Modern Day Auction brings together a rich array of works across the full range of art of the 20th century, and Sotheby’s specialists are eager to be your guides by choosing their favourites from the impressive lineup, include paintings by abstract luminaries such as Chu Teh-Chun, Fernando Zobel, and George Matthieu, as well as enchanting figurative works by Leonard Tsuguhara Foujita and Hendra Gunawan. The specialists each chose two works, pairings that are linked thematically and share a special resonance. These are just some of the highlights at the upcoming auction which offer an opportunity for budding and established collectors alike to acquire works by the most significant names of the 20th century.
Rishika Assomull, Specialist of Modern Art, Asia
As a specialist of modern art with roots in Indonesia, it has been a special delight for me to come across this rare Hendra Gunawan painting. Seldom do we have the privilege of encountering such exquisite, intricate compositions from the 1950s! Gunawan’s opus abounds with depictions of women, but it stands as a stark deviation from the sense of voyeurism that otherwise permeates many facets of art history. He consistently portrays women as capable, active and nurturing, proud of their indigenous heritage and living in harmony with their natural milieu. Upon observing this masterpiece, I revel in the meticulously rendered kaleidoscopic batik patterns on the many sarongs worn by the figures – each motif is abundant with symbolic meaning, bearing influences from China and India, and telling tales of the maritime trade routes that brought such imagery to Javanese culture. Though this is a modern work, the minutiae in the composition sheds light on the rich and ancient cultures that permeate the vast, Indonesian archipelago.
Another rarity from our day sale is Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita’s Maternité – in the past two decades, only approximately ten such gold leaf oil on canvas works by the artist have surfaced in the international auction market. While its subject matter is inspired by classic Madonna and child iconography, echoing religious and historical imagery from the Renaissance, the present work also recalls works from the Kanō school of Japanese painting, which utilised the use of brilliant gold leaf paint.
Michelle Yaw, Specialist of Modern Art, Asia
Coming into auction season, as specialists we often anticipate the auction like entering into battle. These two works evoke thrill, movement and explosions of power, each a statement piece on their own!
Exil Doux is a wonderful example of Georges Mathieu’s pioneering calligraphic style and fierce lyrical expressivity. The work emanates a fearless combustion of potent intrinsic energy, and draws attention to the dense layering of bold gestural strokes atop an intoxicating, almost manic, tension.
Few Asian sculptures have achieved the iconic status as Ju Ming, especially his famed Taichi series. In Taichi series (Two works), the artist captures the sense of fleeting movement, seeking not to replicate an exact physical form, but instead the momentum of a body in motion. The size of the sculptures is impressive yet domestically sized, complimenting an outdoor or interior space. In fact, the linear sense of speed resembles the calligraphic lines of Mathieu. Despite its appearance of heavy stability, the sculpture possesses the fluidity of taichi, aptly demonstrating Ju's transcendence across the barriers between different media, blended together into an abstract expressionist approach for sculpture.
Jestina Tang, Specialist of Modern Art, Asia
It is enlightening to see the works of a single artist side by side, in this case Chu Teh-Chun, to understand the many transformations that would spark the artist’s inspiration. Although he immersed himself in the world of Western painting for more than six decades, Chu’s is quintessentially and deeply rooted in Chinese culture. His determination to traverse both halves of the world, his passion for life and creativity, and the time and experience encapsulated in his art made his output all the more radiant and soulful. In both Sans titre and No. 163, the canvas is filled with the innate rhythm of calligraphy while also reminiscent of the various landscapes Chu would have internalised throughout his artistic journey.
Gabe Chan, Junior Specialist of Modern Art, Asia
Li Huayi's Landscape depicts a dramatic mountain vista enshrouded by mist. We might assume that the work is in a lineage from China's great landscape painting tradition, but it is also the result of a fresh and personal synthesis of Chinese ink painting and Western modernism. The artist presents a personal vision of the world inspired by the great traditions, and stands as one of the very few living artists to advance the spirit of traditional landscape painting within a contemporary idiom.
In a sense, Li’s internalised landscapes shares a spirit with Fernando Zobel La Piedra Del Caballo II. Zobel took much inspiration from the American artist Mark Rothko, whose explorations of colour revolutionized the nature of painting and the genre of landscape. The hazy background of this painting is interrupted with lines, a contrast with gesture towards ephemerality in nature. This work, as with the rest of Zobel’s oeuvre, is a statement to the processes of the mind that go into our reflections upon individual moments.