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    Description

    Morris Graves (American, 1910-2001)
    Instruments for a New Navigation
    Cast metal, brass, glass, crystals, mica and other applied and found objects. Incorporates a Hindu painting.
    16 inches high (40.6 cm)

    FROM THE PERSONAL COLLECTION OF THE LATE THEODORE WOLFF, RENOWNED ART CRITIC FOR THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

    Morris Graves (1910 - 2001) was an early Modernist American painter from the Pacific Northwest whose work explores the metaphysical nature of reality and spiritual consciousness. Important during his lifetime, he is currently being widely reconsidered. At time of printing, LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) is exhibiting a show on the artists work, "Morris Graves: The Nature of Things."

    Tied most closely to the fellow Seattle painter Mark Tobey, both artists held similar philosophical beliefs and preferred to work primarily with ink, watercolor or tempera on paper, rather than canvas. A 1953 article in Life magazine cemented Grave's reputation as a major figure of the newly influential 'Northwest School' of artists.

    As a Seattle teenager, with his parents blessing, Graves dropped out of high-school and joined a merchant ship bound for Japan. Forever after deeply influenced by the Japanese aesthetic, he started incorporating elements of Asian design and philosophy into his work. By the 1930's his paintings are quiet meditative canvases characterized by a personal iconography of ethereal flowers, vessels and birds.

    In his paintings, he used the muted tones of the Northwest environment yet captured quietly powerful glimpses of spiritual insight and illumination. His sculptural work has the same shamanistic quality, the distillation of a moment of enlightenment - a spiritual universe glimpsed fleetingly and captured like lightening in a milky bottle.

    Success came early to Morris Graves and in 1936 the Seattle Art Museum offered him his first solo show. Six years later, his work was included in the group show "Americans 1942: 18 Artists from 9 States" at the Museum of Modern Art. MOMA then purchased 11 pieces for their permanent collection, and other national institutions and private collectors soon followed.

    Fairly reclusive, by the 1940's the artist had built his own house he nicknamed "The Rock" on the remote and rural Fidalgo Island, an hour north of Seattle. Living alone, Morris could meditate and work without interruption.

    Morris did enjoy traveling with close friends and in the late 50's, or early 60's, Morris joined friends in Ireland at a rustic 18th century manor house outside Dublin. Troubled by the growing global anxiety over the post WWII cold war era, and fascinated with his access to the clarity of the Irish night-sky he was inspired to start a new series - Instruments for a New Navigation, a collection of bronze, glass, and stone sculptures. With these works, Graves seems to have manifested a type of talismanic navigational device to help guide mankind's uncharted journey thru the uncharted territory of the space-race era.

    Former gallerist and art dealer Penny Schmidt, who handled Graves estate thru her eponymous Schmidt-Bingham Gallery in New York City, wrote the following about the Navigation series exclusively for Heritage:

    " Originally conceived and constructed in the early 1960's, Morris Graves created Instruments for a New Navigation in response to the technological build-up that led to America's space program. It occurred to the artist that what scientists were searching for might be as distantly "interior" as the far-reaching "exterior" universe they were exploring. The instruments were made of brass, steel, marble and glass combining ancient ritual with timeless elements of the earth. In 1999, Graves began to reassemble the totems, perhaps as tools for transcendence."

    Schmidt notes that this example on offer, an untitled work, was "a gift, intimate in scale, lacking perfect symmetry. Constructed of found objects and treasures from Graves' wordly and spiritual explorations, it contemplates a co-existence of the senses, a spiral of creativity, and a maze in search of cosmic magic."

    The work on offer at Heritage was a gift by Morris Graves to his good friend and fellow artist, Theodore Wolff, the award-winning art critic for the Christian Science Monitor.

    Theodore Wolff was born in 1926 in Nicaragua, the son of missionary parents. As a child he lived in Canada and Germany before moving to Minnesota for school. After obtaining a Master's degree in both studio art and art history, he moved to San Francisco in the early 1950's and started a career as a fine artist. In 1956, he moved to New York City and during the 1960's and 70's, while he continued to paint, he worked as an art appraiser and an advisor to museums, galleries and private collectors.

    In 1977, Mr. Wolff started writing art criticism for the respected international newspaper the Christian Science Monitor and served as that paper's official staff art critic until 1990. Wolff also wrote numerous groundbreaking exhibition catalogues and articles and lectured widely at museums, universities and conferences. His writing has contributed greatly to post-War American art criticism and has influenced a generation of scholars and art historians. Wolff never stopped painting throughout his lifetime and produced an enormous catalog of works both on canvas and paper. During his long career, he wrote eloquently and with great insight about important living American artists, including his close friend the emerging artist Morris Graves.


    Condition Report*:

    In good condition, with light scratches to the plexiglass frame. Housed in a wooden crate.

    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

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    Auction Dates
    May, 2016
    17th Tuesday
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