DALLAS, Texas – Heritage Auctions’ May 13 Modern & Contemporary Signature Auction is a decidedly frisky peek at the past, present and future of the definition of art, spanning decades to include masterworks by revered pioneers, celebrated revolutionaries and treasured upstarts. The sale, open now, includes a beer can fashioned into a rattle by Alexander Calder in the 1940s, a hypnotic work made in the 1970s by op art co-founder Victor Vasarely, three digital Everydays by coveted non-fungible token (NFT) artist Beeple, and everything imaginable in between. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.
At just 39, Mike Winkelmann is now among the world’s most famous – and expensive – artists, and, certainly, one of its most prolific. In March, the man better known as Beeple became a mainstream sensation when his collection Everydays: The First 5000 Days sold at auction for nearly $70 million. In an instant the world wanted to know what a non-fungible token was, and how to get hold of one, if that was even possible.
Fourteen years ago in May, Winkelmann began posting a brand-new digital artwork online every single day. Hence the “Everydays” moniker given the works, which range from the surreal to the silly to the shocking. As Beeple, he uses political and pop-cultural imagery to comment on, among other things, the reliance on – and fear of – the technology used to make these images.
Heritage is thrilled to offer three works that constitute The Everydays – The 2020 Collection: Bull Run (No. 61/271), Into The Ether (No. 119/207) and Infected (No. 14/123). As our online catalog notes, these three pieces – especially Bull Run, which is dominated by an image of a Bitcoin – “epitomize Beeple’s signature style, love for digital currencies and quintessential pop culture themes [and] not only serve as gateways into meticulously generated sci-fi worlds, but also as lenses through which we can interpret our own.”
The collection is estimated at $250,000-$350,000. Each NFT includes a physical token, which can be registered on beeple-collect.com, as well as what he calls an “interface-free, always-on physical artifact of the NFT featuring a signed, numbered titanium backplate with hidden authentication markers.” The buyer will also get – and these are Beeple’s words – “an mf baller-ass box with certificate of ownership and cleaning cloth,” as well as “an authentic Beeple hair sample.”
Those eyeing something a bit more tangible but no less tantalizing might prefer a work that is only 15 years old: Untitled (Multi Red Two Wing Butterfly White Background) by Mark Grotjahn, the native Californian who uses his affection and affinity for art history to carve a pathway to a tumultuous tomorrow. This work, estimated to sell for $200,000-$300,000, comes from his Butterfly series, which he began 20 years ago. Like all of those offerings, this one is rendered in colored pencil. As The New York Observer noted in 2006, and as Untitled (Multi Red Two Wing Butterfly White Background) makes plain, “Mr. Grotjahn’s ‘butterfly’ compositions are in-your-face and immediate.”
Grotjahn’s Butterflys have fluttered throughout numerous galleries, including the lobby gallery of the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2006, the year of this work’s creation. And as ArtNews noted last year, Grotjahn has become “one of contemporary art’s most sought-after and highest-priced artists.” Heritage is honored to present Untitled (Multi Red Two Wing Butterfly White Background) at auction for the first time.
Joining Grotjahn in the auction lineup is Victor Vasarely, the late Hungarian-French artist who, in the 1930s, helped birth the Op art movement in which the canvas served as a gateway to illusion, confusion, and delight. Viewers didn’t just look at his work; they disappeared into it. CHOKK, an enormous piece from 1976, estimated at $200,000-$300,000, invites a long stare that eventually becomes an endless escape.
Vasarely was a Cubist, a Futurist, a Surrealist, and the imposing CHOKK – an updated version of his iconic technique of repeating geometric in varying colors and arrangements – has the feel of a work made up of his greatest hits. The units, as he called them, are meant to simulate tunnels and mazes, dice, and sound waves, even Slinkys. From some angles the work looks two-dimensional; from others, three-dimensional. Visitors to Heritage Auctions’ galleries have been spotted staring at it for protracted periods, lost in the whirlwind. As Vasarely famously said, “Does not aggressing the retina in fact make it vibrate?”
Another work in this auction that seems to come alive the longer you look at it is Joel Shapiro’s wood, iron, and stainless-steel sculpture Giraffe, created for the Central Park Conservancy in New York and making its auction debut here. The 79-year-old New York native is among the world’s leading sculptors. His is a particularly fetching brand of whimsy, as his pieces always appear to be alive, in motion, at play with their surroundings. Giraffe, estimated at $150,000-$250,000, is one such piece.
Chuck Close, too, is a maker of works that seem to breathe and stare – “conceptual portraiture,” as an official of the Pace Gallery has called it, “depicting his subjects, which are transposed from photographs, into visual data organized by gridded composition.” These pixelated portrayals by the native of Washington State made Close the “reigning portraitist of the Information Age,” as National Public Radio’s Terry Gross once called him.
Close’s 1975 ink-and-graphite work Don N., estimated to sell for $150,000-$250,000, is one of his most acclaimed and coveted, having traveled the world’s galleries in the 1980s and early 1990s. In many ways, Close predated and predicted the makers of digital art who are now seizing headlines. After all, the 80-year-old famously takes pieces of information – the fine-grained details, the seemingly small nothings – to fashion the unforgettable faces that make up his body of work.
This auction also features Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s 1989 diptych for The Umbrellas, Joint Project for Japan & USA, which began to take shape on October 9, 1991. That morning, at sunrise, 1,880 workers started opening the 3,100 umbrellas planted in Japan and near Los Angeles for the temporary exhibition that was a worldwide sensation. The few physical, tangible remains of that extraordinary moment, once on display at the Stanford University Museum of Art, are estimated at $100,000-$150,000.
Here, too, among the familiar works of beloved artists is something almost so plain it’s just extraordinary: a rattle made by Alexander Calder. The Samba Rattle, made of wood and wire and string and a Ballantine beer can, dates to 1948, by which time he was already deeply revered for his work as a maker of mobiles, as Marcel Duchamp branded the kinetic hanging sculptures. Calder had made other rattles before, but this one – made around the same time as mobiles that hang at the Tate and in the National Gallery of Art – looks almost like folk art, something rustic and simple.
No doubt Robert Wolff, the abstract expressionist to whom Calder gifted the rattle, adored the work. Now, it’s someone else’s turn to own a work so rare and remarkable and unexpected. To misquote the beer-maker’s once-familiar jingle: “Calder and Ballantine/Calder and Ballantine/What a combination/All across the nation.”
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