10 Specialist Picks from Artsy’s May Post-War and Contemporary Auction

Art Market

Artsy Editorial

May 11, 2023 3:13PM

Artsy’s May Post-War and Contemporary auction features works by some of the most sought-after artists in the market today.

The sale exhibits a remarkable collection of artworks created by both established and up-and-coming artists. Kicking it off is a thoughtfully chosen assortment of highly sought-after works by women artists across a diverse range of styles.

The artists featured range from the greats of Abstract Expressionism—such as Lynne Drexler, Joan Mitchell, Gillian Ayres, and Louise Fishman—to contemporary talents like Lina Iris Viktor, Dindga McCannon, Austyn Weiner, Patricia Treib, Katherine Bernhardt, and Sarah Crowner.

In addition to these prominent artists, the sale also showcases works by Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter, and Jonas Wood.

Ahead of the sale—which closes on May 24th at 12 p.m. EDT—we caught up with Artsy’s in-house specialists to learn about some of the most impressive lots.

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Lynne Drexler is one of several women artists who were overlooked by their male contemporaries at the time. Known for her bright, joyous paintings and lush abstractions of flowers and foliage, Drexler is one of the leading abstract artists of her generation. She studied under Hans Hofmann and Robert Motherwell, and her works are deeply rooted in art history, drawing on Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and Fauvism.

Profuse Place (1967) comes from a period when Drexler employed bold color and inventive patch-like brushwork, with the natural world serving as her inspiration.

Recent years have led to a renewed interest in Drexler’s works. One highlight was “Lynne Drexler: The First Decade,” a collaborative exhibition organized by Berry Campbell Gallery and Mnuchin Gallery in 2022. Her work resonates with a range of collectors, bridging late 19th-century Impressionism and post-war abstraction while retaining the freshness of contemporary work.

—Laura Martin, Post-War and Contemporary Auction Specialist, New York

Dingda McCannon contributes to the rich history of textile work with pieces made of paint, beads, buttons, cottons, crystals, polys, and shells on hand-sewn fabric quilts.

This work depicts Yemaya, a prominent figure in Afro-Caribbean mythology, known as the “Queen of the Sea” or “Ocean Mother” in the Yoruba religion. Depicted as a mermaid holding a scepter of cowrie shells, she is regarded as the mother of all spirits.

As a fiber, mixed-media, and quilt artist, McCannon played a crucial role in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and ’70s. Her work blends traditional needlework skills—passed down from her mother and grandmother—with fine art traditions, such as drawing, painting, printing, printmaking, and mixed media. She received her first major solo show at Fridman Gallery in 2021.

—Laura Martin, Post-War and Contemporary Auction Specialist, New York

Margaret Kilgallen is considered a central figure of the Bay Area Mission School movement, which took inspiration from the urban, bohemian, and street culture of the Mission District of San Francisco. The movement was strongly influenced by mural and graffiti art, comics and cartoons, and folk art forms such as sign painting.

Fawk Fate (1998) was created for David Lieberman, a San Francisco–based graffiti writer, whose crew KUK was the target of a high-profile investigation into tagging, gang membership, and vandalism in San Francisco.

The informal title comes from a spy movie Kilgallen and Lieberman were watching at the time. One of the characters says “Fuck Fate,” but pronounced with an Irish accent, it sounds like “fawk fate.” The “ME” depicted in the work refers to Kilgallen’s street tag, META. The work was made on two adjacent pages of Lieberman’s studio sketchbook. When Lieberman removed the pages, they remained held together by the original glue from the book’s binding.

This is an extremely special and rare work by Kilgallen. It was painted around the time the artist first learned she had breast cancer and had to undergo a double mastectomy. During her pregnancy a couple of years later, she learned that the cancer had returned and had metastasized. Asha, her daughter with her husband and collaborator, Barry McGee, was born healthy, almost three weeks before Kilgallen’s death at age 33. The artist has since been the subject of several posthumous retrospectives.

—Laura Martin, Post-War and Contemporary Auction Specialist, New York

Sarah Crowner possesses a vast knowledge of 20th-century abstraction, modernist design, and textile production. Her unique painting technique involves sewing angular pieces of painted canvas and linen together to create compositions that reveal their construction, while also highlighting their composition.

In Leaf-Legs (2014), Crowner’s style evokes similarities to renowned artist Ellsworth Kelly. The work features motifs that are characteristic of Crowner’s artistic approach, such as hard-edged abstraction, geometric forms, and color field compositions. These recurring elements demonstrate the artist’s expertise in utilizing shapes and colors to convey a cohesive message.

Sarah Crowner is an artist well-versed in the history of 20th-century abstraction and modernist design, as well as textile production. She creates paintings by sewing together angular pieces of already painted canvas and linen, simultaneously revealing the works’ composition and construction.

—Laura Martin, Post-War and Contemporary Auction Specialist, New York

Self-taught artist David Wojnarowicz rose to prominence in the vibrant New York City art scene of the 1980s. Through his work, Wojnarowicz chronicled a period of profound desperation in American history, shedding light on the AIDS crisis and culture wars that plagued the nation during the 1980s and early ’90s. His body of work is a powerful mix of autobiographical elements, political fury, and a masterful blend of text and image.

Wojnarowicz’s primary objective was to incite viewers to act against social injustice, particularly political injustice. As a queer artist who later tested positive for HIV, he was an ardent advocate for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community and individuals with AIDS, often denouncing government inaction and addressing widespread homophobia.

Through his art, Wojnarowicz probed American mythology and propaganda, as well as the violent consequences that resulted from them. In his own words, “To make the private into something public is an action that has terrific ramifications.”

Wojnarowicz’s work remains an important record of a critical time in American history, and his tireless advocacy continues to inspire activists and artists today. Wojnarowicz passed away in 1992, and a retrospective of his work was held at the Whitney in 2018.

—Celine Cunha, Post-War and Contemporary Auction Specialist, New York

Annan Affotey, a talented artist originally from Accra, Ghana, has lived in both Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Oxford, England. The artist is drawn to creating soulful and pensive representations of loved ones, with a particular focus on portraits of women in his recent works. His goal is to positively shape the world around him through his art.

One of the defining features of Affotey’s work is his use of bold and colorful hues, inspired by the vibrant surroundings of his hometown. He carefully chooses the background color based on the personality and preference of the sitter, creating a mutual exchange and joint process that infuses the artwork with deeper meaning.

In addition to capturing the essence of his subjects, Affotey also explores the dynamism within skin and eye color. He uses a combination of black, green, blue, and gray paints to create luminous and luscious hues of skin tones. He also paints characteristic luminescent red-tinged eyes, a common phenotypic trait, to confront misconceptions about the commonality and beauty of this appearance.

Esther (2022) is Affotey’s first landscape painting to come up for auction and, in my view, his most impressive work to come to market yet.

—Celine Cunha, Post-War and Contemporary Auction Specialist, New York

The late Louise Fishman is a celebrated American abstract artist whose work was deeply influenced by her personal identity as a lesbian Jewish feminist. Her art exists in the same realm as notable artists such as Agnes Martin, Joan Mitchell, and Elaine de Kooning.

Fishman, who died in 2021, is renowned for her sweeping Abstract Expressionist oil brushstrokes, which are organized into geometric patchwork panels. Her final body of work was inspired by her mother, and features energetic strokes that convey a sense of movement and emotion.

For Fishman, the language of Abstract Expressionism held personal power: “I felt that Abstract Expressionist work was an appropriate language for me as a queer. It was a hidden language, on the radical fringe, a language appropriate to being separate,” she once said. Her work became more personal and introspective after her involvement with feminist groups such as Redstockings, W.I.T.C.H., and the New York Feminist Art Institute.

Despite her immense talent, Fishman was long underrecognized in the art world. She was included in the 1973 Whitney Biennial after a second studio visit with Whitney curator Marcia Tucker, but it wasn’t until recently that her work received widespread attention. Fishman has been the subject of numerous solo shows, including surveys at the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, New York; the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; and Cheim & Read in New York, which has represented her since the late 1990s.

—Celine Cunha, Post-War and Contemporary Auction Specialist, New York

Nancy Grossman has gained recognition for her unique approach to working with collaged elements, which often involves the use of leather. She creates striking juxtapositions between delicate materials—sewn together with thin wire—and harsh, rough textures.

One of the hallmarks of Grossman’s work is her use of a rich, deep color palette, which incorporates dark leather with wood, metals, and fabrics. Her art combines these materials in a way that creates a sense of tension and balance between bold and subtle elements.

In particular, Grossman is known for her wrapped leather heads, which are an intriguing mix of the graceful and the bold. Her use of leather in this context adds a tactile quality to the piece, drawing the viewer in and inviting them to explore the intricacies of the work.

She masterfully blends contrasting elements that come together to create something truly unique and compelling. Through her use of materials and techniques, she has developed a distinctive style that has garnered attention and admiration from art enthusiasts around the world.

—Lauren Carpinelli, Post-War and Contemporary Auction Specialist, New York

Gerhard Richter’s “Miniaturen” series comprises 64 individual works that were originally part of a larger oil painting, Abstraktes Bild, created in 1992. In order to create the series, the original painting was cut apart into smaller pieces, each of which became its own distinct work of art.

Miniatur (838-33) (1996) is one of these unique cut-out paintings that was created from the larger overall work. Richter’s decision to break the painting down into smaller components allowed him to explore each section in greater detail, while also creating a collection of individual pieces that could stand on their own.

While the “Miniaturen” series comprises many smaller works, each piece is still imbued with the same sense of energy and emotion that is characteristic of Richter’s larger paintings. The unique format of the series allows the viewer to appreciate the individual details and nuances of each work, while also experiencing the larger context of the original painting from which they were derived.

The series is a testament to the artist’s ability to create meaningful works of art from unexpected sources. By breaking down his original painting and transforming it into a series of smaller pieces, he was able to explore new artistic possibilities and create a body of work that is both visually stunning and intellectually engaging.

—Lauren Carpinelli, Post-War and Contemporary Auction Specialist, New York

KAWS, Boba Fett, 2019

This painted sculpture of Boba Fett by KAWS marks the first time a bronze work from the artist’s Star Wars series is up for auction.

The artist’s vinyl Star Wars toys are some of the most coveted on the market. This particular sculpture is a stunning representation of the beloved Boba Fett character; stands at just over 15 inches; and features his iconic green and red helmet, yellow armor, and various gadgets on his arms and legs, as well as KAWS’s signature XX eyes.

KAWS has gained widespread recognition for his intricate and highly detailed sculptures, which have been showcased in museums and public spaces around the world, including the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Yuz Museum in Shanghai.

With 4.4 million Instagram followers and an auction record of over $14 million, KAWS is regarded as one of the most popular and innovative living artists today. This upcoming auction presents a unique opportunity for fans of both KAWS and Star Wars to acquire a rare and special bronze work of art.

—Christine Aschwald Senior Director, Auctions and Private Sales, New York

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