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    Peter Saul on his Ice Box #3

     

    I was living in Bures sur Yvette, south of Paris, and was very isolated, hadn’t met any artists since leaving the states in 1956, but I kept in close contact by letter with my art dealer, Allan Frumkin, in New York, who I had met a year or so before as a result of phoning the artist [Roberto] Matta. So, I knew my icebox pictures were my most popular image. I don’t remember exactly but I was probably painting this picture during my first NY show, at Frumkin Gallery which was January 1962.

     

    This is the picture where it suddenly occurred to me to combine the icebox image and the “crime and punishment” imagery. You see a salad, or at least something in a bowl with a dog on it—that’s the remnants of Ice Box 1 and 2: food and cigarettes misbehaving in an overall icebox shape. But fresher in my mind—it was a big deal for me for me then—is all the crime stuff, bloody axe, whizzing bullet, screaming woman and so on. This was in my mind at the moment, from remembering “Crime Does Not Pay” comics when I was a kid. My thought at the end of the picture was probably—oh, oh, lot more crime than food, can I still call it icebox?...It’s just stream of conscience actually, like now, sometimes it’s refreshing to not know what you’re doing—I like painting that way a lot even now.

     

    —Yerz, Peter Saul

    October 20-21, 2021

     

     

     

    [left] Cover of Crime Does Not Pay, Lev Gleason, New York, no. 32, March 1944 [right] Peter Saul with Valda Sherman (1961) in Paris, 1962

    [left] Cover of Crime Does Not Pay, Lev Gleason, New York, no. 32, March 1944 [right] Peter Saul with Valda Sherman (1961) in Paris, 1962

     

     

    Introduction

  • "It simply came to me as an idea...I started to put together, quite consciously what I thought was an art style."
    —Peter Saul on his Ice Box paintings

     

    Painted between 1961 and 1962, Ice Box #3 belongs to Peter Saul’s highly coveted eponymous series comprising just ten works created from 1960 to 1963. Presenting an action-packed composition within the seemingly banal subject of a refrigerator, the present work derives from a groundbreaking chapter in the artist’s acclaimed oeuvre that marked his singular aesthetic of fusing Pop, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism to pioneer his unique visual language. Testifying to its iconic stature, the present work featured in the 2005 documentary, Imagining America: Icons of 20th Century American Art, and was most recently exhibited in the major retrospective Peter Saul: Crime and Punishment, the artist’s museum survey debut in New York at the New Museum from February 2020 and January 2021.

     

     


    The present work installed at Peter Saul: Crime and Punishment, New Museum, New York, February 11, 2020 – January 3, 2021. Image: Dario Lasagni, Artwork: © 2021 Peter Saul / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

     

    Saul’s renowned body of Ice Box paintings bore out of a remarkably fertile period that notably shaped his artistic development. After graduating with his BFA from Washington University, St. Louis in 1956, the artist moved to Europe, living in Amsterdam (1956-1958), Paris (1958-1962), and Rome (1962-1964) until his return to the United States in 1964. The present work was painted during Saul’s formative time in Paris, where he would meet the Surrealist painter Roberto Matta and American art dealer Allan Frumkin, the former who would influence the artist’s own Surrealist style and the latter who would give Saul his very first solo exhibition in 1961. The artist’s distance from American culture allowed him to critically examine it as subject matter in itself (see below). Deriving inspiration from American comic books and magazines such as Mad and Life, he ultimately found his wildly inventive idiom in the icebox, incorporating symbols of American consumer culture such as mass-produced goods into explosive scenes containing at once the humorous and macabre.

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    ​In the Artist’s Words

     

    On the occasion of his 2017 exhibition at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, Saul discussed his Ice Boxes and the journey of his artistic practice.

     

     

     

    "Fortunately, Abstract Expressionism turned out to be easy to do…[but] to be successful with a viewer, to be actually looked at with interest, my picture would need to have some potential for being right or wrong, better or worse, in someone’s opinion, than some other picture."
    —Peter Saul

     

    Whilst embodying the endless proliferation of consumer madness, the icebox, for Saul ultimately represented the creative freedom to express his artistic imagination—a painterly container through which he could compact divergent images and styles into one picture. Anticipating the cartoon-like figuration of Philip Guston later that decade, the series embodied Saul’s pioneering of “hand-painted Pop” and his epithet as one of Pop Art’s founding fathers. “But the idea of what you call Pop Art just came to me because I wanted something to put into my Abstract Expressionist pictures...I sat in the Dome Café, smoked Gauloise cigarettes and came up with these ideas, with most of it coming from memory,” Saul explained. “I never paid any attention to what was going on in New York. I had a fear of flying due to just missing going on a plane that crashed in 1956—the first mid-air collision.”i Ice Box #3 materializes the artist’s words in a kind of outlandish self-portrait, depicting a figure afflicted by the arms of a plane and a box of cigarettes in the center of the composition.

     

  • A Selection of Saul’s Ice Box Paintings in Notable Collections

  • "I liked the icebox best because the door could open and stuff could fall out."
    —Peter Saul

     

    From dense abstract masses to sweeping strokes, rough outlines to drips and splatters, the present work is a virtuosic manifestation of the artist’s early intuitive exploration of his painterly language. As Norman L. Kleeblatt explained, “The painting Ice Box #3 uses an array of popular imagery that is radically different in its freewheeling stream-of-consciousness arrangement from the more precise and premeditated compositions of Pop Art. Cartoon imagery and old-fashioned advertisements are juxtaposed in odd combinations. Saul even deployed representations of drips based on the intellectual memory of action rather than on the actual result of painterly process.”ii At once visceral and cerebral, his style was as transgressive as his imagery, his conscious application of the blood drops from the axe in direct contrast to the trickles of paint bleeding down the canvas.

     

     

    [left] Olive Oyl with a can of spinach, from the American cartoon Popeye the Sailor Man [right] Willem de Kooning, Composition, 1955. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Image: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    [left] Olive Oyl with a can of spinach, from the American cartoon Popeye the Sailor Man [right] Willem de Kooning, Composition, 1955. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Image: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

     

    "Saul’s Ice Box series treats the titular appliance as a container of consciousness: it is by turns a stage for character actors, an erotic setting, and nearly always, like Bacon’s linear cubes, a frame and a prison, standing in for modernity as a whole."
    —Dan Nadel

     

    Slaying open the point of departure for Saul’s widely acclaimed oeuvre, Ice Box #3 also captures the deep influence of Francis Bacon’s work on the artist’s sensibility. In his words, “All my work, 1961-72, can be professionally seen as the artistic contribution that should, and did come after + stem from Francis Bacon.”iii Indeed, Saul’s Ice Box paintings lie more in the vein of Bacon’s psychologically charged compositions than, for example, Warhol’s Icebox, in its social commentary and allusions—here, conjuring the Irish artist even further in the screaming figure.

     

     


    [left] Francis Bacon, Painting, 1946. Museum of Modern Art, New York, Artwork: © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2021 [right] Andy Warhol, Icebox, 1961. The Menil Collection, Houston, Artwork: © 2021 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
     

    Coalescing the technical tenets of Abstract Expressionism with the absurdist sensibility of Surrealism and the anticipation of Pop Art into a single composition, Ice Box #3 showcases an ambitious display of Saul’s maverick practice. As Saul once conveyed to Robert Storr, “I think I’ll paint anything that will help my pictures to be interesting, powerful, romantic, shocking, thrilling—all that stuff.”iv It is perhaps these qualities among others that so appeal to the artist KAWS, an avid collector of Saul’s work. “I have Sauls everywhere,” he claimed.v “Peter has elbowed out his own place in the contemporary-art world. He’s never been an artist you could put a label on or add to a group. He’s created his own lane on the highway, and he’s not looking back.”vi

     

     

     

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    Collector’s Digest

     

    "Saul’s Ice Box paintings were ahead of their time and undisputedly established the artist’s role as a trailblazer in the 20th century avant-garde. Their widely acclaimed stature in his oeuvre, limited quantity, and precocious character make them among the most desirable to both modern and contemporary art collectors today."
    —Robert Manley, Deputy Chairman and Worldwide Co-Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art

     

    •    Ice Box #3 is making its auction debut on the heels of renewed institutional interest in Saul’s work, marked by the artist’s critically acclaimed New York retrospective, Peter Saul: Crime and Punishment.


    •    A rare-to-market opportunity, the present work is the first work from Saul’s famous Ice Box series to come to auction in over half a decade.

     

    •    The New York Times recently published a profile on the artist, “Peter Saul Doesn’t Want Any Advice”, in July 2021.

     

     

    i Peter Saul, quoted in Paul Laster, “Peter Saul and the Importance of Having a Salary (An Interview),” Conceptual Fine Arts, April 20, 2020, online.

    ii Norman L. Kleeblatt, “Greenberg, Rosenberg, and Postwar American Art,” in Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940-1976, exh. cat., Jewish Museum, New York, 2008, p. 176.

    iii Peter Saul, quoted in Dan Nadel, “Wrong Rivers and Wrong Halls,” in Peter Saul: Crime and Punishment, exh. cat., New Museum, New York, 2020, p. 10.

    iv Peter Saul, quoted in Robert Storr, “I’m a Perfectly Norman Person,’” in Peter Saul, exh. cat., Orange County Museum of Fine Art, Newport Beach, 2008, p. 51.

    v Brian Donnelly (KAWS), quoted in Linda Yablonsky, “The Collections of Artists,” The New York Times, December 5, 2013.

    vi Brian Donnelly (KAWS), quoted in A.M. Homes, “Peter Saul, Curmudgeonly Father of Pop Art, Has a New Exhibit,” Vanity Fair, October 23, 2015, online.

    • Provenance

      Allan Frumkin Gallery, New York
      Marilyn Bedford, New York (acquired from the above in September 1962)
      Frumkin/Adams Gallery, New York (acquired from above in 1987)
      Galerie Bonnier, Geneva (acquired from the above circa 1988-1989)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1999

    • Exhibited

      New York, George Adams Gallery, Peter Saul: Early Paintings and Related Drawings, 1960-1964, January 1-31, 1998
      Les Sables-d'Olonne, Musée de l'abbaye Sainte-Croix; Châteauroux, Musée de l'hôtel Bertrand; Musée des beaux-arts de Dole; Musée des beaux-arts de Mons, Peter Saul, June 26, 1999 - June 25, 2000, no. 5, p. 70 (illustrated)
      New York, George Adams Gallery, Attitude: Paintings, Drawings & Sculpture, 1960-1969, December 1, 2000 – February 10, 2001
      Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Eye Infection, November 3, 2001 - January 20, 2002, p. 131 (illustrated)
      New York, The Jewish Museum; Saint Louis Art Museum; Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning and American Art, 1940-1976, May 4, 2008 - May 31, 2009, pl. 50, pp. 176, 282 (illustrated, p. 99)
      New York, George Adams Gallery at CB1-G Gallery, Peter Saul: From Pop to Politics, January 7 - February 18, 2017
      New York, New Museum, Peter Saul: Crime and Punishment, February 11, 2020 - January 3, 2021, p.182 (illustrated, p. 76)

    • Literature

      John Carlin and Jonathan David Fineberg, Imagining America: Icons of 20th-Century American Art, PBS Documentary, London, 2003 (illustrated, 1 hour, 50 minutes)
      Jonathan Griffin, "Peter Saul's 'Crime and Punishment'," Art Agenda Review, March 31, 2020, online (installation view illustrated)

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Ice Box #3

signed and dated “SAUL '61-'62” lower right
oil on canvas on aluminum panel
69 x 59 1/8 in. (175.3 x 150.2 cm)
Painted in 1961-1962.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$350,000 - 450,000 

Sold for $441,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
New York Head of Department & Head of Auctions
+1 212 940 1278
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 November 2021