Flash News: Wols “the mysterious” at Sotheby’s – Cindy Sherman in London

[05 Jul 2019]

Wols “the mysterious” at Sotheby’s

Among the 42 lots in Sotheby’s London sale of Post-War & Contemporary Art on 26 June last, there was a painting by Otto WOLS (1913-1951) titled Vert Strié Noir Rouge (Green Stripe Black Red) (1946-47). Little is known about this German artist who worked in France and who died at just 38 years old; but he clearly had an impact on artistic creation from the 1930s to the 1950s. His creativity – expressed in a wide variety of media – embraced a range of styles including Surrealism, Tachism and Informalism (à la Jean Fautrier and Jean Dubuffet), but it was limited to a total of no more than fifty works. Since 2011, when Drouot in Paris offered part of his workshop, Wols has been extremely rare in public sales. So lot number 23 in the Sotheby’s catalogue was something of an event and it was the subject of a spirited telephone bidding battle that resulted in a new auction record for the artist at nearly 7 times its high estimate for a total of $5.7 million. Its value has therefore multiplied no less than 35 times its original price (151 000$) during the prestigious 1984 Hélène Anavi Collection of Surrealist and Post-War Art Sale in Sotheby’s.

The only lot to beat Vert Strié Noir Rouge at the sale was the Francis BACON (1909-1992) Self-Portrait from 1975, which fetched almost $21 million, just above its low estimate of $19 million. Together the two works provided lift to an otherwise lacklustre sale; although 90% of the lots found buyers, the final total of $73.67 million ($87.79 million with fees) barely exceeded the combined low estimate and represented a near 40% shortfall versus their equivalent sale a year earlier. It’s possible that buyer’s found Sotheby’s choice rather too “classic”, particularly when compared with its rival Christie’s who offered a more risqué selection of young artists at its Contemporary Art sale the same evening, generating less ($57 million) but from a slightly less predictable catalogue.

Cindy Sherman in London

London’s National Portrait Gallery is holding an unprecedented retrospective for the American artist Cindy SHERMAN (1954) until 15 September 2019. Best known for metamorphic photographs in which, by way of a multitude of contrivances, she adopts all sorts of appearances, occasionally rendering herself completely unrecognizable, Sherman’s work gives a powerful shake to the notion of ‘representation’ and the often ambiguous border between reality and fiction.

The London museum explores the evolution of her work from the mid-1970s to the present day. Organized by curator and writer Paul Moorhouse, the exhibition brings together more than 150 works, some of which have never been shown to the public. Among them, the iconic series that marked her career: Untitled Film Stills is shown for the first time in full in the UK. Created between 1977 and 1980, it includes 70 black-and-white photographs in which the artist photographed herself as 1950s and 1960s film stars. When it was first shown, the series was received with a mixture of confusion and indifference. A few prints sold for $50 each and she struggled to penetrate the New York gallery scene.

In 2014, more than 30 years later, part of the series (21 photographs) sold at Christie’s New York for $6.8 million setting a new auction record for the artist. Last March, her Untitled Film Still #21 fetched over $800,000 at Sotheby’s in London! The retrospective also includes her Cover Girl series as well as other major series such as Centerfolds and History Portraits. Among the never-shown-before works we can admire her Portrait of Madame Moitessier de Ingres, especially borrowed to be shown alongside Sherman’s own version: Untitled (#204).
Sometimes eccentric or even shocking, over the years, Sherman has managed to establish a solid place in Contemporary Art via a strong and always striking message: appearances are only a mask used to hide our true identities. In the age of the selfie and internet avatars, her work adds a whole new dimension to the art of self-portraiture.