janis Gallery label on Oldenburg

Claes Oldenburg’s kapok filled canvas relief sculpture is stiched intermittently on a canvas backing and then wrapped around a thin wood panel and adhered with staples along the tacking margins. Early labels from the venerable Dwan Gallery and Sidney Janis Gallery make this verso particularly wonderful.

Lot 53: Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1958 (37 3/4 x 25 7/8 in.) Est: $3,500,000-4,500,000

This vibrant blue and firey red work on paper, by Mark Rothko, is laid down on masonite board and adhered to a strainer with triangular braces. The signature and date are clean and bold and I adore the execution of the hook in the `M’ in Mark and the line of `9′.  There is also something quite gestural about Rothko’s hand in his signature. Something that would never occur on the face of the work.

Lot 47: Jasper Johns, Figure o, 1959 (10 x 8 in.) Est: $3,000,000-4,000,00

In the original artist frame, this darling Jasper Johns collage and oil painting was executed without a ground layer and today, the weave of the linen has aged to the point where we can in fact see through the back to the front. A faint signature in red appears along the lower half and it is also dated in graphite within the lower right. In felt-tip marker, an old auction code is visible on the frame. This was pretty fantastic to see.

Lot 42: Andy Warhol, Self Portrait, 1964 (20 x 32 in.) Est. $5,000,000-7,000,000

The only diptych of this particular Warhol portrait series was sold to Ethel and Bob Scull, early important collectors of the artist’s work. Warhol inscribed the work to them along the proper left vertical edge of the red panel and signed the work again and dated it along the upper overlap edge. The blue panel was not signed. Records indicate they were always to be shown as a pair.

Lot 40: Lee Bontecou, Untitled, 1962 (63 1/2 x 111 x 20 in.) Est. $1,500,000-2,000,000

This Lee Bontecou is possibly my favorite work in the sale and to me, this photo captures the tour de force that she is.  Even though the work is securely strapped in, there was something so defiant and haunting about when I encountered the work for the first time in its travel crate. The black velvet backing shown here creates the abyss behind the gaping orifices of welded steel with canvas and wire construction.

Lot 78: Richard Prince, Ranting and Raving, 2001 (78 x 66 in.) Est. $600,000-900,000

Richard Prince second signature

Richard Prince was compelled to sign this dark and dirty joke painting twice and date it thrice along the upper edge. Just so there is no mistake. There is pentimenti of larger letters within the upper third of the painting and I cannot help but surmise the `0′ becomes a `1′ when the artist reworked and dated the painting in 2001.

Lot 36: Yayoi Kusama, No. G.A. White, 1960 (50 1/2 x 51 1/2 in.) Est. $1,000,000-1,500,000

This early painting by Yayoi Kusama is on its original strainer with triangular braces and signed, titled and dated with the type of exaggeration you would expect from such a personality as hers. I love it. It is also a real rare treat to see the Gres Gallery label, where Mrs. Freeman purchased the painting 50 years ago from one of the artist’s two solo shows held in 1960.

Gres Gallery label on Kusama painting

Art ended up being my thing, not a thing just to look at, but to read like a map or a book; not just something to feel safe with, but something to get lost in, confused by; a world with lines and colors. Live with art. It’s good for you.

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