Titus Kaphar - 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, July 2, 2020 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • In Short


     The present lot installed at The Vesper Project. Image courtesy Friedman Benda, Artwork © 2020 Titus Kaphar

  • The Open Wounds of History

    Coalescing fact and fiction, Titus Kaphar’s much-acclaimed Vesper Project explores the precariousness of memory and social constructions of identity. After mistakenly recalling an experience with an aunt that never occurred, the artist—whose work is often informed by the perennial destructiveness—began to communicate with a character in his work, named Ben Vesper. Their five-year long fictional exchange is documented by a series of letters, journal entries, and other ephemera regarding Vesper’s family history on the project’s website. This experiment evolved into an installation set in an actual 19th century house, in which Untitled (red thread lady) was hung on the wall, and is Kaphar’s most exhibited—and arguably most famous—body of work. 

    Titus Kaphar, The Vesper Family Tree, circa 2013. Artwork © 2020 Titus Kaphar 

    The multimedia installation’s fabled setting is “a 19th century family in New England although their mixed heritage makes them ‘Negro’ in the eyes of the law.”[i] The patriarch, a former Brazilian slave, desperately hopes to establish a legacy by marrying his three fair-skinned daughters off well; however, when the youngest becomes pregnant before marrying the son of a shipping magnate, their reputation is irreversibly tarnished and their racial secret is publicly revealed. “What follows,” Kaphar chronicled, “is a predictable downward spiral of violence that destroys everything Vesper had accomplished in hopes of immortalizing his family name.”[ii]  

    The present lot installed at The Vesper Project. Image courtesy Friedman Benda Gallery, Artwork © 2020 Titus Kaphar  

    Untitled (red thread lady) was hung on the wall in the first room in the Connecticut home, in which viewers found in absolute disarray, with paintings whitewashed and sliced and period furniture uprooted and strewn about. While exhibited with the rest of the Vesper Project between 2013 and 2017, the woman in Untitled (red thread lady) was cut out of the painting, and the hole in the canvas revealed another painting of a woman on the wall of the house. In 2018, Kaphar sewed the subject back to the rest of the painting before it was exhibited at The Warehouse in Zaventem the following year, thus invoking the predominant theme behind his entire oeuvre: that destruction can constitute an act of creation. Kaphar’s work suggests that though we can try to conceal the open wounds of our histories—both personal and societal—with precarious red thread, the resulting scars will always betray our past. 
    [i] Titus Kaphar, The Vesper Project, online.
    [ii] Titus Kaphar, The Vesper Project, online.
  • The Vesper Project

  • Kaphar Talks Memory and Madness

    In a 2013 interview with the Huffington Post, Kaphar discussed the origins and themes behind his Vesper Project.

    Huffington Post: How did “The Vesper Project” begin?

    Titus Kaphar: I was in the studio making a portrait of my aunt, as if she was in a completely other time period. As I was making a portrait of her I got this weird feeling. As I was combing through my memories of her I realized my memories of her weren’t real. They were fiction. I didn’t believe it at first, so I called my family to find out and they confirmed that she was not, in fact, where I remembered her. It occurred to me that, for some reason, my brain had decided to insert her into periods in my life when I needed extra support. That left me reeling; it left me frightened. It made me feel as if I couldn’t trust my own memory. I felt like I was losing my mind.

    When I’m working on a portrait of someone, there is often an internal monologue, a narrative I hear. Usually, the better the portrait is, the more I hear that monologue. Because I just had that experience with the portrait of my aunt, it made me frightened to tell people about it. I honestly felt like I was losing my mind. I talked to someone at a mental health facility and he says tell me your story. I didn’t know this, but he was writing down what I was saying. A couple of weeks later, he came back to me and he showed what he had written based on my words. It was so much more elaborate than I had remembered, and became even more real.

    HP: So the story is not made of your memories, it’s more of a narrative about your work?

    TK: It wasn’t really either. Writers speak about hearing voices that drive a narrative a lot, but visual artists not so much. Ben and I went back and forth, telling stories, over the course of four or five years. It became very real for me. I had been nervous about telling people where I felt like these stories were coming from. I began to talk about them as though they were real — I was living with these characters. The more that I did that, the more I felt like I wanted to see every aspect of their lives. I began to search for where I thought they might live. I found a house and ended up installing it as sculpture in the gallery.

    The house is not really a space, per se. It is a psychological space — a man slipping from his lineage, his family, into a schizophrenic break. You are able to experience his mental slippage.

    Read the rest of the interview here

  • Can Art Amend History?

    • Provenance

      Maruani Mercier, Brussels
      Private Collection, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Friedman Benda Gallery; New Britain Museum of American Art; Cincinnati, Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art; Washington, D.C., Katzen Arts Center, American University Museum; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami; Birmingham, Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts, Titus Kaphar: The Vesper Project, February 28, 2013 – December 9, 2017 (previous state exhibited)
      Zaventem, The Warehouse by Maruani Mercier, Titus Kaphar: The Vesper Project, May 18 – September 28, 2019

    • Artist Biography

      Titus Kaphar

      Titus Kaphar’s work questions the nature of history and its representations in the past and today. By altering the materiality of his paintings, sculptures, and installations, Kaphar subverts conventional understandings of historical representations and exposes the uncomfortable and troubling realities of the racism in America’s past. Kaphar’s examinations of historical representations and the omissions of such representations encourage viewers to question their own relationships to history and understandings of the past. He strives to dislodge history from the past and to promote its relevance in the world today. 

      Kaphar’s work has received considerable acclaim, and his paintings have graced two covers of Time magazine. He is the recipient of a 2018 MacArthur Fellowship and his work is represented in such institutions as the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, and the Perez Art Museum Miami. He lives and works in New Haven, Connecticut.

      View More Works

Property of a Distinguished New York Collector


Untitled (red thread lady)

oil on canvas with red thread and hooked needle, in artist's frame
29 x 22 3/4 in. (73.7 x 57.8 cm)
Executed in 2013-2018.

Full Cataloguing

$40,000 - 60,000 

Sold for $187,500

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 2 July 2020