Christina Quarles Placed, 2017. Estimate: $70,000-100,000.
20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, New York.
A superb example from an artist rare to auction, Placed exemplifies Christina Quarles’ painterly approach to universal themes of identity and sexuality which has earned her a reputation as one of the most innovative voices of her generation. In her launch to widespread acclaim over the last three years, the painter has enjoyed international museum attention, and her unique vision will be celebrated in a major solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago next year. This global recognition—virtually unknown for an artist only 35 years old—has translated into her status as one of the most sought-after painters among her contemporaries.
In Placed, Quarles’ own perspectives on identity can be read in the multiplicity of tones used to render her subjects. “As a Queer, cis-woman who is Black but is often mistaken as white, I engage with the world from a position that is multiply situated,” the artist has elucidated. The frontal figure is depicted with both a pale peach left leg and a dark navy right one, while her body and the rear lover’s left arm and right fingers are filled with iridescent silver contoured by lavender, cerulean, and orange. Moreover, the ambiguity of both the race and gender of the upper figure challenges the tradition of heteronormativity that has typically presented in art historical portrayals of love.
In my development as an artist it was always at the forefront of my mind to engage with ambiguity.
— Christina Quarles
Christina Quarles Placed, 2017 (detail).
Though the identities of the bodies in Placed are for the most part ambiguous and unfixed, select aspects are characterized by their contrasting clarity. The most salient features are the subjects’ hands and feet, details of much significance to the artist and depicted in the meticulous exactitude used in life drawing. “For a long time I worked through this idea of the outermost edge of your self being represented through the hands and the feet,” Quarles illuminated. “I think of them as the outermost extremities, where you interact with the world.”
Confronting preconceived notions of identity and sexuality, Quarles’ captivating, intertwining bodies lovingly interact and embrace—and in the case of Placed, kiss—across a brilliant wave of color. By engaging with the art historical canon, the painter has captured in Placed a portrait of the past and the future, of both the imposing rigidity of social constructions of identity and the collapse of these implied restrictions when we join together. As critic David Pagel articulately expressed, her paintings are “a sustained meditation on the complex ways our private desires and public identities interact with each other to shape our understanding of who we are as individuals, as communities, as a people and as a species.”