LOS ANGELES — John Moran Auctioneers concluded its summer season of sales with the Summer Modern & Contemporary Art auction on Tuesday, August 30. Though it had just 56 lots, the selection included some heavy hitters, and achieved three world auction records.
The highest world auction record was earned by a 1976 work by Alice Baber titled Swirl of Sounds – The Ghost in the Banyan Tree. Also known as the ex-wife of American abstract expressionist painter Paul Jenkins, Baber’s previous auction record was $10,000, exclusive of the buyer’s premium, set in December 2021. Two different paintings by the artist, The Green Reed and The Blue Drum Path to the Open Coast, realized the same hammer price in that sale. The big, bright and bold Baber was estimated at $3,000-$5,000, but after a prolonged bidding war among dozens of collectors both online and on the phone, the price settled at $187,500. This result, incidentally, more than doubled Jenkins’ own auction high of $93,750.
Another mid-century artist who has gained notoriety in recent years is the athlete-turned-artist Ernie Barnes. While Barnes is widely known for African American figure and genre paintings such as Sugar Shack, which was auctioned in May for $15.2 million, his sports paintings also cemented his success as a professional artist. Named the first Sports Artist of the Year in 1985 by the United States Sports Academy, Barnes’ sports works include hockey, boxing, tennis, gymnastics, basketball and of course, football. The Linemen, a fresh-to-market canvas commissioned in 1968, had an estimate of $40,000-$60,000, but it earned a whopping $237,500. The previous record for a Barnes football painting was achieved in March by The Red Wall, which sold for $63,000.
Continuing the run of world auction records was an Andy Warhol print of John Wayne from the artist’s 1986 portfolio Cowboys and Indians. Originally a gift to the family from Warhol himself, this work came from the estate of John Wayne and passed to his daughter, Melinda Wayne Munoz, who died in April. After rounds and rounds of bids, the Warhol print finished at $150,000, besting the previous record of $106,250, set in 2015.
Within the generous selection of abstract art was an untitled 1949 work by Hassel Smith. It was one of five Smith paintings to appear at auction since 2021, and claimed the second-place slot in this artist’s recorded auction results. Estimated at $8,000-$12,000, this colorful creation departed the auction block with $118,750.
Paintings from the Russian landscape artist Andre Alexevevich Jawlensky created a stir among bidders. Because no auction sales of Jawlensky’s work have been recorded since 2019, collectors were pleasantly surprised to find two of his pieces in the August 30 lineup. Sommermorgen, a 1958 oil on Masonite, had an estimate of $2,000-$3,000 but ended at $21,250, while Interieur, created in 1960, attained $12,500 against an estimate of $2,000-$3,000.
Another well-known artist whose works were offered in this auction was the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali. His 1947 etching St. George And the Dragon, picturing a warrior slaying a dragon while riding on horseback, surpassed its $10,000-$15,000 estimate with a final price of $16,250.
Another world auction record achieved in this sale went to the American artist Tarmo Pasto. Known for his modernist-leaning landscapes, the sale showcased his 1963 work Mountain Climber’s Dream. Estimated at $1,000-$1,500, it more than doubled Pasto’s previous auction record of $3,175, selling for $8,125.
There were also a group of works from the abstract painter Jay Milder. All four lots soared above their estimates, but lot 58, an untitled oil on canvas, performed the best. It brought in $5,938, almost tripling its $1,500-$2,000 estimate.
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