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Cubi xxviii

"I polished [the sculptures] in such a way that on a dull day, they take on the dull blue, or the color of the sky in the afternoon sun, the glow, golden like the rays, the colors of nature …. They are colored by the sky and surroundings, the green or blue of water.’’ David Smith in an interview with Thomas B. Hess, June 1964 David Smith embodied an independence of spirit that characterized many of the American artists who emerged at the midpoint of the 20th Century. Smith combined a refusal to choose one convention or form above another with a forceful determination to achieve a singular vision and artistic identity. The sculptor created one of the most consistently confident and individualistic bodies of work from the mid-century, establishing a new kind of sculptural invention that used innovative techniques and material to express a fusion of abstraction and figuration. Combining modern technologies and materials derived from machinery and industry, Smith conveyed volume through an innate genius for organizing negative and positive space. Smith also possessed a love for landscape and Surrealist lyricism that brought a vibrantly poetic linear element to the overt Cubist solidity of his art. The Cubi series is the culmination of Smith’s sculptural alchemy, in which welded metal becomes a composition of elegant yet weighty and volumetric presence, created around open spaces rather than carved from solid form like traditional stone or wood sculpture. Smith’s genius for balancing void and solid, form and content, crude material and poetic spirit is the hallmark of his Cubi masterpieces. Created from 1961 until his untimely death in 1965, Smith’s Cubi sculptures are a cohesive group – of which Cubi XXVIII was the last – whose sleek geometry of boxes and columns allowed Smith to experiment with real rather than implied volume, exploring all its permutations. This spectacular group of sculptures is not only the culmination of Smith’s illustrious career; they are acknowledged masterpieces of American art that constitute one of the most radical developments in modern sculpture. The importance of the Cubis is confirmed by the fact that twenty-one of the Cubis have entered museum collections, many within just a few years of the artist’s death. The linear genius of Smith’s earlier work of the 1940s and 1950s was a form of drawing in space, while literal volume was largely abandoned. With the work of the 1960s, including the Cubis, Zigs, Wagons and Circles, Smith celebrated form and mass in three-dimensional space, as he accepted the challenge of creating monumental sculptures that could inhabit the rolling vista of the hills surrounding his studio in Bolton Landing. The 1960s were a time of creative ingenuity and interplay among simultaneous series, unparalleled in Smith’s oeuvre, and the flow of ideas freely informed one series with the innovations of the other.  As the artist’s daughter, Candida Smith described his process, "Again and again he referred to his `work stream’; each work of art being as a vessel filled from the stream while never wholly separate. I understand his term to mean the flow of his identity made physically manifest – the process by which images and ideas from decades or days before inform a work in progress or yet to be made."  (Candida N. Smith, The Fields of David Smith, New York, 1999, p. 17)  This particularly fecund period was informed by the artist’s visit to Spoleto, Italy to participate in the Festival of Two Worlds in 1962. Working in five abandoned factories in Voltri, Smith made a prodigious amount of sculpture during his short stay of thirty days, incorporating found objects and scraps of metal from his surroundings into works that were displayed throughout the city. As Candida Smith recalls, "My father returned home that summer invigorated and jubilant. …It was after his return from Italy that the fields began to burgeon at an amazing rate. It was as if the creative explosion and the resulting enormous installation in Spoleto ignited a fire that did not burn out. The Voltri-Boltons were made along with the painted circle pieces, Primo Pianos, Zigs and Cubis.’’ (Ibid., p. 30-32) As a mature work in the series, Cubi XXVIII embodies the many influences of these various series of the early 1960s. The more figurative element of the earlier Sentinels is evident in the rectangular "torso’’ atop one of the columnar sides of the composition of Cubi XXVIII. The painted brushwork on the surface of the Circles is mirrored in the polished arcs and swirls that play across the stainless steel, bringing a bursting vitality to elements such as the central diamond shape of Cubi XXVIII. But it is perhaps the series of Zigs that are most closely related to the mature compositions of the Cubi series such as Cubi XXVIII. The Zigs are unequivocally three-dimensional and towering structures, consisting of strongly differentiated interplays of convex and concave planes. Smith’s similar concentration on the volumetric potentialities of the Cubis is demonstrated by the photograph taken by Dan Budnik of cardboard models Smith used to explore geometric variations and compositions. In the Zigs, the surfaces are painted, often in combinations of strongly vibrant colors such as red, yellow or blue, that accentuate a composition’s disparate parts, and at other times with a more unifying tone of brown or black as in Zig III. The overall rough, brushy strokes and the monochrome palette of Zig III is deliberately at odds with the complicated, angular structure of the sculpture, a marked difference to the Cubis in which shape and surface treatment are perfectly congruent. In creating outdoor sculptures, Smith had concerns about the durability of his materials and surface treatments, and through much experimentation with various techniques and materials, stainless steel became Smith’s preferred medium. Stainless steel is more resistant to the elements than standard steel or iron, but for many years, Smith could not afford large quantities of this more expensive material. However, increased critical acclaim and commercial success that began with a 1957 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, freed Smith to liberally utilize stainless steel, beginning with the Sentinel series (1957-1961) and ending with the Cubis (1961 to 1965).  The reflective qualities of the polished surface created an optical synthesis of the plastic form with the pictorial composition. "Smith…was enthralled by the idea of surfaces that would change as the light of day changed, and so, in a sense, they are the final development of his lifelong preoccupation with the possibilities of color in sculpture. But the burnished, light-diffusing surface of Smith’s stainless steel sculptures serve both to focus attention on those surfaces and to make them seem insubstantial. We have seen the handwriting of the burnishing before – in…the Zigs for example – but here the skin of paint, which often seemed at odds with the structure of the work, has been replaced by an optical dazzle that appears to be an inherent property of the material itself’’ (Karen Wilkin, David Smith, New York, 1984, pp. 85-86)  In Cubi XXVIII and its related works, Smith fully exploited the sheer beauty of his material. These brilliantly polished surfaces reflect light in expressionistic swirls which seem to be both within the steel as well as on it, creating a sculpture of monumental scale which appears to be filled with air and light. As each work of the 1960s was completed, Smith would carefully choose its location on the north or south field on the rolling property that ran from his house to his studio. Smith’s fields were a nascent sculpture 'farm’, a formidable display of artistic creativity proclaiming itself amidst a landscape of age-worn mountains, open sky and tree-filled vistas. As his friend and fellow artist, Robert Motherwell commented, "When I saw that David places his work against the mountains and sky, the impulse was plain, an ineffable desire to see his humanness, related to exterior reality, to nature at least if not man, for the marvel of the felt scale that exists between a true work and the immovable world, the relation that makes both human.’’ (Robert Motherwell, Art in America, January-February 1966, p. 37)  Cubi XXVIII was centrally placed in the south field, at a right angle that allowed the viewer to look through its portal shape from both the deck of the house and the deck of the studio, almost as a window from one view to the other. Cubi XXVIII was one of three sculptures in this series which Smith loosely referred to as "gates’’ or "arches’’, with Cubi XXIV and Cubi XXVII being the other two. Zig III is cited as a precedent for these three works with its post and lintel framework and somewhat open center. Horizontals top strong verticals in the three "gate’’ Cubis and this structure emphasizes the architectonic essence of Smith’s work and increases the monumentality of their presence. Cylinders and the canted central square invigorate the post and lintel framework of Cubi XXVIII, calling to mind Candida Smith’s comment on the "arches’’ and "gates’’.  While any literal referencing to Smith’s subject matter can be problematic or too simplistic, there is a poetic resonance to this composition as a final legacy for David Smith’s oeuvre. As Candida Smith wrote, "The Cubi 'gates’ are open portals designating a picture plane of imbued space waiting for us to enter and be transformed’’ (Ibid., p. 25) CUBI SERIES BY DAVID SMITH Cubi I Detroit Institute of Art Acquired in 1966 from the estate of the artist Cubi II Collection of Candida and Rebecca Smith Cubi III Mrs. Beatrice Gersh, Beverly Hills Partial and promised donation to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles Cubi IV Milwaukee Art Museum Acquired in 1977, gift of Mrs. Harry Lynne Bradley Cubi V Private Collection Cubi VI Israel Museum, Jerusalem Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Meshulam Riklis (Judith Stevn-Riklis) to American Friends of the Israel Museum Cubi VII Art Institute of Chicago Acquired in 1964 from the estate of the artist Cubi VIII The Meadows Museum, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas Acquired in 1969 from the estate of the artist Cubi IX Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Acquired in 1968 from the estate of the artist Cubi X Museum of Modern Art, New York Acquired in 1968 from the estate of the artist Cubi XI Private Collection Cubi XII Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C. Acquired in 1968 from the estate of the artist Cubi XIII Princeton University, New Jersey Acquired in 1969 from the estate of the artist Cubi XIV St. Louis Art Museum, Missouri Acquired in 1979 from Philip M. Stern, Washington, D. C. Cubi XV San Diego Museum, California Acquired in 1968 from the estate of the artist Cubi XVI Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo Acquired in 1968 from the estate of the artist Cubi XVII Museum of Fine Art, Dallas Acquired in 1965 from the estate of the artist Cubi XVIII Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Acquired in 1968 from the estate of the artist Cubi XIX The Tate Gallery, London Acquired in 1966 from the estate of the artist Cubi XX Wight Art Gallery of the University of California, Los Angeles Acquired in 1967, gift of Mrs. Donald Bright Capen Cubi XXI Lipman Family Foundation Cubi XXII Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven Acquired in 1968 from the estate of the artist Cubi XXIII Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles Acquired in 1967 from the estate of the artist Cubi XXIV Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Acquired in 1967 from the estate of the artist Cubi XXV Jane Lang Davis, Medina, Washington Cubi XXVI National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C. Acquired in 1978, gift of Mr. Philip M. Stern, Washington, D. C. Cubi XXVII Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Acquired in 1967 from the estate of the artist Cubi XXVIII the present work Signed, titled, dated 5-5-1965 and inscribed gate 3

  • USAUSA
  • 2005-11-09
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Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta

Monumental in narrative scope and expressive scale, Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta thunderously embodies the structural tenets of the academic genre of History Painting articulated through Jean-Michel Basquiat’s iconic vernacular. A certifiably unrivalled tour-de-force of Basquiat’s output, the present work was included in many of the artist’s most important travelling retrospectives, including at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1992-93, the Serpentine Gallery in London in 1996, and the Brooklyn Museum in 2005-6. The painting extends majestically across a frieze of five panels, emulating classical ideals of pictorial storytelling akin to the architectural organization of the Elgin marbles or a Renaissance altarpiece, while its luscious painterly surface evokes the impassioned gestural brushwork of Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning. Beyond the complexity of its unnerving formal harmony lies a multivalent chronicle of African-American history, archetypal of Basquiat’s exploration into the psychology of the collective diaspora. Just as the most significant History Paintings depicted rapt moments of intense unrest, Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta records the historical struggles permeating Basquiat’s African-American roots, communicated through the particular lens of his own biography. Drawing from an encyclopedic breadth of iconographic inspirations such as literature, music, science and anatomy, the present work possesses an intricate multiplicity that instantly arrests but rewards persistent re-evaluation. Belonging to a very small number of intensely compelling multi-paneled paintings executed in 1983—the year of Basquiat’s twenty-third birthday—Undiscovered  Genius of the Mississippi Delta distinguishes itself for its unabashed ambition. The work is constructed from five separate panels of canvas pulled over protruding, exposed wooden stretcher beams. Both the leftmost panel and the center panel are fastened to their adjoining canvases by naked unpainted door-hinges bolted to the top and bottom edges of their stretchers. While the entire painting possesses a magnificent pictorial cohesion, each of the five canvases retains a singular resonance characteristic of Basquiat’s most breathtaking compositions. The present work is a consummate example of many of the most important themes and subjects that were of primary concern to Basquiat throughout his career. Racial histories figure into the equation most prominently through Basquiat’s citation of Mark Twain, the eminent American author whose Adventures of Huckleberry Finn follows the young Huck as he travels along the Mississippi River. Written twenty years after the abolishment of slavery, the novel was set decades earlier in order to expose the climate of moral confusion surrounding the racial injustices of the time. Twain’s groundbreaking novel is considered a scathing satire of the attitude toward racism; his controversial writing in the dialect of the period, a patois littered with slurs, is evocative of Basquiat’s characteristic adoption of a primitive iconographic lexicon of scrawled letters and elementary forms in order to fully embody the subject that he probes. As is emblematic of Basquiat’s most multifaceted paintings, text saturates every surface of the canvas, but here it uniquely adopts a syncopated rhythm in the cadence of its repetition. The title of the work when spoken out loud irrefutably pulses to the ticking of a metronome, while the words “Mississippi,” “Mark Twain,” and “Negroes,” each repeated row after row, induce the sonic beating of a drum. As Francesco Pellizzi observed, “His use of words, however, belongs more to the oral traditions of Afro-American cultures—the ecstatic invocations of Voodoo worshipers; the inflamed and inflaming spiritual rhetoric of Baptist preachers with their rousing, recurring, rhythmic juxtapositions of ethical, cosmological, and practical tenets; and, of course, now, black rap…” (Francesco Pellizzi in Exh. Cat., New York, Vrej Baghoomian Inc., Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1989, p. 16) The auditory quality of Basquiat’s painting catapults the work deeper within the fabric of the African-American narrative, aligning it within spoken histories passed down from generation to generation, while uniquely blending in a rhythmic quality reminiscent of the music that figures significantly into many of Basquiat’s paintings. Basquiat, after all, was a musician and a DJ, and incorporated his reverence for certain jazz heroes such as Charlie Parker and Miles Davis into his pictorial lexicon. Rousing connotations of self-portraiture are inherent in the very title of the painting, suggesting Basquiat’s recognition of his own rising fame coincident with his ancestral roots. Whether or not his lineage is traceable back to the antebellum South, it is a fundamental component of Basquiat’s cognitive construction of the self that he has risen up from the shackles of slavery to find liberation in the canvas. The artist utilized the mechanism of repetition to empty words of their meaning, seemingly beating the words “Mississippi” and “Negroes” over and over again until he overpowered their painful resonance; we can see here a potent visualization of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of the “death drive,” a compulsion to repeat traumas until their inordinate repetition discharges them of all psychic energy and renders them overcome. In striving to paint such a magnanimous portrait of slavery in the deep American South—memories that haunt the collective black consciousness—Basquiat passionately hammers out the history in paint until it is abandoned of authority and can no longer be a traumatic force upon him. Basquiat’s most powerful images present young black heroic figures that assert their strength, independence and liberation, exploring what it means to be black in modern-day America; here, he notably seems to posit himself within the narrative of the canvas. At the uppermost left, “Fig 23” is boxed in next to a portrait of a head resembling Basquiat. Having just turned 23, Basquiat appears to announce himself at the prologue of the painting, positioned just above the title. Merely a “Fig,” the artist conceives himself as statistic—a symbol within a greater trajectory of history. In the center panel, a graphically striking anatomical deconstruction of a head dismantled into its constituent parts, peers through a viewfinder toward the rest of the panels—a hovering presence that suggestively locates the entire image’s narrative as seen through his perspective. Moreover, Basquiat visually juxtaposed the two black human heads with a cow’s head, a rat, and two udders, graphically equating man with animal meat through anatomical associations. Basquiat’s fascination with anatomical drawing originated in his childhood, when after being hit by a car at the age of seven, he spent a month recovering in hospital. His mother gave him a copy of Grays Anatomy, an anecdotal genesis that informs Basquiat’s most ravishing, diagrammatically incisive pictures. While Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta tempts its viewers to uncover a precise linear narrative, Basquiat’s all-over complexity renders this endeavor futile. The panels cannot be read in a direct progression from left to right, but rather, they merge in a barrage of rich pictorial data that together cohere as one. As Marc Mayer wrote of the enigmatic iconography of Basquiat’s pictures, “Basquiat speaks articulately while dodging the full impact of clarity like a matador. We can read his pictures without strenuous effort—the words, the images, the colors, and the construction—but we cannot quite fathom the point that they belabor… To enjoy them, we are not meant to analyze these pictures too carefully. Quantifying the encyclopedic breadth of his research certainly results in an interesting inventory, but the sum cannot adequately explain his pictures, which requires an effort outside the purview of iconography… This elaboration of the work’s indeterminacy—and not the uncooked technique that came to him without a struggle—is Basquiat’s equivalent of Picasso’s and Matisse’s studied ‘primitivism,’ and at which he worked just as hard, given its thorough consistency. That is, he painted a calculated incoherence, calibrating the mystery of what such apparently meaning-laden pictures might ultimately mean.” (Marc Mayer, “Basquiat in History,” in Exh. Cat., New York, Brooklyn Museum (and travelling), Jean-Michel Basquiat, 2005, p. 50) Chief among Basquiat’s influences were the Abstract Expressionists, whose illustrious spell is discernible in the thick swaths of radiant yellows, blues, whites and browns swooping vigorously across the panels of the present work. Basquiat built up the surface in multiple layers of pigment, visible in the variegated colors and scratched out textual inscriptions that peek through vast overlying swaths of paint. Possessing a sophisticated knowledge of art history, Basquiat infused his painting with a defined instinctual understanding of the language of abstraction. Forceful painterly strokes are deployed with an assured command. The artist’s brute force of application, and corresponding layering of paint and line through brush, collage and oil stick, confers a remarkably paroxysmal yet deliberate compositional clarity amidst a terrain of exuberant formalism. There is no spatial recession or perspectival logic to the composition. Rather, imbued with the frantic exertion and the poured, dripping aesthetic of Jackson Pollock; the exuberant colorism and dramatic painterly gesture of Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline; combined with the integration of text and blackboard-like surfaces of Cy Twombly, Basquiat’s grasp and deployment of twentieth-century American art history reverberates through the painting. Born to Puerto Rican and Haitian parents, and raised in Brooklyn, Basquiat drew from his manifold ancestral background and racial identity to forge a body of work acutely conscious of his contribution to the meta-narrative of an almost exclusively white Western art history. Basquiat aligned himself stylistically with Picasso, whose Guernica is a History Painting of the highest order and for whom primitivism was an antidote to the conservatism of the academies. Basquiat found in primitivism a correlative mode for expressing an overtly contemporary angst tied to his own black identity, embodying his projected “blackness” while subverting these very identity constructions by emulating Western conventions of painting. Kellie Jones wrote, “…there is no question that Jean-Michel Basquiat, though he sometimes chose to obscure the fact, knew how to ‘paint Western art,’ and was a formidable part of that tradition… His skill was also in his energetic articulations of the ‘neological construction of a black paradigm,’ as outlined by [Gerardo] Mosquera… However, Basquiat’s mischievous, complex, neologistic side, with regard to the fashioning of modernity and the influence and effluence of black culture, is often elided by critics and viewers—lost in translation… Certain related history paintings, such as Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta, are also fairly easily digestible forms of black culture. Through the lens of multiculturalism, these scenes visually signify blackness, are already overdetermined, and as self-contained, U.S. black history can be assigned to ‘the margins of modernism’ as hermetically sealed dioramas of, dare I write it, ‘the other'.” (Kellie Jones, “Lost in Translation: Jean-Michel in the (Re)Mix” in Ibid, p. 166) Sophisticated, confident and radiating a conviction of artistic vision, the vivacious iconographic power of Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta is a sheer testament to the thriving talent of a young and brilliant artistic spirit who, by 1983, had truly secured his position at the vanguard of an artistic consciousness. The present work solidified Basquiat as a figure who dashed effortlessly between art historical precedents in order to create a wholly individual painting deeply suffused with personal history, memory and emotion. He redefined the genre of History Painting by brazenly inserting himself at its center, inexplicably painting a picture that animates the annals of oral tradition through his own inimitable perspective. Titled

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-05-13
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Nude Sunbathing

A radiant vision of exquisite beauty and devastating allure, Roy Lichtenstein’s Nude Sunbathing unequivocally embodies the very essence of confident and unadulterated female sensuality. From the sultry gaze of her half-lidded blue eyes to the languorous arch of her slender back, the idle motion of cascading blonde curls to the coquettish pout of her scarlet mouth, every inch of Lichtenstein’s breathtaking bombshell is imbued with a magnetic charisma that completely and utterly seduces the viewer. A resounding testament to the visual dynamism of Lichtenstein’s bold signature style, Nude Sunbathing constitutes the ultimate crystallization of the artist’s enduring engagement with the quintessential heroine of his inimitable oeuvre; freed from the narrative constraints of her previous embodiments, Lichtenstein’s nude revels in the enjoyment of her own peerless form. Executed in 1995, the present work is a masterpiece from Lichtenstein’s celebrated late Nudes, the first series the artist undertook following his acclaimed retrospective in 1993 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and, ultimately, the last major body of work before the artist’s death in 1997. Testifying to the incontrovertible allure of the monumental paintings, this limited series is distributed amongst the world’s most renowned public and private collections; the present work, held in the same private collection since the year following its execution and never before offered for public sale, numbers amongst the finest examples of the Nudes ever to appear at auction. The intimately close-cut tableau of Nude Sunbathing brings Lichtenstein’s seductress bewitchingly close to the viewer, her sensuous curves filling the frame with a confidence and self-possessed sexuality unrivaled in other examples. Presented against the radiantly prismatic abstract backdrop of Lichtenstein’s trademark Ben-Day dots, Nude Sunbathing, the only example from the series to be rendered in an emboldened red-on-red palette, relishes her status as the singular focus of the viewer’s adoring gaze. Her languid pose, one hand leisurely raised to gently toy with lustrous blonde locks, enacts a bold and unapologetic invocation of such canonical nudes as Matisse’s Draped Nude and Titian’s Venus of Urbino, effortlessly invoking centuries of art historical legacy with captivating aplomb. In Nude Sunbathing, Lichtenstein enters a final, dazzling confrontation with the weighty mantle of his artistic predecessors: with the daring provocation of Manet’s Olympia, the exquisite loveliness of Botticelli’s Venus, and the radical stylistic innovation of Ingres’s La Grande Odalisque, Nude Sunbathing is a magnificent example of Lichtenstein’s ultimate contribution to Contemporary art. A beguiling mixture of iconic familiarity and inaccessible perfection, Nude Sunbathing marks Lichtenstein’s ultimate and final reunion with his signature blondes. These peerless idols of femininity, gleaned from the pages of comic books and advertisements, appear in Lichtenstein’s oeuvre as early as Girl with Ball of 1961, held in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York; over the course of the 1960s, Lichtenstein’s heroines appeared in a number of disparate narratives and guises, ranging from the distressed damsel of Drowning Girl to the domestic temptress of Girl in Bath.  Undisputed icons of postwar American art, Lichtenstein’s Girls exemplify the explicit tension at the very core of the artist’s practice: an irreconcilable distinction between the quotidian imagery of popular culture and the refined cultural paradigm of fine art. Remarking upon the significance of these women within the artist’s oeuvre, his wife, Dorothy Lichtenstein, comments, "I think that he was portraying his idea of the dream girl." (Dorothy Lichtenstein in conversation with Jeff Koons in Exh. Cat, New York, Gagosian Gallery, Lichtenstein: Girls, 2008, p. 15) In the late 1970s, Lichtenstein’s archetypal female underwent a radical stylistic transformation, departing from her role as the heroine of fictional and comic narrative to be reintroduced in a fantastical Surrealist dreamscape of compositional fragmentation and abstracted symbolism. Following the Surrealist paintings, Lichtenstein did not revive his signature subject matter until the mid-1990s when, following his major 1993 retrospective, the artist embarked upon his celebrated late Nudes. In her essay on the Nudes in the recent Lichtenstein retrospective co-organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and the Tate Modern, London, scholar Sheena Wagstaff refers to the Nudes as “monumental celebrations of domesticated eroticism,” further noting, “Lichtenstein hit upon deliberately provocative subject matter in his Nudes… their undeniable frisson of pictorial eroticism both problematizes a compositional architecture's integrity and highlights Lichtenstein's supreme mastery of form, distilled over a lifetime of pursuing technical perfection.” (Sheena Wagstaff, "Late Nudes," in Exh. Cat., Art Institute of Chicago, Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, 2012, pp. 95, 97) As in his iconic paintings of the 1960s, the pose and delightful physique of the stunning blonde in the present work is drawn from popular culture; in this case, Lichtenstein culled his inspiration from the DC Comic Heart Throbs, in which our beauty lounges, her bedroom eyes seductively fluttering, as she reflects, “Danny likes me…I can tell….He likes me for me…but he doesn’t know I can be beautiful." In Nude Sunbathing, as in the other paradigmatic examples from the Nudes, Lichtenstein confronts his heroine in her final, conclusive iteration; stripped bare of the trappings of narrative drama or stylistic rendering, the artist’s dream girl appears in her purest and undiluted form, her alluring and sensual contours rendered with boldly unhindered erotic charge. While women have always featured prominently within the artist’s quintessential Pop lexicon, Lichtenstein returned to his signature subject matter—the female form—in the Nudes with a new, more powerful syntax. Wagstaff notes, “In the Nudes, not only did Lichtenstein alter the equation in the compositional tension between motif and formal concerns, but also, crucially, he seized upon a new pictorial language. He deduced and acknowledged the nude as a form through which a new syntax could emerge by means of an understated narrative that implies a relationship between the artist-creator and the nude—a contemporary rendition of the Pygmalion-artist conjuring a plausible painterly version of his Galatean muse. Both the artistic and the perceptual tension between form and content, most especially in those paintings that intensified this balance through a mirroring device, were to occupy Lichtenstein in the last years of his life.” (Ibid., 95) Unlike the earlier women, embroiled in romantic trysts or histrionic exploits, Nude Sunbathing does not offer an explicit storyline; instead, the only suggestion of narrative is held in the suggestive glimmer and implied sexuality of her heavily lidded eyes, which gaze at something—or someone—beyond the viewer’s field of vision. Remarking upon the elusive allure of the Nudes, Edward Said notes, “Lichtenstein’s Nudes signal the tension between what is represented and what isn’t represented, between the articulate and the silent.” (Edward W. Said, On Late Style: Music, and Literature against the Grain, 2006, p. xix) Moreover, in their unapologetic celebration of the female form, Lichtenstein’s Nudes capture a more contemporary and more provocative characterization of femininity. Critic Avis Berman comments, "The 1990s Nudes take pleasure in their own company, without the slightest hint of needing or missing a man. They are not paralyzed by their emotions. In contrast to Lichtenstein's original romance-comic pictures, this world flourishes exuberantly without men or engagement rings or kisses." (Exh. Cat., Vienna, Kunsthaus Bregenz, Roy Lichtenstein: Classic of the New, 2005, p. 143) Indeed, as she languidly reclines, gently toying with a thick, lustrous lock of blonde hair, the nude of the present work is utterly unconcerned by the viewer’s voyeuristic gaze upon the sensuous curves of her body; confident in the profound power of her allure, Nude Sunbathing accepts her rightful place within the timeless canon of nudes throughout art history. In his late focus upon the larger-than-life Nudes, which dominated his considerable creative faculties in the final years of his career, Lichtenstein paid homage to the iconic subject matter of two of his greatest mentors: Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. For both of these artists, the nude operated as the original signifier of desire, codified and distilled into the sinuous contours of the idealized female form. Recalling the profound influence these artists enacted upon Lichtenstein, Dorothy Lichtenstein notes, “He grew up studying [the Venus de Milo], but I think he felt more challenged by what we would call the early Modernists – Picasso, Cézanne, and Matisse. He felt that they had restructured painting and they were actually part of his time. He grew up in New York, and so these were really the first works he saw in the Museum of Modern Art.” (Dorothy Lichtenstein in conversation with Jeff Koons in Exh. Cat, New York, Gagosian Gallery, Lichtenstein: Girls, 2008, p. 11) Throughout his career, these giants of Modernism remained touchstones for Lichtenstein, their investigation of the aesthetic quandaries of modern art—namely  the relationship between subject and artist, the temporal nature of reality, and the formal functions of line, light, and color—mirrored within his own oeuvre.  In particular, Lichtenstein’s late Nudes trace a markedly similar trajectory to the remarkable creative vigor of Picasso’s artistic experimentation of the late 1920s and early 1930s; in these years, the so-called Marie-Thérèse era, Picasso, inspired and enlivened by the beauty and vitality of his youthful mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter, embarked upon a series of formally inventive and powerfully volumetric paintings, sculptures, and etchings of his beloved’s voluptuous form. While Lichtenstein revisited Picasso’s oeuvre with increasing verve in the years following the latter’s death in 1973, the 1990s Nudes represent the crowning achievement and final culmination of the aesthetic engagement between the two.  The exhibitions Picasso and the Weeping Women: Marie-Thérèse Walter and Dora Maar, organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1994, and Picasso and Portraiture, mounted by the Museum of Modern Art in early 1996, further contributed to Lichtenstein’s focus upon the Modern master’s renderings of the female form in the mid-1990s.  Indeed, although the figural source for Nude Sunbathing is characteristically pulled from the fantasy realm of comic books, her languid pose is startlingly reminiscent of Picasso’s 1932 rendering of Marie-Thérèse in Nude Woman in a Red Armchair, while her cascading drapery, formally complementing and accentuating the silhouette of her slim thighs and abdomen, powerfully evokes Henri Matisse’s Draped Nude of 1936. Lichtenstein’s invocation of these canonical nudes of Modernism in the present work is, however, delightfully problematized by her affinity with the glorified pin-up bombshells of American popular media. Absorbing and advancing the cause of his artistic predecessors, Nude Sunbathing is Lichtenstein’s Pop answer to a decade long dialogue with the iconic nudes of the Twentieth Century. Lichtenstein’s arresting use of his trademark Ben-Day dots in Nude Sunbathing, echoed in other decisive examples of the late Nudes,  profoundly intensifies the artist’s already potent visual vernacular.  Addressing the formal brilliance of the Nudes, Sheena Wagstaff reflects, "By the 1990s, [Lichtenstein] had discovered a new way to render color plane and contour, filtered through his profound understanding of mutual influence—an artistic process of call-and-response that defined the innovations of both  Picasso and Matisse in the 1930s in holding the pictorial framework in tension.” (Sheena Wagstaff, "Late Nudes," in Exh. Cat., Art Institute of Chicago, Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, 2012, p. 98) Describing the artistic impulse which prompted him to embark upon the late Nudes, Lichtenstein explains, “With my nudes, I wanted to mix artistic conventions that you would think incompatible, namely chiaroscuro and local color, and see what happened. I’d seen something similar in Léger’s work. My nudes are part light and shade, and so are the backgrounds, with dots to indicate the shade. The dots are also graduated from large to small, which usually suggests modeling in people’s minds, but that’s not what you get with these figures.” (Roy Lichtenstein, quoted in Michael Kimmelmann, Portraits: Talking with Artists at the Met, the Modern, the Louvre, and Elsewhere, New York, 1998, p. 89) Lichtenstein’s remarkable employment of the Ben-Day dots in Nude Sunbathing achieves the suggestion of chiaroscuro, long used by artists to evoke the volumetric modeling of three-dimensional subjects, while simultaneously evoking the artist’s iconic Pop lexicon. Cascading across the alabaster flesh of his lounging subject, the scarlet Ben-Day dots expand and contract with meticulous precision, intensifying to bold rows across one slender shoulder before fading to bright pinpricks along the curves of her torso. The modeled treatment of the Ben-Day dots upon the nude strikes a stark contrast with the uniformed red pattern of the background, further highlighting the appearance of illuminating rays upon her naked form. Reflecting upon Lichtenstein’s remarkable use of the Ben-Day dots in the Nudes, Harry Coplans remarks, “In this daring return to the human figure, Lichtenstein employed the dots to depict the flush—not the blush—of female flesh.” He continues, “But wait: the waves of dots exceed the outlines of the figures, continuing into other objects or into the background. The figure has been overtaken, abducted. Dots course through the scene and settle here or there, their action difficult to understand, obscuring bodies and crossing boundaries, like a cataract in the sense of both waterfall and obstruction of vision. As these dots, following their own formal and psychic logic, spread beyond the body, they escape narrative and depiction to become identified instead with the surface of the painting, the plane where the subject and object, artist/beholder and model, would meet, the intersubjective space of the blush.” (Harry Cooper, “On the Dot,” in Exh. Cat., Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago (and travelling), Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, 2012, p. 33) While the entirety of Lichtenstein’s output is marked by an economy of means, the radical pictorial language of the late Nudes was unprecedented.  Speaking in the year the present work was painted, Lichtenstein remarked, “I’m trying to make paintings like giant musical chords, with a polyphony of colors that is nuts but works…It’s tough to make a painting succeed in terms of color and drawing within the constraints I insist on for myself.” (Roy Lichtenstein quoted in Michael Kimmelmann, “At the Met with: Roy Lichtenstein; Disciple of Color and Line, Master of Irony,” New York Times, March 31, 1995, p. C27) Showcasing his remarkable technical virtuosity, Lichtenstein creates a striking and complex composition from the limited vernacular of patterned dots and saturated splashes of prismatic primary colors, constrained and defined by the bold contours of his thick black outlines. By highlighting his figure within a tightly cropped frame, Lichtenstein further imbues his painting with a heightened intensity and emphatic force; as John Coplans suggested, “This paring away of the unessential led Lichtenstein to a sharper confrontation with the outside world, to a wider range and sharper focus in his use of stereotype… It is not that Lichtenstein avoids painting the whole figure because it is too complex but, rather, that the whole figure is too specific, too anecdotal for his purpose. Too much detail weakens the focus and the power of the image to immediately and recognizably signal the desired content. Thus, Lichtenstein crops away until he gets to the irreducible minimum and compresses into the format the exact cliché he desires to expose. Lichtenstein’s technique is similar to his imagery: He reduces his form and color to the simplest possible elements in order to make an extremely complex statement. In short, he uses a reductive imagery and a reductive technique for their sign-carrying potential.” (John Coplans, Roy Lichtenstein, New York, 1972, p. 23) Set against an abstract background of pure pattern, Nude Sunbathing is amongst the most emphatic articulations of Lichtenstein’s emphasis upon style and form in the late Nudes; unlike other examples from the series, which contextualize and domesticate the Nudes within lush interiors and playful narratives, the present work commits itself, utterly and entirely, to the celebration of line, color, and light in the beautiful form of the central figure. Achieving a sensational juxtaposition of prosaic popular imagery with the exalted dominion of fine art, Nude Sunbathing is amongst the most succinct and compelling embodiments of Lichtenstein’s unique artistic project. More than any other artist of his generation, Lichtenstein instinctively understood the phenomenal potential of popular imagery and endeavored to realign the cipher of that imagery to unveil verities behind the ever-proliferating pictorial panorama of contemporary culture in Twentieth-Century America. By invoking the impersonal artifice of mass-produced visuals in his meticulously rendered Ben-Day dots, Lichtenstein’s oeuvre enlists and effectively subverts the expectations of his audience, offering us a brilliantly executed masterwork disguised as the everyday visual matter of contemporary popular culture. In the final years of his career, Lichtenstein further heightened the stakes of his aesthetic endeavor, harnessing the familiar iconicity of mainstream media to depict art history’s ultimate symbol for formal perfection, from antiquity to the present. The annals of art history virtually overflow with examples of seminal nudes, from the cherished marble proportions of Praxitales’s Aphrodite of Knidos, to the frank eroticism of Titian’s Venus of Urbino, to the radical innovation of Picasso’s Demoiselles d'Avignon; in each, the artist offered a purified, conclusive embodiment of his unique aesthetic treatise. There is a profound eloquence to the Nudes, as Lichtenstein’s last significant body of work; Wagstaff notes, “In its powerful iconicity, the nude as an evocative embodiment of the creative process itself is reticulated through serial reiteration of the subject matter. It is the discovery and convulsive act of formal genesis—and Lichtenstein’s symbolic transfiguration of pictorial skin and gristle—that signals its real pictorial metamorphosis, and thus become the means of simultaneously overcoming yet emphasizing its narrative associations. Lichtenstein’s Nudes, created in the last four years of his life, are a profoundly innovative and active meditation upon the relationship of creation and perception.” (Sheena Wagstaff, "Late Nudes," in Exh. Cat., Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago (and travelling), Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, 2012, p. 103-104) Signed and dated 95 on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2017-05-18
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Venice, The Grand Canal, looking North-East from Palazzo Balbi to

This painting, which has been inaccessable to scholars since 1940, is the most significant Canaletto rediscovery for more than a decade and has a particularly distinguished provenance, only recently identified. The view is taken from the Palazzo Foscari on the sharp bend in the Grand Canal, known as the Volta de Canal, roughly equidistant from its entrance onto the Bacino di San Marco and the Rialto Bridge. Looking North-East from there the whole of the longest straight stretch of the canal is visible, as far as the Rialto Bridge, part of which is shown in the far distance, with the roof and dome of the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo beyond. Apart from being a particularly well balanced composition, and one in which water occupies the full breadth of the canvas, the view has the relatively unusual distinction of being observable, even from some height above the water, from the vantage point of the Palazzo Foscari. The foreground is dominated by the façade on the left of the Palazzo Balbi, built in 1582-90 to the designs of Alessandro Vittoria. A macchina erected next to the Palazzo Balbi was the focal point of the annual regatta (gondola race), from it the winners receiving their flags and prizes. The view is consequently known above all as the setting for depictions of regattas, including no fewer than three by Luca Carlevarijs, two showing The Regatta on the Grand Canal in Honour of Frederick IV, King of Denmark, 4 March 1709 (Nationalhistoriske Museum på Frederiksborg Hillerød, Denmark; and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, the latter dated 1711; A. Rizzi, Luca Carlevarijs, Venice 1967, reproduced plates V, 35-7 and 39-40) and a third, smaller and showing a different regatta, in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg (ibid., reproduced plate 41). The first of these would certainly have been known to Canaletto from Giuseppe Baroni’s engraving of it, published in Domenico Lovisa’s Il Gran Teatro di Venezia of 1717 (ibid., reproduced plate 38). It is also the setting for all of Canaletto’s paintings of regattas, in the collection of Her Majesty the Queen, at Woburn Abbey, in the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, in the National Gallery, London, and in a German private collection (Constable, see Literature, nos. 347-51). The view was already a favourite subject of Canaletto long before he began painting festivals in the early 1730s. His earliest depiction of it is probably the large version presumably executed for Johann Wenzel von Liechtenstein and now in the Museo del Settecento Veneziano, Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice (Constable, op. cit., no. 210; Kowalczyk, see Literature, 2001, pp. 138-9, no. 50, reproduced in colour, where dated to 1723). That was probably followed by the version in the Ferens Art Gallery, Kingston upon Hull, probably of circa 1724 (Constable, op. cit., no. 214; Kowalczyk, op. cit., 2005, pp. 56-9, no. 6, reproduced in colour), and by that in the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden (1726?; Constable, op. cit., no. 211; catalogue of the exhibition Masterpieces from Dresden, London, Royal Academy of Arts, 15 March - 8 June 2003, pp. 84-7, no. 25, reproduced in colour). Further variants are in the Uffizi, Florence (inscribed on the reverse with the date 1728; Constable, op. cit., no. 213; Kowalczyk, op. cit., 2001, pp. 190-1, no. 70, reproduced in colour; Kowalczyk, op. cit., 2005, pp. 78-81, no. 12, reproduced in colour) and in the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo (late 1720s; Constable, op. cit., no. 212). A sketch in pen and brown ink in the collection of the Courtauld Institute, London, shows the palazzi on the right (ibid., no. 589; Kowalczyk, op. cit., 2001, p. 69, no. 21, reproduced in colour, where connected with the Ca’ Rezzonico painting and dated to circa 1723). The only other version painted after 1730 is the small canvas among the set of twenty-four in the collection of the Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey (Constable, op. cit., no. 215). A presumably incomplete series of payments for those was made between February 1733 and April 1736 (ibid., 1989 ed., I, p. xlii, note 27). Although only part of the façade of the Palazzo Balbi is shown, and the palazzi on the right are raised in height, the viewpoint of the Woburn version is almost identical to that adopted for this painting, and the general disposition of the boats is similar. Like the early version in the Ferens Art Gallery this painting, which may be dated to circa 1733 on stylistic grounds, shows the whole of the façade of the Palazzo Balbi, although here the number of arched openings at its centre is corrected from five to three. While it may slightly precede the Woburn version in date, it must have been considered by Canaletto his ‘definitive’ statement on the subject, to which he was never to return. Constable’s assessment of this painting as a replica of the very close version of the same size formerly owned by Sir George Leon (his no. 216) is possibly the most surprising error of judgement in the whole of his catalogue, and was recognised as such by Links (in conversation with Charles Beddington before his death in 1997) although the correction given in his last publication (loc. cit., 1998) is very muted. That painting, now the property of an Italian private collector, has been offered on the market regularly over the last two decades and was exhibited in Barcelona and Madrid in 2001 (see Succi, loc. cit.), on which occasion it was published as a copy by Charles Beddington (C. Beddington, "Review of Canaletto: Una Venècia imaginària, ed. D. Succi and A. Delneri", in The Burlington Magazine, vol. CXLIV, no. 1186, January 2002, p. 34). This painting was formerly accompanied by a pendant showing The Bucintoro returning to the Molo on Ascension Day (Constable, op. cit., vol. I, reproduced plate 64; vol. II, no. 340), which remained with it until its sale by Ader Tajan at the Hôtel George V, Paris, 15 December 1993, lot 13, for FF. 66,000,000 (fig. 1).  On all three occasions that this painting has been exhibited it has been accompanied by the pendant, which was no. 89 in the 1844 exhibition, described as the ‘Marriage of the Doge of Venice’, and no. 68 in the 1861 exhibition, described as the ‘Doge marrying the Adriatic’. The pairing of the two subjects is unusual, the sobriety of this painting contrasting with the gaiety of the pendant. Thus, although this painting is described in the sources only as ‘A View in Venice’ there can be no uncertainty about the identification of the pair. Furthermore, a pair of copies, measuring 72.5 by 91.5 cm. and thought to have been acquired from Dudley Tooth in 1953 as ‘William James’, is currently on the London art market. Although the provenance of this painting and its pendant from the late-eighteenth century has long been known, it is only within the last decade that the remarkable early history of the paintings has been rediscovered.  It was Sir Oliver Millar who first noticed the references to the paintings in the 1736 manuscript catalogue of paintings at 10 Downing Street (see under Literature) and in the 1751 sale, and this information was published by Links, loc. cit., 1998.  The manuscript catalogue of 1736, which is bound into Horace Walpole’s own copy of his Aedes Walponianae, 1752, in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York (PML 7586), describes the two pictures ‘in the Parlour’: no. 125, ‘The Doge of Venice in His Barge, with Gondola’s & Masqueraders. Canaletti. 2-9 1/2 x 4-5 3/4’, and no. 126, ‘A View of Venice. Canaletti. 2-9 1/2 x 4-5 3/4’ (fig. 2).  In the manuscript copy of the 1751 sale, the present picture appears as lot 64, ‘A View in Venice Cannaletti (Raymond for Gideon) 36-15-6’, whilst its pendant appears as the subsequent lot, ‘the Doge marrying the Sea, it’s Companion Ditto (Ditto for Ditto) 34-13-.’ The 1736 reference is of particular significance as it is the earliest record of Canaletto paintings hanging in an English house. It is also of the greatest interest in establishing their first owner as no less a figure than Sir Robert Walpole (fig. 3), whose name had not previously featured in the literature on the artist, although he also owned Two Views of Venice by ‘Canaletti’ listed as nos. 359 and 360 in the 1736 catalogue, as hanging in the Parlour at Orford House in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea (A Capital Collection …, p. 449), but no further details are given and the paintings have not been identified. Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first ‘prime’ minister, who was created Earl of Orford on his fall from power in 1742, was one of the greatest patrons and collectors of his day. Houghton Hall was built for him in 1722-35 to the designs of Colen Campbell and William Kent, and he commissioned from Paul de Lamerie the 'Walpole Salver' (Victoria & Albert Museum, London). He began to collect paintings in the 1720s, and his inventory of 1736 lists 154 at 10 Downing Street, 120 at Houghton, 78 in Chelsea and 66 at 16 Grosvenor Street, Mayfair. These included major works by Poussin, Claude Lorrain, Pietro da Cortona, Carlo Maratti, Guido Reni, Salvator Rosa, Murillo, Adam Elsheimer, Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Jan van Huysum, Jacob Jordaens and Frans Snyders, and particularly fine groups of paintings by Rubens and Van Dyck, including fourteen full-length Wharton family portraits by the latter. Walpole left substantial debts, as a result of which his collection was largely dispersed by auction sales in 1748 and 1751 and, above all, by the private sale in 1779 of the Houghton collection to Catherine II, Empress of Russia, as a result of which most of his more important possessions are now in the Hermitage (see A Capital Collection ..., passim). Walpole was unquestionably the first owner of the paintings by Canaletto, although how he acquired them is not known. He never visited Italy, but it may be relevant that his son Edward, who was charged with buying works of art for his collection, was in Venice between January 1730 and January 1731 (ibid., p. 309). They hung at 10 Downing Street (fig. 4), the eastern part of which was acquired by the crown in 1732 and offered by George II to Walpole as a personal gift; Walpole would only accept it for his office as First Lord of the Treasury and vacated it on his resignation in 1742, since when it has been the official residence of the Prime Minister. The original picture-hanging plans made by Isaac Ware still survive and, together with the 1736 inventory, allow for an accurate reconstruction of arrangement of pictures at Downing Street.  This picture and its pendant hung on either side of the fireplace in the ‘Northeast corner room’, also known as the ‘First-floor Parlour’ (fig. 5).  This room included other pairs of pictures: two oils by Francesco Solimena; The Exposition of King Cyrus and Orpheus described as Castiglione but now attributed to Antonio Maria Vassallo (see A Capital Collection, pp. 178-180, nos. 85 and 86); and A Kitchen piece by David Teniers the Younger (op. cit., pp. 242-3, no. 139) paired with Cook at a Kitchen Table with Dead Game by Paul de Vos (op. cit., p. 246, no. 144).  As Andrew Moore has observed, ‘The effect of these paintings in the rooms at Downing Street was quite stunning and it was here that the collection acquired its early reputation’ (op. cit., p. 24).  The prominent display of this painting and its pendant there provides important support for Professor Bruce Redford’s theories about prominent Whigs commissioning Venetian views in order to emphasize the political parallels between the two states (see B. Redford, Venice and the Grand Tour, New Haven and London 1996, pp. 60-3). While the transitions of ownership are unusually complex, this painting and its pendant have been moved remarkably few times. This, and the fact that this painting has been sold publicly only once (in 1751), helps to account for its exceptional state of preservation. The buyer at the 1751 sale was the stockbroker Sampson Gideon, one of the most successful Jews of his generation in England. Gideon was a major subscriber to government funds and a financial adviser to the brothers Henry Pelham, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Thomas Pelham, 1st Duke of Newcastle. By the mid-1740s he had also become a valued adviser on financial matters to Sir Robert Walpole, who sought his counsel about floating loans for the Spanish War. Unwilling to give up his faith, his son was made a baronet in 1759 at the age of thirteen, and Baron Eardley in 1789, in recognition of his father’s services. Gideon acquired Belvedere, near Erith in Kent (fig. 6), on the death of Lord Baltimore in 1751 and shortly afterwards added a Great Room attributed to Isaac Ware. His collection was small but exceptional, as the Dodsleys observed in 1761: ‘The collection, though not numerous, is very valuable, it containing none but pieces which are originals by the greatest masters, and some of them very capital’ (Dodsley, op. cit., p. 271). Those included Rubens’ Deborah Kip, Wife of Sir Balthasar Gerbier, and her Children, now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Murillo’s Immaculate Conception now at Melbourne (U. Hoff, European Paintings before 1800 in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1995, pp. 198-9) and Flight into Egypt now in the Detroit Institute of Arts (exhibited Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682): Paintings from American Collections, 2002, pp. 116-17, no. 3), and two gallery interiors by Teniers, one of which is now at Raby Castle (exhibited Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, The Treasure Houses of Britain, 1985-6, pp. 362-3, no. 291). There was also a Portrait of Snyders and his wife and child by ‘Long Jan’, also bought for Gideon by Raymond at the Walpole sale in 1751 [Second day (June 15), lot 66]. The pair of paintings by Canaletto hung in the Long Parlour, where they were seen and described by the Dodsleys (loc. cit.): ‘View of Venice’ and ‘Ditto, with the Doge marrying the sea Its companion’ Height 2 feet 9 inc. Breadth 4 Feet 6 inc. [Painted by] Canaletti’; these descriptions are repeated by Martyn, loc. cit. They were to remain at Belvedere until 1860, Mrs Philip Lybbe Powys recording in her diary in 1771 having seen ‘two views of Venice by Canaletti’ (see Climenson, loc. cit.) shortly before the remodelling of the house by James ‘Athenian’ Stuart for Sir Sampson Gideon, later Baron Eardley, in circa 1775. Belvedere was visited early in the next century by Edward Wedlake Brayley, who noted (loc. cit.): ‘the collection of pictures evince a very judicious choice: among them is a view of Venice, and its companion, with the ceremony of the Doge marrying the Sea, by Canaletti …’ before going on to mention paintings attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, Giorgione, Holbein and Rembrandt. By the time of the 1856 catalogue of Pictures at Belvedere the two paintings by Canaletto were in the Dining Room, where they were the only framed paintings, the remainder of the decoration of the room being by (or attributed to) Antonio Zucchi and Angelica Kauffman. This painting hung on the left of the chimneypiece, the pendant on the right (They may have been moved here shortly after the remodelling of circa 1775, judging from an annotation, probably in an eighteenth-century hand, in the copy of Dodsley in the library of the National Gallery, London, which records ‘now in the dining Parlour’). They were not among the twenty-one paintings from Belvedere consigned by Sir Culling Eardley for sale at Christie’s on 30 June 1860, nor were they among the ten paintings apparently consigned under the name of Sir Culling Eardley for sale at Christie’s on 6 June 1868, lots 73-82. Along with other paintings from Belvedere (including unsold lots from the 1860 sale) they were moved in 1860 to Bedwell Park, near Hatfield, Hertfordshire. Belvedere was purchased in 1865 as a home by the Royal Alfred Merchant Seamen’s Institution, which it remained until its demolition in 1957. Bedwell, the paintings’ new home, was a late seventeenth century house which had been bought by Sir Culling Smith, 1st Bt., in 1807 and to which significant additions were made in circa 1840 and 1860, presumably in part to accommodate these new embellishments. There the pair of paintings by Canaletto remained until their sale to Agnew’s in 1930. Their whereabouts following their sale by Agnew’s have hitherto been unknown. There is no question, however, that this is the painting reproduced by Moschini in 1954, loc. cit., as in the collection of Mario Crespi, Milan, nor indeed that the pendant is the painting reproduced by him as fig. 114 and colour plate 16 as in the same collection. If one allows that both paintings could have been mistakenly described as measuring 76 by 120 cm. in the catalogue of the Lausanne exhibition of 1947 (of which both bear printed labels on the backs of the frames, but with the numbers 125 C and 125 D rather than the 101 and 102 of the catalogue) then it should be assumed that Constable’s no. 215(a) and 215(b) are both this painting. We are grateful to Charles Beddington for providing this catalogue entry.

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2005-07-07
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Group with Parasols (A Siesta)

Group with Parasols (A Siesta) is an aesthetically progressive and celebrated example of Sargent’s highly personal subject pictures inspired by his travels to the Alps.  Richard Ormond writes “there are few more dazzling tours de force by Sargent than Group with Parasols [A Siesta]” (Sargent Abroad: Figures and Landscapes, New York, 1997, p. 80).  Beginning in 1900, Sargent passed his holidays painting and traveling on the continent, often dividing his time between the Swiss Alps during the hot summer months and Italian cities such as Venice, Florence and Rome during the fall.  During this period, Sargent took as his models selected traveling companions and close family members, causing Mary Newbold Patterson Hale, Sargent’s second cousin, to refer to these paintings and watercolors as his “painted diaries.” This notion of a “painted diary” brilliantly conveys the very personal nature of Sargent’s relationship to his subjects and captures the underlying emotion that sets these pictures apart from much of his other work.  At the core of these paintings and studies is a startling intimacy that is casually seductive in both of its off-handedness and directness. Set free from the demands of portrait commissions, Sargent’s travels and summer interludes became increasingly important as a source of creative inspiration.  Preferring to paint the picturesque European scenery and his intimate group of friends and relatives to society portraiture with its sometimes stifling parameters, Sargent stopped accepting portrait commissions altogether by 1909.   During these Alpine tours, Sargent was often accompanied by his unmarried sister Emily, his sister Violet Ormond and her children and other Sargent family friends.  The 1905 trip to Giomein included Peter Harrison, his brother Leonard “Ginx” Harrison, Alma Strettell (Peter’s wife), Dos Palmer (Peter’s mistress), Polly Barnard and Lillian Mellor.  Sargent routinely spent the days in the countryside painting under the shade of large white umbrellas and in the evenings, enjoyed music, chess and reading with his entourage.  Sargent’s group frequently modeled for him on his sketching expeditions, and he enjoyed painting them in their idle moments of repose.  Mr. Ormond notes, “Sargent’s pictures of sleeping and resting figures, which are such a feature of his Alpine output over a ten year period, conjure up an imaginary world of luxuriant ease and passive indolence.  They are not a record of how the Sargent party spent their time in the mountains (active expeditions were the order of the day), but a deliberately invented world of dreamy reverie” (John Singer Sargent, Princeton, New Jersey, 1998, p. 244). Group with Parasols (A Siesta) is a beautiful example of the ‘world of dreamy reverie’ and is evocative of the newfound intimacy in Sargent’s work.  The painting captures the Harrison brothers Peter and Ginx, Dos Palmer and Lillian Mellor enjoying a mid-afternoon slumber amid the grassy hills of the region.   The closeness of the figures, the fluid intertwining of limbs and the juxtaposition of male and female represents an unusual familiarity between the sexes that would have challenged Victorian convention.  Mr. Ormond writes, “There is a deliberate contrast between the two sides of the composition, softly rounded contours and delicate materials for the women, angular knees, elbows and creased trousers for the men.  At the same time the rhythm of the curving bodies, arms, and heads unites the figures in a tightly interlocking group” (John Singer Sargent, p. 244).  Ilene Susan Fort notes that the Alpine Pictures “display contradictions in time, gender orientation, and degree of sexuality that can be understood only within the social context of the age.  Sargent was a personality not only aesthetically progressive but also socially bohemian; his opinions and taste were sometimes at odds with, and too modern for, the strictest Victorian society” (Sargent in Italy, Princeton, New Jersey, 2003, p. 142). The intimacy of the subjects is further emphasized by the essentially closed composition in which the surrounding landscape is closely cropped and bordered. Ms. Fort observes, “Sargent placed his models in an intimate and virtually anonymous outdoor environment, thereby creating the notion of a ‘landscape interior.’  He repeatedly depicted a small forest glade that marked the boundaries of his personal domain.  By cropping and deleting horizons, Sargent made the landscape appear to be pushed forward, parallel to the picture plane.  His models exist in this limited space with no suggestion of a world beyond the painted scene” (Sargent in Italy, p. 148).  The intimate subject and setting of Group with Parasols (A Siesta) was revisited in several watercolors of the period, including the strikingly similar Siesta, also of 1905 (figure 1) and Simplon Pass: The Green Parasol (figure 2). A strong component of the unusual visual effects the painting produces lies in Sargent’s treatment of the picture's surface, its heavy application and active handling of paint create a richly patterned composition punctuated by highlights of dappled light and sunlit passages.  Mr. Ormond writes, “The brushwork has a dynamic energy and a life of its own so that the picture could be read as blocks of colour or patterns of light and dark, independent of the forms which they describe.  This is where the modernity of Sargent’s vision lies, in the suppression of detail, and in the concentration on surface texture and expressive brushstroke” (Richard Ormond, John Singer Sargent, p. 244). Ms. Fort writes, “The Alpine paintings sit outside Sargent’s usual work, evincing neither the painterly academism of his portraits nor the full Impressionism of his landscape and figure paintings created in Broadway, England…The Alpine works as a whole do evince a new, more progressive boldness, particularly in design, that demonstrates a daring level of experimentation.”  (Sargent in Italy, p. 141)  Group with Parasols (A Siesta) is at once the artistic embodiment of Sargent’s daring  style, conjuring the pictorial effects of light and shadow for which he is so well known, and a uniquely compelling and intimate look into the artist’s inner circle. Inscribed to my friend Ginx and signed John S. Sargent, l.r.

  • USAUSA
  • 2004-12-01
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Nymphéas

Monet's famous lily pond in his garden at Giverny provided the subject matter for most of his major later works, paintings whose significance in the development of modern art is now fully recognised. The theme of waterlilies, that became not only Monet's most celebrated series of paintings, but possibly one of the most iconic images of Impressionism, dominated the artist's work over several decades, recording the changes in his style and his constant pictorial innovations. The present example, which dates from 1904, is a powerful testament to Monet's enduring vision and creativity in his mature years. By 1890, Monet had become financially successful enough to buy the house with a large garden at Giverny, which he had rented since 1883. With great vigour and determination, he swiftly set about transforming the gardens and creating a large pond, in which waterlilies gradually matured (figs. 1 & 2). Once the garden was designed according to the artist's vision, it offered a boundless source of inspiration, and provided the major themes that dominated the last three decades of Monet's career. Towards the end of his life, he told a visitor to his studio: 'It took me some time to understand my water lilies. I planted them purely for pleasure; I grew them with no thought of painting them. A landscape takes more than a day to get under your skin. And then, all at once I had the revelation - how wonderful my pond was - and reached for my palette. I've hardly had any other subject since that moment' (quoted in Stephan Koja, Claude Monet (exhibition catalogue), Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, 1996, p. 146). Once discovered, the subject of waterlilies offered a wealth of inspiration that Monet went on to explore for several decades. His carefully designed garden presented the artist with a micro-cosmos in which he could observe and paint the changes in weather, season and time of day, as well as the ever-changing colours and patterns. John House wrote: 'The water garden in a sense bypassed Monet's long searches of earlier years for a suitable subject to paint. Designed and constantly supervised by the artist himself, and tended by several gardeners, it offered him a motif that was at the same time natural and at his own command - nature re-designed by a temperament. Once again Monet stressed that his real subject when he painted was the light and weather' (J. House, Monet: Nature into Art, Newhaven, 1986, p. 31). In the present work, Monet's primary interest is in depicting the effects of light on the surface of the pond and on the waterlilies themselves and the play of shadows and modulations of light that the weather creates. Moving towards an increasingly abstract treatment of space, Monet focused almost entirely on the water surface. He reduced the horizon to a small patch of blue pigment in the upper left corner of the composition, thus minimising the illusion of depth and perspective. The sky and the trees, placed outside the scope of the canvas, are present through their reflection in the water. The surface of the canvas thus becomes a two-dimensional pattern, acquiring a spatial continuity in which all parts of the composition are treated with equal importance. The elimination of the horizon line led Monet towards a transition from the horizontal format (fig. 3) to the square canvases (figs. 4 & 5), that he started using in the year the present work was executed. In 1914, Monet began to conceive of his Grandes décorations (fig. 3), a sequence of monumental paintings of the gardens that would take his depictions of the waterlily pond in a dramatic new direction. The artist envisaged an environment in which the viewer would be completely surrounded by the paintings. He wrote: 'The temptation came to me to use this water-lily theme for the decoration of a drawing room: carried along the length of the walls, enveloping the entire interior with its unity, it would produce the illusion of an endless whole, of a watery surface with no horizon and no shore; nerves exhausted by work would relax there, following the restful example of those still waters, [...] a refuge of peaceful meditation in the middle of a flowering aquarium' (quoted in Claude Roger-Marx, 'Les Nymphéas de Monet', in Le Cri de Paris, Paris, 23rd May 1909). In the later part of his career, it was Monet's intention to depict atmosphere and colour rather than to record a specific scene; working towards this goal, he reached a level of abstraction that was to play a profound role on the development of later twentieth century art. Signed Claude Monet and dated 1904 (lower right)

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2007-06-19
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The Perfect Pink a Superb Coloured Diamond and Diamond Ring

THE PERFECT PINK A SUPERB COLOURED DIAMOND AND DIAMOND RING Set with a rectangular-shaped fancy intense pink diamond weighing 14.23 carats, flanked on either side by a rectangular-shaped diamond weighing 1.73 and 1.67 carats, mounted in 18k rose and white gold, ring size 5½ Accompanied by report no. 14432611 dated 16 May 2005 from the Gemological Institute of America stating that the 14.23 carat diamond is fancy intense pink, natural colour, VVS2 clarity, with excellent symmetry Accompanied by a note no. 1009543 dated 24 September 2010 from Gübelin Gemmological Laboratory stating that diamonds are classified into two fundamental groups based on the relative presence or absence of nitrogen incorporated into the crystal structure, as determined by the infrared spectrum. Type I diamonds contains appreciable concentrations of nitrogen, whereas type II diamonds are chemically very pure and do not reveal infrared absorption characteristics related to nitrogen. A further separation of these two groups includes type Ia (nitrogen atoms present in pairs or groups), type Ib (isolated nitrogen atoms), type IIa (no measurable traces of nitrogen) and type IIb (traces of boron). Based on its infrared spectrum, the diamond of 14.23 carats is classified as a type IIa diamond Also accompanied by two reports no. 2125332554 dated 21 July 2010 and 17550927 dated 3 August 2010 from the Gemological Institute of America stating that the 1.73 and 1.67 carat diamonds are D colour, internally flawless clarity

  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2010-11-29
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The Last Supper

Signed in Chinese and Pinyin and dated 2001, framed The Last Supper The Annunciation of a New Age “All along I wanted to find an artistic voice that belonged solely to me, without being affected by any great masters.” Zeng Fanzhi is an artist whose renown is unparalleled in the world of Chinese contemporary art. Beginning with an artistic career in 1991 with Western mediums, Zeng Fanzhi’s journey has stretched past two decades; transitioning from his earlier role as a young novice studying Western Expressionism, to culminating in quintessentially Chinese renderings. He has exhibited extensively abroad, including at a solo exhibition at London’s Gagosian Gallery at the end of last year, and is looking forward to a large-scale retrospective show at Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris at the end of this year, all of which are indications to his status as an artist whose heritage, while expressed in Western mediums, comes through in highlighting an individual Chinese flare. Zeng’s celebrated Mask series, which began in 1994, explored the plight of the modern city-dweller; serving as a valid portrayal of a decade’s worth of economic growth, exploring the quandaries and anxieties of the Chinese adapting to such urbanisation at the time. Stylistically, these works exude an air of Western Expressionism, and are sprinkled with the essences of British artists Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud; yet they are undeniably based on Zeng’s own personal memories, steeped in distinct Chinese symbols, a unique blend which has paved the way in allowing the Mask series to become one of the artist’s most recognisable and popular works. Within this series is the 2001 piece, The Last Supper, the largest work within the Mask series itself. Through deconstructing Leonardo's masterpiece, the work ultimately presents to us the existential condition of the Chinese people during the period when China entered the world market, and the absurdity within the destruction and rebuilding of a society. Measuring four metres long by two metres and twenty centimetres high, the work is stretched onto one single, vast canvas, and is a product of the artist’s most mature period; a pinnacle in the history of Chinese  contemporary art. The original work is also amongst one of the most important pieces in Baron and Baroness Guy and Myriam Ullens de Schooten’s private collection. The present The Last Supper is derived from its Italian Renaissance counterpart, the masterpiece crafted by the illustrious Leonardo da Vinci. The Last Supper by Leonardo, hailed as one of the most important artists of the Renaissance, is considered the inception of the entire Renaissance period. Leonardo, who is an artist deeply revered by Zeng himself, was also the first artist he was ever truly fond of. Many artists have sought inspiration from this piece so steeped in mystery; giving way to countless reproductions and renditions. The original The Last Supper is located on the north wall of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie’s refectory in Milan, and measures nearly nine metres in length. It depicts the narrative of Christ’s last supper with his twelve disciples, before his arrest by Roman soldiers. The piece captures the moment Jesus predicts his traitor, and encapsulates the shock on his apostles’ faces upon hearing this; while we glimpse Judas’ frenzy in great contrast to the benevolent Christ. Created in 2001, Zeng Fanzhi’s The Last Supper substitutes its prototype’s religious figures with mask-wearing Young Pioneers, while they dine on watermelons and don red scarves. The artist especially invited a group of youths to serve as models for the piece. After taking an individual shot of every posture, he would further render red scarves and service stripes above the compositional framework. On the other hand, the fierce calligraphic brushwork behind was inspired by famous scriptures often seen inside classrooms. The reinterpretation of a traditional religious setting into a classroom at once points to not only the dynamic of space in the work but also the overall notion of absurdity. The present piece is imbued with metaphors scrutinising Chinese economic growth; the red scarves representing Communist ideals and a symbol of “Collectivism”, while a golden-tie-wearing “Judas” is nestled in this cluster. To Zeng, this signified a departure from Communist ideals, commenting, “The golden tie represents money and Western capitalism, and China only started wearing these ties after the mid-1980s.” In this way, to wear a tie thus unwittingly symbolised a transformation in Chinese society. This is an intricate parallel to the 1990s, when China was in the midst of a fierce transformation period where enterprises moved away from collective ideals and turned towards the mode of individual entrepreneurship. Through this process, some immediately stood out among others with their skills and abilities, acquired greater wealth, and finally left behind the so-called collective lifestyle. For the artist, these people are the ones who have disrupted the already established direction of the society. Through using the image of Jesus, the artist in this work references to the leader of China when faced with the impact of an eventual “betrayal” of his people, predicting, “One of us here will go onto the path of capitalism.” This person is precisely the figure with the golden yellow tie. The acute red hues of the watermelon not only represent the Chinese nation, but also, similar to the Meat and Hospital series, refers to motifs of violence and desire. According to the drawing, the artist originally wanted to portray the setting of the work in the Great Hall of the People, where emblems of the Chinese Communist Party adorned the ceiling of the hall with several large red flags behind the figures. In the end, the artist decided to replace the scene with the classroom setting, which exceptionally expresses a much more profound approach in exploring the meaning of times. Zeng’s The Last Supper, with its air of splendour, has captured the societal and economic changes in China in the 90s, while at the same time documenting the ways in which the Chinese society faces the eventual arrival of capitalism, making it an immensely representative work within the realm of Chinese contemporary art. The Last Supper showcases an extremely mature and refined technique, as Zeng situates Western Expressionism within a heavily Chinese realm. The artist reveals, “All along I wanted to find an artistic voice that belonged solely to me, without being affected by any great masters.” Fittingly, Zeng returned to a traditional Chinese culture at the end of the 1990s, paying especial attention to Song dynasty paintings. During a period of exploration that would span over a decade, Zeng oscillated between Abstract paintings and Figurative renderings, before eventually arriving at an amalgamation of East and West, thus forging his own artistic path, emanating wave upon wave of the miao wu characteristic of Chinese shanshui works. All of which are great feats indeed, considering how this artistic expedition began in a much simpler time and place, with a Wuhan teenager’s sole desire to one day create. Youth, Expression, Desire Looking back towards the Hospital and Meat series from Zeng Fanzhi’s early Wuhan period, we are still undeniably captivated by the compelling images of the works. Born in 1964 in Wuhan, Hubei, Zeng had early on developed a very strong sense of individuality. In his twenties, the young artist had attracted critical attention with his graduation thesis project. Heavily influenced by Western Expressionism, the use of exaggerated figural proportions and striking visual contrasts by the artist effectively dramatised the suppressed emotions and anxieties of the Chinese people under the political pressures of the 1990s. Zeng’s early career is a true testament to reflect the artist’s insistence on creating his own artistic style under and against the collective norm. His failure to earn the red scarf as a Young Pioneer and isolation in school, combined with his introspective character, had fostered a subconscious resistance against social organisations on a whole. Zeng instead insisted on his own individual identity and distanced himself from others in his age group, especially after high school. Memory inspired him artistically, and his experience with the Young Pioneers has continued to affect his work. As the critic Karen Smith observed, “The Hospital and Meat series are naked expressions of his anxieties, emotional injuries, and sense of failure. His painting style originates from his internal turmoil.” After high school, Zeng Fanzhi had no interest in continuing a conventional education. Rather, he learned to draw and sketch at the local Youth Culture Palace at night. He visited Beijing several times to see exhibitions by Robert Rauschenberg, Zao Wou-ki and other masters, which inspired the young Zeng Fanzhi to apply to art school later. However when he finally gained admission to the Hubei Institute of Fine Arts, he was dissatisfied with its strict requirements and conservative pedagogical approach. “Before I went to art school, I would explore all possible creative means to achieve the effects I wanted, but in school new techniques were censured.” The institute largely followed the tenets of Soviet Socialist Realism, whose formulaic nature and lack of emotional investment were disparate from Zeng Fanzhi’s sensibilities. He soon rejected its instruction and pursued his own path. Zeng had always been most interested in Western modern art. German Expressionism, like Max Beckmann’s work (Fig. 4), especially inspired him. “I was interested in expressing an individual’s attitude and thoughts, and tried to do so in unmediated responses. My goal was to convey the individual’s expressions, emotions, thoughts, and my own feelings about him or her. I could capture these things and represent them in painting in a few hours, but not within the confinements of the classroom.” The pursuit of personal emotional expression was a necessary component of the artist’s search for artistic individuality. Zeng Fanzhi chose eyes—the windows to the soul—to express his subjects’ emotions and to emblematise his personal pictorial idiom. The haunting eyes in his later Mask series can already be seen in his few early works, such as the highly expressionistic Dusk Number One from 1990. Here a man is prostrate in the middle of the composition, with closed eyes and a painful expression, while another man in a mask stands with an umbrella on the right. The second man’s disproportionately large eyes are staring spiritedly at the viewer, prefiguring Zeng’s later Mask series. What truly distinguished Zeng Fanzhi as an artist was his triptych Hospital series of the early 1990s, the most important works in his early career. He exhibited the first triptych in his graduation exhibition at the Hubei Institute of Fine Arts. The work caught the eye of the critic Li Xianting, who invited him to participate in the then upcoming “China’s New Art Post-1989” exhibition. The second triptych was exhibited at the 1992 Guangzhou Biennial to well acclaim by national critics. Hospital Triptych No. 1 (Fig. 1) is composed of three hospital scenes. The left panel depicts a waiting room, with patients standing on the left and a row of patients seated on the right, with their gazes revealing their anxiety. The central panel shows an operating room where masked doctors holding knives are gazing intently at a patient and about to operate on him. It is unclear whether the patient, lying immobile on his back, will be saved or slaughtered. The rightmost panel depicts the interior of a hospital ward, with patients sleeping on two rows of iron-framed beds. A naked patient is seemingly convulsing in pain, providing a stark contrast with the smiling doctor in the foreground. These scenes are based on the Wuhan No. 11 Hospital near Zeng Fanzhi’s home. He was inspired by the hospital’s atmosphere and took many photographs there. He saw in the patients’ fragility and suffering the general existential conditions of the modern Chinese. “Every day I saw patients standing in line waiting to be seen. Every day I saw emergencies and desperate treatments. Suddenly I thought: here is the feeling I want to paint.” By depicting suffering of the flesh and soul, Zeng was able to paint in a fully expressionistic manner and release all his suppressed emotions. In Hospital Triptych No.1 Zeng has graduated from simple imitation of expressionism to developing his own unique style. “At last, when I painted the hands and heads in Hospital, I found the appropriate feeling. In the last panel I moved the brush in a reverse direction, and achieved the feeling I wanted.” Using the triptych format common in Western religious art, he sought to create a sense of dramatic tragedy and meditate on human suffering, sin, and absolution. Hospital Triptych No.1 opened new expressive possibilities for Zeng Fanzhi. In his subsequent Meat series, he took meat stalls as his subjects—metaphors like the hospital scenes. In Meat (Fig. 2), a representative work of this series, Zeng paints a bare-chested man standing in front of many pig carcasses in similar colours and technique, thus suggesting a connection or even conflation between the two. If human bodies are to be bought and sold like pork in China, what about souls? The Meat series also influenced Zeng’s subsequent development. Whereas Hospital Triptych No.1 is painted primarily in brown tones, Hospital Triptych No.2, painted in 1992 and exhibited at the Guangzhou Biennale of the same year, has a new blood-red palette. Hospital Triptych No.2 has the same format and dimensions as the first work, but is technically more sophisticated. The three panels are all compositions of healthcare workers and patients. Inspired by Michelangelo’s Pieta, the central panel poses a female nurse and a patient as the Virgin and Christ, further heightening the solemnity and piety inherent in the triptych format. An eloquent testament to the existential struggles between suffering and salvation, this important early work won an award of excellence at the Guangzhou Biennale, which gave the artist important encouragement. The Hospital and Meat series together constitute two major creative endeavours by Zeng Fanzhi in his early career and testify to his profound explorations of the human condition. It is in the next year, when Zeng Fanzhi moved from Wuhan to Beijing, that ultimately inspired the creation of the Masks series, earning the artist worldwide renown. Era of Masquerade The fateful move to Beijing was inevitable; it was in this flourishing art centre where Zeng Fanzhi believed his art would gain recognition from a wider audience. Tracing the hidden psychological distress of the Chinese population in the 1990s when China underwent series of rapid economic and social advancement, unbeknownst to Zeng at the time, Mask series would ultimately become the most significant body of works ever created in the history of contemporary Chinese art. The portraits of ominous masked figures not only unravel the pervasive sense of doubt and uncertainty underlying the seemingly celebratory moment in China’s history, but also document Zeng Fanzhi’s own inner struggle in understanding the convoluted modern world. Unlike artists of his time who rely on the mere power of formulaic symbols, the artist’s relentless pursuit of excelling his own artistic style has contributed to the dramatic aesthetics shift in the series, breaking away from the predominantly Expressionist features in his Meat and Hospital series. It is also through the Mask series that the artist truly heightened his own stylistic framework of the portraiture form, gaining recognition from scholars and critics across the international art front. The fast changing living condition and new social environment in the metropolis, especially the false dynamic between city dwellers, immediately daunted upon the artist at first sight. “Friends whom I can share feelings with were terribly few. Our interactions seemed too much a mere deed of socialising.” Zeng instead began to search for a thematic language that could appropriately express the feelings of isolation, confusion, and upset. What came through were series of portraits of stoic masked figures. “With masks,” Zeng explained, “people keep a certain distance from each other, closing the path of really knowing another. When everybody is hiding their true selves and desires, what they show to us is in fact nothing but a mask.” In the early works from 1994, the forceful Expressionistic brushwork from the Hospital series remained in the rendering of the isolated masked figures. However, as if attempting to disguise this layer of turmoil beneath, the artist would smoothen the surface of the paint with the palette knife, hiding away any lingering emotional traces. The number of figures on the canvas was limited to merely one or two. While they appear to go about their everyday lives, with some even showing affectionate gestures to each other, the undeniable presence of the mask so tightly clasped onto their faces boldly defies and shatters any notion of truth and sincerity. Furthermore, the huge protruding hands, hollowed eyes, and bloody skin tone are clear signs of betrayal to the almost perfect persona donned by these figures. In a way, the hollowness of the enlarged eyes strangely captures the awkward and expressionless ethos in other Western portraiture works such as Lucian Freud’s Portrait of John Minton (Fig. 16), in which a close up shot of Freud’s friend and painter John Minton is depicted. The prominent facial structure showcased through the shadows and lines in Freud’s work are suggestively re-interpreted in the scrawny hands of the figures in Zeng’s works. The expressive brushwork also resembles the powerful contours found in Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne (1966) by Francis Bacon. However, within this parallel, the heavy societal implications through the process within Zeng Fanzhi’s work have arguably far transcended the legacy set by the two visionary painters. “The scraper was able to remove the exciting strokes, entirely, and leave the calmness, hiding the excitement inside. I didn’t change the hand because I believe there are things in the world that can’t be really changed.” The Mask series is in essence a portrait of irony and paradox that exist within the mind and soul of every city inhabitant. The aesthetics transition is also a timely witness to the rapid modernisation of the Chinese society. When examined closely, the masks in the very early works are identical lifeless masquerades similar to cold crafted commodity. In Mask Series No. 1 (Fig. 3) from 1994, a man in the painting is seen holding onto a brown animal mask. The mask is clearly rendered as a separate entity from the figure, suggesting the incongruent notions of ennui and mischievousness in modern society. The alienated features of the mask also echo the primitive appearance of the African mask in Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (Fig. 9) from 1907. While Picasso’s piece explored the notion of Primitivism that was considered outside of the Eurocentric hemisphere, the peculiarity of the animal mask here instead questions the ideal of the norm within society. “No one appears in society without a mask. Or is this perhaps just the awkwardness of modern people?” Throughout the series, these stoic masks would take on and embody various expressions from smiling to screaming, fitting seamlessly with the facial contours of hidden figure behind. From the mid to late 1990s, the outlines and costumes of the figures have become more refined in technique. The accompanying backdrops also became more eclectic, often rendered in bright hues such as pink, yellow, and blue, or into elaborate settings. Such a prime example can be seen in Mask Series No. 6 (1995) (Fig. 5), an especially sentimental piece to feature a lone masked boy standing amidst a flower garden. Behind him we witness a plane flying across the vast blue sky, leaving behind a stream of white diagonal smoke. The stylistic vibe of the flowers and the plane, symbols of prosperity and technological advance respectively, have departed into delicate shades and lines, creating an inherent detachment between the boy and his surroundings. Together with the drop of the two tears, this would serve as a direct antithesis to the red scarf and arm band adorned on the boy and the nationalistic ideal of the country. In the beginning of the millennium period, the composition and aesthetics subtly and gradually gravitate towards an increasingly abstract pictorial interest. The mature and magnificent work The Last Supper is certainly the epitome of this period’s creation. As can be seen in Mask Series (2001) (Fig. 8), where a lone masked figure is standing atop a grand landscape in a meticulously rendered black outfit. The extreme attention to details is shown through the reflection of the brimming background on the coat. At the same time, the skyline is no longer in one tone, but rather swims between shades of purple, black, and white, softly alluding to the buoyant hues within Mark Rothko’s paintings as exemplified in Blue and Grey from 1962 (Fig. 12). While Rothko stresses on the sense of the unknown and intimacy between human and nature, Zeng utilised this as a departure point in questioning the ephemeral virtue of human survival. At the same time, the composition and brushwork from the Mask series in this period would slowly move towards the abstract realm. This fluidity in the painterly surface as seen from Mask series (2001) has moved away from the earliest body of works, and as we will see later, contributing heavily to the increasingly abstract landscape works in the post-Mask series period. The ten year long journey in the Mask series has documented an important stage within Zeng Fanzhi’s career. From the initial struggle in understanding the meaning of individuality in the modern world, to breaking away from the barrier of self-doubt and misunderstanding, each work in the series is a piece to the puzzle that together form the complete facet of both the artist’s mental and artistic development. As Li Xianting noted on his works from the later period, “Zeng Fanzhi’s figures have learned to relax.” Boundless Landscapes At the turn of the millennium, Zeng’s canvases swelled to incorporate vast landscapes. His exhibitions would also look beyond the boundaries of China, starting with a Parisian exhibition in 2002 at the Pierre Cardin Centre. In transitioning into what would eventually become known as his Landscape works, Zeng consolidated his by-then well-known Expressionist inclinations with new, indiscriminately Chinese undertones. These works combine many elements of classical Chinese works, such as landscape drawings (shanshui hua) and the tradition of scroll paintings (shoujuan hua).  And yet, while looking into the past, the artist also tirelessly developed and perfected his own techniques, including the “wet-on-wet” method. Most notably, this period is characterised by Zeng’s complete trust in his own intuition and skill, as seen in stunning pieces of work that feature instances of miao wu (“marvellous revelation”) and luan bi; as stroke upon stroke is yet another reminder of the artist’s craft. In the early 2000s, Zeng produced a series of portraits that depicted figures covered in marks. Beginning with the We series, one sees the artist leaving behind his masks in favour of such circular loops. The figures in Zeng’s pieces were now veiled by loops and scours. This shift represented a vital transitional stage that looked both backward to and forward from his Mask pieces. In an attempt to grow apart from this identity of being merely the “Mask Artist”, Zeng went through a vital yet short transitional period of experimentation, first identifiable by faces that were covered in dizzying loops. This short series, which spanned a period of only two years, between 2002 to 2004, included works such as I from 2004 (Fig. 10), where a barely distinguishable face stares out from the canvas. In such works, Zeng left a minimal amount of features, as the spiral strokes obliterated all remnants of clear features. By using this technique, Zeng systematically erased any trace of individuality. This intermediate period was also filled with the experimentation of Zeng’s later “wet-on-wet” technique. In pieces such as The Composition of Fan No. 2 from 2002 (Fig. 14), the artist would use his palette knife to drag wet paint into the form of a fan, while vague outlines of Chinese calligraphy is semi-concealed in the background of this object. This is a heavy evocation of Zeng’s later preoccupation with Chinese culture, which he would begin to incorporate into canvases in the form of backgrounds of calligraphy. For instance, these calligraphic jottings peek through in the 2000 A Series No. 1 (Fig. 13), where included amongst red mountains are wisps of Chinese characters. Such calligraphy is remnants of Zeng’s childhood memories, where he grew up in classrooms adorned with political slogans. This time period also saw the emergence of works such as Zeng’s Great Men series that relays  characters in an abstract manner, as if alluding to the people rather than depicting them outright. While still working with the smearing and scraping techniques from his older works, the artist developed the aforementioned “wet-on-wet” technique in conjunction to this, which involves dragging paint, while still wet, to form more strokes. This method also involved layering paint upon paint, creating heavily tactile works that boasted both weight and depth. Just as this internal shift was taking place, Zeng suffered an injury to his right hand in 2002, which prompted the artist to begin experimenting with his opposite hand. Eventually this would result in the artist’s ambidextrous abilities, where two paint brushes in either hand would be used to paint simultaneously on canvases. Strangely and also rather fittingly, Zeng also developed a technique of painting with two brushes in one hand. While the former was governed by habit, training and control, the latter was left to intuition and chance. This method, also known as Zeng’s luanbi technique was poised between the conscious and subconscious; as the artist’s pieces took on a freer, more unbridled feeling. The real pinnacle of the artist’s expansion however was the years 2003 to 2004, when Zeng’s many experimentations so far would give way to a grounded technique; where abstract lines transitioned into order and control. According to art critic Lü Peng, it was truly during this time that the artist decided to look inwards, towards traditional Chinese shanshui hua. Shanshui hua, which is literally “mountain and water paintings”, is a quintessentially Chinese form of landscape painting. Executed in ink and water, traditional landscape paintings were symbolic of man’s connection to nature as well as the cosmos at large. As can first be seen from his Sky series, various individuals—from children to important figures such as Mao—would find themselves against blushing skies of pinks and reds, which would later evolve into cobalt blues and speckled greys. As the artist reveals, “The inspiration (for the Sky series) came from my childhood; merely looking up at it would ignite in me a wondrous imagination. The skies would stay by our sides as we walked down the roads, and until now, I can still hear the sounds it made; still smell its scent.” Zeng’s childhood thus finds echoes of itself in such works. Directly following this time, between the years of 2004 and 2008, Zeng entered the most mature movement of his artistic direction with the development of guohua, which is the contemporary name given to the traditional style of Chinese painting, literally meaning “national painting” or “country painting” in order to emphasise its opposition to Western works. The 2012-2013 “Zeng Fanzhi” show at the Gagosian in London further established Zeng’s alignment with traditional Chinese works. One can find aspects in the artist’s works, from the backgrounds of the paintings, the usage of shui mo and light-handed flicks of gongbi, seen in the concentrated clusters of strokes on his characters’ faces. Zeng was also especially intrigued by the use of lines in Tang Dynasty works, which were filled with emotion and texture. This use of contours predates its Western equivalents, and is particularly evocative of an Eastern spirit that Zeng was keen to express in his own works. One such set of examples can be seen in Zeng’s delicate interpretations of Western great masters. Starting with literally drawing his heroes, such as Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, and in so doing, appropriating renowned masters into his works, Zeng is aligning himself with an art history that he has irrefutably become part of. The care with which the artist reproduces renowned works can be seen in Zeng’s wispy furs of Albrecht Dürer’s Field Rabbit, or even the feathery beard of Head Study of an Old Man (Fig. 18), or perhaps yet, the veiny folds of Praying Hands, all of which were reproduced just last year by Zeng. Most peculiarly however, in spite of the oil medium that these great Western works are produced with, one senses the influence of not Expressionism or Abstract paintings, but rather, of guohua. By way of conclusion, one turns to the sense of tranquillity that now populates Zeng’s works. Drawn with a miao wu influence, Zeng’s works are freer, less trapped, and in spite of the seemingly desolate landscapes that inhabit his works, there is an undeniable sense of hope, glimmering beyond the pines and branches that veil his pieces. Zeng’s renown has not ceased growing, much like how his reputation has not diminished in the least since his Mask series, as can perhaps be seen from his upcoming exhibition in October of this year, at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, one of the most famous exhibition locations in the world. His works, which exhibit a shift from desolation to hope is indicative of a new movement for the artist; a new venture into newer, calmer lands where heaviness gives way to lightness, where a union of the two worlds that are central to Zeng’s art—East and West—is forged.

  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2013-10-05
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Le Palais ducal

Monet’s spectacular view of the Palazzo Ducale on the Grand Canal belongs to the extraordinary series he completed in the fall of 1908 in Venice.  Painted from the south-east vantage of a floating pontoon, the scene depicts the Palace, with its Byzantine fenestrations adorning the façade, alongside the Ponte della Paglia and the prison building on the right.   To the left of the palace is the entrance to Saint Mark’s square, and the silhouette of the bell tower and can be seen in the open space.  Through a Renaisannce-inspired sfumato technique Monet conjures the briny mist of the Adriatic, and the oblique pontoon and moorings convey the lulling motion of its current.  This picture marks one of the rare instances that Monet painted from the vantage of a gondola, capturing fleeting light that colored this dramatic scene.  Monet arrived with his wife Alice on October 1st at the invitation of Mary Young Hunter, a wealthy American who had been introduced to the couple by John Singer Sargent.   Although he had been reluctant to leave behind the motifs of his Giverny garden that had all but consumed his work, he could not resist the opportunity to see the architectural splendors of the lagoon city and the new and formidable challenges that it would present.  At first, the visual splendor of the city astounded him, and he feared that he was too old and ill-equipped to capture its pageantry.  His creative paralysis subsided by October 7, and he commenced  the most successful series campaigns of his career.  In his study of Monet's work and the Mediterranean, Joachim Pissarro has given a detailed account of Monet's working schedule while he was in Venice:  “After so much procrastination, Monet soon adopted a rigorous schedule in Venice. Alice’s description of his work day establishes that from the very inception of his Venetian campaign, Monet organized his time and conceived of the seriality of his work very differently from his previous projects. In Venice, Monet divided his daily schedule into periods of approximately two hours, undertaken at the same time every day and on the same given motif. Unlike his usual methods of charting the changes of time and light as the course of the day would progress, here Monet was interested in painting his different motifs under exactly the same conditions. One could say that he had a fixed appointment with his motifs at the same time each day. The implication of this decision is very simple; for Monet in Venice, time was not to be one of the factors of variations for his motifs. Rather, it was the 'air', or what he called 'the envelope' - the surrounding atmospheric conditions, the famous Venetian haze - that became the principal factor of variation with these motifs” (J. Pissarro, ibid., p. 50). Monet stayed for the first two weeks of his sojourn as Hunter’s guest at the Palazzo Barbaro, which belonged to a relation of Sargent - Mrs Daniel Sargent Curtis.  He then relocated to the Grand Hotel Britannia on the northern bank of the Grand Canal, where he remained until his departure on December 7.  From his balcony at the Palazzo Barbaro he could see directly across to the Palazzo da Mula, Palazzo Dario and the Palazzo Contarini, but the Britannia offered even more spectacular views.  From this vantage he had clear views of the church of San Giorgio Maggiore and Palazzo Ducale, the city’s most famous landmark, which had featured in the immortal works of Titian and Canaletto.  While several of Monet’s depictions of the Palazzo depict it from the southwest, the present canvas depicts the palace from the north, offering a dramatic view of the Lions of Piazza San Marco in the distance.  What is so remarkable about this painting is the abrupt depiction of the pontoon in the foreground, which heightens the perspectival drama of the composition. Discussing the Venetian paintings of 1908 Gustave Geffroy attempted to define the approach Monet took to his depictions of the city, in particular making a study of the artist’s repeated portrayal of certain motifs: “It is no longer the minutely detailed approach to Venice that the old masters saw in its new and robust beauty, nor the decadent picturesque Venice of the 18th century painters; it is a Venice glimpsed simultaneously from the freshest and most knowledgeable perspective, one which adorns the ancient stones with the eternal and changing finery of the hours of the day." Monet’s Venetian canvases transported Geffroy:"in front of this Venice in which the ten century old setting takes on a melancholic and mysterious aspect under the luminous veils which envelop it. The lapping water ebbs and flows, passing back and forth around the palazzo, as if to dissolve these vestiges of history… The magnificence of nature only reigns supreme in those parts of the landscape from which the bustling city of pleasure can be seen from far enough away that one can believe in the fantasy of the lifeless city lying in the sun” (G. Geffroy, Claude Monet, sa vie, son temps, son oeuvre, Paris, 1924, pp. 318 & 320). Similar to his canvases of the Thames, Monet’s Venetian paintings continued to explore how light reflected off a wide stretch of water dissolves and liquefies the solid, uneven surfaces of brick and mortar. In Venice, however, the closeness of the buildings to the water's edge led him to explore more abstract compositions accentuating the interplay between the rhythms of the ornate façades, with their arched openings and horizontal divisions, and the rhythmic expanse of water. This innovative approach was perhaps encouraged by Monet’s appreciation of the special importance Venice held for his artistic forebears. George Shackelford and MaryAnne Stevens argue: "Venice offered Monet contact with a specifically resonant artistic tradition and with aesthetic options that invited him to extend the artistic concerns with which he had been engaged since the early 1890s to depict the dominant tonality of the air that lies between the subject and the artist/viewer (the envelope) and the reflection of subject and light on water, Monet drew upon such predecessors in Venice as Turner and Whistler, and the achievements of his London series" (G.M.T. Shackelford & M. Stevens, Monet in the 20th Century (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 178). The glorious canvases that Turner produced in the early 1840s, such as The Dogana, San Giorgio, Citella, from the Steps of the Europa, present a Venice which is transfigured by light. It is a light that has a form and presence more accurately recorded in the waters of the lagoon than falling on the city itself. Matisse is recorded to have noted: "it seemed to me that Turner must have been the link between the academic tradition and impressionism" (quoted in Turner, Whistler, Monet (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 203) and he divined a special connection between Turner’s works and Monet’s. Writing in the catalogue for the Turner, Whistler, Monet exhibition Katherin Lochnan pinpoints the Venice pictures as the culmination of Monet’s discourse with those two painters: "These beautiful and poetic works are portals through which the viewer can enter a world of memories, reveries and dreams. Fearing that they might constitute the final chapter in his artistic evolution, Monet sounded in them the last notes of his artistic dialogue with Turner and Whistler that had been central to his artistic development" (K. Lochnan in ibid. p. 35). During the course of his stay Monet painted thirty-seven canvases of Venetian subjects, which depicted views of the Grand Canal, San Giorgio Maggiore, the Rio della Salute; the Palazzos Dario, Mula, Contarini and the Doges’ Palace. On December 19, 1908, a few days after Monet’s return to Paris, Bernheim-Jeune acquired twenty-eight of the thirty-seven views of Venice, although Monet kept the pictures in his studio until 1912 to add their finishing touches. After the death of Alice in 1911, Monet finally agreed on a date for the exhibition at Bernheim-Jeune.  Claude Monet Venise opened on May 28, 1912 and was greeted with significant critical acclaim, not least by Paul Signac who viewed the Venetian canvases as one of Monet’s greatest achievements. Writing to Monet he states: “When I looked at your Venice paintings with their admirable interpretation of the motifs I know so well, I experienced a deep emotion, as strong as the one I felt in 1879 when confronted by your train stations, your streets hung with flags, your trees in bloom, a moment that was decisive for my future career. And these Venetian pictures are stronger still, where everything supports the expression of your vision, where no detail undermines the emotional impact, where you have attained the selflessness advocated by Delacroix.  I admire them as the highest manifestations of your art” (P. Signac quoted in Turner, Whistler, Monet (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 207). The present work is one of the pictures that may have been sold through Bernheim-Jeune, based on inscriptions written on the stretcher of the canvas. We know definitively that the picture was in the collection of Dr. Hans Wendland in 1924, when he sold it to Galerie Thannhauser in Berlin. Wendland had lived in Paris before World War I, and it is possible that he acquired the painting before moving to Berlin during the war. Thannhauser then sold the picture in 1926 to Erich Goeritz, the Berlin-based textile manufacture and one of the most important Jewish collectors of the Weimar Republic.  The picture then came into the possession of  Jakob Goldschmidt, from whom it was confiscated by the National Socialists in 1941.  Later that year it was sold at auction by Hans Lange, where it was purchased by Dr. Albert Vögler.  In 1954  Goldschmidt, who had relocated to New York, reclaimed the picture from Völger’s heirs through successful litigation in Hamburg.  Since that time, the picture has remained in the Goldschmidt family and has never been exhibited in public until the present day. Signed Claude Monet and dated 1908 (lower left)

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  • 2015-05-05
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Number 17, 1949

THREE PRIMARY TEXTS ON JACKSON POLLOCK from the Betty Parsons Gallery records and personal papers, circa 1920-1991, bulk 1946-1983. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution Betty Parsons on Jackson Pollock, circa 1949 I loved his looks. There was a vitality, an enormous physical presence. He was medium height but he looked taller. You could not forget his face. A very attractive man, ---oh very. He was always sad. He made you feel sad; even when he was happy he made you feel like crying. There was a desperation about him; there was something desperate. When he wasn’t drinking he was shy, he could hardly speak. And when he was drinking he wanted to fight. He cussed a lot, used every 4-letter word in the book. You felt he wanted to hit you; I would run away. His whole rhythm was either sensitive or very wild. You never quite knew whether he was going to kiss your hand or throw something at you. The first time I went out to see him at Springs, Barney (Barnett Newman) brought me; we were planning Jack’s first show. After dinner we all sat on the floor, drawing with some Japanese pens. He broke three pens in a row. His first drawings were sensitive, then he went wild. He became hostile, you know. Next morning he was absolutely fine. I had met him around New York since 1945. One day in ’47 he telephoned me and said he wanted a show in my gallery. I gave him a show the next season. In all the time he was with me he was never drunk either during the show or during the hanging. At Sidney Janis’s it was different, once they waited for him until 4 in the morning to hang a show. Another year he telephoned me and asked me to give Lee a show of her paintings. I said I never show husbands and wives, but he insisted. He was charming with Lee when he was sober; she ruled the nest. But when he was drunk he ruled the nest. Lee always protected his business interests. Business ideas bored him, though he was fairly wise about them. He was either bored or terrified of society. He thought most women were terrible bores. He needed aggressive women to break through his shyness. He liked very few artists. He liked Newman, he liked Bradley Tomlin. He thought artists were either awful or terrible – it had entirely to do with their work. He thought he was the greatest painter ever, but at the same time he wondered. Painting was what he had to do. But he had a lot of the negative in him. He was apt to say, ‘It won’t work – it’ll never work.’ When he got in those terrible negative states, he would drink. He associated the female with the negative principle. The conflict showed clearly in ‘The She Wolf’ (1943). Inside himself there was a jungle. Some kind of jungle because during his life he was never fulfilled – never – in anything. Of course this didn’t diminish his power as a painter. His conflicts were all in his life, not in his work. He was a questioning man. He would ask endless questions. He wanted to know what I thought about the world, about life. He thought I was such a jaded creature because I’d travelled, he wanted to know what the outside world was like, Europe, Asia. He was also extremely intrigued with the inner world – what is it all about. He had a sense of mystery. His religiousness was in those terms – a sense of the rhythm of the universe, of the big order – like the Oriental philosophies. He sensed rhythm rather than order, like the Orientals rather than the Westerners. He had Indian friends, a dancer and his wife, (Mr. and Mrs. N. Vashti) with whom he talked at length and who influenced him greatly. His most passionate interest after painting was baseball. He adored baseball and talked about it often. He also loved poetry and meeting poets. He often talked about Joyce. He loved architecture and talked a lot about that too. He adored animals. He had two dogs and an old crow – he had tamed an old crow. He had that kind of overall feeling about the nature – about the cosmic – the power of it all – how scary it is. I could never relax with Jack. He certainly was pursued by devils. Life is an endless question mark, but most of us find a resolution – he never did. But I loved him dearly. The thing about Pollock is that he was completely unmotivated – he was absolutely pure. From my Journal – Sept. 25, 1949 – A week-end in Easthampton Evelyn Segal In the late afternoon we drove to the Jackson Pollocks, who live in a simple farm house (circa late 19th cent.) – a farm house which was being transformed and converted by the needs and tastes of the two painters: Jackson Pollock and his wife, Lee Krasner. We had only just arrived, having been greeted warmly by “Lee” as Hattie called Mrs. P., when Mr. Clement Greenberg arrived with his guests: Robert Motherwell, the Peter Scotts and a Miss Blumberg. Mrs. Pollock served drinks. I noticed a table with a handsome mosaic top and learned that Mrs. Pollock had made it. (She, too, is a fine painter) Then Mr. Pollock appeared; he consented tacitly to our seeing his paintings. We trooped to a barn. On the floor were huge canvases on which he had been working. There were many cans on the splattered floor – splatter of the duco, silverpaint, white lead, oils of various hue, et al, which he had used to make those mazes of linear space which some regard as chaos and with which he has caused such a “sensation.” We looked hard and silently, Mr. Motherwell, Mrs. Greenberg, Mr. and Mrs. Scott. One felt the strength of those paintings but moreover the serious violent effort toward a goal and significant statement. I am not certain just what I believe about them at this point, whether it is the materials themselves which have inherent strength and give them the power they appear to have or whether Mr. Pollock is an innovator in the application of his knowledge, experience and creative capacity – I do not know. The canvases are the size of murals. There is consistent color key, and suggestion of planned form (but not form in terms of definite, natural or usual shapes) – an orderly jungle of planes – linear planes, which created vast space and movement. There are depth and seriousness in the feelings which are evoked but few usual plastic images, the absence of which extends rather than limits the scope of meaning to the spectator. I saw many of the paintings flat on the floor from where he works which made it difficult to see them in the conventional way. I remember wide lines of black and silver paint with splattered frayed edges in many of the lines, but those splatters made for forms which became planes. Some had the texture and surface of enamels. They are bold! The principle of freedom, experiment and courage is evinced. Perhaps unconsciously – subjectively they are propelled by despair and anger and even exasperation. But assimilated experience and knowledge have facilitated these directions. Mr. Motherwell looked silently, as we did, all of us. He walked toward a painting, started to say something and then restrained himself, finally saying, “Oh well – one shouldn’t ask a question about something a painter is still working on.” There were simple non-natural forms cut in a masonite panel on which he was painting, which made for definite recesses since they had actually been cut in like a linoleum block. The paint had been continued, sparingly onto the recessed parts, not obscuring the forms which had been cut there, but rather making again for planes – and ultimately space, the Masonite itself providing another color and texture. When asked later by Peter and Bob and Hattie and Jon what I said – what anyone had said – I reported that little had been said rightfully. A few technical questions had been asked and Mr. Pollock answered very succinctly. I mentioned the subtle differences in color key in each painting. That was the only definite, sincere statement I could make at the time… or would under the circumstances. Everyone thanked Mr. Pollock. There were some “They’re terrifics” and Mrs. Scott obviously avoided the issue (most understandable) by saying, “Oh dear, it’s just too much to absorb in one afternoon.” I think Mr. Pollock is sincere. There is power there. Whether or not he believes that these are ultimate realizations of his aims, I do not know, but I am inclined to doubt it. These paintings are not to be dismissed. The experimentation, daring, evidences of originality and intense creative effort are there. Pollock’s paintings could be architectural accessories, and hung well and naturally on walls of contemporary architecture. They are not tender or romantic but neither are steel and concrete and plastics, or the materials used in contemporary structures. The paintings are personal but not intimate, and not familiar. BEAUTY -- AND JACKSON POLLOCK, TOO By Eli Siegel, December 1955 Thoughts about a phrase from the Critical Writing of Stuart Preston on Jackson Pollock, New York Times, December 4, 1955 No use looking for “beauty”… 1. There is a contemporaneous distrust of the word ‘beauty’ which it is well to look into. 2. There is a feeling prevalent that while the word beauty might have been all right with the Greeks or in the Eighteenth Century or with the Pre-Raphaelites, we are beyond this; we are too tough for this, too modern. 3. It is felt that the unconscious working on, say, bits of paper, or a heap of broken brick or dishes in a sink, will get to art, perhaps, that is not beautiful as past art has been; even so, there is no reason why one can’t or shouldn’t take broken brick as a subject, or scraps of paper: art really doesn’t mind, nor beauty, either. 4. The unconscious when it is completely unrestrained, untrammeled is opposed by critics to the idea of beauty, if not to that of impact, or of power, or of the elemental. 5. However, the aesthetic unconscious, if looked into, goes just as much for beauty in the primary, continuing, and still fresh sense of the conscious does. 6. The unconscious, as artistic, goes after unrestraint, but unrestraint as accurate; and when unrestraint is accurate, the effect on mind is still that of beauty. 7. No matter how unrestrained, elemental, untrammeled, without ‘forethought’ Jackson Pollock is, or anyone else – if his work is successful, there is in this work power and calm, intensity and rightness, unrestraint and accuracy – and these, felt at once, make for beauty. 8. Because beauty has taken new forms, used material foreign to Veronese, Gainsborough, Ingres, Ryder, there is a disposition on the part of critics like Stuart Preston to think the word beauty is no longer alive and electrical. 9. It is alive; it stands for life at its liveliest, at the most free and the most true. 10. For example, the question comes up: What makes Jackson Pollock’s unrestrained unconscious, ‘elemental and largely subconscious promptings,’ better than somebody else’ unrestrained unconscious and ‘subconscious promptings’? 11. For everybody has an unconscious – very often unrestrained – and everybody has ‘subconscious promptings.’ 12. The question for Mr. Preston and others is: What makes the unconscious or subconscious of Mr. Pollock, and the working without ‘forethought’ of Mr. Pollock, better, more artistic, more commendable in result than similar things of the mind in so, so many others? 13. It is the presence of some rightness, fitness, structure, purpose, composition, design or whatever you wish to call it in Mr. Pollock – at least if you see his work as art, that is what you see in it besides the ‘subconscious,’ the ‘promptings,’ the ‘elemental.’ 14. If Mr. Pollock’s unconscious is artistically successful, it is because there is a logic in it, a rightness or knowingness; words of Mr. Preston himself, like ‘apparently aimless’ imply some such thing – just look at the apparently! 15. So we have spontaneity, elementalness, freedom, ardor in Mr. Pollock, and rightness, accuracy, logic, design, effect, too. 16. Spontaneity and rightness, intensity and accuracy are what we find in Delacroix, Bosch, Turner, Van Gogh, and – yes, Piero della Francesca. 17. Spontaneity and rightness seen in a work of art, make one feel it has form. 18. Form is a word still synonymous with beauty. 19. Beauty can be regarded as the apprehended presence of individual impetus and universal rightness, of unconscious and conscious – and at its bet, the apprehended presence of the utmost spontaneity with the utmost truthfulness, rightness. 20. However, unrestrained Mr. Pollock’s unconscious is, it is going after design. 21. Otherwise, as was said (and it cannot be said too often) Mr. Pollock’s ‘abandonment of forethought’ would be like the lack of ‘forethought’ we find anywhere, with people not particularly artistic – and there is a mighty lot of ‘subconscious promptings’ in family squabbles, in sick rooms, in dull tavern brawls, in financial controversies. 22. People live differently today, but life goes on: the word life is as good as ever. 23. People go after beauty differently (for example, Jackson Pollock), but beauty is still around; the word beauty is as good as ever. 24. Mr. Preston is his effort to be desperately contemporary, has forgot to be deeply, vitally continuous – has forgot to be elemental in the very best sense. Signed and dated 49

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  • 2015-11-12
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A B, St. James

“Abstract paintings are fictive models because they show a reality that we can neither see nor describe, but whose existence we can surmise. This reality we characterize in negative terms: the unknown, the incomprehensible, the infinite, and for thousands of years we have described it with ersatz pictures, with heaven, hell, gods, devils. With abstract painting we created a better possibility to approach that which cannot be grasped or understood, because in the most concrete form it shows ‘nothing.’” Gerhard Richter in Exh. Cat., London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, Gerhard Richter: The London Paintings, 1988, n.p. “The complex weave of textures, colors and rhythms in these new paintings…results in a literal presence that is fuller, richer, more all-inclusive than in his previous abstract works.” Jill Lloyd in Exh. Cat., London, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, Gerhard Richter: The London Paintings, 1988, n.p. The sweeping extent to which Gerhard Richter is responsible for maintaining the vitality and essential currency of painting during the course of recent Art History is undeniable and inescapable. Ever since Vasari introduced the concept of a codified hierarchy of artistic aptitude, a line of masters from da Vinci and Michelangelo to Rembrandt, Turner, Monet, and Rothko have been celebrated as preeminent within their successive eras. Gerhard Richter is, quite simply, the master painter of ours. Belonging to the group of abstract paintings created for Richter’s 1988 show The London Paintings at Anthony d’Offay Gallery—his first major commercial exhibition in London—Richter’s extraordinary monument A B, St. James is a paragon of this series of early Abstrakte Bilder indefatigably tied to their host city. Acquired by the present owners directly from d’Offay in 1989, A B, St. James has remained in the same collection since the year after its debut in the 1988 exhibition of The London Paintings. From this corpus of fourteen so-called London Paintings created in response to a trip Richter made to London in 1987, A B, St. James is one of only five executed in the dramatically panoramic horizontal orientation. Testament to the remarkable caliber of this series, a number of these paintings now reside in prestigious institutional collections across the globe; most notably, each of the other horizontally oriented London Paintings today belong to significant collections: The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington., D.C.; Tate, London; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and La Caixa Foundation, Barcelona. A B, St. James looms in exquisite swathes of the richest red accented with strident kaleidoscopic underlayers of aquamarine blue, sunset orange, canary yellow and verdant green. Sumptuous impasto passages of viscous oil paint cover and reveal magnificent sediments of intense chromatic strata; an effect that conjures organic weathering and an atmospheric intimation of the painting’s urban title. Possessing an atmospheric power connected to famous British architectural monuments and generating a viewing experience that evokes the atmospheric effects of Claude Monet, A B, St. James sublimely registers beyond our sphere of cognition to deliver a rich poetic riposte to the sights and sounds of historic London. The painting references a direct geographic connection in alluding to the central district in the City of Westminster. As with the extant thirteen works in this ground-breaking series, each follows a particular quality which is enforced by Richter’s subsequent titling. Each work from the series is named after the various towers of the Tower of London and the chapels of Westminster Abbey, providing a sense of place that roots the abstract handling of paint in the real world. Alongside other works in this corpus, Richter conjures a mixture of evocations that complexly negotiate ecclesiastical and cultural references whilst at the same time eschewing literal interpretation. Indeed, far from performing a narrative function, these names operate within an intensely imaginative dimension rooted in Richter’s experience and anticipation of his London exhibition. In the catalogue essay for the d’Offay show, Jill Lloyd singles out the present work as a highlight from the series: “The rich and spectacular appearance of the new abstract work—St James, St Andrew, Flint Tower are some of the best examples—is the result of this complex balancing act of process, that extends over a period of time and is broken by periods of inactivity and consideration, when Richter physically and emotionally steps back from the compelling presence of his work.” (Jill Lloyd in Exh. Cat., London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, Gerhard Richter: The London Paintings, 1988, n.p.) Though entirely disconnected from referentiality in both method and conception, Richter’s abstractions nevertheless elusively evoke natural forms and color configurations. As outlined by the artist: “The paintings gain their life from our desire to recognize something in them. At every point they suggest similarities with real appearances, which then, however, never really materialize.” (the artist cited in Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Chicago, 2009, p. 267) Thwarting the artist’s own compositional preconceptions, these works are forged by a reactive and aleatory dialogue via the means of their execution: the squeegee. The layered excavation and resonant accumulation of gossamer color imparts an eroded surface reminiscent of myriad natural forms. Like a sunset, glorious and luminescent in reflecting the chromatic intensity of stunning optical effects, Richter’s canvas evokes the beauty frequently called forth by the contingency of natural phenomena: “amid the paintings’ scraped and layered pigments” describes Robert Storr, “shoals, riptides and cresting waves” reinforce an impression of venturing beyond abstraction (Robert Storr cited in Dietmar Elger, Op. Cit., p. XIII). Such a reading is very much linked to Richter’s methodological dialogue with chance. Dragged across an expanse of canvas, the pressure and speed of Richter’s application ultimately surrenders to the unpredictability of chance in informing composition and color. It is this separation of the artist from direct expression that bestows Richter’s paintings with their inherently natural look. The shimmering and harmoniously artful orchestration of paint within A B, St. James vacillates between an act of intense evocation and a simultaneous effacement of painterly form: ingrained within the present work’s destructive and unpredictable formation is an undeniable reflection of Nature itself. As outlined by Beate Söntgen; Richter’s method “joins the painted traces of the tools together with the layering and intersections of color to form structures that are figural or landscape like in appearance, without ever solidifying into an object that is once again recognizable.” (Beate Söntgen, "Work on the Picture: The Discretion of Gerhard Richter," in Exh. Cat., Cologne, Museum Ludwig, Gerhard Richter: Abstrakte Bilder, 2008, p. 37) Richter’s London Paintings revel in pure abstraction while conjuring a very specific feeling of place. Herein, the astounding abstracts presented in The London Paintings were the very first to fully draw a bridge between Richter’s very nascent foray into the dialectic between painting and photography. Coming full circle from the earliest Photo Paintings, the present work witnesses the full induction of the squeegee as the principle compositional agent. This in turn invited the method through which Richter was able to instigate “photography by other means.” (the artist cited in "Interview with Rolf Schön, 1972" in Dietmar Elger and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Eds., Gerhard Richter, TEXT: Writings, Interviews and Letters: 1961-2007, London, 2009, p. 73) As redolent in A B, St. James, the sheen of immaculate color and endless permutations mimic the aesthetic of a cibachrome print, while a distinctly photographic quality is compounded by the out-of focus consistency in the sweeping accretions of paint. Evoking a blurred image and imploring the same searching cognitive viewing experience as his photo-works, the hazy coagulation of endlessly scraped pigment forms an extraordinary riposte to the canon of twentieth-century abstraction via the photographic, mechanical and the aleatory. Within the sheer excess of layering and dynamic compositional facture these paintings emit an extraordinary wealth of enigmatic yet recognizable evocation. The incessant erasure and denial of formal resolution induces a reading of phenomenal forms associated with those found in nature. Readily evoking natural experiences such as rain, water erosion, or architectural weathering, the abstract works derive their affect from a spontaneous naturalism. Where Richter’s Photo Paintings fall away into abstraction, the Abstrakte Bilder return us to a suggestion of referential representation. Intriguingly, Richter’s show at d’Offay also included a suite of landscape paintings which, at first viewing, strike the viewer as natural successors to an art historical lineage of British landscape painters as epitomized by Turner, Constable or, as is oft mentioned, the sweeping panoramas of German Romantic painter, Caspar David Friedrich. This, however, is to simplify Richter’s highly conceptual relationship with image-making in all of its guises (both representational and abstract), which, rooted in the recognizable tropes of art history (from Romantic landscape painting through to Abstract Expressionism), looks to drive the possibility of painting into the Twenty-first Century. Ultimately, however, Richter’s achievement was without direct precedent. A B, St. James possesses a unique identity whereby the total deconstruction of perception - dismantling themes of representation, illusion, communication - becomes a sublime chaos. As a paradigm of this oeuvre the present work communes a subjective relationship with the viewer and becomes itself experience rather than object. Richter's cumulative technique depends on the random nature of chance that is necessary to facilitate the artistic ideology of the abstract works. As the artist has himself explained, "I want to end up with a picture that I haven't planned. This method of arbitrary choice, chance, inspiration and destruction may produce a specific type of picture, but it never produces a predetermined picture...I just want to get something more interesting out of it than those things I can think out for myself." (the artist interviewed in 1990, in Hubertus Butin and Stefan Gronert, Eds., Gerhard Richter. Editions 1965-2004: Catalogue Raisonné, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2004, p. 36)  With the repeated synthesis of chance being a defining trait of its execution, the painterly triumph of A B, St. James becomes independent of the artist and acquires its own inimitable and autonomous individuality. Signed, dated 1988 and numbered 653-1 on the reverse

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  • 2016-11-18
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Wand (Wall)

As professed by the title, Gerhard Richter’s Wand is a magisterial wall of resonating colour: vertical bands of vibrant cadmium red intercepted by horizontal strips of diaphanous cobalt blue and magenta constitute the glorious end-point of a destructive painterly process. Continuing the Twentieth Century’s legacy of erasure and radical reduction as a mode of interrogatory image-making – at once redolent in the work of Giacometti through to Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism – Richter’s Abstrakte Bilder confront the contemporary currency of painting against a prevailing doubt over its artistic claims to ‘truth’. It is with this meta dialogue in mind that the present work is utterly without parallel in Richter’s oeuvre. Nowhere are the painterly contradictions that structure Richter’s practice more obvious: caught between the inadequacy of Abstract Expressionist idealism and the mechanical mimesis that bestows upon contemporary culture a ‘photographic face’, Wand delivers a desublimation yet glorious affirmation of the practice of painting itself. Where Richter has unwaveringly voiced his criticism of Modernist abstraction’s transcendent idealism, this painting embodies an explicit confrontation and recapitulation of this particular abstract modality. Possessing the expansive power of a Mark Rothko that has been channelled through or buried underneath the distortive fuzz of some kind of painterly static, Wand truly epitomises Richter’s pioneering operation within, to cite Peter Osbourne, a “new kind of postphotographic painterly image space” (Peter Osborne, ‘Abstract Images: Sign, Image and Aesthetic in Gerhard Richter’s Painting’ in: Benjamin Buchloh, Ed., October Files: Gerhard Richter, Massachusetts 2009, p. 109). Unambiguously conversing with the annals of twentieth-century abstraction, Wand undoubtedly embodies among the most striking and direct articulations of Richter’s essential artistic directive: to unpick and reformulate historical modes of painterly expression in order to establish new relevance for painting in the present. Executed during a year in which Richter produced some of his most powerful grand-scale abstract pictures, Wand irrefutably stands alongside the large number of these paintings presently housed in major museum collections worldwide. Indeed, that Wand significantly resided in Richter’s own collection since its execution in 1994 until 2010 is testament to its singular importance. Proudly exhibited no less than nineteen times during this sixteen-year period, it is as though Richter specifically reserved this piece for public exhibition, protecting it from anonymity in order that it might widely disseminate the furthest limits of his pioneering achievement. Alongside major exhibitions staged at some of the most important institutions across the globe, Wand appeared in the landmark Richter retrospective Forty Years of Painting at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, thereafter travelling to the Art Institute of Chicago, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. during 2002-03. Previous to this, Wand was chosen as one of only three abstract paintings to accompany the monumental exhibition of Richter’s Atlas throughout Japan in 2001, and in 1999 was conspicuously captured as a monolithic wall of enveloping colour behind Richter when a photograph of the painter was chosen for the front cover of the German contemporary art journal, art Das Kunstmagazin. The high public exposure of this painting is evidence of its striking talismanic effect: monumental in scale and unusually structured in regimented strips of dazzling colour, Wand is unlike any other painting within Richter’s body of defining abstract work, it's singular nature indicated by its individual name and status as the sole work classified 806 in the artist’s cataloguing system. Where works numbered in series with a sequential suffix indicate the Richter’s serial method – many paintings simultaneously in progress at any one time – the whole number, alongside the work’s title, intimate that this is a painting of focussed effort and individual merit. Though many works from this eminent phase in Richter's production were executed in series, this painting stands complete and alone as a masterpiece of unique importance. Possessing an astounding chromatic intensity, Wand appears to quote the dissolution of boundaries through fields of luminous colour associated with the work of Rothko. In an address to the mind and spirit of the beholder, Rothko created an iconic body of abstraction in which profoundly diaphanous colour and luminescent surface strove for new planes of aesthetic experience. Rothko’s was a mystical project that looked to pure colour and diffusive effects for a transcendent and pure visual language beyond referent and normative meaning. Where red invoked the highest degree of emotional portent of any colour on the spectrum for Rothko, red in Richter’s 1990s production also represents a pronounced engagement. Following the esoteric corpus of Blood Mirrors and antecedent to the cycle of six monumental diamond shaped canvases housed in the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Wand's  towering field of alluring red variegation directly invokes the kind of tonal stacking idiosyncratic of Rothko’s exploration into the sacred space imparted by colour. Though unmistakably, and most likely intentionally, possessing a chromatic resonance and commanding structure to evoke such sublime projects as No. 14 housed in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art or the immersive portent of Rothko's famous Seagram Murals, Wand is nonetheless ruthlessly anti-idealistic in its dispossession of such sacred claims to visual supremacy. Richter has frequently spoken of aspects of his work as “cuckoo’s eggs” in that his paintings are often mistaken for something they are not, or not fully. Where this most aptly applies to the artist’s take on the sublime landscape, it is also at stake within his response to the sublime abstraction of the Twentieth Century’s great American painters. Though comprising seemingly infinite tonal variations and intimations of abyssal layers beyond picture plane, Wand is nonetheless a cancellation of the kind of transcendental sacred image space pioneered by Rothko. Ineluctably glorious in its enveloping celebration of colour, a pure Rothko-esque experience of boundless chromatic affect is nonetheless disrupted and offset by an enshrouding static drone. As outlined by Benjamin Buchloh: “if the ability of colour to generate this emotional, spiritual quality is presented and at the same time negated at all points, surely its always cancelling itself out. With so many combinations, so many permutational relationships, there can’t be any harmonious chromatic order, or compositional either, because there are no ordered relations left either in the colour system or the spatial system” (Benjamin Buchloh, ‘An Interview with Gerhard Richter’ (1986) in: Benjamin Buchloh, Ed., op. cit., pp. 23-24). Much like a palimpsest in its fervently scraped back surface and repeated working over, Wand resembles a restless confluence of many paintings at once. The exuberant strata of paint bear the ghosts of previous accretions and colour juxtapositions applied, erased, remade and obliterated over again. Such chromatic and compositional negations represent Richter’s rebuttal of the bold idealism of 1950s abstraction: "Pollock, Barnett Newman, Franz Kline, their heroism derived from the climate of their time, but we do not have this climate" (Richter quoted in: Michael Kimmelmann, ‘Gerhard Richter: An Artist Beyond Isms’, The New York Times, January 27, 2002, n.p.). Rather, the climate we do have, and the climate Richter’s entire production concerns itself with, is our contemporary age of the photographic. The dialectic between photography and painting embodies the crucial driving force of Richter’s lifelong artistic investigation - a practice that since its incipit has searched for a new conceptual space for painting not just in spite of, but reliant upon the conditions introduced by photographic representation. Art historian Peter Osborne has identified “photography as the means for painting” in Richter’s work by positing a suspended double negation: painting negated by photography and photography negated by painting (Peter Osborne, ‘Painting Negation: Gerhard Richter’s Negatives’, October, vol. 62, Autumn, 1992, pp. 102-13). According to Osborne, Richter’s quasi-photo-realist works register the disavowal of painting’s representational function via an emulation of a photographic model, whilst making photography the subject and object of painterly rumination concerning its varying social functions and representational forms – a remit that extends the whole expanded photographic repertoire of the classical painterly genres, spanning landscape and still life through to newspaper adverts and the amateur snapshot (Ibid.). By practising painting “in the manner of photography”, Richter circumvents the problematic notion of painterly representation by forging a new objective mode of painting through the interrogation of photography as a cultural form (Ibid., p. 106). Herein, idealistic painterly autonomy is circumvented, whilst creative ingenuity and intent is evacuated via photographic mediation. It was only via a qualitative leap from a photographic model that Richter came to produce the first ‘pure’ abstract paintings circa 1980. Prior to the full realisation of the Abstrakte Bilder, Richter made a series of paintings from photographs depicting thickly applied oil paint and smaller painted brushstrokes. Monumentally blown up yet painted with photorealist veracity, these zoomed in details took on the appearance of strange landscapes or sfumato abstractions. Camille Morineau cogently illuminates this period of Richter’s career as informed and propelled by the ‘Blow-Up’, the stylistic means through which “the figurative can become abstract and the abstract figurative through being enlarged or reduced” (Camille Morineau, ‘The Blow-Up, Primary Colours and Duplications’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate Modern, Gerhard Richter: Panorama, 2011, pp. 126-27). To this end, it was directly following the execution of one of Richter’s largest works, Stroke (on Red) - a monumental photo-realist enlargement of a yellow brushstroke for a school in Soest - that the role of the squeegee advanced Richter’s dialogue with abstraction. At this point the squeegee was a totally new and unfamiliar device. Experimentation with its scrape and accretion of paint across the canvas’ surface imparted disintegrating veils and exposures that for Richter directly correlated with the appearance of the enlarged brushstroke at Soest. As explained by Morineau: “Richter would have noticed that the squeegee produced an image that looked like the blown-up stroke: a veil of colour that partially hides, partially reveals what is underneath… In other words, the first squeegee painting mimics the appearance of a ‘blown-up’ stroke even though it was made completely differently. From this point onwards, Richter would have understood this lesson: an abstract painting could be made without any starting image” (Ibid., p. 127). Using the squeegee as a means to achieve photographic verisimilitude without a source image, the ensuing years witnessed an extraordinary progression towards a validation of pure painting and picturing of, as posited by Osborne, a “new kind of postphotographic painterly image space” (Peter Osborne, ‘Abstract Images: Sign, Image and Aesthetic in Gerhard Richter’s Painting’, op. cit., p. 109). Glowing in laminates of fiery cadmium and icy blue, a schema of diffused and fractured layers imparted by the operation of the squeegee lend a miraculous and somewhat otherworldly appearance. Totally independent from any photographic model, these works exhibit a quasi-mechanised reproducibility and objective, photographic opticality that is nonetheless resolutely painterly. Wand's monolithic expanse registers the slick fluidity of surface associated with cibachrome prints. Herein, Wand is an affirmation of Richter’s overarching aim to paint “like a camera” even without a photographic source. In 1972 Richter explained: “I’m not trying to imitate a photograph; I’m trying to make one. And if I disregard the assumption that a photograph is a piece of paper exposed to light, then, I am practicing photography by other means: I’m not producing paintings of a photograph but producing photographs. And, seen in this way, those of my paintings that have no photographic source (the abstracts, etc.) are also photographs” (Gerhard Richter in conversation with Rolf Shön (1972) quoted in: Hans Ulrich Obrist, Ed., Gerhard Richter The Daily Practice of Painting: Writings 1962-1993, London 1995, p. 73). As outlined by Richter, where the camera “does not apprehend objects, it sees them”, the Abstrakte Bilder elicit the capacity to reflect the true semblance of painting within a photographic climate (Ibid.). As many scholars of Richter’s work have pointed out, it is apt to note that the collective title for the abstract paintings, Abstrakte Bilder, is not a straightforward translation; rather, the closest equivalent to the original German is Abstract Pictures. By his own admission, Richter is not creating paintings but instead making images. The abstract works thus picture a postphotographic painterly image space nascently forged within the blur of the Photo Paintings and fully articulated in the large-scale squeegee abstractions. As Osborne outlines: “Richter’s abstract images are images of this image space itself. In this respect they are still ‘photo paintings’, but in an ontologically deeper sense than the phrase conveys when used as a designation for the earlier, more particularistically ‘photo-based’ work – a sense which is compatible with a compositional productivity, which places them closer to the video image and the digital image than the photographic image as such, as some works from the mid-1990s start to register, explicitly, in their videotic inflection of the famous blur” (Peter Osborne, ‘Abstract Images: Sign, Image and Aesthetic in Gerhard Richter’s Painting’, op. cit., p. 109). Wand is a consummate example of the type of ‘videotic’ effect mentioned by Osborne. Via a crackling, distortive fuzz redolent within miraculous sheens of colour, Wand’s purely abstract and Rothko-esque field of painterly variegation unmistakably bears the mark of televisual opticality. As cogently explained by Hal Foster: “The semblance that concerns Richter is of a “second nature”… a culture-become-nature bathed in the glow of the media, a semblance permeated with photographic, televisual, and now digital visualities” (Hal Foster, ‘Semblance According to Gerhard Richter’, in, Benjamin D. Buchloh, Ed., op. cit., p. 126). Having sought new ways to paint that rally against “redundant” figuration and the “inflated subjectivism, idealism, and existential weightlessness” of Modernist abstraction, Richter’s Abstrakte Bilder picture an assertion of abstract painting, not only in the face of photography which lies at the root of painting’s crisis, but immersed in its dgitial glow (Peter Osborne, ‘Painting Negation: Gerhard Richter’s Negatives’, op. cit., p. 104). Furnished by the mechanistic dissemination and destructive scrape of the squeegee, Wand possesses the irreprehensible beauty of a Rothko that has been processed through Richter’s desublimatiory lens and transfigured into a glorious postconceptual affirmation of painting for the televisual age. Signed, numbered 806 and dated 1994 on the reverse

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2014-02-12
Hammer price
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1955 Jaguar D-Type

250 bhp, 3,442 cc DOHC inline six-cylinder engine with three Weber 45 DCO3 carburetors, four-speed manual transmission, independent front suspension, live rear axle trailing links and transverse torsion bar, and four-wheel disc brakes. Wheelbase: 90 in. Legendary overall winner of the 1956 24 Hours of Le Mans, raced by Ecurie Ecosse Just two private owners since Ecurie Ecosse; in the same private collection for over 16 years The only Le Mans-winning C- or D-Type that has survived intact and remained essentially original to its winning form The first team-series production D-Type and the first to be designated by its chassis as a D-Type Unequivocally one of the most important and valuable Jaguars in the world 28 JULY 1956 The 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s most prestigious and legendary endurance race, starts at four o’clock in the afternoon and it’s raining—an inauspicious start to an already exceptionally dangerous motor race. With 60 years of competition history, the starting grid at La Sarthe is utterly jaw-dropping—legends like de Portago, Trintignant, Gendebien, von Trips, Hill, Maglioli, Behra, Fangio, and Castelloti are piloting prototype and production machinery with names like Ferrari, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Talbot, Porsche, Lotus, and Gordini. This is the golden age of motor-racing—the era of an unbroken Mulsanne Straight, mind-bending speeds, and supreme, life-risking danger in pursuit of eternal glory. This won’t be an easy race, and the men on the starting grid, about to sprint across the front stretch and jump into their cars, know it. After all, 49 cars will start the race and only 14 will finish. One man will lose his life. One of the most stunningly beautiful cars on the grid was the formidable Jaguar D-Type, swathed in traditional Scottish blue with a white cross, the traditional colors of the Ecurie Ecosse outfit. Standing across the track is Ron Flockhart, one of its two drivers, an Edinburgh-born driver who might not have known it, but he was on his way to consecutive Le Mans wins. Quite the adventurer, several years, later, he would make two attempts at breaking the flight record from Sydney, Australia, to London, England, in a war-era P51 Mustang. The Glasgow-born Ninian Sanderson was also on hand, Flockhart’s teammate, and by all accounts his polar opposite. A practical joker with a biting sense of humor, but with the same spirit for adventure . . . a yachtsman, he raced regattas on the Clyde Coast of Scotland. There they stand, two privateer entries in the competitive field, about to begin a 24-hour battle in conditions that Motor Sport Magazine described in September 1956 as “terrible, with rain and mist, and driving at all, let alone racing, was a nightmare . . . . How drivers can take a quick two or three hours’ sleep and then go on again defies explanation!” CRAFTING A LE MANS WINNER Following their win at Le Mans in 1953, where Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolt led a veritable parade of C-Types to three of the top four finishes, Jaguar faced a problem. It was evident that the limits of the XK 120-based race car had been reached, and that to remain competitive at Le Mans, a new car would be required. While the C-Type had been one of the first cars of its era to employ a steel-tube space-frame, its successor was perhaps the first to claim unitary monocoque construction, with the body and frame combining for structural integrity. The successful and proven 3.4-liter XK engine was retained, but now fitted with triple Weber carburetors good for 245 horsepower. A dry-sump lubrication system was also adapted that reduced height, allowing the engine to be mounted lower, and correspondingly reducing the overall profile and coefficient of drag. It was clear that the design was effective when one of the new cars hit 169 mph on the Mulsanne Straight at the Le Mans trials in April 1954. As the previous Jaguar had been called the C-Type for “competition,” the new Jaguar was dubbed the D-Type. The D-Type made its debut at the 1954 24 Hours of Le Mans, where Rolt and Hamilton were tasked with repeating their victory of the prior year. However, all three of Jaguar’s team entries were plagued with firing problems, and two of the D-Types retired before the #14 car of Hamilton and Rolt was adequately sorted to contend. As 4:00 p.m. approached on Sunday afternoon, the D-Type and the powerful 4.9-liter Ferrari 375 Plus driven by Froilan Gonzales and Maurice Trintignant were far ahead of two Cunninghams, a Gordini, and the Garage Francorchamps’ C-Type. After all was said and done, the Ferrari had only a narrow lead over the D-Type, besting the Jaguar in one of the closest Le Mans finishes ever. Six team cars were constructed for 1954, with chassis numbers in the range of XKD 401 through 406. In 1955, Jaguar began selling team and customer cars with 3.4-liter carbureted engines as the company gradually established the production minimum necessary to satisfy FIA homologation requirements. Fifty-four such cars were eventually built, with chassis numbers starting at XKD 501 (the first privateer team car). The factory simultaneously developed a version of the car for its competition purposes, most immediately recognizable by a longer nose. CHASSIS NUMBER XKD 501 Chassis number XKD 501 was the first D-Type production for a private team, sold to the Scottish racing team Ecurie Ecosse, and dispatched on 5 May 1955. A principal factory customer, Ecurie Ecosse was founded in 1951 and successfully ran C-Types through the early 1950s before eventually purchasing several D-Types. XKD 501 was liveried in the team’s signature colors with the St. Andrews Cross emblazoned on the front fenders. It was initially entrusted to driver Jimmy Stewart, brother of the legendary Jackie Stewart. Jimmy unfortunately crashed the D-Type twice during practice in May 1955. Each time, the car was returned to the factory for repairs. XKD 501 was therefore sidelined during June 1955, when Jaguar entered three longnose D-Types at Le Mans and played an unwitting role in one of motorsports’ most tragic disasters. Three laps into the race, team driver Mike Hawthorn, who had just lapped a much slower Austin-Healey, suddenly turned into the pits. The surprised Healey veered left to avoid hitting Hawthorn, pulling directly into the path of Pierre Levegh, who was driving one of Mercedes-Benzes new 300 SLRs. The SLR careened into the crowd, forever changing motorsports—yet the race continued. The following morning, while holding 1st and 3rd place, Mercedes-Benz withdrew from the race, and Hawthorn was left alone at the head of the pack, a full five laps ahead of the 2nd place finisher, the Aston Martin DB3S driven by Paul Frere and Peter Collins. The D-Type had won its first Le Mans, but at no small cost to the state of racing. Meanwhile, XKD 501 appeared at the Leinster Trophy on 9 July, where Desmond Titterington took the car to 9th overall, and 1st in class. Ecosse driver Ninian Sanderson assumed driving duties at the British GP on 17 July, claiming 6th place. Titterington returned to action in early August, finishing 1st and 2nd at the races at Charterhall, and then enjoyed two 1st place finishes at Snetterton a week later. Sanderson rotated in for a 1st and 2nd place at Crimond, and the two drivers teamed up for a 2nd place finish during the nine-hour race at Goodwood on 20 August. Another 2nd place by Titterington at Aintree on 3 September completed the 1955 season. VICTORY AND VINDICATION During 1956, rule changes mandated the implementation of full-width windscreens, and XKD 501 was so equipped while later receiving the engine from XKD 561 (engine number 2036-9), which the Ecurie Ecosse had acquired in the interim. The car continued to turn in solid performances during the first part of the season, with 3rd place finishes at Aintree and Charterhall, and a 1st and 2nd place at Goodwood on 21 May, while piloted by Ron Flockhart. Flockhart and Sanderson teamed for the 12 Hours of Reims on 30 June, where the D-Type model put on a clinical display. The two Ecosse drivers finished 4th, behind the three factory D-Types at 1-2-3, notably defeating the latest Ferrari TR Spider, and an F1-derived Gordini. The 24 Hours of Le Mans was held in late July, delayed from its usual June date due to modifications to the circuit intended to make the track safer for both drivers and spectators. The Jaguar factory again entered three D-Types with longnose bodywork, though in the face of the latest rule restrictions, the cars were equipped with fuel injection intended to improve mileage (a new consideration in the wake of reduced fuel allowances). Two carbureted 1955 privateer D-Types were also entered, fielded by the Garage Francorchamps and Ecurie Ecosse. The Scottish entry, this car, was again guided by the team of Sanderson and Flockhart. It was here that XKD 501 turned in its greatest performance, but as Motor Sport related two months later, “everyone had to do 34 laps on 120 liters of fuel, which worked out at approximately 11 mpg, with nothing to spare for emergencies. Naturally, the small cars were sitting pretty while the Jaguars and Aston Martins, Ferraris, and Talbots were doing plenty of worrying.” Certainly everyone was expecting a repeat of Reims, but it was not quite that simple. Although Hawthorn in the factory D-Type took an early lead, on the second lap of the race, everything changed with an early accident and two possible winners were eliminated, followed by Hawthorn, who came in after only four hours with a misfire. With 23 hours, 30 minutes still to go, the complete Jaguar team was in trouble, two cars eliminated, and one struggling with a bad fuel line. From a Works standpoint, the race appeared lost and Aston Martin and Ferrari were poised to outrun the older D-Types. The race report continued: “this left the Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar to uphold Coventry honors, and right nobly it did this, for by 5 p.m., it was in the lead and for the rest of the race, it was a game of cat and mouse between Flockhart/Sanderson and Moss/Collins. While Flockhart was driving, he was able to keep ahead of Moss and after 34 laps, when Collins took over the Aston Martin, he made up ground on Sanderson, who took over the Jaguar. Then, the next 34 laps saw the position reversed and the result was that the Scottish Jaguar had the race under its kilt, providing they played their cards wisely. With David Murray in charge of the time-keeping and Wilkie Wilkinson in charge of the pit stops, they could hardly go wrong.” Certainly, the Aston Martin didn’t quite stand a chance. The D-Type was so exceptionally fast that “Jaguar lapped regularly with nearly 1,000 rpm in hand” without significant fuel concerns, while the Aston had to be red-lined, gear by gear, entering the pits on fumes, simply to keep up. On occasion, Moss and Collins would even slip into neutral well before the end of the Mulsanne Straight and dart behind the Porsches’ slipstreams, all in an effort to save fuel. By the race’s final lap, however, with just 14 cars remaining in the field, the D-Type had a seven-lap lead on Trintignant and Olivier Gendebien’s Ferrari 625 LM spider, and a narrow lead over Stirling Moss in the Aston. Swaters’ D-Type held at 4th place, and this is the order in which the cars finished, with XKD 501 claiming its definitive victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. XKD 501 completed 2,507.19 miles at an average speed of 104.47 mph, and a maximum speed of 156.868 mph on the Mulsanne Straight, good enough for 9th in the Index of Performance rankings. In doing so, XKD 501 upheld the D-Type’s dominance despite the adversity faced by the factory cars (to his credit the skilled driver Hawthorn managed to roar his way back to 6th overall). Following the amazing finish at La Sarthe, XKD 501 returned to action in Britain, with a 2nd place at Aintree and 3rd at the Goodwood Trophy Race, but these triumphs paled after its perfect performance in France. AFTER THE LIMELIGHT In 1957, Jaguar retired from factory racing altogether and sold its latest longnose D-Types, with several cars acquired by the Ecurie Ecosse. As these 3.8-liter D-Types became the team’s focus, XKD 501 was only occasionally entered in various races, beginning with the Mille Miglia on 12 May, where the car retired early with Flockhart driving. Ecurie again experienced great success at the 1957 24 Hours of Le Mans, taking 1st and 2nd place, while other D-Type privateers finished 3rd, 4th, and 6th. Even with the Jaguar factory officially retired, the D-Type was still proving to be a dominant force on the world’s biggest stage. XKD 501’s time in the spotlight faded with these developments, however, and the car elapsed 1957 with a handful of DNFs, as well as 3rd, 6th, and 7th place finishes, punctuated by a final checkered flag at the Goodwood Whitsun Meeting in June. The car was essentially retired after June 1957, and it soon passed to Ecurie Ecosse financier Major Thomson of Peebles, Scotland. In May 1967, the car was demonstrated and presented at the Griffiths Formula 1 race at Oulton Park, driven by Alistair Birrell (a photo of which appears in Andrew Whyte’s 1983 book, D-Type and XKSS: Super Profile). In October 1970, XKD 501 was sold to Sir Michael Nairn, a fellow Scot, and over the following few years was sympathetically restored with emphasis on retaining its purity and originality to its 1956 Le Mans specifications by Raymond Fielding, as detailed in the September/October 1996 issue of Jaguar World magazine. The engine head and block were returned to Jaguar to be rebuilt, while the suspension and brakes were restored with proper components. Parts were sourced from John Pearson, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the D-Type, and a boyhood associate of the factory C-Type teams of the early 1950s. Most of the work was actually performed by ex-HRG/Cooper/Vanwall employee Dick Watson. Sir Nairn then used the car rather frequently, including presentation at the 1996 Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Silverstone Classic. In 1999, XKD 501 was purchased by the consignor, one of America’s most respected collectors of exceptional sports and racing cars. The new owner retained John Pearson to evaluate and freshen the car as needed for vintage racing applications, where it was presented at the 2002 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, winning the Jaguar Competition class and the Road & Track Award. A LEGEND AMONG LEGENDS In May 2002, Jaguar World Monthly magazine ran a feature on the car by marque expert Paul Skilleter, where he described his spirited ride: “With a 0–100 mph time of probably around the 12-second mark, the acceleration combined with the blast of the exhaust and the rush of air over the cockpit made it an exhilarating experience . . . The other aspect of a D-Type [that I noticed] is its solidity of build: sitting comfortably deep within those enfolding curves, you feel nothing vibrate, nothing rattle, nothing flex. Just sit in a D-Type and you know why it won Le Mans.” Now offered from only its third private owner, XKD 501 checks all the proverbial boxes. It has won the most grueling contest in sports car racing, the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans, and is a centrifugal component of Jaguar’s three consecutive wins at La Sarthe. The Jaguar has been fastidiously maintained and serviced by just four caretakers, including a restoration by some of the world’s most knowledgeable experts. Almost unique among a run of automobiles that inevitably led hard lives, its history is refreshingly clean, concise, and incredibly well-known. Chronicled in many books as a permanent part of Le Mans lore, this extremely important Ecurie Ecosse D-Type would crown the finest collections, notable for its history, rarity, and beautifully authentic presentation. Not merely a significant and markedly well-preserved D-Type, nor a star in the forefront of important racing Jaguars, XKD 501 can inarguably be held among the most historic British sports cars ever made. It is a legend among legends. Chassis no. XKD 501 Engine no. E 2036-9

  • USAUSA
  • 2016-08-19
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Sculpture éponge bleue sans titre, SE 168

"In working on my pictures in my studio, I sometimes used sponges. They became blue very quickly, obviously! One day I noticed the beauty of the blue in the sponge; at once this working tool became raw material for me. It is that extraordinary faculty of the sponge to become impregnated with whatever may be fluid that seduced me. Thanks to the sponges – raw living matter – I was going to be able to make portraits of the observers of my monochromes, who, after having seen, after having voyaged in the blue of my pictures, return totally impregnated in sensibility, as are the sponges." The artist in 1958, cited in Exh. Cat., Houston, Institute for the Arts, Rice University, Yves Klein 1928-1962: A Retrospective, 1982, p. 111 A sensational constellation of oceanic architecture drenched in Yves Klein’s unmistakable International Klein Blue pigment, SE 168 is the definitive archetype of the legendary Sculptures éponges oeuvre that epitomizes Klein’s art of immateriality. Held aloft over forty inches by its supremely elegant stem, this magnificently articulated marine phenomenon is truly exceptional for its spectacular scale and the intricacy of its sponge composition. Klein’s unprecedented output has forever eluded ready categorization and this sublime sculpture, exceptionally rare and of incomparable quality, is the ultimate testament to an artist who was nothing less than visionary. While a number of Sculptures éponges works today reside in the permanent collections of the most esteemed international museums, the sheer scale and simply awe-inspiring effect of the present work is exceptional. Elevated to confront the spectator at eye-level, this unearthly, celestial flower emanates a chromatic intensity that is not only uniquely indescribable due to the composition of Klein’s famous pigment, but is also continually changing due to the constantly shifting schema of light and shadow across its countless surfaces. As we experience its three-dimensions in the round we experience an intense evolution of color, light and form. Showcased in Iris Clert’s legendary 1959 Paris exhibition Bas-reliefs dans une forêt d’éponges, SE 168 was acquired in the year of its execution by the collectors Mr. and Mrs. Burton Tremaine, without question among the most revered connoisseurs of Modern and Contemporary art of their time. Following a 1984 exhibition of their collection, The New York Times reported “Not only is the art a first-rate sampling of American and European modernism, much of it acquired within a year or two of its creation, but it is also a clear reflection of unaided taste… This may explain why the names Burton and Emily Tremaine, seldom seen on the society pages, command such respect among curators.” (Vivien Raynor, “Prominent Collection is in Atheneum’s Spotlight,” The New York Times, March 4, 1984) The reviewer clearly had the present work close to mind as she went on to single out “Klein's huge sponge soaked in the artist's distinctive blue.” The sculpture thereafter entered the private collection of the eminent art dealer Sidney Janis, who had known Klein in the 1950s and had staged exhibitions of the artist’s work at his gallery. In the preface to his 1986 exhibition catalogue Mr. Janis wrote “Having long expressed his ideas on life and art in empathy with the supernatural, [Klein’s] earlier beliefs had led him to a space-color, a deeply pigmented blue which was to bear his name… Klein’s International Blue is one of today’s esthetic phenomena.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Monochrome Paintings and Sponge Reliefs by Yves Klein, 1986, n.p.) Yves Klein’s life and career witnessed the ultimate confluence of spectacular innovation and tragic brevity. Few others in recent cultural history have ignited such a dramatic artistic revolution within such a short space of time. During the half-century since his shocking early death at just thirty-four years of age, Klein’s legacy has been a benchmark against which major advancements in abstract, conceptual and performance art have been measured. More than this, beyond mere labels and categories, Klein’s aspiration to the purest form of creativity has been an inspiration for generations. His life was devoted to innovation and his art remains unlike anything else: it is, quite simply, unique. Despite an impressive output for such a transient existence, his oeuvre is highlighted by an elite number of works in which the various facets of his manifold artistic ideology resonate together in brilliant concert. These extraordinary vestiges of his influence possess profound conceptual depth and broadcast astonishing aesthetic allure. Indeed, for decades these pieces have imbued their viewers with nothing less than pure wonderment. Positioned at the forefront of this cadre and long-recognized as an outstanding triumph of Klein’s meteoric career is the transcendent SE 168. The pure, distilled essence of his sensational, provocative and sublime art, this work can only reasonably be described as a masterpiece. Klein's meteoric career - ended barely before it had begun - was devoted to a relentless search for an immaterial world beyond our own. To this end he developed modes of expression that fused together a sweeping array of profoundly held interests in aesthetics, nature and mysticism. Situated at the heart of Klein's epoch of immateriality, the unreal Sculptures éponges masterworks deliver the crescendo promised by the IKB, gold and rose Monochromes and bring to life the enigmatic shadows of the Anthropométries. While the Monochromes invite the viewer to step into the window of Klein's world, this Sculpture éponge advances out into the world of the viewer; whereas the Anthropométries narrate the trace of transient human presence, this three-dimensional phenomenon absorbs ancient creatures themselves into the depths of its fathomless blue. Although it may be indicative of some alien planetary landscape or the deepest ocean bed, the topography of this sculpture encapsulates the artist's pure concept of an ethereal and intangible state. Both the intense aesthetic and incomparable physical experience of SE 168 are magnificently unique and impossible to emulate adequately. The powdery, velvet blue surface continually evolves according to the play of light and while the sponges afford a beautiful compositional structure, their arrangement also reinforces the effect of the monochrome. Indeed, the sheer power of the IKB pigment unifies the whole work to such a degree that the exact topography of the surface is not always discernible and the spellbinding blue intermittently overcomes silhouette and contour. The labyrinths of minute spaces within the sponges create multifaceted schema of light and shadow and the extraordinary potency of Klein's blue seems to fill these void matrices with a coloristic energy independent of the physical forms. Thus while the sponge bodies loom towards us, the myriad recesses draw our world into the immaterial infinity of Klein's blue epoch. Having first observed the powerful chromatic effect of pure powdered pigment while in an art supply shop in London in 1949, through the 1950s Klein experimented with various fusions of asphalt, plaster, cement, sand, tar and other materials that he acquired from Edouard Adam, a chemicals and art supplies retailer in Montparnasse. From these trials he developed the legendary International Klein Blue, a synthetic medium that included the transparent binder Rhodopas M 60 A, which preserved the pigment as if it were still pure powder. It was also Adam who provided Klein with sponges from 1956, sourced from Greece and Tunisia, which the artist first used to apply paint to his surface before being struck by the extraordinary aesthetic of soaking them in IKB. As aquatic animals, sponges have evolved over hundreds of millions of years into bodies of maximum surface area and exceptional absorption qualities in order to extract nourishment and oxygen as efficiently as possible from the constant flow of water passing through them. As a living being the shape of a sponge changes, but extracted from its life-support of plankton-filled seawater it is frozen in its final, ultimate form. In the present work these outstanding features of natural selection are profusely drenched in Klein's blue, resulting in an organic construction of immeasurable chromatic depth. From his earliest experiments with monochromes Klein was gripped by sculptural possibilities: curved edges emphasized dimensions beyond the flat rectilinear canvas and in his first IKB exhibitions the works were projected away from the hanging wall so as to be suspended in space. This exploration into the prospects of hanging sculpture finds its apogee in the Sculpture éponge corpus where the three-dimensional elements exist independently in the same space as the viewer. Klein was fascinated by the work of Gaston Bachelard, the French philosopher of Air and Dreams, and by the Zen philosophy of spiritual and physical harmony that he first encountered during his training as a judo-ka in Yokohama in 1952. The composition of the sponges in SE 168 harbors some parity with the Zen gardens Klein had visited in Kyoto, where stones are grouped together on raked gravel in the Ryoan temple, presenting an order that appears entirely natural as if the stones had grown in place. Klein’s attentions were also deeply absorbed in Rosicrucian principles developed by Max Heindel in La Cosmologie de Rose-Croix, first published in 1909 and obtained by the artist in 1947. Heindel's words provide a startlingly apt parallel to Klein's work: "the dematerialization of all finite figures into the infinite ground of the immaterial constituted the passage into the next age ....which would no longer be characterized by figures with limits, but by pure space, the absence of figures, the lack of boundaries, the world of 'color,' the passage into the infinite." (Exh. Cat., Berlin, Deutsche Guggenheim, On the Sublime, 2001, pp. 71-72) Furthermore, Heindel enlisted the sponge itself as a metaphor to explain how diverse, isolated and separate elements of existence can simultaneously inhabit the same space. In the same way that sand, water and the air within water together saturate a sponge, various facets of material and immaterial worlds saturate our existence. SE 168 translates this multifaceted conceptual philosophy into breathtaking material physicality. Inasmuch as Yves Klein’s art was a self-determined extension of his existence (he was after all a pioneer of performance art), his lifelong passion for judo proves also to be pertinent to interpretation of SE 168. Already a judo enthusiast in France, Klein travelled to Japan from 1952-1954 to further his mastery in judo in the prestigious Kodokan Institute, which treated the discipline as both a combat technique and a way of meditation. While 'Ju' means adaptability or pliability, 'Do' means way or path. The suffix Do also implies a profession or practical activity, as well as a secular method for teaching Taoist and Zen principles. Hence judo is not only a martial art but a ritualistic and meditative practice rooted in Zen Buddhism. The attraction of judo was not simply that it gave one power, but that it made power beautiful: tangible force and power becoming a dance and an art. “Judo has helped me to understand that pictorial space is, above all, the product of spiritual exercises” Klein declared. “Judo is, in fact, the discovery of the human body in a spiritual space.” (Yves Klein, ‘On Judo,’ in Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, 2007, p. 2) Functioning on a scale that closely relates to the human domain, SE 168 is intensely corporeal, and aside from the organic, living genesis of its sponge forms, its continual evolution in appearance projects a powerful sense of ‘being.’ This sense finds close analogy with the artist’s Anthropométries inasmuch as these artworks do not merely reflect or record life, but have been invested with a life of their own. Klein's ability to impregnate art with life, as definitively embodied by this sculpture, surely finds its roots in his fixation with the realm of bodily experience as learned through the art of Judo. Yves Klein's artistic contribution to contemporary culture is most frequently described as visionary, and the scope of his artistic innovations was utterly without precedent. The works he left behind are testament to a genius that perceived things others could not. SE 168 expedites the artist's career-long investigation into how to communicate these concepts through artistic means, and because his language is so utterly unlike any other and precipitates a unique response in each individual spectator, this profoundly engaging and immensely beautiful work will always transcend and surpass our expectations of what art can achieve.

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  • 2013-05-13
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