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Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York
Private Collection, Minneapolis
Montgomery Glasoe Gallery, Minneapolis
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1996
New York, Barbara Gladstone Gallery, Painting Invitational, 23 June - July 1993
Minneapolis, Walker Arts Center; Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum, Brilliant! New Art from London, 22 October 1995 - 7 January 1996, cat. no. 2 (illustrated)
Hexam, Queen's Hall Arts Centre, Glenn Brown, 1996, p. 20, no. 2, (illustrated)
London, Serpentine Gallery, Glenn Brown, 2004, p. 24 (illustrated)
Executed in 1992, Glenn Brown’s Saturday Night Fever is an exhilarating example from the artist’s iconic body of work after the celebrated School of London artist, Frank Auerbach. Distorting and manipulating Auerbach’s 1980 Head of Julia, the present work marks a pivotal point in Brown’s painted dialogue with canonical works from art history. Through his acclaimed corpus Brown has reinterpreted iconic paintings by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, El Greco, Rembrandt van Rign, Salvadore Dalí, Willem de Kooning and Karel Appel.
Working from reproductions found in exhibition catalogues, literature and online, Brown subverts and reforms our understanding of esteemed art works by distorting, blurring and altering revered images from art history. Through this process of manipulation, by sharpening and widening images in Photoshop, Brown decontextualizes Auerbach’s original work, eradicating the marks of the heroic painter, with his brush in hand. Captivated by Walter Benjamin’s theoretical discourse in his 1936 essay, The work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Brown explores how our visual perception is arbitrated by stripping the work of its art historical aura. Detached from the sphere of tradition, Head of Julia is thrust into the present and disconnected from the past, prompting the viewer to bring new understanding to Brown’s glossy re-mastering.
Coursing with energetic fervour, Saturday Night Fever is a powerful configuration of Auerbach’s portrait. Rendered to perfection, Brown’s radical use of trompe l’oeil mimics expressionistic brushstrokes on the flattest of surfaces, whilst using an intensified palette reminiscent of four-colour printing. Brown paraphrases Auerbach’s heavy impasto into tight, manicured rivers of paint, fetishizing and polishing the artist’s original painterly touch. Auerbach’s expressive style and austere palette which convey the mood of his subject are undermined, thus setting the esteemed artistry of the painter at odds with the modern world of mass reproduction. Whereas Auerbach is concerned with subject matter and his sitter’s personality, Brown focuses instead on the surface of the canvas and the process of production. While Auerbach captures his sitter’s soul, Brown recreates Julia as an eerie ghost-like figure, emerging from the blurred and retreating background. Revealing how the original painting indicts its history, the present work retains the original excitement of Auerbach’s 1980 portrait and re-presents it to us with renewed vigour.
In the artist’s appropriation tradition, Brown derives his titles from popular culture, songs and film such as the present reference to the 1970s film, Saturday Night Fever. This association was considered so important, that a previous owner organised for John Travolta’s autograph to be attached to the reverse of the work. Pulsating with Brown’s electric tonality, Saturday Night Fever is reminiscent of the original mass produced film poster featuring the dancing figures of Travolta and Karen Lynn Gorney. It is this tension between appropriation and distortion, mass distribution and the mark of the artist’s hand, which has made Glenn Brown one of the most fascinating and desirable British artists working today.
London Auction 8 March 2017 5pm GMT