Auction Spotlight: Two John McCracken Finish Fetish Paintings

August 13, 2015


Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) is pleased to present two early works by John McCracken in the October 11, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction. McCracken (1934–2011) fused painting with sculpture within the context of 1960s West Coast minimalist, Finish Fetish, and Light and Space art in California. As an artist who explored light and color in simple geometric forms, finished with highly polished fiberglass and lacquer, he both exemplified and transcended the various movements with which he was associated. Taking notice of cultural and technological trends in Southern California, he utilized what was available: the surfboard, automobile, and plastics industries. The lots here, like so much of McCracken’s oeuvre, function as “three-dimensional canvases”–between painting and sculpture–objects with sensuous surfaces to experience from multiple angles.

John McCracken, Five Paintings III, 1974

Estimate: $90,000 – $120,000
October 11, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

His signature works are high gloss monolithic and monochromatic shapes–pure forms by way of industrial materials. McCracken developed the process for his fiberglass and resin pieces in an effort to find perfection. As an early experiment, he covered plywood with lacquer paint, but the wood grain showed through. By pouring fiberglass over the wood first, he could get a “really flat surface,” then apply the resin color smoothly, about one millimeter thick. He polished them with power tools, and sometimes sanded the edges by hand.

John McCracken, Painting #6, 1973
Estimate: $15,000-20,000
October 11, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

With pure forms McCracken wanted to create “otherworldly” objects with “hallucinatory” aspects. A favorite shape was what he called a “plank.” These were made to rest on the floor and against the wall–and therefore reside in two spheres, one the traditional location for sculpture and the other for painting. He described them as portals linking two worlds–the grounded space of the floor or earth, and the “the imagination, illusionist painting space, [and] human mental space” of the wall. The lot here, Painting #6, is like a plank in painting structure, with framework made to hang on the wall. The swirling blues, blacks, whites, and grays (a departure from the usual monochromatic color) are reminiscent of resin on vintage surfboards.

John McCracken, Five Paintings III, 1974

Estimate: $90,000 – $120,000
October 11, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

Five Paintings III is one of a series of five black lacquer, wall-mounted rectangles made in 1974. (Five Paintings IV is in the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego). A serendipitous accident occurred while applying the resin–many air bubbles or particulates were trapped. Depending on the angle, the surface looks highly reflective, or opaque, or alight with flashing sparks. Facing it, rather than seeing gestural or figurative brushwork, you can see yourself among what looks like a galaxy of stars. McCracken invites his viewers to enter another dimension.


John McCracken, Five Paintings III (detail), 1974
Estimate: $90,000 – $120,000
October 11, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

“About This Artwork: John McCracken.” Art Institute Chicago. The Art Institute of Chicago, 2015. Web. 24 June 2015.
Clark, Robin, ed. “Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface.” Berkeley: University of California Press; San Diego: Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, c. 2011. Print. 67.
Coliptt, Frances. “Between Two Worlds: John McCracken.” Art in America Magazine. Brant Publications, 1 April 1998. Web. 24 June 2015.
Knight, Christopher. “John McCracken dies at 76; contemporary artist made geometric sculptures.” Los Angeles Times. 10 April 2011. Web. 24 June 2015.
“Post/20196398088/when-we-think-of-painting-we-expect-to-recognize” MCASD Tumblr. Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, n.d. Web. 24 June 2015.


Lot Information:

John McCracken
Painting #6
Resin on panel
Signed, titled and dated in felt-tipped marker verso
12″ x 96″ x 2″
Estimate: $15,000-20,000
October 11, 2015 Modern Art & Design Auction

John McCracken
Five Paintings III
Polyester resin, fiberglass, and wood
Signed, dated, and inscribed “John McCracken 5-74/Five Paintings III” in felt-tip marker verso
32″ x 48″ x 2.5″
Provenance:  Murray “Mickey” A. Gribin, Los Angeles, California; Private Collection, Los Angeles, California

Murray “Mickey” A. Gribin was a significant art patron who gifted many items from his collection including works by Craig Kauffman, John McCracken, Ed Ruscha, and Larry Bell to the Laguna Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. He gifted Five Paintings IV (from this series) to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego where it currently resides in their permanent collection.

Estimate: $90,000–120,000

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