Swann Galleries Presents Second Annual Auction of LGBTQ+ History and Culture

Liz Catalano
Published on

August Auction to Benefit NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project

Following the success of their inaugural Pride Sale in June of 2019, Swann Galleries will offer the upcoming LGBTQ+ Art, Material Culture, & History auction on August 13th, 2020. Nearly 300 lots will be presented, including key pieces from Robert Mapplethorpe, Richmond Barthé, Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz, and others. Ephemera from New York City’s 1960s downtown scene will also be available.

The auction explores multiple facets of LGBTQ+ culture, from fine art to letters, memorabilia, and vintage posters. A portion of the sale’s proceeds will benefit the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, which documents and preserves the history of the LGBTQ+ community in New York.

“The spirit of the sale is much the same [as last year]. While our inaugural sale coincided with WorldPride and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, this year’s auction happens to take place in the 50th year of the first Pride march in NYC,” Swann Galleries President Nicholas D. Lowry told Auction Daily.

Oscar Wilde autographed quotation, 1882. Image from Swann Galleries.
Oscar Wilde autographed quotation, 1882. Image from Swann Galleries.

LGBTQ+ culture has historically been neglected in both discussions and sales of art. “Queer history has long remained invisible. And for good reason. We kept our lives hidden because the risks—of losing our jobs, our families, and even our homes—were too great,” said Eric Marcus, author and host of the Making Gay History podcast, in conversation with Swann Galleries last year.

The available prints and ephemera from the 19th century will cast light on some of this erased history. Among the leading lots are signed notes from Oscar Wilde, the noted Irish playwright, novelist, and poet. Offered with an estimate of USD 4,000 to $6,000 is an autographed quotation from Wilde reading, “The secret of life is / in Art.” Dated May 4th, 1882, the autograph was likely signed while he was lecturing in the United States and Canada. It was during this trip that Wilde famously said, “I have nothing to declare except my genius,” after landing in New York.

An albumen print taken by William Kurtz of American poet Walt Whitman is also available ($600 – $900). In last year’s Pride Sale, another piece of Whitman memorabilia crossed the auction block. The offered copy of Memoranda During the War, inscribed by the author to his partner Peter Doyle, set the book’s auction record at $70,000.

Andy Warhol. Pair of portraits of Gilbert & George. 1975. Image from Swann Galleries.
Andy Warhol. Pair of portraits of Gilbert & George. 1975. Image from Swann Galleries.

With the 20th century came the gay liberation movement, Stonewall riots, and gradual affirmation of civil rights for LGBTQ+ individuals. Featured lots from this period include a pair of Andy Warhol portraits capturing the British conceptual and performance artist duo Gilbert & George ($10,000 – $15,000). Warhol’s photos were taken in 1975 when the couple was entering their mature period. Other key items include photos of Warhol’s assistant, Mike Walsh, as well as stills from Flesh, the artist’s experimental 1968 film.

The sale will present Surrealist paintings and illustrations from Czech artist Toyen, who often explored gender identity and sexuality in their work. One 1933 watercolor and pen piece carries an estimate of $5,000 to $7,500. Photographs of James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Terrence McNally, Gertrude Stein, and other prominent writers also stand out.

David Wojnarowicz and Paul Marcus. Maquette for the installation Lazaretto, 1990. Image from Swann Galleries.
David Wojnarowicz and Paul Marcus. Maquette for the installation Lazaretto, 1990. Image from Swann Galleries.

Swann Galleries’ 2019 Pride Sale enjoyed a 75% sell-through rate and a total of $950,833. An auction record was set for eminent American photographer Peter Hujar with a portrait of his partner, David Wojnarowicz. Realizing a hammer price of $106,250, this work finished well above its pre-sale estimate of $15,000 to $25,000.

“It was deeply satisfying to bear witness and see these two giants of the LGBTQ+ and photographic communities generously recognized,” said Daile Kaplan, Swann Galleries’ former Vice President, about the result.

In the upcoming auction, several pieces by or relating to Hujar will once again be available. Leading them is Hujar’s portrait of Ethyl Eichelberger, an award-winning drag performer and playwright ($10,000 – $15,000). Offered with the same estimate is a scale model created for David Wojnarowicz and Paul Marcus’ Lazaretto installation. Conceptualized after Hujar’s death of AIDS-related complications, the work sought to explore the gravity and devastation of the AIDS crisis. Stories of injustice and pain were plastered on the walls of the finished installation. It included rooms with black plastic body bags, empty pill bottles, and unrelenting critiques of the politicians who neglected the LGBTQ+ community. Wojnarowicz completed the work while his body weakened from the disease.

“If I die of AIDS ― forget burial ― just drop my body on the steps of the FDA,” Wojnarowicz famously wrote on a denim jacket during a 1988 protest. The artist’s legacy of political engagement is honored in the upcoming event, as is the diverse history and culture of the LGBTQ+ community.

David Wojnarowicz at an AIDS demonstration in 1988. Image from The Guardian.
David Wojnarowicz at an AIDS demonstration in 1988. Image from The Guardian.

“While Swann’s sale of LGBTQ+ Art, Material Culture & History is only in its second offering, Swann has a deep history of offering specialized auctions. These sales provide a way to codify history and allow for a more complex story to emerge than ones seen in generalized sales,” Lowry said. “New categories speak to a growing number of people who are looking for a connection to something they are passionate about, a dissatisfaction with the past and an attraction to the new and noteworthy.”

Held remotely, interested bidders can participate in this auction live online with the Swann Galleries app or via limited phone bidding. The auction will start at 12:00 PM EDT on August 13th, 2020. Visit Swann Galleries to explore the complete listings and for more information.