The Bound and the Unbound

Artwork Spotlight

October 2020

“Unauthorized Alteration of Francis’s Multi-panel Painting, The Bound and the Unbound

Sam Francis, The Bound and the Unbound, 1984, five-panel, two-sided, folding screen, acrylic on gessoed hollow-core wooden panels, hinged together; overall 244 x 610 cm (96 1/8 x 240 5/16 in.), view after completion in the Broadway, Santa Monica studio. Undisclosed collection; formerly Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo.

Recently it has been called to the attention of the Sam Francis Foundation (SFF) that several panels of the dual-sided, five-panel, ten-image artwork known as The Bound and the Unbound, have been separated from the whole composition and have been marketed for sale.

The Bound and the Unbound, 1984 (Catalogue Raisonné number: SFF.961.970) is (was) the ONLY artwork Francis composed of five-wooden panels that were hinged together, much like a folding screen, and were signed as a single composition to be viewed and experienced from multiple vantage points. Each panel was painted on both sides (A and B) and numbered as part of the whole, i.e. 1 of 5 Side A Side B, 2 of 5 Side A Side B, etc. An image photographed in the artist’s Santa Monica studio provides a sense of its dramatic scale and placement in the space. Overall, this large-scale painting measured: 244 x 610 cm (96.06 inches high x 240 inches long).

Exhibition installation view, André Emmerich Gallery, New York, 1984. Photo by Brien Foy, courtesy André Emmerich Gallery records and André Emmerich papers, ca. 1954–99, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

As author and curator Richard Speer mentions and illustrates in the newest book on Francis, The Space of Effusion: Sam Francis In Japan (2020), “…Of these three-dimensionally oriented panel paintings, The Bound and the Unbound could be considered arguably the most overtly Japanese-influenced piece Francis ever made.” It’s prominence as an historically important work has been enhanced with exhibitions at the André Emmerich Gallery, New York, the Museum of Modern Art, Toyama (1988–89), the Kunst–und Ausstellungshalle, Bonn, Germany (1993), The Tokuyama City Museum of Art and History, Japan (1997) and other venues. Illustrated in numerous art publications and exhibitions catalogues, the work was part of the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Japan collection until deaccessioned in the fall of 2018 and sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong auction.

The Sam Francis Foundation (SFF) continues to document the work as a “whole” and it is important to note that the ten panels are NOT documented as stand-alone individual artworks. The current status of this unique composition is unknown; no longer extant as the artist’s original creation. Any owners of a single panel removed from SFF.961.970 could not rightfully describe the panel as the artistic creation of Francis.

It is our hope that any separated panels be reintegrated with the whole composition so The Bound and the Unbound continues to live on as the artist intended.

Sam Francis viewing the installation of The Bound and The Unbound at the exhibition opening at the Museum of Modern Art, Toyama, Japan, 1988. Photo by Brian Forrest, Santa Monica.
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