Vija Celmins to hit the auction block

May 21, 2018

Latvian-American visual artist Vija Celmins’ now acclaimed photorealistic drawings and paintings of the natural world can be traced back to her early excursions into painting, utilizing objects found close at hand in her studio space in order to sharpen her powers of perception. Working in California during the mid-1960s, Celmins’ began to depart from the Abstract Expressionist style that marked her early paintings and shifted her focus to still life paintings and drawings. These explorations eventually led to her use of found photographs as source materials. Moving from the three-dimensional to the two-dimensional plane of the photograph, Celmins developed a practice whereby engagement with the natural world is severely mediated by existing imagery that reproduces it, rather than by direct observation.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Vija Celmins, Untitled (Fish), 1963
June 10, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

Works such as her 1963 oil on canvas, Untitled (Fish), are notably void of direct human presence, though traces of human intervention and its consequences are never too far from the surface. Her paintings and drawings possess the unsettling suggestion of an evacuated presence, and lie “between intimacy and distance,” as she herself once put it. Though the fish will later serve as her sustenance, her rendering of the fish leaves it floating in some in-between location divorced from our world.

Celmins’ distinct still lifes and fantastically distorted landscapes acutely manipulate scale and perspective. Using a rigorously pared-down, monochromatic color palette that favors deep tonal gradations of gray, Celmins’ potent, if austere, compositions push the still life in new directions, raising questions pertaining to the nature of observation, reproduction, and representation.


Lot 140:
Vija Celmins
Untitled (Fish)
Oil on canvas
Dated lower right edge of canvas; signed and dated canvas verso; retains artist’s label frame verso
LAMA would like to thank the artist for her assistance in cataloguing this work
Canvas: 17.75″ x 24.5″; Frame: 18.25″ x 25″; (Canvas: 45 x 62 cm)
ProvenancePrivate Collection, Los Angeles, California (acquired directly from the artist, 1964)

Estimate: $500,000–700,000
June 10, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

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