Whether you’re seeking a piece by a blue-chip artist or hoping to find a work by a fresh contemporary talent, the Post-War to Present auction on October 1 at Christie’s New York presents an opportunity to acquire art of exceptional quality. “With Post-War to Present, we deliberately position certain artists alongside ones that the market already strongly recognizes, in order to elevate them and have them become part of the conversation,” explains Isabella Lauria, Associate Vice President and head of the sale.
Here, we draw on Lauria’s expert insight to spotlight lesser-known artists who are on the verge of receiving the global recognition they deserve. You can also view their works online or see the pieces in person at the Post-War to Present exhibition in New York City, by appointment only until September 30.
Circus (1932), Alice Neel
Circus was one of Neel’s first submissions to the W.P.A. Federal Art Project, which asked artists to submit works that represented all aspects of American society. “Neel responded by using a European expressionist vocabulary of cramped composition and darkly burlesque imagery to imbue a quintessentially American scene with a palpable tragedy,” Lauria explains. “This brand of cynical honesty demonstrates Neel’s sharp and nuanced perception of modern life, as well as her emotive renderings of her subjects.”
Jerome XVII (2014), Titus Kaphar
Known for his aesthetically compelling and technically innovative approach, Titus Kaphar started The Jerome Project in 2014 as a multimedia exploration of the criminal justice system. His series of portraits, such as Jerome XVII, began with the online discovery of the mug shots of 97 men who shared his father’s first and last names—revealing the overrepresentation of African American men within the prison population.
Each panel within the series represents a mug shot of a different incarcerated Jerome, rendered on a gold leaf relief. “By dripping the lower half of the work in tar, Kaphar obscures the subject’s face, rendering them voiceless but ensuring a piercing gaze remains,” says Lauria. “His use of gold leaf links each portrait to the visual culture and icons of early Christianity and, juxtaposed with the layer of tar, Jerome is caught within the dichotomy between prosperity and a tradition of oppression.”
Green Line Intrusion (1983), Dorothy Fratt
Green Line Intrusion (1983), which comes directly from the artist’s estate, is the first time a work by Dorothy Fratt is being offered by a major auction house such as Christie’s. “This season, Fratt comes between artists such as Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler,” Lauria says. “Her work carries a more modest estimate, but she was undoubtedly an important figure of the Color Field movement, she just hasn’t yet received the recognition she deserves.”
Although she rejected labels, Fratt played a significant role in the Washington Color School and Color Field movement. In 1958, Fratt settled in Phoenix, Arizona, where she drew inspiration from the vast desert plains. While effectively distanced from the art world, Fratt offered private lessons in painting and color field theory, and continued to develop her own artistic practice as a colorist in the purist sense.
South African artist Wonder Buhle Mbambo paints his subjects on backgrounds of turquoise, green, black, salmon pink, and bright gold—what he calls “a plain, illusive space where anything is possible.” He is also known for often adorning the skin and clothing of his striking portraits with constellations of flowers that are native to his home, representing a medium with which to connect to his heritage.
Inspired by the people of KwaNgcolosi, the rural village in South Africa where he lived as a child, Mbambo’s silhouetted portraits transcend the expectation that Black artists should always tackle political, social, or racial themes. Instead, his works encompass a range of human experience, reflecting the communities that inspired them.
Colored Only (2018), Jammie Holmes
“An outstanding example of Jammie Holmes’ historical and socially charged painting practice, Colored Only is one of the first figurative paintings that the artist executed in his young career,” Lauria says.
The artwork draws inspiration from a poignant Gordon Parks photograph titled Drinking Fountains, Mobile, Alabama. “While the painting’s central figure is derived from the Parks photo, Holmes has surrounded her with written phrases and pictographs that are reminiscent of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s practice,” Lauria explains. “These phrases also act as a reminder by Holmes that the struggle for civil rights is still in progress.”
Banner image, clockwise: Alice Neel (1900-1984), Green Peppers in Bowl, circa 1928-1929; Jammie Holmes (B. 1984), Colored Only, 2018; Alice Neel (1900-1984), Circus, 1932; Dorothy Fratt (1923-2017), Green Line Intrusion, 1983; Wonder Buhle Mbambo (B. 1989), The Hearts, 2021; Titus Kaphar (B. 1976), Jerome XVII, 2014.