The seven-time Grand Slam Champion John McEnroe is selling Helter Skelter I, a massive, energetic artwork created in 2007 by the sought-after Los Angeles artist Mark Bradford, at a Phillips auction next month in London.
The former tennis star, an avid collector drawn to large works, often by African-American artists, is parting with Helter Skelter in hopes it will eventually end up “in a place where people were able to see and study it,” McEnroe said in an interview with his friend and advisor Josh Baer, that Phillips included in a catalogue of the sale. McEnroe has collected works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kara Walker, and Robert Thompson, as well as Bradford.
The 33-foot wide artwork, which took up nearly an entire wall in McEnroe’s New York City apartment, is estimated to sell for between £6 million and £8 million (US$8.5 million and US$11.3 million), setting a new auction record for a work by Bradford, who was born in 1961. Phillips has sold two other pieces by the artist, Constitution IV, 2013, for $5.85 million in 2015, and Rat Catcher of Hamelin III, 2011, for $4.7 million in 2016.
The estimated price reflects that no work of this scale has come to auction before, and that Bradford’s reputation as an artist continues to swell. Last year, Bradford was the American artist selected to show at the U.S. pavilion at the Venice Biennial. His 400-foot Pickett’s Charge, named for the final charge at the Battle of Gettysburg, currently is being exhibited at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., through Nov. 12, 2018.
“He really is striking a chord,” says Jean-Paul Engelen, Phillips’ worldwide co-head of 20th century and contemporary art. To Engelen, Bradford’s momentum began soon after his works were exhibited in a 2001 Studio Museum exhibition in Harlem that featured 27 emerging African-American artists. Notice of his work accelerated after a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of Art in Manhattan in 2007.
That same year, Bradford created Helter Skelter I and its companion, Helter Skelter II. The enormous, abstract works were originally shown in January 2008 at the New York-based New Museum’s group exhibition Collage: The Unmonumental Picture, in January 2008, and marked a turning point in Bradford’s artistic methods toward gigantic décollages, essentially collages that are torn-apart and reveal glimpses of what’s underneath.
Bradford drew from found material from his native Los Angeles, like posters, advertisements and flyers, subsequently ripping, scraping, scratching and sawing them apart.
“Underneath there’s all these colors bursting out—like lava coming out of the earth,” Engelen says. Bradford’s unconventional methods create “so much imagery,” he adds. “No photograph does it justice, because it’s so big, you really have to have a physical experience of it.”
McEnroe tells Baer he loves the work because “every time you go up to it, you see something you hadn’t seen before and experience something a little different.”
Helter Skelter 1 evokes Los Angeles’s urban landscape, as it references Charles Manson’s vision of an “apocalyptic race war,” a moment of intense racial tension in the city. Yet even as the art reflects conflict and tension in society and politics, his methods of “peeling away, by scraping and scratching,” create a “beautiful work of art,” Engelen says. By using the material of the street, and of the society he lives within, Bradford “recreates a whole new reality.”
Helter Skelter I will be sold at Phillips evening sale of 20th century and contemporary art at 7 pm GMT, on Thursday, March 8, at 30 Berkeley Square, London.