Titus Kaphar - 20th c. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Monday, December 7, 2020 | Phillips

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  • "If we are not honest about our past, then we cannot have a clear direction towards our future." 
    — Titus Kaphar

    Coalescing fact and fiction, truth and memory, Veil is emblematic of Titus Kaphar’s renowned oeuvre that reimagines and reinvents art historical imagery to interrogate the complex racial fabric of the discipline. In the present work, an ambiguous figure—perhaps a pope clutching a Bible, hinted at by the iconography—is shown dressed in a cobalt gown and cloak with lace sleeves right out of a Dutch Golden Age painting, seated in a regal wooden chair. Utilizing Kaphar’s signature leitmotif of concealment, he renders the subject anonymous with a white veil. His anthropomorphic hands oscillate between human and animal, appearing to transfort before the viewer’s eyes into an ambiguous slithering creature.


    Detail of the present lot.


    Veil was exhibited in his seminal 2011 exhibition, Classical Disruption, at Friedman Benda—Kaphar’s very first solo exhibition in New York and his first major show following his breakthrough exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum, History in the Making. Pulling back the veil of the history of representation, it is one of the most refined paintings from this body of work to come to auction.

    "All of depiction is fiction, it’s only a question of degree." — Titus Kaphar

    Making the Old (Masters) New Again


    Throughout his oeuvre, Kaphar has taken the history of art itself as subject matter, which has manifested as scrupulous references to 18th and 19th century American and European paintings. His subjects are typically upper class, well-dressed families or individuals—presidents, slave-owners, knights, popes—who confidently stand or sit in dignified poses evocative of the centuries-old tradition of portraiture.


    [left] Diego Velazquez, Innovent X, 1650. Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome, Image credit: Album / Art Resource, NY
    [right] Francis Bacon, Study after Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1953. Des Moines Art Center, Iowa, Image credit: Bridgeman-Giraudon / Art Resource, NY, Artwork © 2020 Estate of Francis Bacon / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / DACS, London

    "Through a kind of tender violence, Kaphar emphasizes what is unknown in representations of the past and forcefully argues that our understanding of the past still matters." 
    — Bridget R. Cooks
    His virtuoso application of paint and ability to so precisely mimic the styles of the Old Masters lends his work an almost nostalgic sense of comfort—leading the viewer to momentarily believe that he or she is seeing, in the case of Veil, as he or she frequently does when in a museum or gallery space, a portrait of a respectable, trustworthy religious leader. However, it becomes immediately apparent that something uncanny, perhaps even surreal is at work.


    René Magritte, L'histoire centrale, 1928. Private Collection, Image credit: Banque d’Image, ADAGP / Art Resource, NY, Artwork © 2020 C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    René Magritte, L'histoire centrale, 1928. Private Collection, Image credit: Banque d’Image, ADAGP / Art Resource, NY, Artwork © 2020 C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    This disquiet alludes to the disturbing precariousness of history and its predilection to conceal or forget—concerns that are Kaphar’s métier, his central theme. By veiling the subject in the present work, the artist is temporarily redirecting the viewer’s gaze, if only for a moment. But to whom? Kaphar’s palimpsest asks us to consider who the forgotten in the shadows beyond every Eurocentric depiction of power. “The artist takes this historical representation as a document to look through,” scholar Bridget R. Cooks elucidated. “He exposes the past as a performance of identity and assembles new objects that visualize the construction of memory.”i


    Cut from the Archives



    Collector’s Digest


    • Kaphar’s work has been the subject of significant commercial interest this year since Gagosian Gallery announced its representation of him in April and Time Magazine commissioned him to paint a portrait, Analogous Covers, for the publication’s June 15 cover following the death of George Floyd.


    • Kaphar’s auction record was just set in July of this year, when his painting Still Hungry! soared beyond estimate to achieve $350,000.

  • Page 4 of Jefferson’s “Farm Book”, 2018.
    Achieved $854,900 in 2020
  •  i Bridget R. Cooks, “Titus Kaphar: Intricate Illusion,” Gagosian Quarterly, April 23, 2020, online.

    • Provenance

      Roberts & Tilton, Los Angeles
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Friedman Benda, Titus Kaphar: Classical Disruption, February 17 - April 2, 2011, p. 46 (illustrated, p. 38)

    • 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.

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Property from an Important West Coast Collection



signed and dated "Kaphar 08" on the reverse
oil on canvas
48 1/4 x 36 1/8 in. (122.6 x 91.8 cm)
Painted in 2008.

Full Cataloguing

$70,000 - 90,000 

Sold for $365,400

Contact Specialist

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



20th c. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 7 December 2020