Coinciding with the LGBTQ pride celebration in New York, Stonewall 50 / WorldPride, Sotheby’s presents a live auction titled BENT in New York on 27 June, bringing together an interdisciplinary array of works reflecting the LGBTQ experience from the 19th Century to the present day.
This year marks the celebration of Stonewall 50 / WorldPride in New York
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Stonewall Riots, a defining event in the fight for LGBTQ+ equality. In 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar located in Greenwich Village section of New York City and thus sparked a series of violent confrontations between police and gay rights activists outside the bar. Activists stormed the streets of New York demanding rights for queer folks. Their work and sacrifices changed the narrative of the movement – but more remains to be done.
Stonewall Inn, site of the 1969 Stonewall riots
Hand-painted text on the window of the Stonewall Inn reading 'We homosexuals plead with our people to please help maintain peaceful and quiet conduct on the streets of the Village -Mattachine.'
The sale offers pieces by both celebrated and lesser-known artists alike who made significant contributions to the representation of LGBTQ artists. A portion of the proceeds from the sale will be donated to The Center, providing programs for health, wellness and community connection for New York’s LGBTQ community.
Headlining the sale is Robert LaVigne’s powerful and historically important Nude with Onions (Peter Orlovsky) from 1954, estimated at US$150,000-170,000. The portrait is one of the most recognizable images of the 20th Century Gay Liberation Movement and bears witness to the romantic relationship between LaVigne, Peter Orlovsky, and famed Beat poet Allen Ginsberg.
Ginsberg visited LaVigne’s apartment after meeting the artist on the street in San Francisco. During the visit, Ginsberg came across the rendering of Orlovsky, who was living with LaVigne and working as the artist’s model at the time, and remarked: “I looked in its eyes and was shocked by love.” Ginsberg moved in with the pair and stole Orlovsky from LaVigne, causing a rift in their relationship.
Ginsberg (left) and Orlovsky (right) became symbols of the Gay Liberation movement
Ginsberg and Orlovsky became symbols of the Gay Liberation movement. Orlovsky was at Ginsberg’s side when the poet died in 1997. Although Ginsberg several times expressed the desire to own the present work, it remained in LaVigne’s possession until 2008.
Another highlight of the sale is a presentation copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, expected to fetch US$70,000-100,000. The present work is inscribed to the poet's companion, Peter Doyle. Whitman likely met Doyle in Washington, D.C. sometime in early 1865 while Doyle was a streetcar conductor. They remained friends, lovers, and correspondents for many years.
Other notable lots include a diverse group of 12 works by Andy Warhol, from delicate 1950s drawings of male figures to his powerful and brazen nudes created in the mid to late 1970s. The group is led by two prints depicting a Male Torso, each carrying an estimate of US$90,000-120,000.
Robert LaVigne (1928-2014). Nude with Onions (Peter Orlovsky)
Lot no.: 44
Executed in: 1954
Size: 149.8 x 119.8cm
- Joe Lee (acquired from the artist, 2008)
- Partial list of exhibitions:
- 1958. Robert LaVigne: An Exhibition of Selected Works. The Lion, San Francisco
- 1975. Art as a Muscular Principle. Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts
- 1994. Beat Art: Visual Works by and about the Beat Generation. New York University, 80 Washington Square Gallery, New York
- 1996. Beat Culture and the New America, 1950–1965. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
- 2002. Robert LaVigne: Paintings & Drawings. Martin-Zambito Fine Art, Seattle
Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass. New York. 1867. Presentation copy inscribed to Peter Doyle
Lot no.: 106
Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass. New York. 1867.
Lot no.: 107
Andy Warhol (1928-1987). Male Torso.
Lot no.: 64
Executed in: 1976
Size:36 x 27.9cm
Andy Warhol (1928-1987). Male Torso.
Lot no.: 65
Executed in: 1977
Size:36.8 x 27.9cm
Auction house: Sotheby’s Live Auction
Date: 27 June 2019