Contemporary Realism: 21st-Century Representational Art Comes to Auction With Sotheby’s

Nazia Safi
Published on

Contemporary Realism emerged in New York as a reaction to and rejection of Abstract Expressionism. It began in the 1960s and reached its height in the early 1970s. The movement advocates the natural and objective representation of life through figurative artworks. The style borrows heavily from early 19th-century Realism, which aimed to portray the ‘real’ rather than the ‘ideal.’

This July, Sotheby’s will present a selection of 21st-century Contemporary Realism paintings. The event is held in collaboration with Art Renewal Center (ARC). Sotheby’s Contemporary Realism: Important 21st Century Works event will feature pieces by the winners and the finalists of the 15th International ARC Salon Competition. Bidding will start on July 16th and run through July 26th, 2021. Learn more about the key lots before the auction begins.

Vincent Figliola, Crossing II: Border Paintings, 2018. Image from Sotheby’s.
Vincent Figliola, Crossing II: Border Paintings, 2018. Image from Sotheby’s.

Crossing II: Border Paintings, 2018 by Vincent Figliola

Contemporary realist artist Vincent Figliola uses his art to portray the human struggle. At 85 years old, Figliola spends most of his days painting. He prefers working with oil, small brushes, and graphite, similar to the Renaissance artists.

An award-winning former art director and creative advertising director, Figliola is a first-generation Italian-American. Born to immigrant parents, Figliola understood suffering at an early age. He later became known for exploring themes of immigration and other issues. The Border Paintings are among his depictions of migrant families crossing dangerous national borders.

The upcoming Contemporary Realism auction will feature Vincent Figliola’s Crossing II (lot #20, estimate: USD 160,000 – $180,000), the winner of the ‘Best-Social Commentary Runner Up’ at the 15th International ARC Salon Competition. Rendered in black, blue, brown, green, and white, the painting portrays a group of migrant families crossing an arid desert landscape.

Peter Adams, The Resurrection, 2018. Image from Sotheby’s.
Peter Adams, The Resurrection, 2018. Image from Sotheby’s.

The Resurrection, 2018 by Peter Adams

The Contemporary Realism sale will also highlight The Resurrection, a painting from contemporary American artist Peter Adams (lot #15, estimate: $80,000 – $12,000). Created in 2018, the oil painting recalls the biblical account of Christ’s resurrection. It illustrates a scene in the Gospel of John where Mary Magdalene saw the resurrected Christ at early sunrise. She, however, did not initially recognize Him. In the painting, Adams proposes the possibility that Mary Magdalene was temporarily blinded by the rising sun behind Christ’s head.

Born in 1950 in Los Angeles, Peter Adams started working as a professional painter around the 1980s. He has since received numerous accolades and awards for his art. Adams’ body of work encompasses colorful, airy, and light-toned murals, landscapes, and portraits. Since 1993, he has served as the president of the California Art Club.

Paul Trefry, Man in a Cube, 2020. Image from Sotheby’s.
Paul Trefry, Man in a Cube, 2020. Image from Sotheby’s.

Man in a Cube, 2020 by Paul Trefry

Realist sculptor Paul Trefry draws his inspiration from modern-day issues. He began his career in 1984 at Randwick TAFE. In 1987, at the age of 20, he founded Creature NFX Workshop in Sydney, Australia. He has since made hyperrealistic sculptures for film and TV industries all over the globe.

Coming to auction this July is a hyperrealistic sculpture by Paul Trefry, titled Man in a Cube (lot #5, estimate: $60,000 – $80,000). To make this hand-sculpted piece, Trefry molded the figure then cast it in silicone and painted the details. He inserted every hair strand one at a time. With Man in a Cube, Trefry captures the invisible social barrier that holds individuals back and perpetuates self-doubt. While the figure within the cube is completely visible to observers, he is vulnerable with nowhere to hide. The piece explores a persistent fear of being watched and judged by others. 

Other artists represented in the upcoming Sotheby’s Contemporary Realism event include Eddie Head, Annie Murphy Robinson, Shen Hanwu, and Ali Hammad.

Sotheby’s Contemporary Realism: Important 21st Century Works event will take place online starting at 2:00 PM EDT on July 16th, 2021. Bidding will close on July 26th, 2021. Visit Sotheby’s for more information and to register to bid. 

Looking for more upcoming sales? Check out Auction Daily’s auction previews for an at-a-glance view of events across the art industry.

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James Ardis
James Ardis
Senior Writer and Editor

James Ardis is a writer, editor, and content strategist focused on the auction industry. His company, James Ardis Writing, has partnered with auction houses, galleries, and many clients outside the art world.

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