Adrian Ghenie - 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Evening Sale Hong Kong Saturday, November 26, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galeria Plan B, Berlin

  • Exhibited

    Wassenaar, Raadhuis De Paauw, A Selection of Pavilions, 18 September–22 November, 2015

  • Catalogue Essay

    Adrian Ghenie’s Elvis was painted in 2009, and shows the eponymous rock star in what appears to be the latter days of his career. Ghenie has created this painting using a range of techniques—areas of unprimed canvas contrast with the thick and sometimes vigorous marks visible elsewhere. While the features of Elvis Presley, and especially his glasses, appear to have been painted with illusionistic accuracy, elsewhere they are deliberate smears of paint, for instance the red that hovers sinisterly around his mouth, adding a vampiric dimension to the portrayal. Similarly, the ochre areas give a sense of Ghenie’s reliance on chance and on unusual methods of paint application, while some of the colours have been dragged and scraped, factors that have seen his pictures compared to those of Francis Bacon. This all adds to the intense energy of the painting, which itself complements the gaze with which The King holds us. Looking at Elvis, it is small wonder that Ghenie’s work has received such acclaim in the past decade, having been given solo exhibitions at museums such as the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, SMAK in Ghent and the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Bucharest, the capital of his native Romania.

    Ghenie lived for many years in Cluj, a city in Transylvania, one of the great historic crossroads of Europe; he still returns there often. It is only too appropriate, then, that Ghenie’s paintings have long explored and examined the complex threads of history and culture during the twentieth century. Where in some of his paintings, he probed the complex legacies of figures such as Lenin and Hitler, in Elvis he appears to be tackling the spread of popular culture as well as the cost of fame and public life. The subject, Elvis, looks weary and dissipated, as though shown shortly before his death. Yet this is the face of someone who changed the entire history of music. Elvis Presley was one of the first global icons. His life marked a shift in the way that culture spread across the planet.

    In Elvis, Ghenie has shown the singer in a position similar to that shown in another painting on the same theme, The King. However, in The King, more of the body was shown, and Ghenie paid less attention to certain other details. Indeed, in terms of scale and composition, Elvis appears at once like a devotional picture and a family portrait.

    Ghenie has long been interested by the endemic nature of some cultural moments and icons, the way that these public events and personas can embed themselves in our own private memories. In his depictions of Elvis, Ghenie has explored this through calculated interventions. He has used himself as a model for pictures showing himself as Elvis, revealing the complex ways in which identity work in the modern era. Similarly, this transposition introduces the narrative of Ghenie’s own rise to prominence as an artist. At the same time, the private narrative is deepened by Ghenie’s admission that his own father played a number of roles—he was a dentist, active in Romania’s secret police, and also an Elvis impersonator who was able to mimic, but not to understand, the lyrics he sang.

    Ghenie’s works often explore that ambiguous territory between private and public history. After all, Ghenie was raised in Romania when Nicolae Ceausescu was still the leader of a supposedly socialist regime. Ghenie’s father’s role in the secret police, part of the state apparatus of that period, was all the more problematic in the aftermath of the revolution that saw Ceausescu executed with his wife. In the wake of this revolt, with increasing access to Western resources, Ghenie was exposed to new perspectives, new strands of capitalist culture and history. This image of Elvis is a palimpsest, then, that contains levels of meaning about popular culture, family relationships and the cost of fame and power. At the same time, the sheer bravura of its painting, its balance of filmic figuration and expressionistic execution, introduce questions about the entire nature of representation in contemporary art. Elvis presents the viewer with an icon, distracting us with a recognisable image from Pop culture; yet it contains a deceptive number of undercurrents, ranging from the conceptual to the historical to the personal, all of which shake the foundations of the visual information being given.

Property of an Important European Collector



oil on canvas
41 x 31 cm. (16 1/8 x 12 1/4 in.)
Painted in 2009.

HK$1,200,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for HK$5,480,000

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20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 27 November 2016