Auction Record: 1968 Beveled-Edge Painting Sets New High Mark for Sam Gilliam

Detail of SAM GILLIAM, Untitled, 1968 featured in Contemporary Curated at Sotheby’s New York, March 2, 2018


FOR MORE THAN HALF A CENTURY, Sam Gilliam he has had a relatively successful practice by any measure with critical recognition, regular exhibitions, and representation in museum collections. Known for his expressive abstraction and fluid use of color, over the past several years his career has gone into overdrive with major attention. Gilliam, 84, joined a new gallery and has enjoyed more prominent exhibitions, presentations at international art fairs, notable press coverage, and record-breaking auction sales.

His latest notch came last week when he achieved a new artist record. An untitled beveled edge painting by Gilliam sold for $725,000 ($885,000, including fees) at Sotheby’s New York. The 1968 work was featured in Contemporary Curated on March 2. A spectrum of color dominated by deep blues and violets, the work was estimated to sell for $200,000-$300,000, and the final value was more than double the high estimate.

Sotheby’s offered a brief catalog note about the work:

    Radiating with an inner glow, Sam Gilliam’s Untitled elevates the sensory potential of color, texture and form. Gilliam makes paint luminous, combining myriad finishes and pigments with sophisticated color transitions, mimicking the qualities of light and shadow within an abstract composition. Warmer tones rise from the bottom of the composition in a spread of red and orange, while cooler tendrils of teal and violet drip down the surface of the work, fanning out and separating in a polychrome topography. The optical dimensionality of the surface of the work mirrors that of its physical shape, which with its beveled edges, projects forward from the wall, transcending the border between painting and sculpture. In the words of Gilliam, “my work consists of solids and veils…it is constructed painting, in that it crosses the void between object and viewer, to be part of the space in front of the picture plane. It represents an act of pure passage.”

Radiating with an inner glow, Sam Gilliam’s Untitled elevates the sensory potential of color, texture and form. Gilliam makes paint luminous, combining myriad finishes and pigments with sophisticated color transitions, mimicking the qualities of light and shadow within an abstract composition. — Sotheby’s

Lot 35: SAM GILLIAM, Untitled, 1968 (acrylic on canvas, 62 x 66.5 inches). | Estimate $200,000-$300,000. Sold for $725,000 (hammer price)/$885,000 (including fees) ARTIST RECORD


BORN IN TUPELO, MISS., Gilliam grew up in Kentucky. He attended the University of Louisville where he earned a bachelor’s degree (1955) and MFA (1961). The following year, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he was associated with the Washington Color School. “Carousel Form II,” one of his draped canvases, covered the September/October 1970 issue of Art in America, which featured an article titled “Black Art in America.” At the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), “Projects: Sam Gilliam” opened in 1971. He was among a group of artists that represented the United States at the 1972 Venice Biennale.

More recently, he joined David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles and fellow gallery artist Rashid Johnson curated an exhibition of Gilliam’s 1963-66 “Hard Edge” paintings in 2013. The following year, the gallery presented a solo show of Gilliam’s work at the Frieze New York art fair. “Green April” a solo exhibition of large-scale paintings from the late 1960s and early ’70s was on view at David Kordansky in 2016. Last year, the Seattle Art Museum mounted a solo show of his work and Mnuchin Gallery presented Gilliam’s first solo show in New York in more than 25 years.

Recent acquisitions have been made by MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dallas Museum of Art, and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. He made another appearance at the Venice Biennale, this time in 2017 when he was featured in the international exhibition curated by Christine Macel.

“Sam Gilliam: In Dialogue” is currently on view at the Williams College Museum of Art. This summer, “The Music of Color: Sam Gilliam, 1967-1973,” organized by Josef Helfenstein, opens at Kunstmuseum Basel in Switzerland.

GILLIAM IS RECOGNIZED for the inventive presentation of his canvases. He often removes them entirely from the stretcher and displays them in a draped fashion or wraps them on top of frames in the case of the record-setting beveled edge work, which was purchased by a private American collector.

His previous artist record was achieved last year when “Rays,” another beveled edge painting, this one executed in 1971, sold for $684,500 (including fees) at Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated sale on Sept. 27, 2017. The amount far surpassed the $100,000 to $150,000 estimate. CT


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“Sam Gilliam: 1967-1973” documents the Sam Gilliam’s 2017 exhibition at Mnuchin Gallery, his first solo show in New York in 25 years. “Sam Gilliam: A Retrospective” was published in 2005 to accompany an exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., that surveyed the artist’s then four-decade career. Described as “the first in-depth book devoted to this major figure,” the volume includes forewords by Walter Hopps and Jacqueline Serwer, who was chief curator of the Corcoran at the time. Currently, she serves as chief curator a the Smithsonian’s forthcoming National Museum of Africa America History and Culture.


Sotheby’s New York Contemporary Curated (Sept. 27, 2017)
Lot 22: SAM GILLIAM, “Rays,” 1971 (acrylic on canvas). | Estimate $200,000-$300,000. Sold for $684,500 (including fees). PREVIOUS ARTIST RECORD


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