Flash News! Oskar Kokoschka – Grayson Perry – Charles White

[21 Dec 2018]

Oskar Kokoschka in Zürich

He stared at you with slightly irregular sky-blue eyes. The index finger pointed, he seemed to be poised to speak. Joseph de Montesquiou-Fezensac had so much to tell us. In January 1910 the young Oskar KOKOSCHKA (1886-1980) met Joseph and his wife Victoria at the luxurious Mont Blanc sanatorium in Leysin in Switzerland where he painted the couple in a revolutionary way by asking them to move and talk in order to capture their expressions. On the canvas there is nothing to distract the viewer from the figures… the background is neutral, the clothes are simple, nothing to indicate the social status of his models. Kokoschka did not paint personalities wearing social masks; he wanted to bring out the deep character of the soul. He had a distinctly personal technique as well, clearly based on his talent for drawing and often using his fingers directly on the canvas … his nails to pick out the hem of a jacket or mark the outline of a bustier. A few months later, Kokoschka presented his first solo exhibition at the Cassirer Gallery in Berlin. Of the 27 paintings in the catalogue, most had been painted in less than a year. The portrait of Joseph de Montesquiou-Fesenzac was acquired from that exhibition by the dealer Alfred Flechteim. Forced to leave Düsseldorf in 1933 because of his Jewish origins, the gallerist (Cassirer) left his business to his assistant, Alex Vömel, who hastened to join the Nazi party and aryanize the superb collection of his former employer. He sold the portrait to the Nationalmuseum of Sweden in 1934. Passing into the collections of the Moderna Museet Stockholm, it was returned earlier this year to Michael Hulton, Flechtheim’s rightful heir. On 12 November last, Sotheby’s offered the painting for sale in New York where it fetched over $20 million, an all-time record for Kokoschka (Joseph de Montesquiou-Fezensac). The result represented a superb posthumous tribute to the artist and the collector.

Switzerland is making sure Kokoschka is not forgotten this year. Exiled in London to escape the Nazis, he subsequently settled on the shores of Lake Geneva where he remained almost constantly until his death in 1980. As early as 1927, Zürich’s Kunsthaus was already giving the artist major solo exhibitions. On 14 December last, the same institution opened a major retrospective with nearly 250 works and documents retracing all of the painter’s creative periods. The exhibition is the result of close collaboration with the Oskar Kokoschka Foundation in Vevey and the Oskar Kokoschka Research Center in Vienna. In Davos, the Kirchner Museum offers a dialogue between these two great figures of Expressionism, while the Jenisch Museum in Vevey – which keeps two rooms permanently dedicated to Kokoschka – will focus on the artist’s interest in animals as a source of inspiration, particularly the horse, emblem of the Blaue Reiter expressionists.

After a relatively dislocated life, Kokoschka finally found a place where his creativity could flourish without fear for his future work. In 1951 he exclaimed: « It is not out of pride of ownership, but simply the desire to be able to breathe from time to time somewhere in the heart of Europe in a politically peaceful place. »

Grayson Perry at the Paris Mint

The Paris Mint is currently hosting the first solo show in France of one of the stars of the British scene, Grayson PERRY (born 1960). The exhibition (until 3 February 2019) entitled Vanity, Identity, Sexuality, uses 10 themed areas to expose the artist’s main topics of interest and invites us to enter the whimsical universe of an artist who communicates an ironic and dark view of our world and our society. British, somewhat eccentric, openly feminist, Perry plays with social codes by questioning his own identity and, at a broader level, by questioning notions of gender by offering a new definition of masculine identity. When he chose ceramics as his favorite medium, it had little consideration in the field of Contemporary creation. It nevertheless earned him the 20th edition of the Turner Prize in 2003.

From Classical forms borrowed from traditional ceramics spring unexpected patterns, full of colour and detail… graffiti-style drawings, handwritten texts, stencils, photographic transfers and enamels… depicting subjects like sexual abuse, sadomasochism and death. His tapestries, engravings and bronze sculptures also contain a superb opposition between the technique used and the narrative motifs that adorn them. Last year, two of his ceramic jars with a rich and complex composition depicting the two major figures of today’s Contemporary art market, Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat, entitled I Want To Be An Artist (1996), generated his auction record at Christie’s London when they were acquired for $826,000, eight times the high estimate.

His prices are continuing to climb, especially over the last two years, with a substantial increase in secondary market exchanges. $100 invested in 2005 in one of his works is worth today an average of $288, an increase of +188% in 13 years. After Maurizio Cattelan and Subodh Gupta, this exhibition at the Monnaie de Paris (Paris Mint) shows that Grayson Perry – the third best-selling artist in the ceramics category behind Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall – is continuing to attract the interest of collectors and not just British collectors…

Charles White – Painting as a weapon

Its time for a national tribute to one of the greatest American artists of the 20th century. Until June 2019, the United States is celebrates Charles Wilbert WHITE (1918-1979) on the centenary of his birth. A major retrospective is travelling the country and will show in three famous cultural institutions; the Art Institute of Chicago, the MOMA in New York and finally at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), three cities where the artist has lived successively and which have substantial testimony to his presence. Through a selection of approximately a hundred works, the exhibition traces an extraordinary journey from the 1930s until his premature death at 61 in 1979. In short, a forty-year long socio-historical fresco during which Charles White witnessed and interpreted major changes in American society: the end of WW2, the Vietnam war, the struggle for equal rights and the black power movement…

White was a committed artist not afraid of transferring his convictions onto canvas. His meeting in the late 1940s with the muralist Diego RIVERA, artistic champion of the Mexican revolution, was decisive. At a time when abstraction was considered the epitome of artistic modernity, White, a virtuoso draftsman, made the decidedly political choice of producing hyper-realist works. He drew the great figures of the struggle against slavery alongside the people: poor workers, mothers, children… His art became his weapon (in his own words): a way of expressing a vital need to echo the oppression, the inequalities and the violence of American society. It is therefore not surprising that his works are on the walls of the largest American museums, and, as a result, are rather rare on the auction market. On 4 October last, the auction operator Swann caused a sensation by offering four prints and a striking 1965 drawing, Nobody Knows My Name #1., that was shown at the artists solo show in the year of its creation in New York. Estimated between $100,000 and $150,000, the work went for $485,000, not far below his all-time record hammered six months earlier by the same company (O Freedom., sold for $509,000 on 5 April 2018). Charles Whites political commitment has won the hearts of collectors and the artist is currently having his best-ever year on the auction market.