Adrian Ghenie - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 17, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Tim Van Laere Gallery, Antwerp
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2009

  • Exhibited

    Antwerp, Tim Van Laere Gallery, Adrian Ghenie: Rainbow at dawn, December 3, 2009 - January 16, 2010, n.p. (illustrated; installation view illustrated)

  • Literature

    Juerg Judin, Adrian Ghenie, Ostfildern, 2014, p. 112 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “What intrigues me is how memory colors history, what remains in the end is collective memory. Elvis in that sense was an excellent way to study the period after the Second World War, for epitomizing those times. It was the beginning of the cold war, but also the start of a firm and optimistic belief in the future.”
    - Adrian Ghenie

    A powerful example of Adrian Ghenie’s painterly interrogations into history, memory and myth, Elvis puts forth a tantalizing portrait of one the most revered cultural icons of the 20th century. Flickering like a Technicolor image on a 1960s television set, the face of Elvis Presley emerges from the depths of a resplendent painterly palimpsest interlaced with passages of rich maroon, deep blue, cream and flush pink. Painted in 2009, Elvis debuted at Ghenie’s solo show at the Tim Van Laere Gallery in Antwerp as part of a distinct series of paintings exploring the mythology surrounding the “King of Rock and Roll”. Following on the heels of Ghenie’s Pie Fight series, these works represent the moment in which the young artist's pictorial idiom shifted from the black-and-white grisaille of his earlier breakthrough works towards a bold use of saturated color and variegated texture.

    Ghenie's painterly virtuosity as Philippe van Cauteren has espoused, “is nothing but a decoy...[his] actors are myths, authors of a projection of a certain reality. The pictorial space is filled with protagonists or genres of Hollywood, political pasts and iconic artists” (Philippe van Cauteren, Adrian Ghenie: Darwin’s Room, exh. cat., Romanian Pavilion, Biennale de Venezia, 2015, p. 90). With Elvis, Ghenie takes the viewer back to the nascent of the musician’s mythology, whereas other works in the series depict Presley visibly aged and clad in the white jumpsuit synonymous with his comeback in the 1970s that culminated with his premature and tragic death. Removing overt signifiers of his persona by dramatically closing in on Presley’s visage, Ghenie transforms the music icon into a more universal deity - captured in a quasi-religious moment of what could be equally rapture or pathos. It is likely that the severed head was based on a Graeco-Roman bust sculpture of Alexander the Great, while the lips were based on Marilyn Monroe.

    Continuing Ghenie’s exploration of the relative nature of myth and image-making in a media-saturated society, Elvis confronts us with a complex psychological portrait that explores how public and private ambiguously intertwine. While the figure of Elvis functions as a universal symbol for fame, it also harbors personal undercurrents for Ghenie as his father had been an Elvis impersonator. This series marked the beginning of Ghenie’s ongoing interest in self-portraiture, as made most explicit in Selfportrait, 2009, where the artist posed as Elvis for the full-length portrait. By injecting a representation of himself into depictions of iconic personalities, Ghenie essentially defines “that the origin of all [his] work is the consequence of a specific context and biography, but at the same it gives it the universal span beyond the anecdote of any biographical detail” (Philippe van Cauteren, Adrian Ghenie: Darwin’s Room, exh. cat., Romanian Pavilion, Biennale de Venezia, 2015, p. 91).

    Ghenie’s practice stands in relation to his experience of growing up under the totalitarian regime of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. Beginning his fine art studies in the early 1990s following the fall of the dictatorship, Ghenie was bombarded by new realms of visual media previously unavailable. In many ways this backdrop of experiences parallels that of Gerhard Richter, who, having left communist East Germany in the early 1960s, was confronted by both the trauma of recent history and the visual media onslaught of the post-war economic miracle. Whereas Richter’s early paintings transformed source imagery with a photo-realistic, blurred painterly idiom, Ghenie embraces gesture, color, pictorial accident, as well as personal memory to transform his found source material by dragging, pulling and scraping wet oil paint with a palette knife across the canvas – achieving an almost abstract quality.

    Elvis exemplifies how the surface of Ghenie’s paintings conceptually and physically becomes an exercise in understanding the so-called “texture” of history. Observing how religious iconography was replaced by the cult of the dictator, and later the cult of the celebrity, Ghenie noted, “The twentieth-century archive of images lacks texture. Stars…always appear in perfectly photoshopped pictures. Like goddesses” (Adrian Ghenie, quoted in Adrian Ghenie: Darwin’s Room, exh. cat., Romanian Pavilion, Biennale de Venezia, 2015, p. 84). It is through the legendary, but also tragic, figure of Elvis Presley that Ghenie, through the act of painting, probes the very point in which reality and fiction begin to unravel.

Property of a Private Collector



signed and dated "Ghenie 2009" on the reverse
oil on canvas
15 7/8 x 12 1/4 in. (40.5 x 31 cm.)
Painted in 2009.

$250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for $519,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 May 2018