New York Auction Week May 2021 - Two Blockbuster Artworks Go Under The Hammer

Collectors' Tip, Upcoming Auctions

May 10, 2021

The New York auctions in May 2021 will be the first crunch moment of the year for the top end of the art market, despite all the obstacles posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

As always, the upcoming auctions will include dozens of works by trophy names. So far, two blockbuster works stand out - a Picasso and a Basquiat.

Pablo Picasso - Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse). Oil on canvas, 57 1/2 x 44 7/8 in. (146 x 114 cm.). Painted in Boisgeloup on 30 October 1932. Courtesy Christie's

Christie's 20th Century Evening Sale - Picasso

Taking place on May 11th at 7 p.m. (EDT), Christie's 20th Century Evening Sale will be redefined to introduce a new 21st Century Evening Sale, revolutionizing the traditional marquee sale week. Pioneering a holistic view, the auction will highlight the radical nature of the art made from the 1880s to the 1980s, promoting a dialogue between modern art movements for the first time. Titans of Impressionism will connect with champions of Abstract Expressionism and Pablo Picasso’s muses will meet Andy Warhol’s stars.

The highlight of the sale will be Pablo Picasso's Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse) from 1932, among the most stately and impressive depictions of his golden-haired muse, Marie-Thérèse, that the artist painted. Estimated in the region of $55 million, the work belongs to a series of portraits that introduced Marie-Thérèse to the public eye. The work was last seen publicly in the superb exhibition devoted to the artist’s "year of wonders," Picasso 1932, at the Musée Picasso, Paris and Tate Modern, London in 2017-2018.

The canvas was painted on October 30th, 1932, by which time the artist's muse had risen to ascendance in every area of her lover’s output. In the present work, she is presented as an idolized muse now reigning deity-like over the artist and his creation. With a lunar, luminous and sculptural head and sensuous and soft body, Marie-Thérèse is depicted as a winged goddess, a modern-day Nike. Clothed, alert and upright, her penetrating gaze reflects a complete command of her subjects, the artist, her lover, clearly captive to her thrall.

The series features both seated and reclining depictions, including works such as Le Rêve, Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust, Le Lecture and Jeune fille devant le miroir. As the distinguished curator, critic, collector, art historian and teacher of modern art, William Rubin explained, "1932 marks the peak of fever-pitch intensity and achievement, a year of rapturous masterpieces that reach a new and unfamiliar summit in both his painting and sculpture."

In addition to this magnificent Picasso, other highlights include Claude Monet's Waterloo Bridge, effet de broulliard, Andy Warhol's Nine Multicolored Marilyns (Reversal Series), Alberto Giacometti's Tete de Diego sur socle, and Robert Delaunay's Les Coureurs.

Jean-Michel Basquiat - Versus Medici, 1982. Estimate $35,000,000–50,000,000. Signed, titled, and dated OCT. 1982 on the reverse; Acrylic, oilstick, and paper collage on three joined canvases, 84 1/4 by 54 1/4 in. 214 by 137.8 cm. Courtesy Sotheby's

Sotheby's Contemporary Art Evening Sale - Basquiat

Taking place on May 12th at 7.30 p.m. (EDT), Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale will bring together many of the most celebrated Post-War and Contemporary artists. Taken as a whole, the sale will tell the story of the development of abstract and figurative art from the Post-War period up to the present day.

The sale is led by Jean Michel Basquiat’s superlative 1982 masterpiece Versus Medici, an extraordinary work executed in 1982, when Basquiat was only 22 years old, which is at the same time the artist's most prolific period. Described as his breakout year, 1982 was the year in which he created his most pivotal works, which have become the most desirable to collectors and, subsequently, the most highly valued amongst his roughly decade-long output. Nine of the top 10 prices achieved for Basquiat’s works were for pieces executed between 1981 to 1982. However, the works created in this period are becoming increasingly scarce, each year becoming rarer and rarer.

Offered with an estimate of $35/50 million, Versus Medici will appear at auction for the first time this spring. Created soon after his transformative early trip to Italy in 1981, the work poses a forceful visual challenge to the Western art establishment. In this canvas, the young artist boldly crowns himself the successor to the artistic legacy as established by the masters of the Italian Renaissance. Confronting this key cornerstone of Western art history, the artist rightfully asserts his own place within this history. The son of immigrants from Haiti and Puerto Rico, Basquiat crowns himself as artistic royalty, also testified in the work's incendiary title. Here, the Medici stands for the power systems of the art world at large.

Reflecting Basquiat's vast knowledge of art history, the work features a range of influences – namely the anatomical complexity of early Leonardo drawings and the triptych format of the painting’s construction. This legacy of Western art history is reshaped to his own purposes. The central figure is a searing and heroic one, at the same time opposing that narrative and aligning the young artist as radical successor in the new pantheon of art history.

Grégoire Billault, Sotheby’s Head of the Contemporary Art in New York described the canvas as not only "among the most powerful within his oeuvre, but it is also a radical repositioning of art history."

In Versus Medici, Basquiat’s melds the political and art historical as he consciously stages a reckoning with the Westernized ideal of visual culture, and was intent on mastering and commandeering the accepted ‘rules’ of art history in order to break them—as all great artists do. 

Versus Medici will be on view in Hong Kong (from April 16th until 20th) and Los Angeles (from April 24th until 26th), before returning to New York for a pre-sale exhibition in advance of the May sale.

The sale will also present a spectacular group of 1980s works by David Hockney, Willem de Kooning and Louise Nevelson from the collection of Morris and Rita Pynoos. Remembered as passionate collectors and innovative art patrons, the Pynooses forged close friendships with many contemporary artists. Their collection speaks to these enduring friendships, while showcasing various key facets of these artist’s celebrated careers. Works that will be on view have previously remained in the esteemed collection for nearly a half-century.

Featured image: The Unveiling of Jean-Michel Basquiat's Versus Medici. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

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