For next week’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Sales at Christie’s in New York, we spoke to its Deputy Chairman and International Director, Barrett White, about which lots to look for, celebrating the auction house’s 250th anniversary, and the current direction of the contemporary art market.
WHITEWALLER: What can we expect from this year’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Sales at Christie’s?
BARRETT WHITE: This season will be similar to our May season in that you can expect to see tighter sales than those that took place in 2014 and 2015, however the quality of the works will be just as strong as the lots that we have seen in evening sales over the past few years.
WW: Are there any specific works to note that will be in the sale?
BW: This season, we chose works that catered to the current tastes, which are gravitating toward blue chip artists such as de Kooning, Martin, and Lichtenstein—all of whom have a strong presence in our sale. There are several remarkable sculptures by Alexander Calder, including a wonderful wire sculpture of John Graham. There are two superlative examples by Christopher Wool, including Helter Helter and The Show is Over. Cady Noland and Robert Gober are also represented by really fantastic objects. The list goes on!
We also have several great collections. One of which is the collection of Sylvia and Robert Olnick, a New York couple who acquired Post-War examples that possess an intellectual quality that are also very beautiful to live with. Highlighting this collection is an outstanding sculpture by Lichtenstein titled Sleeping Muse. We are also very excited about Jean Dubuffet’s masterpiece, Les Grandes Artères, which is one of the sale’s top lots.
WW: In May 2015, Christie’s hit the world auction record for Dubuffet’s Paris Polka, included in the same “Paris Circus” series. Can you tell us more about the Dubuffet piece in this upcomingsale?
BW: Les Grandes Artères is from Dubuffet’s most celebrated series, “Paris Circus.” It is not as large as Paris Polka, which set the world auction record for the artist at Christie’s in May of 2015, but its bold and vibrant composition makes it one of the strongest examples that came out of “Paris Circus.” Dubuffet took a six-year hiatus from Paris, and when he returned to the city in 1961, he experienced a kind of creative awakening that resulted in this remarkable series. In Les Grandes Artères, Dubuffet packed the surface with the exuberance that he witnessed after his return to the city, capturing his rediscovery of urban life. “Paris Circus” was in many ways Dubuffet’s celebration of the resurgence of Paris after the war, and this picture has such a clear sense of optimism and playfulness. It is a very literal depiction of Parisian street life in its best form, and as a result, you can really feel the dynamism coursing through the streets.
Les Grandes Artères has been in the same private collection since 1963 and has not been seen publicly since the early 1970s when it was featured in the Guggenheim’s Dubuffet retrospective.