Never Before Seen Vija Celmins Work Surfaces in L.A.

January 22, 2013

For Immediate Release

January 22, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA – Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) is pleased to announce the recent discovery of a Vija Celmins oil on canvas, Untitled (Knife and Dish), from 1964. This formative work is being sold by the original owners and will be offered for the first time on May 19, 2013 in LAMA’s Modern Art & Design Auction.

Few other works are publicly known to exist from this short-lived, transitional period in 1964, the beginning of her contemporary art career. Similar works from this time are in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

In 2011, LACMA and the Menil Collection co-organized the landmark exhibition, Vija Celmins: Television and Disaster, 1964-1966, which showcased 18 works from this pivotal period. According to Department Head and Curator of Contemporary Art at LACMA, Franklin Sirmans, “… it was between 1964 and 1966, before [Celmins] was thirty years old, that she created some of her most important pieces.”

1964, The Breakthrough:

“…When I came to L.A., I thought it was a new beginning,” Celmins stated when describing her move from Indiana to Los Angeles in 1962 to begin her MFA at UCLA. From her studio at 701 Venice Blvd., Celmins purged herself from what she knew – Abstract Expressionism, specifically the influences of Gorky and de Kooning – in hopes of finding her own artistic voice. In 1964, Celmins chose to venture into a minimal, almost primitive style, painting still lifes of common objects in her studio: a space heater, a fan, a lamp, eggs on a hot plate, cups, spoons, and forks. Painting these everyday objects, cloaked in muted grays, served as a way for Celmins to stop thinking and inventing; this was a period for her to revitalize her work and while doing so, she ultimately broke through to create a form of art that was entirely her own.

Celmins describes the transition of her work in 1964 in an interview with Chuck Close:
“I decided to go back to looking at something outside of myself. I was going back to what I thought was this basic, stupid painting. You know: there’s the surface, there’s me, there’s my hand. There’s my eye, I paint. I don’t embellish anymore, I don’t compose, and I don’t jazz up the colour.”

Museums with paintings from 1964 in their permanent collections:

Whitney Museum of American Art
Heater, 1964

Museum of Modern Art
Gun with Hand #1, 1964

Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego
Eggs, 1964
(Currently, Eggs is on tour in the exhibition Lifelike, organized by the Walker Art Center, and will return to MCASD on March 1, 2013.)

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Untitled (Knife and Dish) will go up for auction on May 19, 2013 in the Los Angeles Modern Auction (LAMA) Modern Art & Design Auction. Advance viewings begin May 6th, and the auction will be on May 19th at 12 p.m. (PST). Visit or call 323-904-1950 for additional details.
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The May 19, 2013 Modern Art & Design Auction will be held at the LAMA showroom: 16145 Hart St. Van Nuys, CA 91406 and will start at 12 p.m. (PST).
 Auction Preview: May 6 – 18, 2013; open daily 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. 
/ Auction catalogues available April 29th / Preview lots online May 1st.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA), the fastest growing auction house in the modern and contemporary art world, is the leading auction house dedicated to selling 20th century Modern Fine Art and Design. Auctions are held at the LAMA showroom: 16145 Hart St. Van Nuys, CA 91406.


For more information and images, please contact Elizabeth Portanova, Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA), 16145 Hart St., Van Nuys, CA 91406 | tel: 323-904-1950 | fax: 323-904-1954 | e-mail:

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