Jasper Johns' flag raises to $28.6m at Christie's

Christie's last night auctioned a number of iconic artworks from the collection of the late Michael Crichton, author of such thrillers as The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park and The Lost World, and the dramatic television series ER.

The focal point of the sale was Jasper Johns' Flag, 1960-1966, selling for $28,642,500 over a significant pre-sale estimate of $10m-15m - the highest price ever achieved for a work by Johns at auction.

The painting was bought by Crichton directly from Johns over 30 years ago, back in 1973.

Flag 1960-66 is today regarded as one of the highest icons of modern art - alongside Pablo Picasso's Guernica and Andy Warhol's Marilyn - but the innovative work caused controversy upon its release.

The critic Robert Rosenblum wrote that Johns' Flag paintings were "blasphemous, disrespectful, simple minded or recondite." However, it is now viewed as a crucial stepping stone between the Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art movements.

Johns' Flag, 1960-66 subverted the Abstract Expressionist art scene of its
day using Ancient Egyptian painting techniques 

The work is one of only a handful of Johns' paintings that stays true to the US flag's original iconic red, white and blue. It was this very literalness that was so revolutionary, inviting the viewer to regard the work as either a painting of a flag, or merely as a flag.

This paradoxical balance was key to Flag's immense and lasting influence, at a time when Abstract Expressionism was the dominant force in contemporary art. Reactions of the day's art establishment aside, the painting is a painstakingly beautiful rendition of America's flag.

Conceived by Johns while still a young artist in his early-20s, the artist rendered the work using a number of difficult and seldom used techniques dating back to Ancient Egypt: mixing paint pigment with hot wax and applying it in careful brushstrokes to the canvas.

Overall, the Michael Crichton collection realised $93,323,500 and sold 100% by lot and by value, becoming one of the most significant ever to appear at auction.

The Christie's sale was held at the Rockefeller Plaza, New York on May 11.


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