Carroll Dunham - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Sunday, November 8, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Los Angeles
    Sonnabend Gallery, New York
    Skarstedt Gallery, New York
    Private Collection, Chicago
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Skarstedt Gallery, Carroll Dunham: Paintings on Wood 1982 - 1987, February - April, 2008

  • Literature

    Carroll Dunham: Paintings on Wood 1982 - 1987, exh. cat., Skarstedt Gallery, New York, 2008, p. 113 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Over the past three decades, Carroll Dunham has honed a unique vocabulary of painting exploring the relationship and tension between abstraction and figuration. Borrowing equally from the realms of surrealism, graffiti, pop, and even cartoon imagery, Dunham’s distinctive paintings introduce disorder in an experience of painting that is at once both accomplished and uncivilized. In Dunham’s singular universe, images of growth and destruction converge in vibrant pictorial landscapes that exalt the inextricable relationship between the beautiful and the grotesque.

    The early to mid-eighties represent a pivotal time in the development of Dunham’s artistic practice. From 1982-1987, he created an important series of highly-acclaimed works, including the present lot Body of Knowledge, 1985-1987, using casein and dry pigment to paint directly onto wood veneers. By tracing the wood’s inherent knots and ripples and allowing the medium to be his muse, Dunham described this body of work as having a profound influence on the development of his pictorial compositions moving forward.

    In an interview regarding this body of work he states, “I’ve always been drawing shapes and filling my paintings up with shapes. But I began to see that the shape and its surrounding and the relationship between the shape and its surrounding could be the painting. That seemed like a beautiful idea to me because it was so clear. One to one between me and the painting, between me and the shape.” (BOMB, Artist in Conversation, Carroll Dunham by Betsy Sussler, 1990)

    It was also during this period that Dunham’s shapes began to take on their characteristic bodily forms. In these works, the natural characteristics of the wood grain gives way to a myriad of corporal features. Dunham rendered Body of Knowledge with fleshy pinks and peaches, highlighting the anthropomorphic nature of the shapes. He sets these organic hues against psychedelic colors that reveal the crude nature of the wooden surface beneath. In discussing this body of work, Ken Johnson writes, "What these paintings add up to is a kind of delirious, barely contained psychic pluralism. Various dualities and contradictions play out: between wood and paint; abstraction and representation; geometry and biology; the phallic and the vaginal; body and mind; nature and culture." (K. Johnson, "Suggestive Forms That Come Out of the Plywoodwork", The New York Times, March 25, 2008)

    While teased with recognizable imagery, the characters in Dunham’s paintings occupy a unique territory somewhere between form and formlessness. The current lot is a defining example of how the content in Dunham’s paintings is replete with contradictions, defying easy categorization, eschewing genres, and pushing the boundaries of taste.

  • Artist Biography

    Carroll Dunham

    American • 1949

    Satire and sexuality meet Carroll Dunham's vivid brush in the artist's often large-scale fantasy worlds. His eye-popping cartoonish veneer takes a cue from Philip Guston while his primitive "visual language" of faceless figures continues a long line of tradition—think back to Paul Cézanne and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

    Though Dunham jumps between abstraction, figuration, pop, surrealism and cartoon, his works almost exclusively center on the subject of women's sexuality. He also favors painting, though he has delved into prints, works-on-paper and sculpture. His paintings can be seen as contemporary variations on nineteenth-century portraiture of women bathing, injected with similar concerns of those classical and early modernist artists.

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Body of Knowledge

mixed media on assorted wood veneers
63 x 37 in. (160 x 94 cm)
Signed and dated "Carroll Dunham May 1985 – March 1987" lower right; further signed, titled and dated "'Body of Knowledge' 1985-1987 N.Y.C. Carroll Dunham” on the reverse.

$200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for $305,000

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 8 November 2015 7pm