When the hammer came down on David Hockney’s 1968–69 double portrait of curator Henry Geldzahler and Geldzahler’s partner, the painter Christopher Scott, at Christie’s London earlier this month, the result (with fees) was a whopping $49.5 million, the second-highest price ever paid for a Hockney and the third-highest price ever paid at auction for work by a living artist. This week, another Hockney portrait of Geldzahler will make an appearance at Art Basel Hong Kong, and it shows the artist working in a style that is very different from that earlier work’s crystalline realism.
Throughout his career, Hockney, 81, has depicted the famed art historian, Metropolitan Museum of Art curator, and critic, who died in 1994, in multiple mediums. The seven-and-a-half-foot-tall collaged work that New York’s Acquavella Galleries is bringing to Hong Kong, Henry Reading (1985), shows Hockney working in an electrically colorful Cubist mode; it’s priced at approximately $15 million.
Perhaps best known as the Met’s first curator of 20th-century art, Geldzahler was a prominent figure in the contemporary art scene and a supporter of Pop artists in New York during the 1960s and 1970s.
Hockney has said of his first meeting with the curator, which took place in Andy Warhol’s studio in 1963, “Geldzahler was an extremely cocky, controversial person. We got on instantly. Henry was 27. I was 25. He had a fantastic eye. He was always right in sighting talent, he was never wrong.”
Geldzahler once said of the artist, “David Hockney’s art has been lively from the first because he has conducted his education in public with a charming and endearing innocence. The pictures are often distinctly autobiographical, confirming Hockney’s place in the grand tradition of English eccentricity.”
On the subject of the art market, Hockney recently said, “You know what Oscar Wilde said? The only person who likes all kinds of art is an auctioneer. It’s a madness, that.”