Vija Celmins - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, November 16, 2016 | Phillips

Create your first list.

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

  • Provenance

    Westinghouse Electric Corporation, Pittsburgh (acquired in 1970)
    Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above in 1997)

  • Exhibited

    New York, George Adams Gallery, SEESCAPE, June 5 - August 31, 2013

  • Catalogue Essay

    Vija Celmins’ Untitled from 1969 is an exquisite example of the artist’s signature image. Starting in the early 1960’s, Celmins embraced subject matter that is notoriously difficult to depict, and her drawings of a shifting seascape are in some ways her most ambitious. Untitled is a tour de force of draftsmanship, showing her unequalled ability to realize a subject in movement, transparent and consisting of a complex pattern of ever-changing light.

    Celmins would take long walks on a pier near her studio in Venice Beach, California as she liked being surrounded by the waves. She started taking photographs of the ocean, which became the inspiration for a body of work that she continues to rigorously explore; Untitled is one of the earliest examples from this series. Her approach is similar to Gerhard Richter’s—an artist she is often compared to. Both worked from photographs, but Celmins eschewed the German artist’s blurring effects while trying to reproduce her subject with an almost hallucinogenic clarity.

    As much as any 20th Century artist, Celmins became dedicated to the practice of drawing. In 1968, the year she began her Ocean series, she started focusing almost exclusively on drawing and didn’t resume painting until 1983. Like all of her drawings, Untitled is not a study for a painting, but a fully realized work that stands on its own at 12 3/4 x 17 3/4 inches, her most frequently used size. In retrospectives of her work, drawings are invariably the dominant medium, as in her breakthrough museum retrospective in 1980 in which an Ocean drawing from 1969 graced the cover of the catalog.

    Like Richter, Celmins’ work is inextricably linked with abstraction. She received a traditional art education in the 1950’s at the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis. After seeing Jackson Pollock’s work and reading Ad Reinhardt’s “Twelve Rules for a New Academy” manifesto, she was inspired to dabble in abstraction that was pared down and generally devoid of color. Although unexceptional objects, there is an elemental quality to the images, which depict or convey fire, wind and smoke. In the mid- to late-1960’s she turned to nature and its invisible underlying forces. Her main subjects - waves, clouds, lunar landscapes and starry skies - embrace the infinite and in a curious twist bring her work back to a form of abstraction similar to Pollock’s.

    Celmins’ meticulous working methods produced a limited body of work. The majority of the Ocean drawings from 1968-1977 are in museum collections or major private collections, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Ocean, 1969), Museum of Modern Art (Ocean, 1970 and Ocean with Cross #1, 1971), Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (Ocean, 1971) and San Francisco Museum of Art (Ocean, 1977). Untitled has been in a private collection for decades and has never been offered at auction. Previously part of the prestigious Westinghouse Electric collection, the work was acquired at a time when corporate buyers such as Paine Webber, JP Morgan and UBS were assembling world-class collections. Untitled is a rare opportunity to acquire a museum-quality work by one of the most respected artists of her generation.



signed and dated "V. Celmins 1969" lower right
graphite on acrylic ground on paper
12 3/4 x 17 3/4 in. (32.4 x 45.1 cm)
Executed in 1969.

$1,500,000 - 2,500,000 

Sold for $2,890,000

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 November 5 PM EST