Christie’s catalogue for the Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale is now online with some interesting revelations like Sam Gilliam’s Lady Day II from 1971 that carries a $1.5m low estimate. The massive 8-ft by 13-ft beveled work was once part of the Phillips collection, as was Forth which sold for £910k ($1.16m) in London at Sotheby’s in June, the current record price for the artist.
Gilliam’s market has been rising aggressively for the past several years helped along by an agenda setting show at Mnuchin Gallery one year ago and an influential show at Basel’s Kunstmuseum during Art Basel in June. Before that, buyers were snapping up better examples of Giliam’s work in regional auctions. Lady Day II was acquired by the current consignor in just the same way when it was sold at a local Washington, DC auction in 2003.
Christie’s is touting the canvas as a masterwork:
Painted in 1971, the same year Gilliam’s work was prominently featured in as solo exhibition, Projects: Sam Gilliam at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Lady Day II belongs to a series of works produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s that are among the artist’s most important paintings. Known as his Slice paintings, they have subsequently become some of his most admired and respected works; many similar examples are in major museum collections including, April 4, 1969(Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.); Whirlirama, 1970 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); Wide Narrow, 1972 (Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University); Blue Twirl, 1971 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.); and Scatter, 1972 (Indianapolis Museum of Art). Recently honored with a major retrospective exhibition at Kunstmuseum Basel (his first in Europe), Sam Gilliam is now regarded as one of the most respected painters of his generation.
This particular example is striking in its colors but also in the process that produced them:
“Passages of deep ruby red dissolve into areas of warm pink, before softening into more neutral organic tones; this is then repeated across the canvas in various combinations of other glistening tones of red, blue and yellow. This rich and variegated surface is the result of the artist repeatedly folding the canvas while the paint is still wet, allowing the colors and geometries to dissolve into each other. Gilliam would begin the process by soaking the lightest colors of the composition, like the yellows and pinks in the present work, into the raw, unprimed canvas before applying the darker greens, reds and blues. He would then fold the canvas repeatedly back and forth on itself before leaving it to dry overnight. As they were unfolded, the evocative abstract forms were revealed for the first time, appearing like mysterious Rorschach like forms embedded directly into the canvas.”