Adrian Ghenie - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 18, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Pace Gallery, London
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    London, Pace Gallery, Adrian Ghenie: Golems, June 12 - July 26, 2014
    56th Venice Biennale, Adrian Ghenie: Darwin's Room, May 9 - November 22, 2015, pp. 37-38, 79 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “You can’t invent a painting from scratch; you are working with an entire tradition..." Adrian Ghenie

    Adrian Ghenie’s visually arresting Charles Darwin as a Young Man from 2014 belongs to a select group of portraits that range from the notorious (Hitler, Lenin, and Stalin) to the popular (Elvis, Laurel and Hardy) and the influential (Darwin, Vincent van Gogh, and Marcel Duchamp). The most impactful of these are those which address Darwin and van Gogh – the two historical figures who form the structural pillars of Ghenie’s recent work. Ghenie deftly combined his childhood adulation of the Dutch master with the historical implications of Darwin’s theory of biological evolutionism to form the basis of his critically acclaimed exhibition at the 56th Venice Biennale. Entitled Darwin’s Room and shown in the Romanian Pavilion as it would have appeared in 1938, this show explored the repercussions of Darwin’s revolutionary discoveries, following the darker implications of “survival of the fittest” through to some troubling conclusions. Among the paintings of van Gogh, Hitler, and images invoking the infamous Nazi book burnings and Degenerate Art Exhibition of 1937, Charles Darwin as a Young Man formed a critical component of this landmark show.

    Painted in the artist’s trademark style, Charles Darwin as a Young Man is a quintessential Ghenie image. Working from an original portrait photograph of the great scientist around the age of 46, Ghenie has executed a work of stunning potency, drawing on the great history of portraiture, but doing so in a wholly new and inventive fashion. The painting is comprised of seemingly distinct components, almost as if collaged – the bald pate of Darwin’s head stands in stark contrast to the deep, expressionistic shadow surrounding the form; while one side of his face has been turned into an almost Auerbach-esque swirl of paint, the other retains a formal naturalism. The “new” fashion of Ghenie’s painting is actually the artist’s deft ability to build off of, and combine together, the towering figures of art history that preceded him. From Richter’s squeegees, to Bacon’s whorls, Ghenie readily acknowledges and pays homage to those from whom he has derived his inimitable style. “You can’t invent a painting from scratch; you are working with an entire tradition...The pictorial language of the 20th 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)

    Having grown up in Romania under the tyrannical Communist dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu, Adrian Ghenie’s entire oeuvre is predicated on the exploration of the breakdown between public and private; the creative and destructive powers of modern science; the cult of personality, and works such as Charles Darwin as a Young Man wonderfully encapsulate this “trans-historical” mode that breaks down barriers even as it seeks to illuminate them.


Charles Darwin as a Young Man

signed and dated "Ghenie 2014" on the reverse
oil on canvas
20 7/8 x 13 3/8 in. (53 x 34 cm.)
Painted in 2014.

$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for $610,000

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 18 May 2017