Striking Brice Marden Portrait of Patti Smith is Phillips’ Star Lot for Spring

It's the 'punk poet laureate' as you've never seen her before.

"Horses" by Patti Smith, with cover photo by Robert Mapplethorpe.

It’s Patti Smith as you’ve never seen her before.

At its May 8 evening sale of 20th century and contemporary art, Phillips auction house is offering a Brice Marden painting with a storied history. Star (for Patti Smith) (1974), an abstract portrait of the iconic singer-songwriter, is being sold at auction for the first time, with an asking price of $5 million–7 million.

artnet News spoke with Jean-Paul Engelen, Phillips’ worldwide head of contemporary art, about the painting. He noted that Star (for Patti Smith), has been featured at many major museums including the Guggenheim, Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Marden’s portraits “which so wonderfully capture the culture of Manhattan in the 1960s and 1970s, are among his most acclaimed works,” says Engelen.

Brice Marden, <i>Star (for Patti Smith)</i> (1974). Estimate: $5 million–7 million. <br>Photo: Courtesy of Phillips

Brice Marden, Star (for Patti Smith) (1974). Estimate: $5 million–7 million.
Photo: Courtesy of Phillips

Smith got to know Marden, before her first album Horses propelled her to fame as a rock star. She was a poet and journalist in the early 1970s, who often penned critical pieces for Rolling Stone and Creem magazine. Smith had an affinity for writing on Marden’s Remington typewriter, and was a frequent visitor to his studio.

According to a release from Phillips, Marden sought to “distill the stark and direct style of Smith as the soon-to-be reigning ‘punk poet laureate.'” The painting took two years to complete, and was executed in oil and beeswax on canvas. It’s composed of three separate panels, each measuring exactly Smith’s height and shoulder width.

Marden held on to the work until the early 2000s, when he sold it to a collector through New York’s Matthew Marks Gallery. The consignor for the upcoming sale has not been identified.

There are only a handful of Marden portraits, which include Pearl (of Janis Joplin), and depictions of Otis Redding, artist Carl Andre, and Marden’s wife Helen.

The current record for a Marden painting is $10.9 million for his work The Attended (1996–99), which sold at Sotheby’s New York in November 2013 on a pre-sale estimate of $7 million–10 million. Five works by Marden have sold for over $5 million each to date, according to the artnet Price Database.

When asked how Phillips arrived at the $5 million-to-$7 million estimate, Engelen told artnet News, “In general we’ve been conservative, we didn’t think it was time to push estimates. It’s a buyers’ market.”


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