In November, at its contemporary art evening sale, Sotheby’s will offer Jasper Johns’s iconic Flag. The work, done in encaustic, the application of a blend of pigment and wax to the canvas, was startlingly literal when it was first created in the mid 1950s, when Ab Ex was the preeminent style, and it helped pave the way for the Pop art movement. It’s one of Johns’s most recognizable and beloved works. The seller, an American collector, acquired this version from the artist in 1983, the year it was created, and it has remained in the same private collection ever since.
Johns’s flag paintings and prints, which he first created in 1954, are in some noteworthy collections. The Museum of Modern Art has one of the earliest versions. The Metropolitan Museum has an all-white version from 1955. The Whitney Museum has Three Flags, a version with three encaustic works layered on top of each other, from 1958. The last time one of the encaustic Flag pieces came up for auction was in 2010 at Christie’s, when a version from the 60s sold from the collection of Michael Crichton for $28.6 million, setting a record for the artist’s work at auction. Four bidders vied for the work, which sold in two minutes, according to the auction house. Sotheby’s 1983 Flag is expected to sell for $15–20 million.
Currently on view in Los Angeles, the work will travel to Hong Kong and London in October, and then to New York in time for the November 11 auction.
“Already virtually universally recognized and revered,” Anthony Grant, Sotheby’s vice chairman, Americas said in a statement, “Jasper Johns has made our flag one of the keynotes of Twentieth Century art history .”
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