Sotheby's to Sell Significant and Defining Collection of German Art of the 60s and 70s

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Sotheby's to Sell Significant and Defining Collection of German Art of the 60s and 70s
Gerhard Richter, Telefonierender. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Sotheby’s announces that it will offer for sale The Duerckheim Collection, a collection of the most significant and defining German Art of the 1960s and 1970s ever to come to market, in the forthcoming Contemporary Art Auction Series in June. This collection represents a remarkably detailed and complete survey of major advancements in the recent history of European art and features the most important assemblage of 1960s paintings by Georg Baselitz in private hands; an outstanding history of Gerhard Richter's early Photo paintings; and notably rare and early works by Sigmar Polke, Blinky Palermo, Konrad Lueg, Jörg Immendorff and Eugen Schönebeck, among others. The offering is also particularly remarkable for the outstanding quality and exceptional condition of the individual pieces. Together, these works provide a very special anthology to an era of momentous change in Germany and the radical aesthetic and conceptual advancements that became so seminal in shaping the course of art history in the 20th century. These 59 artworks, which have not appeared on the market for over 30 years, are expected to realise in excess of £33 million and will be offered in the Contemporary Art Evening and Contemporary Art Day Auctions on Wednesday, June 29, 2011 and Thursday, June 30, 2011.

Discussing this extraordinary collection of German Art, Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby’s Head of Contemporary Art Europe, commented: “Presenting this definitive collection of German Art of the 1960s and 1970s for sale at auction is a great privilege for Sotheby’s. Historical perspective, extensive scholarship and renowned international exhibitions have long proved the enormous contributions to art history made by Georg Baselitz, Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke. To see masterpieces by these artists alongside works by their peers Blinky Palermo, Jörg Immendorff, Konrad Lueg and Eugen Schönebeck gives an insight into German Art of the 1960s which has not been seen in London since the 1985 landmark exhibition “German Art of the 20th Century” at the Royal Academy. The exhibition at Sotheby’s will bring these museum quality works together in public for the first time and the auction will be an exciting crescendo to the story of the Duerckheim Collection.”

The Collector Count Christian Duerckheim-Ketelhodt:
Count Duerckheim started collecting German contemporary art in 1970 after seeing a “Hero” print by Baselitz which was used to illustrate the first edition of “ZET”, a publication for literature and graphic works. This marked the collector’s ongoing fascination with the work of Baselitz and initiated an intense period of collecting in the 1970s and early 1980s during which Count Duerckheim was able to compile a complete survey of the art of his generation. He recalls feeling that he should have started buying the works at the time of their execution in the 1960s and therefore made a conscious effort to collect the artist’s earlier work which was fortunately still available. The ensemble is a resounding testament to his vision and the overall coherence of the collection demonstrates Count Duerckheim’s expert understanding, curatorial intelligence, judgment, connoisseurship and passion. It features art historically important pieces, which look back to a period when artists such as Georg Baselitz, Eugen Schönebeck, Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke had moved from East Germany to West Germany and it has since become an in-depth archive of German Art from the 1960s and early-1970s. Together they represent the new beginnings that so fundamentally altered the course of the visual arts from the dawn of the 1960s onwards. The inaugural exhibition of highlights from this collection will be staged at Sotheby’s New York from May 6th until May 9th and represents the first time an international exhibition of this museum-quality collection will be on view to the public in over 30 years.

Highlights in the Collection:
One of the major highlights of the auction will be Georg Baselitz’s oil on canvas Die Grosse Nacht im Eimer (The Big Night Down the Drain), executed in 1962-63., which is the most important German work of art of the post war period to come to the market. It is the sister painting to a work of the same title housed in the Museum Ludwig in Cologne (Ludwig donation), and when that painting was unveiled in 1963 at the artist's first solo exhibition and the inaugural show of Michael Werner and Benjamin Katz's gallery in West Berlin, the Ludwig painting was confiscated by the Director of Public Prosecutions on the grounds of "infringement of public morality", and the artist and gallerists were fined. It is widely recognised as the genesis of the artist's entire illustrious canon, directly anticipating later series such as the 'Hero' paintings, and related works are held in the world's most prestigious collections, such as a 1963 watercolour of the same title that was included in the Royal Academy exhibition (cat no. 37) and is now in MoMA (gift of R. L. B. Tobin, 1987). Executed when Baselitz was around 24 years old, Die Grosse Nacht im Eimer was inspired by a newspaper article about an Irish poet, Brendan Behan, who gave a reading of his poetry drunk on stage with his trouser flies open. For the artist Die Grosse Nacht im Eimer represents the ultimate provocation, which he of course considers the ultimate and inevitable purpose of his painting. At the press conference for the Baselitz Remix exhibition at the Albertina in Vienna in 2007 the artist declared that "My first painting, my first attempt at painting, was 'The Big Night Down the Drain'", and in the 2007 Royal Academy retrospective catalogue Norman Rosenthal observed that "The artist recently stated in public that perhaps he never has and never will make a finer painting than The Big Night Down the Drain.". The work is estimated at £2-3 million.

From this most important private archive of 1960s paintings by Georg Baselitz in existence, another principal highlight is his oil on canvas Spekulatius, executed in 1965 and measuring 162.7 by 132cm, which is emblematic of the artist’s celebrated ‘Hero’ series**. The painting, which is estimated at £1,800,000–2,500,000, stands as one the most significant masterworks both of the series and of the revered artist’s entire illustrious career. It belongs squarely at the centre of the seminal series of 'Hero Paintings' or ‘New Types’ that were executed between 1965 and 1966. As is exemplified in this painting, the vanquished, depleted protagonists in this cycle are survivors in a devastated post-war Germany, whose tragic isolation invokes the specific heritage of German Romanticism from Goethe to Caspar David Friedrich. Created by the artist in his mid-twenties and living in the German capital newly segregated by the Berlin Wall, Spekulatius is directly comparable to examples of the cycle that are now housed in the Tate Gallery in London and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek. Furthermore, the ‘Hero’ paintings have achieved three of the top four prices for the artist at auction, including the record price of $4,633,000 at Sotheby’s New York on 14th May 2008.

Another important work by Baselitz in the collection is his oil on canvas Das Idol, measuring 100.3 by 81.7cm, which carries an estimate of £600,000–800,000. Executed in the year following the erection of the Berlin Wall and the remarkable creation of a 26 year old, Das Idol of 1964 confronts the viewer as a searing existential vision of imagery that is without precedent.

Headlining the works in the collection by Sigmar Polke is his Dschungel, of 1967 and measuring 160 by 245.5cm, which is estimated at £3,000,000-4,000,000. By far the largest of the artist’s legendary Rasterbilder (dot paintings) from the 1960s ever to appear for public sale, this painting has been virtually unknown since its execution and only reproduced in black and white. This monumental tableau is a masterful paragon of Polke’s attempt to deconstruct the illusions and paradoxes of painting, and is one of his most important works. In the context of Pop Art and Kapitalistischer Realismus, this masterpiece questions the mechanics of the art of painting and shares the rebellious attitude inherent to Pop Art.

The work of an exceptional 26 year old who had moved to West Germany from the East in 1953, where he was to win the Young German Art Prize and have his first solo shows in Berlin and Düsseldorf immediately prior to this work in 1966. However, his student career, spanning 1961 to 1967 at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, was paramount in shaping his immensely dynamic approach to art. In 1963 with his friends Gerhard Richter and Konrad Lueg, Polke initiated the quasi movement Kapitalistischer Realismus that, in its title alone, was a pithy riposte to the state-sponsored 'Socialist Realism' of the GDR. Their first exhibition was entitled Life with Pop – A Demonstration for Capitalist Realism: clearly these young men saw art as a means to effect political and social ends. Initiated during this formative period, the Rasterbilder works not only critique issues of perception and reality in a media-obsessed world but also challenge global methods of communication as agents of social change. Having been born in the abysmally dark shadow of Nazism, Polke had lived on both sides of a divided Germany that was the crucible of the Cold War. Hence he knew extremely well the manipulative power of the media and the potential of propaganda.

A further highlight by Polke is his oil and dispersion on canvas Stadtbild II, signed and dated 68 on the reverse, 151 by 125.5cm, which is estimated at £2,000,000–3,000,000. The work showing the New York skyline is a brilliant crescendo of Polke’s late- 1960s output, revealing fascinating parallels and developments in his use of media and treatment of subject matter.

A triumph of Gerhard Richter’s ground breaking 1960s Photopainting, Telefonierender stands as the epitome of both cerebral and painterly innovation that characterised the artist’s output of this period. The work exemplifies his inimitable technique and historically significant approach to source material. Executed in 1965 on an impressive scale (70 by 130cm.) and via exquisite technical accomplishment, this is an historic work that will remain central to the genesis of Richter’s remarkable contribution to visual culture. Telefonierender represents a moment when Richter’s ambition had advanced beyond simply a European riposte to the advent of American Pop, and had developed into an independent, highly-sophisticated philosophy. Although Richter’s original source image for Telefonierender, is a newspaper clipping of an anonymous man engaged in the quotidian action of speaking into a telephone, his painterly manipulation of the man’s features transforms his specific anonymity into a more encompassing, general facelessness.

A readily feasible identification of Richter’s unknowable protagonist is Elvis Presley, with whom the Man on the Phone bears a striking resemblance. The tonal topography and composition of Telefonierender has been dramatically blurred by the artist’s feathering of the wet paint surface with a fine dry brush to inscribe thousands of horizontal furrows in a consummate exhibition of sfumato brushwork. With the present work Richter exposes the false autonomy and supposed objectivity ascribed to photography and challenges his audience to question and re-evaluate their perception of contemporary media. The work is estimated at £2-3 million.

Further works by Richter in the collection comprise the artist’s provocative oil on canvas Schwestern, dated 1967, measuring 65.3 by 65cm., which is an exemplary model of his appropriation of found imagery (est. £1,200,000–1,800,000); and his oil on canvas 1024 Farben, dated 1974, numbered 356/3, measuring 96.3 by 96.2cm (est. £1,000,000–1,500,000). Finally the sale will offer the second work recorded in Richter’s legendary catalogue raisonné, his oil on canvas Eisläuferin, which was previously believed to be destroyed (est. £2,000,000–3,000,000).

Additional major works in the collection include:

Eugen Schönebeck B.1936
signed, titled, and dated 1964 on the reverse
oil on canvas, 162 by 129.8cm.
Estimate: £300,000 – 400,000

A. R. Penck (b1939)
signed with the artist's Initial
oil on canvas, 129.5 by 99cm.
Estimate: £150,000 – 200,000

Blinky Palermo (1943 – 1977)
Untitled, 1968-70
cotton, 200 by 200cm.
Estimate: £500,000 – 700,000

Konrad Lueg (1939– 1996)
Mann am Tisch
casein on canvas,
110 by 180cm,
Estimate: £200,000 – 300,000

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium

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