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£200,000 - 300,000 ‡ ♠
Galleria Lia Rumma, Milan
Acquired from the above by the present owner
London, White Cube, Günther Förg: Lead Paintings, 3 June - 11 July 2015, pp. 8-9 (illustrated)
We are most grateful to Mr. Michael Neff from the Estate of Günther Förg for the information he has kindly provided on this work.
At the zenith of Günther Förg’s significant and multidisciplinary artistic output lie his Lead Paintings, which he commenced in the late 1980s. The transcendent and painterly Untitled, 1990, belongs to the earliest of these works, the irregular and vibrant surface placing the composition within the apex of the artist’s creative output. Emphasising the purity of colour and medium, Untitled, combines the artist’s process-based technique on an unusual metal foundation, with the sensuality of chromaticity.
Clearly banded, strong masses of colour are combined in Untitled. Eschewing symmetry and asymmetry in its irregular surface, the composition is formed from two colours masterfully divided across the contrasting plane. Calling upon the aesthetics of Colour Field painting, Förg’s use of absolute colour is magisterial in its boldness. Of utmost importance to Förg and his predecessor, Blinky Palermo, was American Abstraction and the arrangements of interacting colours. Like Palermo and in contrast to the ideals of American Abstraction, however, Förg allowed the material qualities of his work to become his vehicle for expression. In the Lead Paintings, the soft stability of lead becomes central to the composition. Through the transparency of the thinly painted acrylic surface and the evidence of the irregular material beneath, Förg resists the metaphysical desires of the likes of Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. The artist favoured the formal architectural and material qualities of his work over the sublime aura of Colour Field painting. The wash of rich orange, hand-painted with the evidence of gestural brush marks proudly present at the forefront of the composition, is juxtaposed against the ground material, naturally oxidised and unpredictably aged. The viewer is confronted with an expanse of textural tones. As with the work of Palermo before him, in his Lead Paintings Förg demonstrates the absolute importance of materiality and the status of medium in the artistic experience.
While Förg’s initial painterly experiments were occupied with black monochrome works, the Lead Paintings followed a stationary period in the artist’s creativity. After having given up painting altogether in the early 1980s, in the late 1980s Förg recommenced with his Lead Paintings, compositions created by covering a wooden frame or panel with sheets of lead and subsequently painting directly onto these sheets, without treatment or preliminary ground. Emitting a distinctive solidity, the artist’s choice of materials underlines the strength of colour. Utilising any residing marks and scrapes in the lead ground, the artist builds upon the history of the material he has chosen to use. Commenting on the physicality of the medium he notes ‘I like very much the qualities of lead – the surface, the heaviness… I like to react on things; with the normal canvas you often have to kill the ground, give it something to react against. With the metals you already have something – its scratches, scrapes.’ (Günther Förg, quoted in David Ryan, Talking Painting, London, 2002, p. 77). The surface effect harnessed by the artist in the present work highlights Förg’s career-long concern with materials.
Working predominantly in series', Förg’s varied artistic output, including photography, sculpture, painting, installation and wall painting, spanned more than thirty years. Focusing on creating serialised groupings of works the artist investigated the formal properties of painting and the result of experimenting with different mediums. Resolutely abstract, the Lead Paintings reverberate the themes of the artist’s experiments with architectural photography where he focused on fragments of buildings and placed them within the composition. Similarly in the present work the mass of orange is framed, like a carefully composed photograph, between two dark and dense bands of black.
Pairing geometrical stylistic elements with an expressionist evocation of mood, the artist presents a synthesis that frees the work from figuration. Here, invoking the Suprematist ideals of Kazimir Malevich who rejected preconceived artistic norms, Förg presents a new tangible and architectural branch of abstraction. ‘Really, painting should be sexy. It should be sensual. These are things that will always escape the concept. I think painting is a resilient practice; if you look through the history of painting it doesn’t change so much and we always see it in the present. It is still now’ (Günther Förg, quoted in David Ryan, Talking Painting, Karlsruhe, 1997).
Reconfiguring the course of Minimalist painting, Förg’s most iconic compositions, the Lead Paintings, are exemplary of the artist’s ultimate ability to forge new architectural territory in the field of abstraction. Requiring the viewer to consider the physicality of the work and the space within which it is presented, Untitled creates a new framework for visual experience. Firmly rooted within the path of Modernism, Förg’s experimentations with materiality obtain architectural status within twentieth century abstraction.
£200,000 - 300,000 ‡ ♠
London Auction 6 October 2017