Akiba Antiques’ Holiday Sale Will Explore Ernest Trova’s Mature Career

Liz Catalano
Published on

Akiba Antiques’ Holiday Sale, offered on December 8th, 2020, will highlight six sculptures from American artist Ernest Trova’s glory days. Bidders will find examples of his basic bronze Falling Man studies, as well as the later experimental pieces that started to dissect an icon.

Few artists have experienced a rise and fall as dramatic as Ernest Trova. While his Falling Man character burst onto the fine art scene in the early 1960s, Trova would eventually learn the dangers of a quick rise to fame. He weathered early criticism, mid-career accusations of commercialization, and exploitative business deals later on. By the end of his life, however, he was still recognized as a key figure in 20th-century American art.

Ernest Trova, Study Man Profile, 1987. Image from Akiba Antiques.
Ernest Trova, Study Man Profile, 1987. Image from Akiba Antiques.

The Falling Man figure held a mirror up to a pessimistic America, and America loved it. Trova imagined the slumped, potbellied figure as “modern humanity at its most fallible… a ubiquitous icon of post-industrial distopia [sic].” Sometimes the figure would be shown in motion, like the 1986 polished bronze example available in the upcoming auction (USD 8,000 – $15,000). By the 1980s, Trova also started placing the Falling Man in various settings to explore context and space. A 1987 piece shows the figure taking in a sculpture of its own, staring listlessly at geometric sheets of metal ($1,500 – $3,000).

Ernest Trova, Study Man, 1986. Image from Akiba Antiques.
Ernest Trova, Study Man, 1986. Image from Akiba Antiques.

Critiques soon followed the artist’s success. After decades of sleek Falling Man figures parading out of Trova’s studio, labels such as “cheap” and “fatigued” were slapped on his work. Trova maintained that his sculptures were intended to be endless variations on a single theme. “Trova invented this great symbol of human fallibility through processing and reprocessing the image…” one of the artist’s admirers said. “Seriality is as essential to his work as it was to Warhol’s.”

One of Trova’s most recognizable serial works is Walking Jackman, which places six Falling Man figures on the sides of a cube. When the piece debuted in the late 1980s, William Zimmer of The New York Times likened it to a child’s game of jacks. Akiba Antiques will bring a miniature version of Walking Jackman to auction this December with an estimate of $3,000 to $8,000. Life-size editions are now on college campuses, in public parks, and outside corporate buildings.

Ernest Trova, Walking Jackman, 1986. Image from Akiba Antiques.
Ernest Trova, Walking Jackman, 1986. Image from Akiba Antiques.

“‘Falling Man’ was to Ernie as Mickey was to Disney, a standard character he could amend for his own purposes, but that would still retain its essence,” Matthew Strauss of White Flag Projects said about Trova’s signature work. Yet after the 1980s, Trova’s popularity began to fade. He found himself in the clutches of a mismanaged gallery and struggled to regain a market presence after getting away. 

Despite cries about Trova’s commercialization, his sculptures are still significant in the art world. The six works available in this early December auction represent an artist at the height of his powers, confident in his style yet still willing to try new things.

Ernest Trova. Image from Jeannette Cooperman for St. Louis Magazine.
Ernest Trova. Image from Jeannette Cooperman for St. Louis Magazine.

Sculpture and figurine collectors will find other artists represented in the auction catalog as well. A pair of Erté bronzes depicting women in flowing blue dresses is offered alongside a mime sculpture by figurative artist Richard MacDonald (both $1,500 – $3,000).

Akiba Antiques’ Holiday Sale, which will offer over 850 lots, also includes a range of furniture, decorative art, antique jewelry, and porcelain. The live sale will start at 11:00 AM EST on December 8th, 2020. Visit LiveAuctioneers for more information and find continued coverage on Auction Daily.