It’s a been a couple of years since we’ve had a big Kazuo Shiraga price in the West. The most recent sales above $3m for the Gutai artist have been achieved in Hong Kong this year and three years ago. But the top three prices for the artist have come in Germany, New York and Paris. The last hosted the outright record at $5.3m four years ago at Sotheby’s. On June 6th in the Paris Art Contemporain Evening sale, Sotheby’s is offering Takao from 1959 with an estimate of €1.8 – 2.5m.
Also in the sale are several works by Zao Wou-ki, Jean Dubuffet, Hans Hartung and Nicolas de Staël. Here’s Sotheby’s take on their offerings:
The spotlight is on two paintings by Zao Wou-Ki of rare quality, dating from the time between his irreversible shift to abstraction and the golden late 1960s period when he reached the prime of his art.
Simultaneously universal and profoundly Chinese, Zao Wou-ki’s work lies at the crossroads between classical Chinese painting and Western Modernism. His art had reached a point of perfect balance when he painted 21.03.69 (estimate: €2,200,000-3,200,000).Coming on the market for the first time, the 1953 Pluie (estimate: €700,000- 1,000,000) is a key work that illustrates the turning point in the artist’s career. From Pluie onwards, the artist learned to conciliate the warring passions within him. By dint of work and exploration, he developed an art owing as much to Song landscapes as paintings by Rembrandt.
The sale also features 16.9.69 (estimate: €800,000 – 1,200,000), 27.7.97 (estimate: €300,000-500,000) and Untitled, 1973 (estimate: €80,000-120,000).
The intensely subversive work of Jean Dubuffet is illustrated here by two pieces characteristic of an output freed from the shackles of “high art”. At the exhibition entitled Mirobolus, Macadam et Cie. Hautes Pâtes at the René Drouin Gallery in March 1946, Portrait d’Homme Façon Carton-Pâte (estimate: €1,250,000-1,800,000) caused a scandal. Here the artist abandoned every traditional technique in favor of poor materials like white lead, putty, asphalt, tar, sand and gravel. The second work coming up for sale on 6 June dates from some twenty years later, when Dubuffet returned to Paris after spending several years in the south of France. A historical witness to its creator’s artistic development, Paris Plaisir VI (estimate: €800,000-1,200,000) has not been seen in public since 1980. This deconstructed celebration of the big city with its liberated, shimmering palette is a perfect symbiosis between two of Dubuffet’s iconic cycles, Paris Circus and L’Hourloupe.
After the world auction record achieved for the artist last year with T1956-13 during the sale of the Alain and Candice Fraiberger collection (€2.7 million), T1956-8, which estimate (€900,000-1,200,000) is the highest ever set for a work by the painter. It was bought the year of its creation and has remained in the same private collection ever since. This painting is characteristic of Hartung’s work in the 1950s, particularly in terms of technique. Developed at the end of the 1930s, it consists of an extremely precise transposition onto linen canvas of studies executed rapidly on paper. Paintings with atmospheric and sometimes monochrome backgrounds like T1956-8 are inhabited by dynamic silhouettes, where the spontaneity of the sketches is perfectly transcribed and even intensified by their journey onto canvas.
Kept in the same private collection since its creation in 1953, Nicolas de Staël’s Pot à Raies (estimate: €700,000-1,000,000) with its dazzling colors, expresses the artist’s unrelenting passion at the beginning of the 1950s. His discovery of Italy and the splendors of Agrigente, Selinunte, Syracuse and Fiesole transformed his painting forever. Beyond its visual beauty, this work also reveals de Staël’s artistic approach. On the borderline between classical still life and abstract composition (with an almost geometric construction), it is emblematic of the unclassifiable work of its creator, who made light of the codes of abstraction and figuration.
Created for the celebrated 8th Gutai exhibition staged in Kyoto in August 1959, Takao (estimate: €1,800,000-2,500,000) is a truly remarkable work in terms of its impressive dimensions and date of creation. Just as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning were revolutionizing the lines typical of Western painting, an equally significant approach was being developed on the other side of the globe by Gutai, a group of Japanese artists.
Takao was one of the first works by Shiraga executed on canvas, a nobler and above all more enduring medium than paper. It illustrates the artist’s total commitment: “wanted to paint as though I was going to war. To paint until I was exhausted – until I collapsed.” Among the other extraordinary works on offer at auction, we can also mention a singular polyptych by Joan Mitchell (À Tribord, estimate: €800,000-1,200,000), a major painting by Pierre Soulages from the early 1960s (Peinture 65 x 92 cm, 26 octobre 1961, estimate: €1,000,000-1,500,000) and a historic piece, Untitled, by Keith Haring, the leading figure of New York counterculture (estimate: €500,000-700,000).