Robin F. Williams - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 18, 2022 | Phillips

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  • The artist with the present work at right

    "[Nude Waiting It Out] stands for that woman who is wearing a costume that is her naked body—she is performing...she is the nude in painting, or the one that gets imitated in advertisements as a super available woman…She is a ’70s shampoo ad, the opposite of your high-art nude."
    —Robin F. Williams

    Oscillating between subject and object, humanization and commodification, Nude Waiting It Out captures Robin F. Williams’ acclaimed painterly practice that explores the notions of sexuality, commerciality, and desire through the landscape of the female body. Looking to vintage advertising as a vehicle to challenge art historical tropes, the artist here transforms an advertisement for shampoo into a painterly dialogue on the female nude. In the present work, Williams positions the viewer behind the seated woman and renders her figure’s skin coarse through her textured painterly handling—at once denying our indulgence of the sensualized female body while showcasing the artist’s masterful play of light and shadow in contouring form. 


    Vintage shampoo advertisement from Helene Curtis

    "When paintings I love make me uncomfortable or angry, they are especially important as source material."
    —Robin F. Williams

    Known for her alluring portraits of monumental female figures, Williams’ paintings explore the relationship between gender and power in American culture. A graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design, the Ohio-born artist was drawn to the theme of the nude early in life after learning of Édouard Manet’s Olympia in high school and swiftly painted her own version. “I wrote a paragraph [for school] explaining why it wasn’t porn,” she says. “That may have been my first artist statement.”i This experience planted the seeds for the now 38-year-old Brooklyn-based artist who drew inspiration from her “love-hate relationship” with Modern masters like Manet and Gustave Courbet, 1970s advertisements, and the “inevitability of the male gaze” for the present work.ii Fusing her fascinations with vintage marketing and representational painting in art history, Williams maps the pervading objectification of the female body in both “high” and “low” art that pervades commercial and institutional realms. In Nude Waiting it Out, Williams subverts a sensual view of her figure’s body by making it “stiff and creepy,” and in turn endows her subject with power.iii In fact, by stripping the figure of any sex appeal, Williams hopes that “people will take her more seriously,” because “you have to wait until no one wants to have sex with you anymore for your ideas to be taken seriously.”iv


    Gustave Courbet, Bather at the Spring, 1868. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Image: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY

    Working exclusively in oil, Williams fuses multiple painterly techniques such as analogue application, airbrushing, and staining the canvas to manifest varying degrees of realism in her work. Describing how her practice has evolved through progressing her methods, the artist explained, “As I’ve started to use an airbrush for instance, the way I ‘draw’ or ‘build’ form has responded to my masking process…They have a more computer generated or graphic look. The different techniques I use are meant to evoke effects that seem photographic or digital without looking like Photorealism.”v This is showcased here in the airbrushed background that depicts drawings made in condensation on glass screens, evoking Avery Singer’s shower paintings as well as her masking-and-airbrush technique that conjures the digital world. Yet unlike Singer, Williams combines this technique with densely layered painterly passages, “the complexity and variety of the medium mirror[ing] the layered narrative of the works.”vi In the present work, the artist materializes this vacillation between virtual and organic in the figure who appears at once like a robotic simulation and simultaneously strikingly human through Williams' refined painterly handling. In Williams’ words, “Paintings are a virtual space while also being distinct objects, and the environments and bodies in my paintings are certainly constructed. I like the challenge of creating a person out of paint that is clearly a simulacrum, but that feels none-the-less sentient or alive; an image that sees and knows it’s being seen.”vii 


    i Robin F. Williams, quoted in Randi Bergman, “Robin F. Williams is Reimagining the Female Nude,” S Magazine, April 11, 2019, online.
    ii Randi Bergman, ibid.
    iii Robin F. Williams, quoted in Alicia Cesaro, “Robin Williams’ All-Female ’70s-Inspired Artwork,” Coveteur, November 29, 2016, online.
    iv Ibid.
    v Maria Vogel, “Robin F. Williams Takes a Layered Approach in her Exploration of Gender & Power,” Art of Choice, April 2, 2019, online.
    vi “Robin F. Williams: Your Good Taste Is Showing,” P·P·O·W, New York, press release, 2017.
    vii Maria Vogel, “Robin F. Williams Takes a Layered Approach in her Exploration of Gender & Power,” Art of Choice, April 2, 2019, online.

    • Provenance

      P.P.O.W., New York
      Private Collection
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, P.P.O.W., Robin F. Williams: Your Good Taste Is Showing, October 12–November 11, 2017
      Palm Beach, GAVLAK, Painting, February 17–June 2, 2018

    • Literature

      Alicia Cesaro, "Robin Williams' All-Female '70s-Inspired Artwork," Coveteur, November 29, 2016, online (installation view of the present work in progress in the artist's studio illustrated; titled as Waiting It Out)
      "Your Good Taste Is Showing," Meer, October 6, 2017, online (illustrated)
      Atesh M. Gundogdu, "Oct 19 Robin F. Williams," artspeak, October 10, 2018, online
      Maria Vogel, "Robin F. Williams Takes a Layered Approach in Her Exploration of Gender & Power," Art of Choice, April 2, 2019, online (illustrated; erroneously dated as 2016)
      “À la découverte de la peintre Robin F Williams,” Beware Magazine, September 11, 2019, online (illustrated)

Property from an Esteemed European Collection


Nude Waiting It Out

signed, titled and dated "ROBIN F. WILLIAMS NUDE WAITING IT OUT 2017" on the reverse
oil and acrylic on canvas
64 1/8 x 44 1/8 in. (162.8 x 112 cm)
Painted in 2017.

Full Cataloguing

$150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for $327,600

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Global Managing Director and Specialist, Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1278

Carolyn Mayer
Associate Specialist, Associate Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1206

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 18 May 2022