‘Quality Triumphs:’ Macklowe Collection Brings in $676.1 M. at Sotheby’s

In one of the art market’s most widely anticipated auctions, the first portion of the collection of divorcing New York real estate developers Harry and Linda Macklowe fetched a collective $676.1 million at Sotheby’s on Monday evening in New York.

The entire grouping of 35 works was backed by the auction house with a guarantee, with each lot sold by the sale’s end. 21 lots came to the sale with irrevocable bids. The group of works soared over its estimated haul of $439.4 million-$618.9 million. It was the first swathe of 65 total works from the Macklowes’ holdings—which are being sold as part of a court order issued during the couple’s divorce proceedings— to be offered at the house’s New York headquarters. A second standalone sale devoted to the remaining works is set to take place in May.

Sotheby’s veteran auctioneer Oliver Barker took to the rostrum on Monday to lead the sale, which lasted an hour-and-a-half. Taking place in the house’s York Avenue sale room on the auction house’s redesigned stage, a tightly packed room full of audience members attended. Pace gallery’s Mark Glimcher and London dealer Francis Outred, as well as art advisor Jude Hess were present. The energy in the room among specialists and onlookers was tense, as pressure mounted over the postwar trove that had been keep together for nearly five decades.

Among the works that fetched the highest price was Mark Rothko’s No. 7 (1951), featuring stacked blocks of nude pink, chartreuse, and orange sold for $82 million. Coming to the sale with an irrevocable bid, it hammered at $77.5 million, going to a bidder on the phone with Sotheby’s chairman of Asia, Patti Wong, who triumphed over a New York bidder to win it. It is the second most expensive work by Rothko to sell on the open market. It nearly exceeded the abstract expressionist’s auction record of $86.8 million, set in 2012 when Orange, red, yellow (1961) sold at Christie’s.

A bronze sculpture by Alberto Giacometti titled Le Nez (1947), of a bust with an elongated nose that hangs suspended in an open steel cage sold for $78 million. Just two bidders on the phone with David Schrader, head of private sales and a representative from the house’s chairman’s office in Hong Kong, Yonnie Fu, competed for the work. It hammered with Fu’s client at $67 million, below its high estimate of $70 million.

Alberto Giacommetti Sculpture

Alberto Giacommetti, Le Nez, 1947.

A second record was set for Jackson Pollock, whose Number 17 (1951), a black spattered painting on a beige canvas, sold for a staggering $61 million, more than double the $25 million estimate. It exceeded the artist’s previous auction record of $58.4 million, set in 2013 for Number 19 (1948) at Christie’s New York. Additional artist records were set for Robert Irwin and Michael Heizer.

Another big-ticket item that came to the sale with an irrevocable bid was Cy Twombly’s billboard-sized canvas Untitled (2007), featuring red flower forms on an off-white background. The painting exceeded its $40 million high estimate, selling for $58.9 million and going to a bidder on the phone with Sotheby’s Mexico City office representative Lulu de Creel. Andy Warhol’s Nine Marilyns (1962), a black and white silkscreen depicting nine repeated publicity photographs of Marilyn Monroe sold for $48.5 million, against an estimate of $40 million.

One of the most suspenseful bidding spars of the night was for a work by Agnes Martin. The long-undervalued artist’s untitled white-striped canvas from 1974 made 3 times its low estimate of $6 million, finding a buyer on the phone with Wong for $17.7 million with premium. She triumphed over New York specialist Bame Fierro March bidder for it. That sum exceeded Martin’s auction record of $10.6 million, which had been set back in 2016 when her monochrome canvas Orange (Grove), 1956 sold at Christie’s New York.

Among the more irreverent works from the collection that outpaced expectations was Phillip Guston’s painting Strong Light (1976). Depicting two sets of entwined legs illuminated by a green bulb sold for $24.3 million to a last minute bidder on the phone with Sotheby’s head of contemporary art sales in Hong Kong, Alex Branczik. It made 4 times its low estimate of $8 million. Warhol’s electric blue painting Sixteen Jackies (1964), a grid of 16 vignette portraits of Jackie Kennedy sold for $33 million, double the estimate of $15 million.

Ct Twombly

Cy Twombly,Untitled, 2007.

The $600 million Macklowe sale came to the market with the highest estimate ever placed on a single collection at auction. It is on track to rival Rockefeller collection sale at Christie’s in 2018, which made $832 million, against an estimate of $500 million.

Despite some doubt that the market would embrace postwar works that have fallen out of demand among today’s top collectors and institutions, the Macklowe collection sale exceeded expectations. According to market experts, it is the fact that the collection had been kept intact for so many years, boasting a provenance record tied honorary Metropolitan Museum of Art trustee, Linda Macklowe, that allowed the works to prevail on the auction block. Though long periods of intense bidding between New York and Hong Kong muted the atmosphere throughout the sale, Barker explained the evening’s dynamic was driven by, “very considered bidders.” It is that level of discernment with which the collection was put together, New York art advisor Erica Samuels observed, that was also reflected in the night’s bidding. “The time we’re in right now is art as an asset class. The best in class are lifting the highest,” she said, “Quality triumphs.”

Egyptian Sun Temple Discovered, KAWS Back on View in Singapore, and More: Morning Links for November 16, 2021

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The Headlines

A HUGE NIGHT IN MANHATTAN. Yesterday evening, at Sotheby’s headquarters on York Avenue, 35 works from the prized collection of Harry and Linda Macklowe went under the hammer over the course of 90 minutes—and every one of them sold, for a total haul of $676.1 million with fees. Angelica Villa has a report for ARTnews . It was a strong result for the house, which had pegged the sale with a $618.9 million high estimate and backed it with a guarantee. Twenty-one lots had irrevocable bids. A 1951 Mark Rothko brought $82 million, the second-highest amount ever paid at auction for a Rothko. A 1974 Agnes Martin demolished her previous top mark, going for $17.7 million. The court handling the Macklowes’ tumultuous divorce ordered the sale because of an impasse over the division of their art. More of their holdings will be on offer at Sotheby’s in May. The big November sales continue throughout the week. ARTnews will be there.

HERE COMES THE SUN. Archaeologists in Egypt have come across what they believe is a “sun temple” that dates back some 4,500 years, CNN reports. Historical records suggest that six of the temples, dedicated to the sun god Ra , once existed. The new find, in Abu Ghurab, just south of Cairo, is the third one to be uncovered. The researchers believe it dates to the mid-25th century BCE, and are aiming to identify the king who was responsible for its construction. On a very tangentially related note, if you are in the mood for more Egyptian treasure talk, the new Netflix heist film Red Notice, may be of interest. It features Dwayne Johnson as an FBI agent in search of three bejeweled eggs that once belonged to Cleopatra. Alas, as Newsweek points out, they are entirely fictional.

The Digest

Good news for KAWS fans in Singapore: a court lifted an earlier order that barred the exhibition of a massive balloon by the artist because of a claim over intellectual property rights. [The Straits Times]

U.S. President Joe Biden is placing a 20-year ban on oil and gas drilling in Chaco Canyon, a UNESCO World Heritage site in New Mexico that was once a nexus of Pueblo culture. Some Indigenous and environmental groups have called for permanent protections for the area. [The Associated Press]

A statue of U.S. President Thomas Jefferson that the New York City Council voted to remove from its chamber last month because of his status as an enslaver, will be sent to the New-York Historical Society, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, as a 10-year loan. [The New York Times]

Efforts are underway to preserve a hidden underground cave that once connected the London home of poet and satirist Alexander Pope to his gardens. (That villa and those glorious grounds are, alas, no more.) The project is budgeted at £400,000 (about $539,000) and will be partly paid by the National Lottery Heritage Fund[The Art Newspaper]

Mariam Zulfiqar has been tapped to be the next director of Artangel, which commissions public artworks in the United Kingdom. Zulfiqar comes from Forestry England, whose National Arts Programme she led. After three decades as co-directors of Artangel, James Lingwood and Michael Morris stepped down this year.   [ArtReview]

Art dealer Inigo Philbrick, who has been accused of perpetrating frauds totaling more than $20 million, will reportedly plead guilty to federal charges this week. [The Daily Beast]

The Kicker

LIVING WELL IS THE BEST REVENGE. Artist and iPad draughtsman David Hockney apparently had an assistant snap up some beer mats by an artist named Mr. Bingo that bear a gloriously Hockney-like sentiment: “Bored of wellness.” The Guardian reports that Mr. Bingo was excited about this, and asked Hockney to share his thoughts on the matter. Unsurprisingly, the 84-year-old painter  did not hold back. “I too am bored with wellness, the concept seems ridiculous and too bossy for me,” he wrote. “I’m still smoking and enjoying it enormously. I have never been to a gym in my life.” It goes on from there. Hockney currently has a show up at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. [The Guardian]

Jeff Koons on Reimagining His Famed ‘Balloon Dog’ in Porcelain: ‘We Are Balloons Ourselves’

For better and for worse, Jeff Koons’s “Balloon Dog” sculptures are now the stuff of art history, with a 1994–2000 orange version auctioned for $58.4 million at Christie’s in 2013, at the time time setting a record for the most expensive work by a living artist ever sold. But it wasn’t always that way. When Koons first conceived of the sculptures, in 1994, as part of his “Celebration” series, the project nearly bankrupted Koons, who nearly didn’t execute the oversized work at all. He ended up completing five 12-foot-tall, stainless steel “Balloon Dogs”–in shades of blue, magenta, orange, red and yellow–six years later with the help of his friends, collectors, and some complex financing.

The gamble paid off, and Koons is still making “Balloon Dog” works. His latest iterations of them are made in porcelain and done on a small scale. Working with Michel Bernardaud, whose family runs a 160-year-old porcelain atelier, Koons has produced a miniature version of the work available for $30,000. There are 799 objects in the limited edition, which is titled Balloon Dog (Blue). ARTnews spoke with with Koons and Bernardaud to discuss the challenges—and joys—of rendering this iconic work anew.

ARTnews: How did you and Michel Bernardaud begin working together?

Jeff Koons: I started working on Balloon Dog in the mid-1990s as a plate. The design is different than what I’d end up doing for the “Celebration” series. I made these plates to sell for a charity some friends had set up for inner-city kids in L.A., and I needed to find someone to produce them. I really wanted to work with someone I was assured could provide high-quality ceramic work, and that’s how I met Michel. We’ve been working together ever since.

Why did you decide to embark on this new porcelain project?

Koons: As my “Balloon Dog” became more and more iconic, there were all these “Balloon Dog” editions everywhere. I had nothing to do with them. The quality on these “Balloon Dog” editions—it’s rough. But I think a lot of people believe that that’s my artwork or something that I’ve been involved with, when the opposite is true. I told Michael, “It’s really important to me that I make an official ‘Balloon Dog’ edition and to be able to make this official balloon dog in porcelain.” I wanted it to exactly represent my stainless steel creation, with the same angles and proportions. I also wanted them 40 centimeters in size. For porcelain, that’s a substantial scale, but that’s how I thought that these “Balloon Dogs” could distinguish themselves. But it was challenging—there’s this moment when you’re heating up the ceramics in the oven and the form can just go loose, so there’s all this engineering that has to go into it.

How did you face those obstacles, Michel?

Michel Bernardaud: To make Balloon Dog, we had to create two items, the Balloon Dog itself and the supporting porcelain underneath. To make sure it wouldn’t fall apart, we had to make all kinds of adjustments, but you change one thing, and now the other part has to change too. The fact that we started working together so long ago certainly helped us understand what Jeff’s expectations were, in terms of quality and sharpness, but it was a challenge. We basically had to reinvent our entire process. We had to change how we fire the piece and find new techniques of decoration.

Is Ballon Dog made through slip casting, or are they individually formed? What is the process?

Bernardaud: We slip cast parts of Balloon Dog, and then it is assembled. There are four firings involved. It takes about 45 artisans to make these pieces.

Jeff, when did you first become interested in ceramics?

Koons: When I was young, my grandparents had a porcelain ashtray. It was made right after the war, and it came from Japan. The shape of the ashtray was a reclining woman and the legs of the woman would move from the heat of the cigarette. I was so captivated by the color, the material. So in the ’70s, I started working with ceramics. These works weren’t even ever really shown, just in small group exhibitions when I was young, but I kept at it. Woman in Tub [1989] and Woman Reclining [2010] were inspired by this ashtray. I love working with ceramics—they have this sensual quality.

Porcelain in particular has this beautifully smooth, even reflective surface. I even have a set of porcelain cups that are in the shape of Marie Antoinette’s breasts. More broadly speaking, ceramics have had such a huge presence in our history. You’ll find them at every archaeological site. They’re so long-lasting, and they have this mythic, symbolic quality.

Did that quality of ceramics prompt you to make your “Balloon Dogs” in this medium?

Koons: Yes, for sure. When I created Balloon Dog, I wanted to create something that had a mythic quality like the Venus of Willendorf sculpture. Balloon Dog captures this anthropomorphic quality in a sense that we are balloons ourselves. We take a deep breath, that’s life’s energy. If you look at the nose, the nose is almost like our navel, our belly button, our umbilical cord. The Dog also looks like the intestine. It’s really this beautiful celebration of the moment. Through clay, there’s this second quality to it, because clay is so alive, too, the way it expands and contracts in the kiln.

What does Balloon Dog mean, Michel?

Bernardaud: This is a family business. I am the fifth generation; my son and nephew, who have learned so much from working with Jeff, are the sixth. To have the company associated with such an iconic piece is something I’m extremely proud of. A family business is like a building, and each generation adds one or two stories. Through this collaboration, I have added a story to the company. So the Balloon Dog is a major, major achievement for us.

Fluxus Pioneer Mary Bauermeister Wins German State’s New Art Prize

Mary Bauermeister, whose expansive, multidisciplinary practice helped shape the Fluxus movement, is the first winner of a new art prize given by the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the artist lives. The prize comes with €25,000 ($28,000).

“The work of Mary Bauermeister has achieved world renown beyond the Rhenish and German context,” Hendrik Wüst, the Minister President of North Rhine-Westphalia, said in a statement. “She has always linked art and life and worked transdisciplinary in her artistic practice long before this became a theoretical category of art. Highly committed to promoting young artists, Mary Bauermeister is now what is called an ‘artist’s artist’: an artist who shapes and inspires subsequent generations of artists. With the Art Prize 2021, we would like to pay tribute to this outstanding work that has lasted for decades.”

Born in Frankfurt in 1934, Bauermeister spent one semester at the Ulm School of Design but soon left after she felt that the art she was interested in making wasn’t being supported at the school. She then resumed her studies at the Staatliche Schule für Kunst und Handwerk (State School of Arts and Crafts) in Saarbrücken. In 1956, she moved to Cologne, where she had attended secondary school.

During the early 1960s, Bauermeister’s Cologne studio became the center of an emerging movement that would soon be known as Fluxus. Experimental events and performances by the likes of Nam June Paik, John Cage, and Otto Piene were staged there. Bauermeister’s own art soon achieved acclaim when she had a solo exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam; shortly afterward she moved to New York and found commercial success as an artist. After a decade in the U.S., she returned to Germany, settling in a small town, Rösrath, outside Cologne.

Bauermeister’s art is wide-ranging in both its media and its conceptual concerns. She produces drawings, paintings, installations, mixed-media constructions that deal with science, poetry, nature, mathematics, music, and current social and political issues. Her studio is currently at work on producing a catalogue raisonné with the support of her New York gallery, Michael Rosenfeld, which has represented the artist since 2018. Her work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, the Baltimore Museum of Art, LVR-LandesMuseum in Bonn, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D. C., among other institutions.

The new North Rhine-Westphalia Art Prize will each year be given to a contemporary artist or artist collective with ties to the northwestern German state, which includes major cities like Cologne, Bonn, Düsseldorf, and Essen. The last time the state government gave out such a prize was over 50 years ago.

In his statement, Wüst added, “With the Art Prize of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, we are building on a tradition and at the same time creating something new: the art prize honors a national and international artistic work and makes it more visible.”

Claire Lehmann’s Enigmatic Paintings Ponder What We Choose to Represent, and Why

In her paintings and writing, Claire Lehmann has methodically worked to understand how technologies shape the ways artists choose to represent the world around them. That interest may be most transparent in her work about the development of photography. In her essay “Color Goes Electric,” first published by Triple Canopy in 2016, Lehamnn charted how Kodak developed color film based on people’s perceptions of color rather than accuracy following consumer preference surveys, “We should perhaps ask: Is there something more specific that standard reference images can tell us?” Lehmann wrote. “What do they say, exactly, about how we want pictures to look?”

That line of thinking seems to have inspired Lehmann’s new work The Object Lesson (2021), in which a still life painting is pictured as if it were ready for a photoshoot, with a camera, lighting, and all. The Object Lesson is on view at a solo show at David Lewis gallery in New York, her first one-person exhibition in 18 years. It’s a representation, Lehmann explains, of how to photograph a painting without capturing glare.

The rest of her oeuvre is just as enigmatic. In these new works, drapery floats through dim lit rooms, and technologies of uncertain purpose explode across the canvas. Last week, Lehmann got on the phone with ARTnews to discuss how she conjures these otherworldly compositions and why it took her nearly two decades to reveal them.

a painting of a painting surrounded my lights and a camera

Claire Lehmann, The Object Lesson, 2021.

In this body of work and in your writing, you consistently reveal an interest with technologies of representation. What draws you to this subject?

My interest in these technologies comes from my fascination with the history of representation and how different technologies help us do that. So, for me, the twin histories of painting and photography are one big, amazing progression of this human endeavor to take something from life and fix it for a longer period of time in two dimensions. There’s just so much technology and cultural ideas that that have aided us in that project, and I find that really, really magical.

Did this interest begin during your time at Harvard as an undergraduate?

No, later. In my 20s, I patched together a bunch of day jobs, as many artists do. I was a cocktail waitress, a teaching assistant in the art department, an artist assistant, a tutor—I massaged people’s college application essays. At a certain point I got this idea: “Oh, I wonder if I could kind of switch my freelance jobs to be more in line with my artistic interests?” So at the ripe old age of 29, I got an unpaid internship at Cabinet magazine. I found I really loved doing this work. It was so intellectually enriching. That enabled me to get jobs as a freelance writer and some curatorial work.

Were you painting during that time?

I was making art all the while, although not always painting. For sometime I was making conceptual sculptures and installations. I was also working in photography. I went a bunch of different ways. I think was trying to escape being the painter that I am. I briefly spent a year at Hunter [College in New York], in the MFA program, and this was around 2009, 2010, at the height of process-based abstraction, later dubbed zombie formalism. At that time, I remember feeling very embarrassed to be making representational paintings, and I sort of backed off of that. I ultimately came home to it.

You haven’t exhibited your work for almost 20 years now. Why is that?

I really wanted to feel confident and excited about the work if I was going to share it. What ultimately became this body of work started about five years ago, and this was following a period of about two years where I was so busy with other professional projects that I hadn’t been able to devote a ton of time to the studio, and I just missed it so intensely. I love working with paint and color—I find it such a joy. The way I work on these paintings is quite time-consuming. They require a lot of intensity and focus and attention to make, there’s sort of a devotional aspect to it.  I missed feeling that way. So I slowly went back into this way of working and waited to see what would blossom from it. The work ended up feeling really good to make and really good to share.

These paintings are so imaginative and otherworldly. What’s your process for conjuring these images?

I work from a pretty big archive that I’ve amassed of printed matter from a lot of different sources. I’ll spend a long time leafing through images and see what sticks in my mind. Sometimes, I’ll digitally play with the composition before I make the painting to kind of sort out how the image will look.

What have been some key inspirations for these works?

I feel reticent to share my sources.

The Deposition (2021) is an abstract piece, but I couldn’t help but feel like I recognized something of its form. And then it hit me: those moving pipe screensavers.

Yes, totally!

a panting of multicolored tubes

Claire Lehmann, The Deposition, 2021.

Is it your intention to bring a kind of nostalgic edge to your work?

I do try to induce a feeling of recognition in the viewer, though maybe not necessarily nostalgia—more a feeling like: “Oh, I think I know what I think I know what that is, but maybe not.” A seasoned observer might very well know what I’m pointing to, but generally, I’m interested in creating that sort of elusive quality of both deep familiarity and mystery at once.

Drapery is a recurring element in your work. Why do you rely on it so heavily?

The one thing that I love about drapery is that it can capture and refract light. But it’s also a nod to the bigger history of representation in which using drapery has sometimes come to mean something about an artist’s virtuosity. Drapery has a lot of resonance for what I might call the technology of painting and the culture of ideas that has formed our expectations of how images should look.

How do you think your work has disrupted or responded to this history?

I don’t know that it necessarily disrupts those ideas. I find this history to contain an almost mystical language that I have a lot of reverence for: the project of how different conventions or genres and technologies pass through the many hands that makes up a bigger language that we don’t really have to words to describe. So it’s this language that I’m ultimately trying to work with in my own small way.

Hong Kong Passes Film Censorship Law, Dealers Unite for Rochelle Feinstein Fest, and More: Morning Links for October 28, 2021

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The Headlines

ARTIST ACTION. With T: The New York Times Style MagazinePeter Halley discussed six pieces of art and design at his Connecticut studio (by Ettore SottsassRobert Morris, and others). With FriezeLaura Owens chatted about her show at the Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles in France, which pairs her works with his . “His painting is—I hesitate to use the word—anal,” she said. Ai Weiwei penned an essay for the New Statesman about the “environmental costs of authoritarianism, capitalism, nationalism and corporatocracy.” And the New York Times profiled Petrit Halilaj, who currently has a show at Tate St. Ives in Cornwall, England, that includes enlarged versions of drawings he made as a teenager in a refugee camp in Albania after fleeing the war in Kosovo. Returning to them recently, he said, “I saw all these birds—peacocks and doves—and they were as big as the soldiers, as happy and proud.”

NEW RULES. Hong Kong’s government passed a law on Wednesday that lets officials ban films that are deemed threats to national security, the AFP reports. It is the latest step in an ongoing crackdown on free speech by the Chinese government in the region. The maximum fine for screening an unlicensed movie has been set at HK$1 million (about $130,000) and three years in prison. Given the political turmoil in the city, some have questioned whether it can continue to maintain its key position in the art world. In other news from the Fragrant Harbour, the long-awaited M+ museum opens next month. [AFP]

The Digest

Six far-flung dealers are uniting to stage shows that will present 30 years of work by artist Rochelle Feinstein. They are: Candice Madey and Bridget Donahue in New York, Hannah Hoffman in Los Angeles, Nina Johnson in Miami, Campoli Presti in Paris, and Francesca Pia in Zurich. [Financial Times]

After being being taken off view to undergo close study, a roughly 1720 portrait of Elihu Yale (the namesake of the university) with an enslaved boy and other people is back on view at the Yale Center for British Art. Researchers have been attempting, so far unsuccessfully, to identify the child. [Associated Press/Bloomberg]

Alex Greenberger picked eight highlights from the 2021 edition of the New Museum Triennial, which opens to the public today. Curated by Margot Norton and Jamillah James, the exhibition includes 40 artists and “meets the chaos of the moment with stoicism and serenity,” Greenberger writes. [ARTnews]

A new dig at an ancient Roman amphitheater first identified in 1849 in Richborough, England, has led to the discovery of a holding cell (a carcer, to be precise) where gladiators and criminals were kept before facing death in the arena. On a happier note, a pet cat was also unearthed. [The Times of London]

Fort Worth, Texas, said that it will build a National Juneteenth Museum on land that is home to the Fort Worth Juneteenth Museum, which was started by Opal Lee, the 95-year-old woman who successfully lobbied for June 19 to be named a federal holiday to mark the the end of slavery in the United States in 1865. [Associated Press]

A new venue for gallery dinners is on deck in Beverly Hills: The luxe Cipriani group, which has boîtes from Las Vegas to Venice, is planning to open a restaurant on Camden Drive, not far from branches of Christie’sSotheby’s, and Gagosian[The Hollywood Reporter]

The Kicker

SHOWTIME! After spotting artist Maria Kreyn’s work in Vanity Fair, theater king Andrew Lloyd Webber commissioned her to create paintings for his Theatre Royal Drury Lane, which has undergone a £60 million (about $82.5 million) renovation, the Art Newspaper reports. Kreyn responded with eight dramatic works that channel scenes from Shakespeare . It appears to be an ambitious display, but their fruitful partnership could have been derailed before it began. The artist admitted, “I thought the email was spam when he first reached out to me.” [The Art Newspaper]

How I Made This: Kris Sowersby’s Typefaces

It’s likely you’ve seen one of Kris Sowersby’s typefaces and not known it—they’re used on the websites of Norwegian Air, Kinfolk magazine, the South by Southwest festival, and even here on ARTnews (“Editor’s Picks” and “Latest News” on the home page are in his font Domaine Display). Apple has licensed two—Founders Grotesk and Domaine Display—for use on its devices.

In New Zealand, his home country, Sowersby’s typefaces can be found on the national airline carrier’s materials and at petrol stations. His name isn’t known much beyond the graphic design scene, though, if even that: Typography—if it’s good—is meant to attract no attention.

Sowersby works from home, designing by himself. He doesn’t draw each font from scratch but starts with an older file. He says it’s like molding clay: He adjusts each letter, reshaping it until it looks right. After all, “the point structure for an o is a point structure for an o; it doesn’t change much,” he says. Each type designer has a preferred sequence for working on letters: o and i are common starting points, as is n, which Sowersby spends a lot of time on. The left stalk can be extended to an h, which can be separated into an l; the hump is replicated to form an m; the n is flipped and readjusted into a u. Following these, an o and an l are combined to form p, which leads to b, d, q, and maybe most of g, depending on whether it’s one-story or two (“story” referring to the number of loops in it).

Once Sowersby finalizes the lowercase, he moves on to small capitals, followed by uppercase, numbers, punctuation, and symbols. They’re all drawn on a 1,000-unit square, which means the arrow keys on his keyboard get a lot of use when he’s kerning (determining the space after each letter), and even more so when he’s working on the space glyph (the space between words).

Working on these details sometimes feels almost pointless to Sowersby, though. For one thing, many people don’t know how to access OpenType to turn on special features (such as ligatures, which are particular stylized sets of letters, such as “sp, th, and ff). For another, InDesign users may turn on optical kerning, thereby erasing all the work that went into presetting the letters. Or a web developer may put his fonts onto a website, then strip the kerning to save a few kilobytes in the name of efficiency.

Sowersby draws all his fonts on RoboFont, which is basically a vector drawing application. Predictably, there aren’t many applications for type designers. He used to use FontLab, which is one of the most popular, but FontLab saves files only in its proprietary format. On the other hand, RoboFont, which he got into at the beta-testing stage, saves files in formats that can be opened by other applications.

Sowersby’s studio features a wall of bookshelves holding hundreds of type specimen books. Quite a few of his typefaces have come from leafing through the pages of these texts, not just from yesteryear but from far abroad.

“Early on, it was guesses” on which examples were most usable, Sowersby says. As he gained experience, he started knowing what kinds of fonts he wanted and began to search for them on the secondhand bookselling site Add All, though he had to be very specific. Instead of just searching for “German” type specimens, for instance, he might have to look for “Berthold” (a German foundry)—back then, he relied on German Flickr accounts bearing pictures of these books to find the right search terms.

Using older typefaces as inspiration is not new, but there has been a debate for years about whether type design (in the Latin alphabet, at least) is now just a matter of filling in the gaps between font families. Sowersby thinks of what he does as a craft, and he wonders, “Does craft have any obligation to originality?” Calibre, the typeface used in the logo for NowThis News, was inspired by West Berlin street signs; Pitch, used in Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast title artwork, is based on typewriter text. Sowersby has just released a new typeface, Epicene, based on 18th-century Baroque typefaces, which is his attempt to create a genderless font—working against the classification of strong lines as being masculine and curlicues as being feminine. One of the typefaces he has in the works is a version of Helvetica, a typeface that “casts a long shadow” on type design, he says, and which he jokingly calls his retirement fund.


He has bunches of fonts that he’s worked on in the past, from sketches to partially completed sets; he’s thrown out typefaces, representing hundreds of hours of work, that he knows are wrong and unfixable. Recently he went through them and whittled them down to 10 or so that he wants to finish. “I think there’s an endpoint in sight,” he says, completely seriously.

Though Sowersby turned 40 a few weeks ago, he considers himself mid-career already, having worked in type design for almost 20 years. “I can’t do this forever,” he says. But, “having grown up with a pragmatic view of things,” Sowersby says, “I’m lucky that things I’m interested in sell.”

Meet the Man Filling Twitter with Art: ‘I Thought It Would Be Interesting If I Could Follow Dead Artists’

People tend to think of Twitter as a frightening place filled with bad news and aggressive posturing. What if it could also be a a destination for art history? That was the idea Andrei Taraschuk had in mind when he created what he called “art bots,” or accounts intended to drop beautiful works from years past into users’ timelines.

Taraschuk, who describes himself as “a software engineer by day and an art-bot developer by night,” grew up in Russia surrounded by a family of artists. He went on to study at an art school in his home country, but pivoted away from art when he immigrated to the United States and began to work toward a degree in software development and web design. “But I felt like something was missing,” he said. 

He found a way to combine his interests by looking to social media. “I thought it would be interesting if I could follow dead artists on Twitter and see their art in my timeline,” Taraschuk said. Back in 2014, he noticed that there were a few people sharing works by Wassily Kandinsky, his favorite artist, but he was frustrated that they all seemed to share a handful of his most famous works. Taraschuk wanted to see lesser-known pieces, sketches, and studies. He considered following the kind of people with art expertise who might normally post these sorts of works, but he didn’t want to have see their political opinions and commentary as well. And so, with his friend Cody Braun, a fellow software developer, he began crafting “art bots,” a list of which can be found on Taraschuk’s Twitter profile.

Braun and Taraschuk’s bots are made by creating an algorithm and a social media account. In order to consistently share new work, the bots are taught to retweet art that is similar to the output of a specific artist. For example, a David Hockney account might retweet another posts from another bot devoted to another Pop artist, like Andy Warhol. Since both artists were members of the Pop art movement during the ’60s, the bot aims to gain accuracy.

The first bots Taraschuk made shared works by two of his favorite artists, Egon Schiele and Wassily Kandinsky. Tens of thousands users now follow these accounts. Since starting the Schiele and Kandinsky bots, Taraschuk and Braun have made 560 accounts that share the works of individual artists, from the very popular (Vincent van Gogh) to the lesser known (Anna Petrovna Ostroumova-Lebedeva, a Soviet artist active in the 1900s known for her woodcuts). Most of the images are sourced from public domain collections. 

He’s also made bots that are not artist-specific. Some share works from museum collections, like one devoted to the decorative arts holdings of the Brooklyn Museum. These are the sorts of objects that may not get a lot of attention, even when they are on view in the museum. On the bot’s account, however, they can be seen by a larger audience than they would otherwise normally get. Through Twitter, these objects can find a serendipitous new audience. 

Part of the fun of these bots is discovering art you’ve never encountered before. Who knew that the Harvard Art Museums had such an interesting calligraphy collection, or that the Met’s Islamic Art department held such intriguing treasures as a manuscript page featuring a lizard-like creature with its tongue sticking out?

Taraschuk’s hope is that his offerings will only grow more fascinating in the future. Referring to AI models designed by Braun, Taraschuk said, “At first the accounts simply shared artworks, but over time, their behavior became more and more complex.” The hope, he added, is that the bots continuing learning—and helping to educate others in the process.

8 Standouts at the 2021 New Museum Triennial: Poetic Resistance, Barely-There Beings, and More

The biennial circuit was dealt a blow by the pandemic, which made it nearly impossible to mount enormous editions of recurring showings of contemporary art amid restrictions of all kinds. But art lovers in the U.S. can take pleasure this month in the return of three such notable exhibitions: the Prospect New Orleans triennial in Louisiana, the Greater New York quinquennial at MoMA PS1, and, now, the New Museum Triennial, which opens in New York this Thursday.

Organized by New Museum curator Margot Norton and Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles senior curator Jamillah James, the show is focused on forms of resistance—an apt theme during these trying times. Don’t come expecting to see art meditating on lockdown, the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer, or debates over recent conflicts, however. The sleek art on view here may obliquely allude to pressing issues associated with race, gender, and sexuality, and it may even broach painful histories of colonialism in the process, but these works are rarely upfront about their concerns. In this refreshing exhibition, the artists included largely opt for a sleek aesthetic in which politics are embedded rather than exposed.

Painting is (mostly) out, and a piquantly odd kind of sculpture is in. Surrealism is born anew in works making use of ready-made everyday objects, and industrial materials often share space with natural ones. Science-fictional futures exist in the present, and fine-art and craft techniques are made indivisible. There’s a lot going on in the minds of the 40 artists with work on view, some of whom are getting their first showcases in New York, but rarely ever can it be said that their art feels anything less than highly composed. Norton and James’s exhibition meets the chaos of the moment with stoicism and serenity.

Below, a look at eight standout artists in their show.