Specialist Picks—Rago Auctions: Urban Living

Artsy Auctions
Mar 28, 2017 1:09AM

Rago Auctions: Urban Living brings together thought-provoking works by some of the most influential artists of contemporary times. While certain artists included in this sale quite literally use urban settings as their artistic playground, others use their work as a kind of foil against the perils of growing up too fast in the big city. All the same, these pieces reveal the multi-faceted nature of urban living, and are perfect for those who call a city their home.

Lee Friedlander

Lee Friedlander is a master of capturing moments that play off the chaos of urban life, be it densely-packed storefronts or the city’s diverse and fast-moving inhabitants. The present lot is one of Friedlander’s most iconic images, with his own shadow looming on the back of a fellow urban dweller amidst this intricate street scene.

While those vexing, bright reflections and shadows protruding into the picture may be a source of headache for another photographer, Friedlander embraces these qualities and maximizes them to full effect. He is fascinated by the aesthetics of transparency, fragmentation, and reflection layered upon a kaleidoscope of different subjects within a single shot. Having exhibited internationally from Jeu de Paume in Paris, to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, he is considered to be one of the most influential and prolific American photographers living today.

Sally Mann

Sally Mann is world-famous for her controversial photographs of her three children, Emmett, Virginia, and Jessie, who she captured in the ephemeral stages of early childhood. Many of the photos were taken on the family’s secluded farm, where her often nude children could roam the grounds, swim, and go about their daily lives. This work depicts her late son, Emmett, who tragically passed away at the age of 36. With this in mind, this work is rendered yet even more poignant, as Mann meditates on the passage of time and the transience of childhood. Its contemplative nature speaks to Mann's exquisite endeavor to capture the most important moments in her and her child’s shared life.

Hank Willis Thomas

In this inkjet print on canvas Hang Time Circa 1923, the artist uses striking imagery associated with black history and culture to explore both race and male identity, and how commodity culture and media have shaped society’s perception of these two constructs. What you immediately see is NBA basketball all-star Michael Jordan in his iconic free-throw line slam dunk, mercilessly hanging from a noose. Rendered into a silhouette of the signature ‘Jumpman’ Nike pose, Jordan is both the larger-than-life persona that dominated television advertisements in the 80s and 90s, and a helpless figure made minuscule in comparison to the giant tree. The image reverberates with an ominous disconnect between such a celebrated black figure, and the pernicious repercussions of racism that have coursed through American history and culture. This work is a striking example of a prolonged artistic investigation of how black male identity is perceived—oppressed, feared, revered, and commodified all at once.

Thomas lives and works in New York, and has exhibited in galleries and museums internationally. His work is part of notable institutional collections including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Brooklyn Museum, New York; Museum of Fine Art, Houston; Museum of Modern Art, New York and more. He is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery.


This original work by Swoon was created on occasion of the artist’s Swimming Cities of Serenissima, a flotilla of intricate, densely-packed vessels made out of scavenged scraps, that floated through the canals of Venice during the final days of the Venice Biennale in 2009. These boats served as a kind of refuge to its inhabitants; a miniature floating city that had broken off from the rest of the world. Swoon is largely interested in highlighting the human element within urban living, regularly depicting portraits of her close friends and family members on city streets around the world. This present lot is a mixed media work on wood, depicting an intimate embrace between two women and done in her signature style. Though she draws inspiration from a multitude of sources, ranging from Indonesian shadow puppetry to German Expressionist prints, this style is instantly recognizable as is exemplified in Serenissima. Her work has been exhibited and collected widely; most recently she created a site-specific, large-scale installation depicting the goddess Thalassa at the Detroit Institute of Arts, on view until June 2017.

Candida Höfer

Candida Höfer is known for capturing some of the most majestic, ornate interior spaces, resplendent with institutional history, yet completely devoid of human trace. This present lot depicts the German Museum of Books and Writing in Leipzig, Germany. This museum is the world’s oldest library of its kind: entirely dedicated to the human history of accumulating and sharing knowledge in the form of writing, books, and printed material. There is not a soul in sight, yet the work is replete with psychological remains; the empty rows of desks, lights, and books lining the magnificent room evoke a sense of purpose and utility. As a former student of Bernd and Hilla Becher, Höfer has set out to create a visual and rigorous typology of public interior and exterior spaces including zoos, libraries, museums, and more found across Europe. Höfer’s work is held in renowned private and public collections, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, Centre Pompidou, Paris; Centro de Art Reina Sofia, Madrid and more.

Explore Rago Auctions: Urban Living, exclusively on Artsy. Bidding closes on March 31st, at 6:00pm ET. For any direct inquiries, you may reach out to [email protected].

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