10 Standout Lots on Artsy This Week
The new “Artsy x Thurgood Marshall College Fund: Post-War and Contemporary Art” auction features an impressive array of works by esteemed emerging and blue-chip artists, including Andy Warhol, Matthew Wong, Issy Wood, Howardena Pindell, and Sarah Slappey. Open now through Thursday, June 28th, at 11 a.m. EDT, the sale features numerous gems. Here, we share insights on 10 of the standout lots.
Matthew Wong, 1994, 2018
Matthew Wong’s art has become inseparable from the young painter’s death at the age of 35 in 2019. At the time of his passing, Wong was a rising artist just at the cusp of art-world fame. His 2018 solo show at Karma received rave reviews, with some critics comparing Wong’s painterly style to that of Vincent van Gogh and Milton Avery. Since his 2019–20 solo show “Blue,” also at Karma, the late artist’s critical and commercial success has only grown.
This past May, two of Wong’s works sold for over $5 million at auction, with the 2018 canvas The Night Watcher setting the artist’s auction record when it sold at Sotheby’s for $5.9 million, which was 237% above estimate. Wong’s works on paper have been met with similar enthusiasm: Another gouache-on-paper work from 2018, the same size as this one, titled Pilgrim, sold for $523,347, 704% above estimate, at Sotheby’s in October 2020.
This gouache painting of a sunset, 1994 (2018), reflects the artist’s background in photography: Wong earned a master’s degree in the subject at the School of Creative Media at the City University of Hong Kong in 2013, before starting his painting practice. The use of orange and deep blue (complementary colors) provides a striking example of the artist’s signature use of color in his practice.
In his impressive landscapes, Wong used color to distort or heighten otherwise mundane scenes. His work has also beckoned comparisons to the Post-Impressionist group of painters Les Nabis, who used color, contour, and simplified drawings to convey emotion. Wong’s work conveys a melancholic sense of yearning, particularly in his visions of sunrise and sunset.
Issy Wood, Untitled, 2016
Issy Wood is no stranger to the sublime. Across her dual practice as an artist and musician, Wood portrays reality through its uncanny quirks, or what producer Mark Ronson described as her talent for “making despair and angst sound so, well, funky.” The London-based artist, who was featured in The Artsy Vanguard 2020, has been known to refer to herself as a “medieval millennial,” a moniker that hints at her distinctive, dark twists on reality. Wood’s work can be linked to a group of her contemporaries, like Anna Weyant, who offer a fresh response to the Surrealist work of the 1920s through ’40s by artists including Leonora Carrington, Max Ernst, and René Magritte.
Untitled (2016), painted while Wood was a graduate student at the Royal Academy Schools, was exhibited in the 2016 exhibition “Chatsubo” at Kraupa Tuskany Zeidler in Berlin. This early work is more vibrant in color and is slightly sentimental. With the iridescent interior of an oyster shell that takes up most of the canvas, Wood references her mother, who would use such a shell to mix face creams. Wood has been known to incorporate heirlooms into her canvases, including items that she inherited from her grandmother.
Wood has had a steady string of solo shows since finishing her master’s degree in 2018, and more recently, her secondary market is growing: Her works have appeared at auction over a dozen times since April 2021, and her auction record was set in March 2022, when the large canvas Chalet (2019) sold for $588,765, which was 253% above estimate.
Yoshitomo Nara, Space Cat, 1991
Yoshitomo Nara is renowned for his deceptively simple drawings and paintings that glean inspiration from manga and Walt Disney films. Nara’s work is reflective of post–World War II Japanese culture, which was flooded with an array of comic books, films, and images from American culture. His flat style is never one-dimensional in concept, however. Nara works in such a way in order to surface the emotional depth of children, adults, and animals.
Space Cat (1991) is one of the artist’s early acrylic paintings that depicts a cat—featuring his trademark expressive eyes—flying through space in a miniature spacecraft. The style is reminiscent of the popular Hanna Barbera–produced animated series The Jetsons (1962–63).
Space Cat makes its return to auction after a nearly 10-year hiatus; it was last on the auction block in April 2013 at Sotheby’s, where it sold for 114% above estimate. The acrylic-on-paper work was once owned by Shun Kurokochi, a key collector of the artist’s work, and has been widely exhibited in career surveys and solo exhibitions focused on the artist.
Julie Mehretu, Untitled, 2006
Julie Mehretu’s architecture-inspired abstractions use line and color to represent layered cultural histories in space. Mehretu’s paintings and drawings make evident opposing cultural legacies across geopolitical conflicts, like the Egyptian Revolution in 2011. The Ethiopian-born, Brooklyn-based artist has received critical acclaim over the past 20 years. Mehretu was recently the subject of a mid-career survey exhibition that was organized jointly by the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Since that groundbreaking exhibition, which closed at the Whitney in August 2021, reintroduced audiences to her robust practice, multiple pieces have gone to auction. The secondary market for Mehretu’s works on paper has been strong as of late: In November 2021, a large untitled drawing from 2005 sold for $630,000 at Phillips. Mehretu’s works on paper present a more intimately scaled acquisition compared to her grandworks that tower above visitors even in a museum setting.
Kehinde Wiley, The Gypsy Fortune-Teller, 2007
Kehinde Wiley’s paintings and prints intentionally revise the Western art history canon to emphasize the representation of Black people across the diaspora. Playing with classical motifs and themes of heroism, beauty, and the sacred, Wiley’s work reconfigures the perceived universality of those ideas through the inclusion of contemporary people who were absent from the original narratives. Wiley’s extremely vivid color palette and hyperrealistic painterly style are huge draw to collectors, and both qualities have certainly played a role the artist’s art-market rise over in the last few years.
The Gypsy Fortune-Teller (2007) is a limited-edition tapestry—this piece is edition 13 of 48, plus 10 artist proofs—based on the composition of the François Boucher tapestry The Collation (1734–36, woven 1762), which is in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wiley subverts the laissez-faire garden life of Baroque France to to uplift the kick-back style of communal gatherings that take place on a much lesser scale and in less historically idealized spaces.
Sarah Slappey, Untitled (Blue Cloud Study), 2018
Sarah Slappey’s surrealistic paintings commingle the darkness and lightness of sex and femininity. Often, Slappey’s ebullient use of color betrays her somewhat sinister and lustful representations of bodies that are sexually entwined together, in what the artist describes as scenes of “quiet violence.”
Slappey earned an MFA from Hunter College in New York and is currency based in Brooklyn. Her most recent solo exhibition, “Self Care,” was held in 2021 at Sargent’s Daughters, which represents the artist. In “Self Care,” Slappey harnessed the imagery and objects of girlhood and reenvisioned them as devices of restriction, set in a lush, pastel color palette.
Slappey’s work made its auction debut this past March at Phillips’s “New Now” auction. Her painting Yellow Touch (2018) sold for $100,800, over nine times its high estimate of $12,000. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C.; the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; and the Zabludowicz Collection in London, among other institutions.
Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe (Marilyn) (F. & S. II.24), 1967
Andy Warhol recently broke Pablo Picasso’s record for the most expensive 20th-century artwork when the former’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964) sold at Christie’s this past May for $195 million with fees. With the sale of Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, Warhol’s Marilyn has not only reached new depths of iconicity, but may be the most famous portrait of a woman since Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
Warhol’s iconic portrayals of Marilyn Monroe, which appropriate a publicity still of the actress from her film Niagara (1953), were made following her tragic death in 1962. Warhol’s Marilyn silkscreen prints and paintings demonstrate what curator Donna De Salvo described as his ability to make an original out of a copy on the occasion of his retrospective at the Whitney Museum in 2018.
Howardena Pindell, Untitled #49, 1974
Howardena Pindell is an influential living artist, recognized foremost within the field of 20th-century Black abstraction. Pindell’s longstanding practice has seen her work across various disciplines, including painting, curation, sculpture, and video. She is one of 20 co-founders of A.I.R. Gallery, the first gallery space dedicated to women in the arts. Pindell’s mid- to late 20th-century paintings and mixed-media experimentations—which involve hole-punched paper, glitter, and cat hair—have seen a massive market revival following a slew of solo exhibitions over the last five years, including “What Remains to Be Seen,” a survey that traveled from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 2018, and “Rope/Fire/Water,” which featured at The Shed in 2020.
Untitled from 1974 is an excellent example of Pindell’s experimentations with hole-punched paper. The piece features canvas adorned with the hole-punched pieces of a watercolor and crayon work on paper. The collected, circular fragments are gathered to create, as Pindell stated in a 1984 interview, “very small points of color and light.”
Pindell’s use of the hole punch was in itself an act of rebellion, as the instrument is far more associated with primary-school crafts than fine art. Pindell began to incorporate this technique into her work after being exposed to African textile and decorative arts at her place of employment, the Museum of Modern Art, in the early 1970s. The geometric shapes, vivid colors, and three-dimensionality present in African art encouraged the artist to think beyond the canvas on the stretcher—and she never looked back. Untitled originates from the artist’s studio and features a handwritten label from the artist on the back, with her address and description of the work and materials. This past May, Pindell’s current auction record was set when the monumental mixed-media piece Untitled #24 (1978–79) sold for $1.1 million at Christie’s.
Tony Cragg, Red Square, 2013
Tony Cragg’s sculptures traverse the line between the body and the natural forms of the Earth. The English-born, Germany-based artist’s practice grew in the 1970s through both site-specific installations and work that incorporated discarded materials. In 1988, he won the Turner Prize and represented Great Britain at the Venice Biennale. Cragg’s approach to sculpture aligns with the Postminimalist style, rebelling against the former movement’s intensely precise and formal approach, and instead pursuing work that is personal, conceptual, and organic.
Cragg’s Red Square (2016) is a rarity in the artist’s body of work for its use of this vivid, matte red—achieved by applying paint to cast bronze through a process inspired by the German auto industry—as well as its continuous spiral structure with an open crevice throughout. This particular work has never been on the market before, as it was acquired directly from the artist’s studio at the time of its creation.
This is a smaller-scale work by Cragg, who is often associated with his large public artworks, for which he has become increasingly known since the early 2000s. Red Square is part of a series of sculptures made in vibrant primary colors, contrasted against traditional bronze patinas, resulting in an illusory effect where the works appear to be made of ceramic or plastic instead of metal.
Cragg’s auction record was set in October 2019 at Bonhams, when the 2005 stainless steel sculpture Constant Change sold for $1.04 million, 54% above estimate.
Eddie Martinez, Untitled, 2015
Eddie Martinez’s vibrant graphic abstract paintings evoke an array of styles and movements across contemporary art, from graffiti to the CoBrA group. This untitled painting contrasts a lucid punch of primary colors with white, continuously drawing the eye across the painting to examine the colors and brushstrokes beneath and in between blots of paint.
The Brooklyn-based painter arrived at his distinctive style through experimentation, having briefly studied at the Art Institute of Boston before dropping out. In 2010, Martinez hit a pivotal moment in his practice when he moved away from figuration and towards abstraction. “I felt trapped and pinned down,” he told Forbes of his figurative work. “I wanted to move away from this redundancy in my practice.…It’s all about pushing the paintings.” Martinez’s approach to abstraction recalls the energy that Action Painters brought to their work, charging their paintings with emotion.
Martinez has made a notable splash on the secondary market in recent years. His auction record was set in November 2019 when the large canvas High Flying Bird (2014) sold for $2.02 million.