Published: April 18, 2023
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Material Culture
PHILADELPHIA – ART 22, Material Culture’s sale of fine art, folk art and Outsider art, got under way on April 3 with 562 lots offered at no reserve. Material Culture’s auctioneer and general manager Jim Robinson related that these sales, which the firm has conducted for decades, get their names simply from a numbering system, thus this event was the 22nd one. “Generally speaking, there are two major art auctions during the year, but we do collections throughout the year, so we’re flexible in the sense that if something lands here, there might be two more sales. I just talked with someone who has 100 paintings that I didn’t know about a couple days ago.” For ART 22, 495 of 562 lots were sold in an auction whose total was $512,000. There were 2,800 registered bidders, including in-house and online.
This auction was led by a bold acrylic painting on canvas by Al Held (American, 1928-2005) “Pan North,” which was bid to $26,250. Signed and dated 1983, unframed and measuring 48 by 48 inches, the work had provenance to the Richard Gray Gallery in Chicago and a private collection. “We had phone bidders and online bidders for the Held, but it ultimately sold to a phone bidder,” said Robinson. Held was an Abstract Expressionist painter, well known for his large-scale, hard-edge paintings.
Another American artist, Louise Nevelson (1899-1988) was represented by “Dark Ellipse,” 1974, a black polyester resin sculpture multiple, which was bid to $14,080. The sculpture bore Nevelson’s incised signature and date on a Pace Editions metal plaque affixed to the underside of its base. Numbered 108/125 and published by Pace Editions, Inc, New York, it measured 17½ by 8 by 7 inches.
Fetching the same price was an oil on canvas by Greek-Italian artist Jannis Kounellis (1936-2017). Done in 1983 and accompanied by a certificate of authenticity, the 39½-by-27½-inch painting of exploded shapes was ex collection of Eliza (Elisabeta) Nanu, who acquired the artwork directly from the artist. Based in Rome, Kounellis was a key figure associated with Arte Povera, which shifted from work on flat surfaces to installations in a convergence of painting, sculpture and performance.
Also by Kounellis was a work on paper with numbers and figures from the same collection, again with a COA. It brought $11,520 and measured 11¾ by 16½ inches.
An Indian artist known for executing bold, vibrantly colored narrative paintings in a modified Cubist style, Maqbool Fida Husain (1915-2011) had an untitled depiction of a horse in this sale, garnering $8,320. The oil painting on canvas was signed and measured 36 by 36 inches.
There is a strong market for modern Japanese woodblock prints, and there were several by Kawase Hasui (1883-1957) offered in the sale, described by the New Jersey gentleman who collected them since the early 1990s as the “Magnificent Seven” examples from his collection of the 20 or so that Material Culture has sold over time. “We’ve been selling these works by Hasui for years now,” said Robinson, “and these examples were really great. We had a nice group overall from two different collections.” Foremost of the Hasuis, at $7,680, was “Omori Coast,” 1930, from the series “Twenty Views of Tokyo.” It had been acquired from Arts and Designs of Japan, San Francisco, in 2005. It measured 9½ by 14¼ inches. Selling for $7,040 was Hasui’s “Rain at Omiya,” 1930, a woodblock print published by Sakai and Kawaguchi. The 14¾-by-10½-inch print had been acquired from Torii Gallery, Maryland in 2005.
And “Evening in Beppu,” 1929, by Hasui with provenance to Gallery Sobi, Tokyo, 2013, left the gallery at $5,120. It measured 14¼ by 9½ inches.
Dale Chihuly (American, b 1941) is best known for his large-scale blown glass sculptures, but in this sale he was represented by an untitled painting with forms and vibrant squiggles as lively as anything from his glass shop. On his website, he says, “Most of the drawings are quite spontaneous. I don’t do much with preconceived ideas.” The acrylic painting on paper, signed, 42 by 30 inches, went out at $7,040.
Philip Guston’s (Canadian/American, 1913-1980) “Shoes” were just that, 1980 lithograph both incisive, and cartoonish depicting footwear that would be right at home on an R. Crumb character. Signed, dated, titled and numbered 35/50, published by Gemini G.E.L., Los Angeles (with blindstamps), the lithograph with provenance to Paul Cava Gallery, Philadelphia, and a private collection, measured 19½ by 28½ inches and sold for $6,400.
Even more subversive was a lot comprising three cards framed together by Banksy (English, b 1973). They consisted of “Di Faced” 10 pound notes and a “Rude Snowman” Christmas card. “Di Faced” is a pun on the word “defaced” referring to the fact that Banksy had altered the familiar £10 British note by replacing the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II with that of the late Princess Diana. Instead of “Bank of England,” the note reads, “Banksy of England.” Under the banner, an inscription reads, “I promise to pay the bearer on demand the ultimate price,” a reference to the fate of the late princess at the hands of the media. The reverse side of the print remains mainly unchanged except for the motto “Trust No One” written in the lower-right corner, beneath the portrait of Charles Darwin. With provenance to a private Irish collector, the lot made $6,400.
Playful in a more wholesome sense was a framed collection of letters and correspondence assembled by Pedro Friedeberg (Mexican, b 1936) and his friend Babette Martino (American, b 1956). Many of the 32 pieces were embellished with original artwork and sizes ranged from 6 by 3½ inches to 11 by 9 inches. The lot brought $6,080. Friedeberg, of course, is known for his folky surrealist work filled with lines, colors and ancient and religious symbols. His best known piece is the “Hand-Chair,” a sculpture/chair designed for people to sit on the palm, using the fingers as back and arm rests. Martino, born in Philadelphia into a family of painters, Eva Marinelli Martino, her mother taught her as a child and her father, Giovanni Martino, NA took over when she was older.
There was a run of art pottery by Toshiko Takaezu (American, 1922-2011). The ceramic artist, painter, sculptor and educator of Japanese descent and from Pepeeko, Hawaii, was known for her rounded, closed forms that viewed ceramics as a fine art and more than a functional vessel.
“Clearly, her work is having a renaissance,” said Robinson. Rago, in fact, has a dedicated auction of her works. The pieces in this sale included a closed form glazed porcelain vessel, $6,250; closed form glazed stoneware vessel, $5,625; and two additional porcelain vessels at $5,313 and $5,120, respectively. Each contained a rattle and incised signature. Sizes ranged from 5¾ by 4½ by 4½ inches to 7¼ by 5 by 5 inches.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. The firm’s next sale, a spring estates auction, currently open for bidding, closes on April 24 and features a variety of material from Old Master paintings to garden antiques. For more information, www.materialculture.com or 215-438-4700.
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