Material Culture is pleased to announce that it will be bringing to market the Bob Brand and Liz Werthan Collection, a compilation of such richness, breadth and diversity that only an entire weekend of sales can begin to do it service. The first part of the auction, on April 30th, will showcase over 400 lots of the Brand-Werthan’s fine art and works on paper, which includes an exceptional collection of prints, with particular emphasis on African-American printmakers and other important 20th century artists in the medium. On May 1st, antiquities, folk, and ethnographic arts in the Brand and Werthan Collection will be offered, including an outstanding collection of Mexican folk art. Both auctions, on Saturday, April 30th, and Sunday, May 1st, begins at 10 am est.
The weekend before the auction, Material Culture will host two gallery talks pertaining to the collection. Julia Zagar, Isaiah Zagar and Bob Brand will discuss the “Art of the Mexican Mask” on Saturday, April 23rd at 2 PM, and on Sunday, April 24th at 2 PM, Bob Brand will speak on the printing press’s pivotal role in shaping the intellect and art of human society, in “The Printing Press, the 15th Century’s Twitter, Instagram and Wikipedia.” The gallery talks will kick off a week-long exhibition of the treasures in the Brand-Werthan Collection in Material Culture’s dedicated gallery space, open from 11 AM to 5 PM, April 23-29. Both the exhibition and the gallery talks are free and open to the public.
Bob Brand and Liz Werthan have spent their lives—before they met, and together–working for the good of others in their local communities, nationally, and in other parts of the world. Bob is originally from New York and Liz from Nashville, but the two met in Philadelphia, which has been their home for decades. Bob’s professional work in Philadelphia has largely been related to health programs in the city. He is also the founder, and former CEO, of Solutions for Progress and The Benefit Bank Online Service, which has, to date, secured nearly $2 billion of support for people living in poverty. Equally important in Brand’s life has been his lifelong activism in matters of civil rights, voting rights, anti-war, anti-poverty and economic equality movements regionally, nationally and internationally, with involvement in an incredibly lengthy list of particular causes and community organizations. For her part, Liz spent two years as a young woman teaching girls in Gulu, Uganda and travelling in East Africa with a friend who ran the Flying Doctor Service. Since moving to Philadelphia, she has had a long career in social work in a variety of settings including general, pediatric and psychiatric hospitals, women’s agencies, and research in clinical, intake and management roles, and has volunteered in leadership positions for many non-profit organizations, including CHOICE, Women’s Way, Women’s Law Project, the ACLU, and many others.
Brand’s interest in collecting might be said to stem from his activism, beginning with posters he would carry home from demonstrations. His artistic impulse, too, may have a similar origin, since, as a young man, he developed a passion for photography as a means of capturing the events of the politically-charged 1960s. In 1966, a 20 year-old Brand participated in James Meredith’s March for equal voting rights, and published a portfolio entitled “It Has Always Been About Voting” with the many photographs he took during the event in Mississippi. Clearly, the fusion of art and activism has been particularly compelling to Brand, whose collection shows that he is drawn to the prints of socially-engaged artists. Werthan recalls family trips to England, Italy, France and Switzerland in her youth as being particularly formative in her exposure to and enjoyment of art. The full collection, which includes Roman, Greek, Near Eastern and Pre Columbian antiquities, folk sculpture from the United States and Mexico, and a trove of Mexican ceremonial dance masks, is a testament to this power couple’s breadth of art appreciation.
Prints from the collection of Brand and Werthan have been loaned for exhibition to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the High Museum of Atlanta, and others, and there are many museum-quality pieces made available in this sale. The collection boasts a particularly strong showing of prints by African-American artists, arguably led by 15 lots of the work of Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000). One of the best-known African-American artists of the 20th century, Lawrence first gained notice for his series of paintings of Toussaint L’Ouverture, which were exhibited in the Baltimore Museum of Art. On this theme, this auction makes available a screenprint in colors entitled “The Birth of Toussaint L’Ouverture, May 20, 1743,” a work of original tempera on paper, dating to 1986. Eight of Lawrence’s pieces in the auction are screenprints of the eight paintings in his “Hiroshima Series,” a sequence commissioned by Sidney Shiff of the Limited Editions Club, who invited the artist to illustrate any book he chose. Lawrence’s selection of John Hersey’s 1946 book “Hiroshima” led the artist to create a haunting, powerful set of images, and these 1983 screenprints come from a limited edition of 35.
Sculptor and printmaker Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012) has nine pieces in the sale: six linocuts, two color lithographs, and one artist book with original lithographs. Catlett’s work often focused on the female African American experience in particular, both in its consideration of specific historical heroes—as with her linocut portraits at auction of Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth—and its treatment of contemporary, African-American ‘everywomen,’ seen in this sale in “Gossip,” “I am the Black Woman,” and others. Another artist whose work explores race and gender with equal vigor is Emma Amos (b.1938). Her works at auction display both her tendency towards figurative subjects, particularly women, and her incorporation of collaged fabric, expressionistic color and batik-style framing. Her compelling print “Identity,” a portrait with an expressionism that is a tapestry of meaning, may be her most thematically characteristic, but the monoprint “Black Leopard Freize” is equally captivating. Near-contemporary Camille Billops (b. 1933), perhaps best known as a documentary filmmaker but also esteemed for her work in sculpture and printmaking, has two offset lithographs and three intaglio prints at auction. The prismatically-colored print, “The KKK Boutique” is a reference to her film The KKK Boutique Ain’t Just Rednecks, a satiric look at the origins and continuing battle of racism.
The majority of Willie Cole’s (b. 1955) works at auction draw in one way or another on his recurrent exploration of an iron as a motif. Drawn to the iron for the fiery ‘spirit of the object,’ Cole’s use of its pattern, scorched onto a variety of media, as a reference to his African heritage. This can clearly be seen in his “Men of Iron,” in which nearly nude, black men are seen with a set of tribal-like markings in the pattern of an iron’s imprint. Cole has created explicitly stated parallels between masks and irons in other works, and a series of irons photographed from above, accounting for five of his pieces in the sale, are likely intended to remind the viewer of African masks. Sam Gilliam (b. 1933), largely known as a color field painter, has two of his bright, lyrically abstract pieces in the sale: a collaged lithograph called “Pretty Boxes” and a relief print with pulp paper collage entitled “Two.”
Attracted as Brand has been to socially-conscious artists, the auction also features some notable artworks depicting African-American life by American artists who are of a different ethnic heritage. Eight prints by Romare Bearden (1911-1988) show a range of the artist’s subject matter and style. “Introduction for a Blues Queen” and “Conversation” depict scenes of contemporary African-American life, while the pieces from his “Prevalence of Ritual” series illustrate scenes from the Bible or Homer, typically painting his heroes with dark complexions. Robert Gwathmey (1903-1988), a painter whose ‘social realist’ work focused on the working class and the poor, painted African-Americans and European-Americans equally; his single print at auction, “Portrait of a Farmer’s Wife,” depicts an African-American woman in a printed dress against an ochre background.
Prints by some of the most famous American artists of the 20th century also provide highlights. Three pieces by Alexander Calder (1898-1976) are led by the 1961 etching “Ease Jostre/Harvest;” both this etching and the lithograph “Criminal au Miller” come from an edition of 90. Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) is seen at auction in 10 prints; the printmaking methods vary, but most are constructed with a foundation of photo or newsprint collage. Perhaps most significant of Rauschenberg’s works is “Opal Gospel,” a complete set of mixed-media color silkscreens on movable plexiglass panels, fitted into a lucite base. Published in 1971 by Racolin Press Inc. of New York, the piece is numbered 93/230, and all 10 plexiglass silkscreens and the cover are hand-engraved by the artist with his signature and the date. Also notable, particularly in the context of the Brand-Werthan collection, is Rauschenberg’s offset lithograph poster for World Artists Against Apartheid. The project, discussed in fuller detail below, also brings to auction a lithograph by Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), entitled “Against Apartheid.” Frank Stella (b. 1936) is represented by “The Affadavit,” a 1993 print that employs lithograph, etching, aquatint and screenprint and is numbered 8/38. Eight pieces by Elaine de Kooning (1918-1989) consist of the entirety of her “Torchlight Cave Drawings” series of aquatints, numbered I through VIII of VIII, from an extremely limited edition of 25.
An abundance of prints by Rockwell Kent (1882-1971), known now as an artist and author but equally committed to political activism in his time, display some of the delicate gradations in his style. Bookmaking, in all of its facets, may be Kent’s most enduring legacy, and eleven of the twenty prints in the auction are illustrations from his 1925 edition of “The Memoirs of Cassanova.” Several wood engravings, such as the 1931 “God Speed” and “Fair Wind” and 1933 “Reader” travel further into stylized art deco, while his 1951 “Merry Christmas” shades away from it. Ben Shahn (Lithuanian-American, 1898-1969) is also well-represented at auction in twelve lots of prints and posters. Shahn’s leftist political views are evident in much of his artwork, as with his 1958 screenprint “The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti,” a tribute to the executed Italian anarchists that he would also include in his famous Jersey Homestead mural a decade later. Shahn became truly well-known for his portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King that appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1965, and one of the prints of this wood engraving appears at auction, along with other political portraits. Eight prints by Red Grooms (b. 1937) are chiefly from his “19th Century Artists Series,” characteristically whimsical takes on artists such as Baudelaire, Rodin and Courbet, seen flirting with scantily-clad artists’ models. All prints from this series at auction are numbered 19 of 40.
Leonard Baskin (1922-2000) also has a very strong showing in the sale, with a total of 28 lots. This abundance allows for a diversity of Baskin’s subject matter, from figural compositions of Biblical and Greek characters, to series of irises. Many depict Native American chiefs and heroes, along with other portraits of Malcolm X, Thomas Eakins, Camille Corot and the artist himself. Chris Burden’s (1945-2015) well-known print “The Atomic Alphabet,” a commentary on the normalization of military technology and horrific acts during the Cold War and Vietnam War, is on offer. Numbered 7 of only 20 prints, many of which are in museum collections, the 1980 print employs photoetching, soft ground etching and watercolor. Burden, also a performance artist, accompanied this piece with theatrical readings of it, recordings of which are readily available. John Baldessari (b. 1931) is shown at auction in an untitled lithograph in colors known as “Man with Snake” or simply “With Snake.” Dating to 1991, this print is an example of his work with found photographs; Baldessari creates a new narrative by place a large blue dot over the man’s face, the focus point of the yellow-green snake. Husband-and-wife collaborators Leon Golub (1922-2004) and Nancy Spero (1926-2009) are both represented, with four prints by Golub and two by Spero, as well as one piece, “They Will Torture You, My Friend,” to which both artist-activists contributed.
Significant European artists of the 20th century also make appearances in the auction’s wealth of prints. Some, such as Kathe Kollwitz (German, 1867-1945) include significant artistic activity in the late 19th century, as well. Kollwitz, who preferred printmaking over her other artistic media, has a total of six etchings and lithographs in the sale, both wartime and peaceful scenes in her evocative grayscale. Another German artist, John Heartfield (1891-1968), was often hailed as a pioneer of both photomontage as an artistic medium, and his use of art as a political tool. Heartfield, who was born Helmut Herzfeld but anglicized his name in protest to his country’s nationalist politics, may be best known for his anti-fascist and anti-Nazi artwork, seen at auction in his photomontage “Adolf, der ubermensch: Schluckt Gold und redet,” “Der Friedfertige Raubfisch,” and others. Dutch painter, sculptor and poet Christiaan Karel Appel (1921-2006) appears at auction in two of his boldly-colored, abstracted lithographs, both dating to 1969, “Face,” and “Two Heads.”
Two prominent postwar British artists in the sale, David Hockney and Frank Bowling, happened to graduate from London’s Royal College of Art in the same year. Hockney (b. 1937), an openly-gay artist influential in Britain’s pop art movement, is represented by an untitled lithograph of a female nude. Bowling (b. 1936), who was born in Guyana, contributes an intaglio print entitled “Mother Approaching Sixty;” unlike the color field and abstract expressionist paintings for which he is best known, this print is photographic in nature. Another European artist of South-American heritage is Marisol Escobar (b. 1930), also known simply as ‘Marisol.’ Born in Paris to Venezuelan parents, Marisol’s primary medium is sculpture, and her piece at auction “Self-portrait with Hair,” bridges wall and sculptural art by attaching three-dimensional hair to castpaper.
The auction also features a significant number of lithographs and posters created by activist groups from around the world, in support of a variety of civil rights causes. Many are from the 1960s, as with the 15 lithographs created by the Atelier Populaire, a Parisian group of Marxist artists who produced silkscreened posters during the wildcat strikes and political protests of 1968. Their subject matter ranged from freedom of the press to the rights of immigrant workers to colonialism, and the styles of the posters also vary—though designed by different artists, all are credited merely as a work of the collective, not the individual. Meanwhile, a complete set of 15 prints from Artistes Du Monde Contre L’apartheid, or Artists of the World Against Apartheid, employs attribution as part of its political statement. French artist Ernest Pignon-Ernest and Spanish painter Antonio Saura began the project in 1981, the ambition being to donate works by artists from around the world to the first democratic, non-racial government in South Africa. By getting works from famous artists like Roy Lichtenstein and Bob Rauschenberg—whose prints, along with others, are in the auction—the value of the project’s political impact would increase. All prints in this important set are numbered 9/100, and date to 1983.
DAY 2: Antiquities, Folk and Ethnographic Arts
Though the art and artifacts in the sale span the globe in origin, Mexican folk art arguably has the strongest showing, in quantity, diversity and excellence. The more than 200 lots in this category are led by several sculptures from Pedro Linares (1906-1992), the legendary creator of the art form known as “Alebrijes.” These fantastical creatures, finely detailed and exuberantly colored, came to Linares in a dream he had while ill, and they were all shouting the word “alebrijes”—hence, the name for these surreal animal creations. Linares began his career as a maker of papier-mache sculptures, called cartoneria, for Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and many other artists from the Academia de San Carlos, and several large-scale cartoneria sculptures of his are featured in the sale. Nearly life-size at 56 inches tall, “The Old Revolutionaries” is a pair of statues, male and female; though there are many Linares pieces in the sale in which the human characters are skeletons in the popular Day of the Dead style, or ‘calacas,’ there is a particular tone in the depiction of this old couple, he in his old military uniform, she in her bright smock. The magnificent “Capitalist Walking His Dog,” with his fat stogie, top hat and skeletal pooch, also carries resonance, though with different commentary, and one can speculate on a political point made in the Day of the Dead style “Newsboy.”
The legacy of Pedro Linares also bears significant showing in the auction. Linares’ three sons and three of his grandsons have devoted themselves to the art of cartoneria, and can be seen in the sale in three papier mache skulls by Felipe Linares (b. 1936) and a 90-inch tall Diablo/Judas figure, an important tradition in this art form and type of cartoneria with which Pedro began his career. Antonio Joel Garcia (b. 1955), though not a blood relation of Pedro Linares, began working in Linares’s studio at the age of ten, and has become well-known as a master of Alebrijes. There are several lots that group a menagerie of vintage alebrijes, and two of these include a pair signed by Garcia, dating to the 1980s. Additionally, Garcia is shown in two of the large-scale calacas in the identical tradition of the Linares pieces in the sale, along with several smaller mixed media and papier-mache sculptures.
Mexican sculptures in other media, such as wood and clay, are also featured. Angelica Delafina Vasquez Cruz (b. 1958) is represented by a white clay sculpture of the Madonna, clustered by small praying devotees, while Oaxacan artist Demetrio Garcia Aguilar’s painted clay sculpture of a Death laughing provides a counterpoint, her skirt crawling with skeletal figures. Another Oaxacan artist, Luis Valencia, brings to auction two of his large wall sculptures, in which visionary landscapes, a blend of the spiritual and pastoral, are assembled across a contiguous group of sculpted ceramic tiles.
Collectors and enthusiasts of Mexican ceremonial masks will find an abundance to entice them, with a staggering number of masks of varying type, purpose, media and state of origin. An assortment of masks by Juan Horta Castillo (1940-2006), well-known as one of the finest makers of traditional Mexican masks in his time, include two finely-carved owl masks, several devil masks and a pleasant-faced bearded mask. Devil masks for the Christmas-time pastorelas are the most plentiful of a single type, chiefly from Michoacan, with examples from Guerrero, Queretaro, Guanajuato, Veracruz, Puebla, Hidalgo, Jalisco, and San Luis Potosi. Masks of human characters are in even greater supply for their diversity of forms, many of them captivating pieces of Mexican history and the meeting of the European and pre-Columbian people. The auction contains many Santo masks, Negrito masks, and Viejo masks, those depicting kings, pilgrims, hermits, conquistadors and Spaniards, female beauties and girls, characters such as Candelito, Chantolo, Bartolo, El Corporal, El Torito, Biblical characters such as Judas and Herod, and pieces for the Dance of the Moors and Christians, the Dance of the Dandies, the Dance of the Seven Vices, and others. A great variety of animals are also portrayed, with many tiger masks—one lot includes a full-body costume—as well as dogs, birds, boar, deer, fish, anteaters, jaguars and rabbits. A selection of fantastical zoomorphic masks comes from the Cora people in the state of Nayarit. All different styles of masks, employing different media, are represented. Unpainted primitive masks in wood include several marriage ceremony masks, while other festival masks sport additional media such as leather, hair, straw, and palm root. Some of the tiger masks at auction, called Tecuani masks, are primitive in style and made of tooled leather, while some of the Santos masks are copper, dating to the 1950s and 60s and originating in Guerrero. Other masks are made of bone, terracotta, tin, hide, cardboard and papier mache, with any number of attachments, from antlers to ribbons.
The Brand-Werthan collection also presents many antiquities from around the world, small but compelling pieces that Brand describes as reflecting “the place of myth and memory” in their diverse cultures of origin. Ancient Egyptian artifacts include several faience pieces, the oldest known type of glazed ceramic, with multiple amulets representing Bes, Harpocrates, the Wedjat eye (or “Eye of Horus”). Egyptian wooden carvings include a falcon and a canopic jar stopper, both likely Qebehsenuef, and a human figure dating to the Middle Kingdom, while items in bronze include an Osiris amulet and a bust of a deity with a ram’s head, probably Khnum.
Figures in bronze constitutes the largest category of ancient Roman antiquities, with over a dozen small statues of gods, goddesses, mythological figures, animals and a senatorial bust. Other bronze antiquities include an ancient Greek ornament of Hermes, ancient Ptolemaic and Coptic bronze figures, and many Near Eastern objects, most notably many Luristan bronzes, Caananite axes and a Mesopotamian pendant amulet. A Sumerian bowl and Apis bull are among the other Mesopotamian objects. Clay antiquities from this part of the world are highlighted in a selection of ancient Syro-Hittite protomes and figures, both human and equine, and several lots of Hellenistic protomes. Also worth note is a group of Herodian and Talmudic Jewish oil lamps and a rare First Temple Period Israelite fragment, found near Bethlehem.
Traveling across the ocean, antiquities from across the Americas are in no less supply, with an excellent showing in Pre-Columbian artifacts. Over 40 lots provide a diversity of object and media; durable implements such as two bronze ceremonial knives are matched with many more delicate figures, busts, and ornaments made of clay or carved shell. Clay figures, in fact, account for the largest number of Pre-Columbian artifacts in the auction, with many lots offering a group or pairing of small statues. Maskettes, gorgets, and ornaments, many of which are mounted in double-sided frames for preservation, are next in supply. Several ancient stone artifacts are attributable to the Mezcala culture of southwestern Mexico, including a stone idol with well-preserved detail, an axe pendant, and a stone amulet. Other items likely originate with the Moche and Chancay civilizations of modern-day Peru.
Ethnographic and folk art from around the world rounds out the auction. Objects from Africa are led by a set of antique currency hoes, which were traditional dowry or bride price items in Nigeria, used to show wealth and position rather than serve an agricultural purpose. Also from Nigeria are two Benin bronze leopards and three bronze Ife portrait busts. Meanwhile, a monumental baga bird sculpture of carved wood from Guinea measures 97 inches tall. There are several lots of Ashanti gold weights from the Ashanti or Asante people of Ghana, and a series of Ewe figures from Ghana or Togo, along with other pieces from Tanzania and Kenya. Asian art includes an antique Kutch headdress from Gujarat, India and two Tibetan Buddhist Tantric crowns, and pieces from Borneo and elsewhere in Indonesia. Several Oceanic artifacts consist of very early fishing lures, a carved bone amulet and a nacre-inlaid scepter.
From the United States, most notable are two of Eric Berg’s bronze animal sculptures, of a buffalo and a gorilla; a Philadelphian artist, Berg has created commissioned bronzes of realistic animals for zoos, parks, museums and universities across the country. The auction also contains a number of large animal pieces associated with circuses, amusement parks or fairgrounds, such as a folk art carved carousel horse, an elephant sculpture for circus advertisement, and a life-size figural dolphin. Other North American art, besides the Mexican art that leads the sale, includes several lots of Haitian Vodou flags, or ‘drapeau,’ and Haitian art in wood and tin.