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August 01 2012

Roy Lichtenstein's Electric Cord resurfaces after 42 years

Painting by pop art pioneer found in a New York city warehouse

A Roy Lichtenstein painting missing since 1970 has surfaced at a New York City warehouse – and a judge has ordered that it stay put until rightful ownership can be determined, according to court documents.

Lichtenstein's Electric Cord was created in 1961. It depicts a coiled cord in black and white on a 28 by 18 inch (71 by 46 cm) canvas. It was bought for $750 in the 1960s by art collector Leo Castelli, but disappeared in 1970 after the Castelli gallery sent it out for cleaning.

In 2007, Barbara Castelli, who inherited the art gallery when her husband Leo died in 1999, listed Electric Cord with a registry of missing and stolen artwork.

Castelli learned last week that an art dealer named James Goodman had contacted the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation seeking assistance authenticating the artwork, which was sitting at a storage facility on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

The painting had been shipped from a gallery in Bogota, Colombia, court records show.

Lawyers for Castelli claim the painting is worth $4m (£2.6m). New York State judge Peter Sherwood issued a temporary restraining order on Tuesday barring the painting from being removed from the warehouse.

Lichtenstein was a pioneer in pop art who died at age 73 in 1997. In May, one of Lichtenstein's works, Sleeping Girl, sold at the auction house Sotheby's for $44.8m.


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Tehran exhibition reveals city's hidden Warhol and Hockney treasures

Paintings collected with help of Iran's last queen, Farah Pahlavi, and safeguarded in museum basement, on show for first time

It is the finest collection of modern art anywhere outside Europe and the US, boasting works by Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Edvard Munch, René Magritte and Mark Rothko.

But the pieces have been stacked in the basement of Tehran's Museum of Contemporary Art for more than 30 years, gathering dust in storage. Censors in Iran classed some as un-Islamic, pornographic or too gay, and they have never been shown in public. Others have been displayed only once or twice.

But now a number of the collection's paintings are on show for the first time in Tehran as part of the museum's Pop Art & Op Art exhibition, featuring works by Warhol, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Victor Vasarely, Richard Hamilton and Jasper Johns.

"Many of the works in the exhibition are shown for the first time," Hasan Noferesti, the museum's director for art programmes, told the Mehr news agency. "The exhibition aims to show the evolution of these artistic movements."

More than 100 pieces from the museum's remarkable collection are on display, according to Mehr, along with a series of works from Mexico that have been dedicated to the museum in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Mexican revolution and the 200th anniversary of the country's independence.

James Rosenquist, Jim Dine, Larry Rivers and RB Kitaj are among other artists whose works are in the exhibition, which runs until mid-August.

Iran's unique hidden treasure was bought before the Islamic revolution, under the supervision of Farah Pahlavi, the former queen of Iran, who fled the country with the late shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979.

The 38-year reign of the shah, self-proclaimed kings of kings, came to an end after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned from exile to Tehran receiving a hero's welcome and founded the Islamic republic.

The collection includes Pollock's Mural on Indian Red Ground, considered to be one of his most important works and estimated to be worth more than $250m, as well as important pieces by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Whistler and Marcel Duchamp.

There are even pieces by artists whom the former empress met in person, including the Russian-French painter Marc Chagall and the English sculptor Henry Moore. The collection is thought to be worth more than $2.5bn.

Speaking to the Guardian, Pahlavi explained that the collection was bought during Iran's 1970s oil boom. "Our oil revenue had significantly increased and I spoke to [the shah] and Amir-Abbas Hoveyda [then prime minister], and told them that it was the best time to buy some of our ancient works both internally and from outside.

"I thought how good it would be to have a museum where we could put the works of our contemporary artists. Later I thought, why shouldn't we include foreign works. This is how it all started … at that time our curators and collectors were mostly interested in traditional art and not so much in the modern art."

Pahlavi's interest in western art is believed to derive from her education in France.

Kamran Diba, an Iranian architect and a cousin of the queen, was commissioned to design the museum in the heart of the capital and later selected the works with help from various people, including the presidents of Christie's and Sotheby's.

Pahlavi said: "I was very worried for the fate of those paintings during those events [at the time of the revolution], I was worried that the revolutionaries would destroy them. But fortunately the museum staff protected them in the basement.

"Some years ago the director of the museum showed some of the pieces and made a catalogue listing the works. I'm happy that people have realised what was hidden there for years."

Between 1997 and 2005, during the mandate of the former reformist president Mohammad Khatami, when restrictions on art were temporarily relaxed, Alireza Samiazar, then head of the museum, struggled to secure permission for the first display of some of the works.

In 2005, to the dismay of the regime's hardliners, a large number of the paintings were brought out for an exhibition. That show sparked controversy. Francis Bacon's Two Figures Lying on a Bed with Attendants, with seeming homosexual content, was deemed inappropriate and removed from the exhibition. However, many contentious works survived the censors. Andy Warhol's portraits of Mick Jagger and Marilyn Monroe are in Tehran and his paintings of Mao Zedong have been put on display in full for the first time in the pop art exhibition.

Despite the contempt of Tehran's rulers for western art, the collection has been safely guarded – bar a Warhol portrait of Pahlavi herself, which, she said, had been cut with a knife.

In 1994 the museum exchanged one of its many remarkable paintings – Woman III, by the Dutch-American expressionist Willem de Kooning – for a rare illuminated volume of Shahnameh, an ancient Persian poetry book, which belonged to the American art collector Arthur Houghton, because the painting had shown too much nudity in the eyes of the authorities.

The swap infuriated many, including Pahlavi. "If they were really interested in Shahnameh, couldn't they pay $6m and keep De Kooning's painting? The US businessman David Geffen, who bought the painting for some $20m, sold it for $110m few years ago. The De Kooning exchange is the sole exchange they've done so far and I hope it remains the last one."

Of the many ironies surrounding the artwork is the fact that Iran's powerful Guardian Council, a group of clerics, intervened a decade ago to forbid the selling or exchange of the works because, they said, trade in un-Islamic and pornographic works was prohibited.

Ali Amini Najafi, an Iranian art critic based in Germany, said: "The works in the collection are not randomly or arbitrarily chosen, it is clear that people involved in selecting them had a consistent plan to pick relevant and significant samples to depict the evolution of modern art and also to make sure that all movements from impressionists to pop art are represented.

"This collection was gathered at a defining moment of our history when Iranians were taking distance from their traditional past and were showing curiosity with modern art."


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May 10 2012

Warhol Double Elvis sells for $37m at Sotheby's auction

Roy Lichtenstein's Sleeping Girl and Ai Weiwei's Sunflowers attract record prices at Sotheby's contemporary art sale in New York

Andy Warhol's Double Elvis sold for $37m (£23m) and works by Roy Lichtenstein and the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei broke their own records at Sotheby's contemporary art sale on Wednesday.

Lichtenstein's Sleeping Girl, depicting a woman with closed eyes and flowing blond hair, fetched $44.9m; Weiwei's one-tonne, handmade porcelain Sunflower Seeds brought $782,500.

Warhol's Double Elvis (Ferus Type), a silver silkscreen image of Elvis Presley depicted as a cowboy, fetched $37,042,500. It had been expected to sell for $30m-$50m. The auction house said it was the first Double Elvis to appear on the market since 1995. Warhol produced a series of 22 images of Elvis. Nine are in museum collections.

Elvis is shown armed and shooting from the hip, with a shadowy and faintly visible double in the background. It was offered for sale by a private American collector, who acquired it in 1977.

The record for a Warhol is $71.7m for his Green Car Crash Green Burning Car I, sold at Christie's in 2007.

Another major work on the auction block Francis Bacon's Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror sold for $44,882,500. The buyers' names for each of the four pieces were not released.

The sale came on the heels of art auction history. Last week the auction house sold a version of Edvard Munch's The Scream for $119.9m, making it the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction.

"The reason for these record-breaking sales is, quite simply, the quality of material on show," said Michael Frahm, a contemporary art adviser at the London-based Frahm Ltd. "The key is quality."

Lichtenstein's Sleeping Girl was one of a series of sexy comic book-inspired images created by the artist in the 1960s, The work was exhibited only once at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 1989-90. It was sold by the estate of Los Angeles collectors and philanthropists Beatrice and Phillip Gersh, who were the founding members of MOCA.

Lichtenstein's I Can See the Whole Room! ... And There's Nobody In It! held the previous auction record for the artist. It sold for $43.2m at Christie's in November 2011.

Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds was one of an edition of 10 and was accompanied by a certificate signed by the artist. The ceramic seeds, which can be arranged in myriad shapes, were the subject of a Tate Modern exhibit in 2010. The previous Weiwei auction record was $657,000 for his Chandelier, set at Sotheby's in 2007.

Bacon's Figure Writing, which depicts the artist and his partner, George Dyer, writing at a table, was included in a 1977 Paris exhibition alongside Triptych, a 1976 work by the artist that sold for $86.2m at Sotheby's in 2008. It held the record for any contemporary artwork at auction until Tuesday night when Mark Rothko's Orange, Red, Yellow claimed that title when it sold at Christie's for $86.8m.

The Elvis silkscreen was exhibited at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1963, the year it was created. The auction catalogue described the work, based on a movie publicity photo, as "the deification of a contemporary warrior-saint, the towering, pre-eminent idol bearing a deadly weapon as if protecting the mythical world of celebrity itself".


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May 09 2012

Tate announce 2013 programme

Art lovers will be able to enjoy a major retrospective of Roy Lichtenstein's work and find out how LS Lowry was influenced by the French, as the Tate galleries reveal next year's programmes

Comic strips, matchstick men and David Bowie will hit the Tate in 2013, along with Marc Chagall, Gary Hume and Paul Klee. The four galleries – Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate St Ives and Tate Liverpool – have announced their programmes for next year, which include the first major retrospective of Roy Lichtenstein's work for 20 years and a show that will demonstrate how LS Lowry was influenced by French painting.

Lichtenstein, whose comic-strip-style paintings made him one of the forefathers of pop art, will be shown at London's Tate Modern from February. The exhibition will include landmark works including Whaam!, his famous 1963 picture of a fighter plane being shot by another, and Drowning Girl, both appropriated from contemporary comics, as well as the Artist's Studio series which saw him bring his graphic, pop style to his own surroundings and other real-life art works. It will also display lesser known late work including a series of female nudes and Chinese landscapes.

The gallery's autumn show will be dedicated to Klee, a pivotal figure in 20th century art, who taught at the Bauhaus school and whose intense, radiant paintings, replete with symbolism and references to the unconscious, draw on cubism, surrealism and primitive art. It will be the first Klee exhibition to take place in the UK for more than 10 years.

The Lowry show will take place at London's Tate Britain from next June, the first of its kind since the artist's death in 1976. Last year, the actor Ian McKellen accused the Tate of neglecting the artist, after claiming that it had shown only one of the 23 Lowry works it owns – a claim the Tate denies. Though Lowry's images of matchstick-style workers in industrial landscapes are some of the most famous in British art, the exhibition promises to reveal how he was influenced by 19th-century French painters such as Camille Pissarro and Maurice Utrillo.

Tate Britain promises to unveil its refurbished galleries in early summer next year, including a re-hang that has already aroused some controversy, with Burlington magazine claiming that it was prioritising modern works over pre-20th century ones. It will also stage an exhibition of work by Hume alongside that of Patrick Caulfield, who died in 2005.

Tate Liverpool will approach another aspect of popular British art with its show Glam! The Performance and Style, which promises to demonstrate the influence of the glam rock era, from 1971 to 1975, on other art forms in Europe and America. The gallery will also host Chagall: A Modern Master, the first exhibition of the Russian artist's work for 15 years.


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Whaam! Prepare to be hit by Roy Lichtenstein's finest comic book hour

The retrospective of Lichtenstein's work at London's Tate Modern will display the wit and glorious contradictions of his works

Roy Lichtenstein's Whaam! is an eerie modern version of the battle paintings that once decorated European palaces and council chambers. It is on a grand scale, split across two panels that together measure more than four metres in width. An American fighter unleashes a spurt of fire that blows up an enemy plane, giving the pilot no chance of escape. It is a picture of violence, but the violence is experienced third hand. The painting is meticulously translated from a DC War comic, the dots and bold colours of the original recreated by hand on an inflated scale. Our response to it is ambivalent. Is this a celebration of boys' comics, a comment on their glorification of war, a metaphor for the chilled and mechanised nature of modern killing – or nothing so serious?

It is, whatever it is, one of the most powerful monuments of 1960s pop art. Painted in 1963, Whaam! has been in the Tate collection since 1966 and has long been one of the most famous modern masterpieces in Britain. It is probably Lichtenstein's finest hour. We will have a chance to see it in the context of this artist's lifetime achievement when a retrospective of his work from the Art Institute of Chicago arrives at London's Tate Modern in 2013.

Lichtenstein made realistic paintings of an unreal world. His art is gloriously paradoxical – and the cleverest paradox is that, as in Whaam!, the unreal world turns out to have echoes in the actual one. Very early on, he hit on his comic book subject matter, and this gave his art a look it never lost – an enlarged, precise graphic style that incongruously translates efficient designs created for the page on to the generous scale of American abstract art. Like all the pop generation in America, he was working in the shadow of the abstract expressionists who in the 1940s and 50s widened the reach of painting, destroying the difference between the easel picture and the mural. Lichtenstein plays wittily on that epic scale, by filling it with comic book images that are the very opposite of the contemplative numinous clouds of Mark Rothko's visions.

In Whaam! this becomes a joke about freedom. The abstract expressionists have sometimes been accused of serving as propagandists for American culture in the cold war. The truth is more interesting. Jackson Pollock, the artist who defined abstract expressionism in the public eye, was indeed enacting freedom in the way he painted – the freedom of jazz music. With jazz 78s playing, he moved around a canvas laid on the ground, flicking and dripping paint. It was an improvisation, like Charlie Parker playing sax. In Whaam!, this free art is mockingly parodied. Lichtenstein carefully, accurately recreates an image – and that image shows a man finding freedom in machines. As he fires, the pilot obtains a sense of release. Like Jack the Dripper, he expresses himself – but does it by pressing a button.

Whaam! is still, as it was then, a comic image of American male freedom.


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May 07 2012

The Gunter Sachs appeal – life and legacy of the playboy art collector

Sotheby's to auction off trove of art treasures and memorabilia owned by the renowned playboy. Mark Brown, meets his son Rolf

Picture the scene. A ruggedly handsome, impeccably dressed man is enjoying a snack with his superstar wife, Brigitte Bardot, in St Tropez's Gorilla bar in the late spring of 1967. A pale, odd-looking white-haired man with a large entourage notices him and marches straight over, complaining that the Cannes film festival, of all places, has refused to screen his film because of its nudity. The man agrees to see the film, Chelsea Girls, and everyone bundles into speedboats and heads for the Carlton Hotel on La Croisette.

That chance meeting between the millionaire playboy Gunter Sachs and artist Andy Warhol had a profound effect on both men. For Sachs, a serious collector, it led to a sea change in his art buying; for Warhol it marked a vital first foothold in Europe.

Sachs became an assiduous collector of pop art and in 1972 opened a gallery in Hamburg. The Warhol exhibition he staged there was one of the first in Europe, although as Sachs's son Rolf recalls: "Nothing sold. My father was highly embarrassed, and he bought most of the exhibition himself – which was of course the best investment he ever made."

Rolf Sachs spoke to the Guardian ahead of a dazzling auction of artworks and objects that belonged to his late father. The Sachs family is selling following Gunter's death last year when, at 78, he turned a shotgun on himself.

Over two days, Sotheby's will sell a collection estimated to be worth more than £20m that includes art spanning surrealism, new realism and pop art, as well as furniture and personal objects. They shine an often fascinating light on a man who liked, perhaps more than anything, to enjoy himself.

"He had a great creativity for life, combined with a joie de vivre and an ability to live it," says Rolf. "He was interested in the zeitgeist."

Categorising Gunter Sachs is tricky. Sotheby's describes him in the catalogue as a "playboy, businessman, gallerist, museum director, art collector, film-maker, celebrity, photographer, astrologer, director and sportsman".

Certainly he was the man of a thousand stories. He created the Dracula Club, an exclusive private members' club in St Moritz; he was vice-president of the Cresta Run, an epic skeleton bob run also in St Moritz; he encouraged Salvador Dalí to shoot a gun in his penthouse and, of course, he married one of the most famous women in the world. He proposed to Bardot by dropping hundreds of roses on her villa from a helicopter before diving into the Mediterranean and emerging from the sea.

Something beautiful

Was it really like that? "I wasn't there," says Rolf, smiling. "It gets embellished every time, but so what? It has something beautiful about it. Stories should have a poetic, dreaming effect." The couple married in Vegas, honeymooned in Tahiti and divorced as friends in 1969, both of them having had affairs.

Born in Germany in 1932, Gunter Sachs inherited fortunes from his mother's side of the family – she was daughter of Wilhelm von Opel of the car-making dynasty – and his father, who owned Fichtel Sachs, one of Germany's largest automobile suppliers.

He located to France in 1958 which in itself was a brave move, says Rolf. "It took a special character to go and live in Paris in 1958 – which was 13 years after the war – as a German. It probably was quite difficult."

At the time, Sachs did not have huge amounts of disposable cash so he would spend his afternoons playing cards – at which he was extremely good. "He wasn't that wealthy then. Father would play ecarté with friends in the afternoon and he would invest his profits in art. At the time nobody was really buying art, people were building up their businesses, everything had been shattered."

Sachs began buying works by the likes of Yves Klein, Jean Fautrier, César and Arman, who are far better known today than they were at the time. "He bought it for the love of the art."

Sachs collected with passion and skill; he was an aesthete, says Rolf, who is a professional artist and designer himself partly as a result of his upbringing. "I was very much aware of the art in the house and as an eight-year-old I knew every painter, I knew every painting. I had a very strong relationship with all the art we had."

Sachs is mentioned in Warhol's memoirs as one of the young Europeans who went to New York and had the whole Studio 54 experience. "At the time you didn't think much of it, but it was fun. You don't appreciate those moments enough because you don't realise."

Surrealist work

Sotheby's has described the sale as "among the most desirable single-owner collections ever to come to market", but it is only part of what was an extraordinary collection. Sachs collected surrealist work by the likes of Dalí, Yves Tanguy, René Magritte and Max Ernst. He owned important pieces from the new realism school including Klein, Jean Tinguely, Arman and Martial Raysse. And there were works that could be described as art informel, including pieces by his friend Fautrier whose studio in the early years of the war was a refuge for intellectuals and artists associated with the Resistance.

Sachs decorated his homes and hotel penthouse suites with the most fabulous art and furniture. He had Lichtensteins in his bathroom, a Warhol Campbell's Soup in his kitchen, a Mel Ramos Banana Split in the guest bedroom. He commissioned a table direct from the sculptor and designer Diego Giacometti and was a big fan of Allen Jones, a star of 1960s British pop art, and had a set of his furniture that used fetishistic female mannequins.

Jones once recalled staying in Sachs' St Moritz Palace Hotel penthouse. "It was the most ritzy place I had ever been in. One wall of the apartment seemed to be entirely glass, with a breathtaking view of the Alps. There were Lichtenstein panels around the bathroom, a flock of Lalanne sheep on the carpet and the set of my sculptures."

If he had stayed at another time he would have seen Warhol's 1974 portrait of Bardot taking pride of place in a kind of pop art concept apartment. One of the last Warhol's Sachs bought was in 1998 – Self-Portrait (Fright Wig) which Warhol produced in 1986, a year before his death – and it is being sold for between £2m-£3m.

Another talking point in his penthouse suite was a bulletproof glass panel which Sachs would cheerfully stand behind and ask guests – Dalí was one – to shoot.

Works in the sale include Les Feux de L'Enfer, a piece Klein made using an industrial blowtorch at a state-owned gas research facility near Paris; pieces by Max Ernst, Magritte and Dalí; and a thickly painted gold canvas by Lucio Fontana, Concetto Spaziale (1961), estimated up to £900,000.

"There was never a thought of it being an investment," says Rolf. "In fact, he stopped collecting in the 1970s because he was disillusioned with the art market – it became so aggressive. It had a strong business component."

Not that he entirely lost his love for it. "He always wanted to find the new, and even at 72, he started collecting graffiti art. We have tons of it," says Rolf. "It shows a curious mind, a young mind, looking for what is the next thing and what is the next trend."

Speaking of his father's death, Rolf says: "It came as a big shock to us all, but as a family we are not bitter towards him … I admire the courage."

It has been suggested that he feared the onset of Alzheimer's: "Perhaps in his mind it was speculation. Whenever something like this happens, obviously, there is chemistry involved. Chemical imbalances, which do things to your mind."

The decision to sell the works was taken as a family, and Rolf stresses they are keeping the items that hold the most importance for them. "People have said, 'Oh my god, you're selling the collection,' but the real core of his collection is staying in the family." He adds that they want to do a museum exhibition at the Villa Stuck in Munich in October.

Fond memories

Rolf Sachs has many fond memories of growing up. He remembers Bardot as his step-mum – "she was very kind to me, very sweet. I have only the fondest memories of her." He remembers one of Sachs' girlfriends, the Swiss biscuit heiress and champion water-skier Marina Doria going back and forward, back and forward in front of the house, pulled by Riva, a speedboat that is also in the sale.

He remembers the parties his dad would organise. "He made some of the most spectacular parties. Everyone would dress up, there was always wonderful music. Once he did a party where he played as if there was a hold up and everyone was surrounded [laughing] and people were getting frightened.

"A lot of fun people surrounded him, people who were spirited, who were good laughs."

Rolf Sachs has taken on some of the responsibilities his father had such as being vice-president of the Cresta Run and on the day the Guardian talked to Rolf he was beaming with pride at a purchase he had made at auction that day: a vampire killing set from around 1900 which he can't wait to show fellow members of the the Dracula Club. It is meant to be the most select club in St Moritz but Rolf says it is full of fun-loving. "Father created it and it is a very nice group of friends. Every member loves being part of bloodlessness."

Gunter Sachs was also interested in astrology, publishing a bestselling book on the subject and creating the grandly titled Institute for the Empirical and Mathematical Examination of the Possible Truth of Astrology in Relation to Human Behaviour.

Two months ago Rolf floated 3,500 candles on the lake in St Moritz in the shape of Scorpio in memory of his father.

There are clearly things going into the sale tinged with regret but Rolf says the family tried to create a rounded sale that was also fun, so there are pieces of art estimated in the hundreds of pounds up to one of Warhol's Brigitte Bardot canvases, estimated at £3m to £4m.

The auction will be held at Sotheby's on 22 and 23 May. Highlights go on show in London from 18-22 May and in New York from 5-9 May.


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