'Most influential' composer and dancer's art to sell for $5m

On November 10, Christie's will pay tribute to two of the most influential American artists of the 20th century in its New York Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, offering property from the collection of John Cage and Merce Cunningham

The sale will give art collectors the opportunity to acquire six significant works by the great Post-War masters Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Philip Guston. The six works from the Collection are expected to realise in the region of $5m.

"We are privileged to have been entrusted with the sale of this Collection," said Laura Paulson, Deputy Chairman of Christie's.

"A sale of this grouping is unprecedented at auction and the works' supreme freshness to the market and esteemed provenance will make them highly sought after by collectors from around the world.

"They represent a true time capsule of a watershed moment in the development of Post-War art, music, and performance," she said.

Merce Cunningham (1919-2009) is recognised as one of the greatest choreographers of all time, and his seven decades-long career profoundly influenced modern dance. He was also one of the greatest American dancers.

John Cage (1912-1992) is lauded as one of the most influential and important American composers of the 20th century, famed for his revolutionary use of chance procedures, and innovative uses of musical instruments.

The collected works in the sale resulted from collaborations and friendships with the various artists during Cunningham and Cage's lives.

Jasper Johns

The centerpiece of the collection is a work directly inspired by Merce Cunningham and his company of dancers.

Jasper Johns' Dancers on a Plane ($1.5-2m)
Dancers on a Plane ($1.5m-2m)

Dancers on a Plane, Merce Cunningham (pictured left) by Jasper Johns (b. 1930) is estimated at $1.5-2m. Johns was artistic advisor to the Cunningham Dance Company from 1967-1980.

Inspired by a tantric painting of the god Shiva represented as Lord of the Dance and copulating with the goddess Sakti, the work is permeated with the themes of sex, dance and religion.

Dance is presented as abstract forms on the canvas, and at the center top and bottom of the frame are stylised images of both male and female genitalia.

Only two versions of this work exist in a larger format, one is in the Collection of the Tate Museum in London, and the other, in primary colours, belongs to Jasper Johns.

Robert Rauschenberg

An exceptional group of works from the early 1950s until 1961 by Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) will be offered, each representative of his highly experimental approach to painting.

Rauschenberg served as art advisor to the Cunningham Dance Company for 10 years beginning in 1954, and these works were gifted by him to Cunningham and Cage.

All are pivotal works, which exude dynamism and are emblematic of Rauschenberg's revolutionary artistic style and broad use of non-art materials.

Rauschenburg's Untitled ($100k-150k)
Untitled ($100k-150k)

Rauschenberg painted No. 1, 1951 (estimated at $800,000-1,200,000) over a work originally created by his former wife, Sue Weil. After it was in his 1951 one-man show at the Betty Parsons Gallery it became the property of John Cage.

Some years later, to thank Cage for letting him stay at his apartment, Rauschenberg repainted No. 1 entirely in black. Then in 1985 he refreshed the canvas with another coat of black and left Cage an accompanying note.

"This is part of the history of this single canvas - I hope the dialogue continues for many more years. I will if John dares. Love Bob Rauschenberg."

An exceptional transfer drawing, Untitled, from 1961 (estimated at $100,000-150,000 - pictured right) is among the works on paper highlighting the sale.

The inscription on the lower right indicates that Rauschenberg dedicated it to John Cage, and he created it specifically for him as a peace offering after being reprimanded for always turning up late to rehearsals.

Combining irony, poetry, and nuances of color, the drawing is laden with allusions to time passing, the vestiges of time, and of course, to being on time. The sale will also feature a work on paper Untitled, from 1956 (estimated at $100,000 - 150,000).

Philip Guston

Completing the selection of property from the collection of Cage and Cunningham is an early, rare work on paper by Philip Guston (1913-1980), Untitled, circa 1953 (estimated at $150,000-200,000).

Untitled, 1953 ($150k-200k)
Guston's Untitled, 1953 ($150k-200k)

Masterfully executed, raw and powerful, this abstract expressionist drawing has never before been seen in public.

Additional works from the Collection of John Cage and Merce Cunningham will be offered in the Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Sale on November 11, including a portfolio of Jasper Johns prints and rare drawings by Merce Cunningham.

The auction will take place on November 10-11 with pre-sale viewing at Park Avenue Armory, October 22-28 and Christie's Galleries at 20 Rockefeller Center, November 6-10.

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