Peter’s Auction Pick of the Day: May 4, 2012

May 4, 2012

Modern Takes on Modernism

Today, let’s revel in a group of artists who take core principles and staples of traditional modernism and reinvigorate them with, as Robert Hughes would say, “the shock of the new.”

Spencer Finch’s Times Square, February 10, 2006, 8PM (Lot 105) is a literally brilliant array of illuminated colors and is a kind of sequel to Piet Mondrian’s seminal Broadway Boogie Woogie (1943).  In fact, another light sculpture in Finch’s series is called New York Boogie Woogie.  As reflected in the work’s title, Finch labors to capture his impression of a specific time and place, right down to the minute.  All of the real life Time’s Square’s majesty, excitement, and garishness is distilled into a simple repeating pattern of yellow, red and blue squares–the same colors used by Mondrian.  Using only fifteen humble fluorescent tubes in colored sleeves, Finch imbues the room with a vivacious light.  And speaking of simplicity…

In Lot 113, Peter Shelton’s Legpoints (c. 1983-84) the acclaimed Los Angeles sculptor burns away the frills and trappings of the balletic form until all that remains is two highly abstracted feet on point.  Shelton uses severely geometric shapes subversively to meditate on the human form and in this case two imposing and inverted iron cones dangle to the floor, gently swaying and in so capture dance’s fundamental alchemy: the transformation of heaviness into weightlessness–and transforming our clunky “mortal coils” into winged freedom.

For the last two picks of the day we move from the cosmopolitan end of the modernism spectrum to the natural…


Known for the biomorphic quality of her art, Tara Donovan embraces an intuitive, organic method, which aspires to recreate the process of nature, even when incorporating run-of-the-mill objects like Dixie Cups. And suitably, for someone who has achieved so much praise as a sculptor, Donovan’s application of the soothing blue ink takes on an increasingly hallucinatory 3-D quality in Untitled (Bubble Drawing), Lot 96. As the darker bubble clusters pop out in front of the paler “organisms” we feel an inward momentum past the “nearer” objects and into the far vortex of the artist’s universe.  In other words, this baby really sucks you in. Donovan creates what looks like a blueprint for nature or an early computer simulation for life itself. According to Chuck Close, “invention and personal vision have been demoted in favor of… raiding the cultural icebox. For somebody… to make something that doesn’t remind you of anybody else’s work and is really, truly innovative—and I think Tara’s work is—that’s very much against the grain of the moment. To me, it represents a gutsy move.”

Last, but far from least, is Andy Goldsworthy’s Fall Leaves on Stones (2002), Lot 250. At first glance, an unfamiliar viewer may be forgiven for asking if Goldsworthy’s photographs have been photoshopped–or airbrushed–or photo collaged–or were the leaves set on fire… or was a small light placed under the objects to achieve that heavenly glow?  Of course the answer to all these questions is, of course–that would be unnatural.  And Goldsworthy only uses what he finds in nature to create his transitory installations.  For one brief, perfect moment Goldsworthy’s arrangements of stone, leaf, dirt, and water (and occasionally his own saliva for glue) shine while he allows himself to take but one photo then lets his beautiful creation slip back to Mother Earth.  In Fall Leaves on Stones the artist meticulously covers two arrowhead-shaped stones in small patches of leaf that range in color from ebony to brilliant Aspen-like gold, using all the subtle grades of color as if they were dabs on a painter’s palette.  The opposing sharp tips of the stones seem to glow white hot.  By simple placement of the fallen detritus of the forest ground, Goldsworthy all but channels the planet’s burning core.

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