DALLAS — On May 23, an Australian painter’s work flew out the door and an American artist’s work sped off to victory at Heritage Auctions. Key works by Brett Whiteley, the Australian artist featured in many significant collections Down Under and beyond, and Kenny Scharf, the artist who helped create New York’s last coherent downtown scene, led an event of Modern & Contemporary Art that totaled $2,923,623. At just 63 lots, the auction included strong results for Jean-Michel Basquiat, Deborah Butterfield and Betty Parsons. “Iconic works by Basquiat, Butterfield, George Rodrigue and Parsons experienced spirited bidding,” said Heritage’s Vice President of Modern & Contemporary Art Frank Hettig. “Heritage’s first offering of Australian artist Brett Whiteley soared to $705,000. And the most fun lot in the sale, bar none, was Kenny Scharf’s Astro Cumulo Uber Express, a mint-condition 1960 Cadillac Coupe De Ville that he morphed into a playful, message-heavy art piece on wheels.”
About that Cadillac customized by Scharf: The energetic and wonderfully good-natured Scharf launched his career in New York City in the late 1970s and hit his first real stride in the ‘80s while working alongside Keith Haring (his roommate), Basquiat and all the rest of who made downtown New York the epicenter of culture at the time. As a representative of one of the coolest scenes that America ever cultivated (in the midst of the ‘80s AIDS epidemic no less), Scharf accepted an unspoken remit to give people something to brighten their lives and imaginations and to liberate them, at least for a moment, from life’s monotony.
One of the things he’s most known for is his transformation of spaces and objects into environments that reflect his inventive psyche — and one of his most beloved and fully customized art cars, a 1960 Cadillac Coupe De Ville Scharf titled Astro Cumulo Uber Express, created in 2005 with a public debut during 2006’s Miami Basel, sold at Heritage on May 23 for $435,000. Astro Cumulo’s pedal-to-the-metal commitment is a sight to behold; Scharf himself touched up the car ahead of this event, and it’s in top condition, with only 5,434 miles on its odometer.
The top lot in the auction was the aforementioned painting by Brett Whiteley (Australia 1939-1992), Nude Beside the Basin, from 1963. “Through Heritage, works by artists from all over the world are reaching bidders from across the continents,” said Hettig. “We of course also gave a strong showing of American artists, including artists from both coasts who went on to become national and international idols.”
For example, a spare yet expressive crayon drawing by Scharf’s friend Jean-Michel Basquiat, created in 1984, sold for $287,500. It depicts Basquiat’s primary figure of a wolf, and via text Basquiat articulates a powerful statement of support for American workers: “Circa 1933” and “free labor union” reference the New Deal-era National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933. Another small untitled Basquiat crayon drawing from 1984 featuring his recognizable crown motif sold for $81,250.
Deborah Butterfield, the Montana-based American favorite, had a presence in this auction with one of her ever-popular horse sculptures, which sold above estimate for $121,875. She created Rufus in the early aughts out of her trademark welded found steel. A small 1989 painting by the late, great American artist Wayne Thiebaud, titled Standing Couple, went for $93,750, and a 2020 oil on canvas by Edgar Plans titled Piet and Mondrian IV sold for the same sum. Contemporary Korean artist Chun Kwang Young’s mixed-media work titled Aggregation 08-D079 (Blue & Red), from 2008, earned $81,250; Chun’s process explores the intersection of social and personal identities, and his intricate works are made from mulberry paper.
George Rodrigue’s central Blue Dog character, in an acrylic 1998 painting titled Summer Comes Every Year, realized $75,000. A 1963 bronze work by the German-French sculptor and Dadaist Jean Arp, titled Chateau des oiseaux, also sold for that amount. Back at its inception this first cast, produced by the Susse foundry, was acquired from Arp’s longtime dealer and friend, Sidney Janis, by the noted American character actor Robert Laman Webber. And American artist Betty Parsons had a solid spot in this auction with her 1976 acrylic-on-canvas Bicentennial Boat. The harbor and its attendant ships appear from a bird’s-eye view as well as in front of us — depending on your mood, perhaps — in this lively, stately painting, which brought $68,750.
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