Mid-May marks the first appearance at auction of Untitled II (1980), one of less than 10 works Dutch-American artist de Kooning made in 1980. Only its third public showing, the painting premiered in 1981 at London’s Royal Academy of Arts exhibition A New Spirit in Painting, followed by New York’s Gagosian Gallery de Kooning Retrospective in 2007.
Phillips has pitched the work at $12-18 million, although de Kooning’s current market record stands at approximately $300 million, for Interchange (1955), sold privately by the David Geffen Foundation, which has moved many of de Koonings works. At auction, his Untitled XXV (1977) was notably sold by Christie’s last year for $66 million, double its previous auction appearance 10 years prior.
Untitled II, an abstract composition of loose blocks of yellow and orange colour delineated by short angular lines on a white ground, is one of de Kooning’s larger pieces – a size often reserved for his more ambitious projects, say Phillips specialists. Following a period of artistic success between 1975-77, Untitled II indicates a turning point in de Kooning's career. It encapsulates his “pastoral” abstractions, thick, painterly works with lively, gestural brushstrokes in the “foreground”, from the 70s, while also hinting at his later exploration of luminosity and sense of open-endedness that would define his revamped visual language post-1981.
“Shifting away from the tightly organised compositions and the heavily worked, dense canvases of his early years,” Phillips said in a statement, “de Kooning here puts forward a fluid space in which form, line and colour blend into one another, foreshadowing the infinite white backgrounds and ribbon-like brushstrokes that would become the signature of his output in the 1980s.”
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