Kenny Scharf's souped-up, decked-out Coupe De Ville speeds into Heritage's Modern & Contemporary Art Auction

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Kenny Scharf's souped-up, decked-out Coupe De Ville speeds into Heritage's Modern & Contemporary Art Auction
Kenny Scharf (b. 1958). Astro Cumulo Uber Express, 2005. Spray paint, acrylic, enamel, and found objects on fully customized 1960 Cadillac Coupe De Ville, 390 cubic in. V-8 engine with automatic transmission. Car is approximately 225 in. long x 80 in. wide x 54.1 in. Estimate: $400,000 - $600,000.

DALLAS, TX.- The contemporary art world is shaped not only by the artists whose names we commit to memory — the art stars like Warhol or Basquiat or Richter — but also by quiet heroes who navigate that world with a unique and brilliant consistency. Not so long ago the journalist Malcolm Gladwell coined the term "connector" to describe a trendsetting person who has a rich network of friends and acquaintances and a knack for bringing people together, for linking us up with the world. The energetic and wonderfully good-natured artist Kenny Scharf, who got his start in New York City in the late 1970s and hit his first real stride in the ‘80s while working alongside Keith Haring (his roommate), Basquiat and all the rest, is a true connector. Directly and indirectly Scharf has been instrumental in building our understanding of what contemporary art can do — all of the wonderful and surprising places it can go. His work, beloved by artists and collectors alike, is often described as "joyful" — from the beginning Scharf, as much part of a then-emergent street-art scene as the downtown NYC gallery scene a la the legendary Fun Gallery, Tony Shafrazi's gallery and the landmark 1980 The Times Square Show, has all along embraced playful, pleasurable maximalism that has buoyed art lovers even when culture, politics and public health have turned dark. It's as though Scharf, as a representative of one of the coolest scenes that America has ever cultivated (in the midst of the ‘80s AIDs epidemic no less), accepted an unspoken remit to give people something to brighten their lives and imaginations and to liberate them, at least for a moment, from life's monotony. One of the things he's most known for is his transformation of spaces and objects into environments that explode with his inventive psyche; in his singular way he layers and juxtaposes found pop-culture objects and aesthetic tricks to build dense new landscapes of possibility. His otherworldly series of Cosmic Caverns epitomizes this approach, but he's applied his sensibility to cars, too. And one of his most beloved and fully customized art cars, a mint-condition 1960 Cadillac Coupe De Ville Scharf titled Astro Cumulo Uber Express (created in 2005, with a public debut during 2006's Miami Basel) is coming to Heritage in May. It in fact tops a tight and focused auction of modern and contemporary art populated by other hardworking artist heroes (past and present) of our evolving art world: Wayne Thiebaud, Roberto Matta, Hugh Auchincloss Steers and more.

Like Scharf's other work, Astro Cumulo Uber Express is a celebration of the individual spirit in the face of mass-consumption conformity. A Cadillac Couple De Ville from the era was already a work of brilliant futurism; Scharf then rolled decades of pop-culture references and graphic punctuation onto all of its surfaces thus transforming it from a motorized design landmark into a true work of art. Scharf spent about a month haunting thrift stores and transforming the car: Pink plastic Easter Island heads and a tiny green dinosaur become the hood ornaments; the car wears a tiara on its roof; seashells and action figures decorate its interior; a working turntable and disco ball fill the trunk. Party in the front, party in the middle, party in the back. Originally commissioned by collectors who knew his "car bomb" work (cars emblazoned with Scharfian doodles), Astro Cumulo's pedal-to-the-metal commitment is a sight to behold. Scharf himself touched up the car ahead of this event, and the car is in mint condition with only 5,434 miles on its odometer.

"This Cadillac has been in storage for the last 15 years, and we are honored to bring it to auction," says Taylor Curry, Heritage's Director of Modern & Contemporary Art in New York. "It's the first fully customized car to appear for public sale and undoubtedly the most significant Kenny Scharf work to be offered at auction. Its bold design, vibrant colors, and details are a testament to Scharf's unparalleled creativity and artistic vision."

In the spirit of Scharf's thoughtfulness, longevity, and historical import, the others whose work is in this auction make up a solid list of artist's artists. The inarguably great American painter Wayne Thiebaud, who died in 2021 and whose wider appreciation increases with each passing month, is represented here by the 1989 oil on panel Standing Couple. Thiebaud, who often used his wife Betty Jean as his model, painted several dancing couples with similar compositions and never revealed the identity of his subjects. The Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento originated a sweeping and acclaimed retrospective of the California artist's work in 2022. The sale of Thiebaud's painting, along with significant sculptures by Manuel Neri and David James Gilhooly directly benefit the Crocker. "Like Thiebaud's scrumptious pies and cakes, the painting is nostalgic and sweet, says Holly Sherrat, Heritage's Director of Modern & Contemporary Art. "It's a touching tribute to the recently departed artist who we fondly remember with the same joyful wistfulness."

The Bay Area has a real presence in this auction, in fact, and the region's artist Joan Brown (who was married to Neri) is represented in this event by an enigmatic untitled painting of two figures, from 1962.

Another highlight of this auction is a small painting by Hugh Auchincloss Steers (1963-1995). Red Curtain I, II, III (triptych,) from 1989, epitomizes the artist's work and concerns. Writes his close friend, Carl George, of Steers' days in the East Village: "…he was making primarily small oil on paper paintings depicting intimate moments between men in simple domestic settings. He loved the work of Bonnard, Vuillard, Ingres, Mantegna, and Tintoretto, and these influences are evident in the deep, rich colors he used, the draping of fabric, the slant of the light as if it were to summon back time, a depression-era bathtub or an overturned wooden chair." Red Curtain represents the best of Steers, complete with two men in an intimate exchange and the bathtub in the kitchen. It exemplifies the beginning and end of a slice of New York history that we romanticize to this day and rightfully so. Of the great contemporary German painters — each heavily informed by World War II and its aftermath split of East and West Germany — Sigmar Polke is one of the most fascinating and also the hardest to pin down. His oil, gouache and ink on paper Aus: Gebetbuch Maximilian von Albrecht Dürer, from 1986, pays homage to the most brilliant German Renaissance artist with Polke's ineffable layers of stencil and a touch of the Benday dot screens he began employing in the 1960s.

Roberto Matta, one of Chile's best-known artists (not to mention Gordon Matta-Clark's dad) is represented in this auction by a dense and muscular painting from the 1960s titled Angry Head. Its cartoonish, anthropomorphized form stares out at the viewer with alien calm; only the wide opening in its "forehead" reveals slashing diagonals of emotion. The work has the expressive and surrealist touch we associate with Matta. And sculptor Alexander Calder has a presence in this event with a gouache and ink on paper work titled Culbute (Tumble), from 1965. Works on paper by the master of massive kinetic works are highly collectable, and this one with its four figures "tumbling" amongst black blotches packs the charm we expect of this perennial American favorite. Also on tap for this event: John Chamberlain, Hans Arp, Deborah Butterfield, Lee Mullican, Robert Irwin, Larry Bell and more.

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