Vaughn Spann - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale - Afternoon Session New York Thursday, November 18, 2021 | Phillips

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  • The inability to neatly categorize Vaughn Spann’s work is central to the artist’s practice. From surreal portraiture of two-headed figures to geometric compositions and highly textured canvases of pop-like symbols reminiscent of Jasper Johns, he evades classification as a portraitist, abstractionist, or sculptor. The Golden Rule, 2018 belongs to one of his sculptural paintings of various symbols—a sub-category of his work anchored in memory, but which stretches beyond the bounds of specificity. The first painting of its scale from the ongoing Marked Man series to come to auction, The Golden Rule is a superb example of Spann’s “X” paintings. Other works from the series are held in the permanent collections of the Perez Art Museum, Miami and the Albright-Knox Museum, Buffalo.
    "[The series] came from an interest in assigning new meaning to an extremely recognizable form. How can I take an X, allow it to be my muse for painting, invite conversations of color, line, form, yet allow it to open deeper conversations?"
    —Vaughn Spann
    The “X” is an important motif for Spann. Universally, the symbol wields connotations of power, exclusion, and surveillance. For the artist, the “X” most notably signifies being “marked.” During his time as a student at Rutgers University, Spann was racially profiled by a group of policemen. “They put me against a gate, and my hands are up, split. That same gesture echoes the ‘X’,” he said, “and, for me, that’s such a symbolic form, and so powerful to this contemporary moment, that I formally needed to figure out the components of that.”[1] In depicting an “X” a in relief made of paper, tape, and clay and encrusted in layers of black, yellow, and tarnished gold, The Golden Rule almost seems to assert that this “golden rule” is itself tarnished; an ethic of reciprocity that has become fundamentally annihilated by implicit bias and systemic racism.

    The Golden Rule is a prime example of Spann’s idiosyncratic method rigorously employed in his symbol-centered works. At the precipice of this practice is a symbol that recalls a memory, which Spann then probes both formally and allegorically in a series. Such is the case with his single-star American flag canvases, rainbow works, and Dalmatian paintings—symbols that are imbued with memories from his childhood that often comment on America’s race epidemic. In the end, Spann creates works that turn a recognizable symbol into one that eventually gives way to feeling.

    Though Spann’s Marked Man series  refers to being stopped and frisked--of his body literally taking on an “X” shape--the idea of being “marked” also gives the series a more malleable and ironically “universal” interpretation.  What is both a reconciliation of the artist’s experience is also an invitation for anyone “marked”—anyone racialized, oppressed, or Othered—to feel recognized and visible.


    [1] Vaughn Spann quoted in Elliot Sang, “How Vaugh Spann Became the Art World’s New Favorite Painter,” High Snobiety, 2019, online. 

    • Provenance

      ltd los angeles
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      ltd los angeles, If I go there, I won't stay there, September 22–November 10, 2018

    • Artist Biography

      Vaughn Spann

      Vaughn Spann is an American contemporary artist whose practice explores the natures of space, memory, and time using the ostensibly competing languages of abstraction and figuration. Approaching his work through traditional formalistic lenses focusing on line, color, and shape, Spann locates subjects from deeply personal spaces and articulates their essences on the painted surface, using metaphysical reflections to question our experiencing of the world around us.

      Spann uses painting to recreate encounters with people and places he finds compelling, gauging their essences when viewed through in retrospect. His experimentations with unconventional materials augments his explorations of personal and historical narratives. Spann lives and works in New Haven, Connecticut, where he also received his MFA from Yale University.

      View More Works


The Golden Rule

signed, titled and dated "Vaughn Spann "THE GOLDEN Rule" 2018" on the reverse
paper, Flashe, tape, clay, and relief on canvas
60 x 60 in. (152.4 x 152.4 cm)
Executed in 2018.

Full Cataloguing

$60,000 - 80,000 

Sold for $119,700

Contact Specialist

Rebekah Bowling
Head of Day Sale, Afternoon Session, New York
1 212 940 1250

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale - Afternoon Session

New York Auction 18 November 2021