Rammellzee - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Thursday, June 24, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Recalling the graffiti tags that ubiquitously ornament the urban landscape, Rammellzee’s Untitled REPRESS (Gargoylian Books of Stock) reflects the frenzied and unfettered energy of New York City in the twilight of the 20th century. Hailing from the metropolitan margins of Far Rockaway, Queens, Rammellzee found his place in the center of the downtown graffiti scene in the 1970s and 1980s as he spread his iconoclastic ideograms throughout the city, at first in the train cars of the subway system and eventually in the white cubes of avant-garde galleries alongside friends and collaborators like Jean-Michel Basquiat. Rammellzee integrated the everyday into his art and his art into the everyday, upending the arbitrary stratifications of the formal art world; an emblematic example of the artist’s unrelenting innovation, Untitled REPRESS takes this democratic determination to its zenith as Rammellzee reimagines the canvas and common objects as an extradimensional object, bringing together an intergalactic tangle of color and ciphers as four canvases join together as one.



    Rammellzee was an incredibly prolific artist whose polymath practice spanned artforms as disparate as painting, sculpture, performance art, and even opera. He was an intriguing presence in the New York art world of the 1980s and 1990s as both an insatiable innovator and a recluse whose Tribeca loft, which he dubbed the “Battle Station,” was obsessively adorned with the detritus of urban life, and which was most often repurposed for future projects. Rammellzee’s inextinguishable intellect both captivated and challenged Basquiat and later led to friendships with cultural luminaries such a William S. Burroughs. Untitled REPRESS is evidence of this teeming creativity, an artifact of Rammellzee’s important but sometimes overlooked impact.


    Rammellzee first achieved notoriety for his kinetic graffiti writing, setting the stage for a careerlong engagement with linguistics and semiotics. Inspired by graffiti writing and medieval calligraphy alike, Rammellzee devised an esoteric writing system seeking to free language from the constraint of the written word. The result was a practice that dramatized the conflict between written letters and the lockstep order of the codified alphabet as both a futuristic struggle against the oppressive discipline of written language and the transcendental triumph of ornamental typography. The present work is a continuation of the artist’s engagement with the science of letters, language, and signs, a massive tome that radiates with otherworldly mysticism. The outer panels swirl with vortexes of vibrant color as they conceal the interior canvases, obscuring the frenzied storm that dissociates writing from its meaning. The onslaught of text and signs severs language from its use and renders each letter as an arcane symbol that must be decoded; Rammellzee deftly breaks down the conventions of written language as he turns words into symbols both familiar and foreign, essential truths written in a long-forgotten language.

    • Provenance

      Galerie Yaki Kornblit, Amsterdam
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

Property of an Important Collector, Europe


Untitled REPRESS (Gargoylian Books of Stock)

signed with the artist's monogram and dated "91" lower left of the interior left canvas
spray paint, epoxy and mixed media collage on canvas and brass hardware, in artist's frames, in 3 parts
each painting 48 x 50 1/4 in. (121.9 x 127.6 cm)
open 48 x 103 1/8 in. (121.9 x 261.9 cm)
closed 48 x 7 1/2 x 52 1/2 in. (121.9 x 19.1 x 133.4 cm)

Executed in 1991.

Full Cataloguing

$120,000 - 180,000 

Sold for $151,200

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261


20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 24 June 2021