A way to share and manage lots.
Galeria Plan B, Berlin
Acquired from the above by the present owner
One of the most prominent painters practising in contemporary art today, Adrian Ghenie’s visually arresting canvases, drenched and dashed in floods of rich colour, have become an icon of modern painting. The Collector 4, a rare and monumental work executed in 2009, is exemplary of the artist’s adroit mastery of his chosen medium, drawing upon historical and artistic currents from the twentieth century canon to produce visually stirring and psychologically complex images. Housed in the seminal collection of the creative visionary Masamichi Katayama, Founder and Principal of the renowned Tokyo-based interior design practice Wonderwall, this work has never been seen before at auction. Representing Romania at the Venice Biennale in 2015, the artist’s painterly prowess has been heralded internationally, which, combined with the work’s unique provenance and exquisite impactful quality, converge to make The Collector 4 a masterwork in Ghenie’s celebrated oeuvre.
The first from the series to be seen at auction, The Collector 4 belongs to a sequence of four works in which Ghenie explores the role of the obsessive collector, focusing particularly on the figure of Luftwaffe commander-in-chief, Hermann Göring. Commenting on his 2008 painting The Collector 2, in which Göring eagerly grasps an artwork in both hands, Ghenie states that the Sturmabteilung-Gruppenführer ‘sacrificed his humanity for his obsession’ (the artist, quoted in Jane Neal, ‘Referencing slapstick cinema, art history and the annals of totalitarianism, Adrian Ghenie’s paintings find ways of confronting a ‘century of humiliation’, Art Review, December 2010). Channelling themes of manic desire and malevolence, in The Collector 4 the collector lies in his bed surrounded by paintings, his face bloated and frozen in anguish like a ghoulish death mask. What appears to be a German romantic landscape hangs from a levitating soldier overhead, a small ceiling light illuminating the edges of canvasses and the corners of the dingy room.
While invoking the history of National Socialism, Ghenie’s layered canvas is rich in historical references to pre-war Germany. The present painting is a precursor to Ghenie’s 2010 work, Dada Room, which serves as a backdrop for the present canvas. The artist’s installation directly refers to the First International Dada Fair organised by Raoul Hausmann, John Heartfield and George Grosz with contributions from leading Dada artists of the time, such as Hannah Höch. The installation was a milestone in modern art and provided a platform for works which were soon to be deemed ‘entartete Kunst’ (degenerate art) under the National Socialist regime. The destruction of ‘un-German’ art, including works by Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse and many German Dada and expressionist painters, culminated in the Entartete Kunst exhibition in 1937, intended by the Nazis to showcase repulsive and subversive works which were condemned for befouling German culture. Reflecting on this period of violent censorship, the present work and Ghenie’s later series of smaller canvasses refer to the Nazi looting of modern masterpieces from museums and institutions; in the artist’s 2014 work Degenerate Art, Ghenie evokes the face of Van Gogh, twisted and tessellated in acidic brushstrokes charged with electric poignancy. In the present work, the iconic figure of the Dada pig-faced German officer is revisited, suspended from the ceiling and rendered spectre-like, with the outline of its pale unfinished snout resembling a gas mask. A bull’s head, rendered skull-like, emanates from beyond a frame, alluding to violence and masculinity. Multiple picture planes are stacked, steeped in shadow, and appear as potential doorways to new rooms through which sinister and unknown fears could lay in wait.
Born in Cluj, Transylvania, Adrian Ghenie spent his formative years living under the regime of Romanian dictator Ceaușescu, eventually witnessing the revolution which would end in the political leader’s execution. Twentieth century political turbulence, extremism and totalitarianism saturate Ghenie’s oeuvre and his visual allusions to historical events preoccupy his diverse body of work. From Elvis to Darwin, Van Gogh to key figures of National Socialism, Ghenie’s multi-layered canvases both coerce and coax the viewer to address collective and, conversely, private memory, traversing the past and present to provide a collaged reading of his works. Using key historical figures and iconic moments as structural columns to suspend his claustrophobic microcosms, Ghenie’s imagery is exhaustive in its references. Ghenie asserts ‘I’m not a history painter, but I am fascinated by what happened in the twentieth century and how it continues to shape today. I don’t feel any obligation to tell this to the world, but for me the twentieth century was a century of humiliation – and through my painting, I’m still trying to understand this’ (Adrian Ghenie, quoted in Jane Neal, ‘Referencing slapstick cinema, art history and the annals of totalitarianism, Adrian Ghenie’s paintings find ways of confronting a ‘century of humiliation’, Art Review, December 2010).
Drawing on Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator as a visual source, Ghenie’s sombre figures are often made to look obtuse, humiliated and comic, bordering on the slapstick, as demonstrated in the artist’s Pie Fight series. This series reduces and renders the iconography of political regimes and dictators as ridiculous while also acting as a metaphor for the banality of evil. Drawing upon the Jungian idea of collective unconscious, Ghenie’s interest in twentieth century cinema and visual culture has informed his constructed worlds; uncanny objects, recognisable places and familiar yet frightening scenes create atmospheric and cinematic interiors, where we are unable to separate what we know with what we have seen. Similarly, after seeing David Lynch’s series, Twin Peaks, Ghenie’s paintings can be viewed as having a Lynchian quality; the surroundings are everyday, yet become submerged in a world of surreal conversations, Kafkaesque pursuits and extraordinary circumstances. Remarking on the series Ghenie states ‘I think consciously and unconsciously I want to master in painting what Lynch has done in cinema. It was with Lynch that I started to build the visual language of my paintings’ (Adrian Ghenie, quoted in Stephen Riolo, ‘Adrian Ghenie, Pie Eater’, Art in America, 26 October 2010).
Ghenie’s work shifts effortlessly from figuration to abstraction; the artist creates a canvas which courses with vital energy, incorporating washes and heady outbursts of crimson, blood-red and fleshy hues. The present work is exemplary of Ghenie’s powerful and skilled finesse at creating stimulating textural surfaces with an arresting narrative quality. Opting to use unconventional tools to apply paint to the canvas rather than the traditional brush, Ghenie references his artistic predecessors, maintaining the spontaneous and gestural prowess as championed by the Abstract Expressionists. Areas of stark, blinding light are contrasted with deep shadow in the manner of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio and Gustave Caillebotte, providing a dramatic intensity in his murky interior. Blurring, distorting and merging background and foreground, Ghenie’s figures are reminiscent of Francis Bacon’s tortured protagonists while the walls appear adorned with slabs of meat, as seen in the works of Chaïm Soutine. In the same way Kurt Schwitters built the surface quality of his Dada collages with his infamous Merz detritus, Ghenie layers his canvases with potent subject matter, collating referential elements in his consuming compositions. His characters’ faces appear contorted with brief glimpses of detailed features as in the manner of Frank Auerbach and we also see paint dragged across the picture plane like Gerhard Richter’s squeegeed abstracts. As Ghenie has proclaimed, ‘You can’t invent a painting from scratch; you are working with an entire tradition … The pictorial language of the twentieth century, from Kurt Schwitters’s collages to Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, makes up a range of possibilities that I utilise in order to create a transhistorical figurative painting – a painting of the image as such, of representation’ (Adrian Ghenie, quoted in ‘Adrian Ghenie in Conversation with Magda Radu’, Adrian Ghenie: Darwin’s Room, exh. cat., Romanian Pavilion, Biennale de Venezia, 2015, p. 31).
Exhibiting in Zurich at Haunch of Venison’s 2006 exhibition, Cluj Connection, a show of contemporary Romanian artists curated by Jane Neal, Ghenie’s violent, shadowy canvasses became a popular highlight. Garnering international critical acclaim, the artist exhibited his The Shadow of a Daydream exhibition the following year in the same space. Co-founding Galeria Plan B, with locations in both Berlin and Cluj, Ghenie’s work is now housed in the collection of the Hammer Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst, Antwerp, SFMOMA and S.M.A.K., Ghent. Ghenie’s prolific oeuvre and exhilarating canvasses have cemented his position as one of the most revered and esteemed painters practising in contemporary art today.
London Auction 6 October 2017