Last week, Phillips auction house gave art lovers in Los Angeles the rare chance to see two sprawling mixed-media artworks by Mark Bradford reunited—well, almost reunited. The 32-foot-long Helter Skelter I, a 2007 piece made from numerous materials, including ones Bradford found on the streets of Los Angeles, was on view at the Broad museum downtown, and Phillips was showing the slightly longer Helter Skelter II (2007) in a former design space on Melrose in West Hollywood. The two works were made for the 2008 exhibition “Unmonumental” at the New Museum, where they stretched dramatically across a huge wall of the museum—that was the last time they appeared together. After the exhibition, Bradford separated the works, and they went to different collections.
In fact, it was from Phillips that Eli Broad, the founder of the Broad, acquired Helter Skelter I, just over a year ago, at a sale at the house’s London location, for $12 million (including fees), setting a new worldwide auction record for the Los Angeles–based artist. (It had been consigned by tennis legend John McEnroe.) Now, with the companion piece coming up for sale at Phillips in New York next month—its presence in the sale was first revealed by Josh Baer in his Baer Faxt newsletter—estimated at $8 million to $12 million, the house stands a chance to reset that record. (Phillips has a third-party guarantee on the picture, and guarantees are generally set at or just above the low estimate.)
At the time of the “Unmonumental” show, the Helter Skelter works won high praise. Thomas Micchelli wrote in the Brooklyn Rail, “[Nancy] Spero’s work, along with Mark Bradford’s Helter Skelter & Helter Skelter II (2007), can be considered not merely the finest in the show but quite possibly the best contemporary art on view anywhere in New York. Bradford’s behemoth collages, stretching across another 70-foot wall, with their silver paint over torn-up advertising posters lacerated by networks of fluid, incised lines, are as tough as the street and just as resistant to simple answers or unearned beauty.”
Phillips has the painting listed as “property from a distinguished private American collection.” It was on loan to the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, shortly after the New Museum exhibition, and several sources in the trade who are familiar with the work indicated that it is has been consigned by the Dallas-based collector Alden Pinnell, who is known to own works by Bradford. (Phillips declined to comment on the identity of the consignor.)
Both Helter Skelter I and Helter Skelter II reference the Charles Manson murders, and describe a kind of map of Los Angeles. Jean Paul Engelen, worldwide co-head of 20th century and contemporary Art at Phillips, called Helter Skelter II “a tireless masterpiece,” and one that rewards prolonged attention from viewers as they “physically move along the surface. You have to engage with it. You really have to explore it.”