Charles Ray - Contemporary Art Part I New York Wednesday, November 15, 2006 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galleria Franz Paludetto, Turin

  • Exhibited

    Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, February 12 – April 30, 2000; Portland Art Museum (Oregon), July 7 – September 17, 2000; Paris, Musée national d’art moderne, Centres Georges Pompidou, November – December, 2000 (presented as Sons et lumières); Mexico City, Museo Rufino Tamayo, June – August, 2001; Miami Art Museum, September – November, 2001; Let’s Entertain: Life’s Guilty Pleasures, no. 59, p. 146 (illustrated); Turin, Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, (on long term loan to the museum), January 20, 1999 - December 12, 2003

  • Literature

    L. Barnes and D. Cooper, Charles Ray, Newport Harbor Art Museum, California, 1990, p. 33 (illustrated). K. Jacobson, ed., Let’s Entertain: Life’s Guilty Pleasures, New York, 2000, cat. no. 59, p. 146 (illustrated); P. Ritter, “Too Much Joy”, Citypages, Minneapolis, Art Volume 21 – Issue 1007, March 22, 2000

  • Catalogue Essay

    Paramount to the concerns that Charles Ray endeavors to question from his earliest works of the 1970s through the most present, is the gulf between the real and the unreal, the ordinary and the strange; a perceptual discrepancy oftentimes indistinguishable upon initial examination, but which slowly reveals itself to the viewer. Through minimal, abstract, and figurative works, Ray explores the authenticity and meaning of representation. By pushing and pulling boundaries, exploring the authenticity and meaning of representation, Ray masterfully catches the viewer off guard. In 1990, Ray created Revolution Counter-Revolution, the present lot, which magnificently epitomizes the concepts of examination and manipulation of one’s concept of reality within the world of art.

    Ray’s formative years in military school, his formalist training under sculptor Roland Brener, and his reverence for the modernist British sculptor Anthony Caro and 19th Century American realist painter Thomas Eakins, served as a period of incubation where Charles Ray developed and refined a visual style that confronted his viewers with great force and magnitude on both the physical and cerebral levels. His work exists on the fringe, pushing the boundaries of accepted norms within the mainstream art world; a style, and body of work that is in a constant state of flux, changing and adapting with each new stage in his life.

    Ray’s body of work spans a wide spectrum and is comprised of a multitude of mediums; shifting from “Caro-esque” sculptures, to performance, to self-explorations, to minimalist, pop and surrealist dalliances. For Ray, the term sculpture is a verb and his viewers and their experiences with his works are integral elements to the overall success of the work. When asked what direction the sculptures are directed in, Ray states: “Well, they’re really directed toward the viewer, because I figure maybe what interests me might interest the viewer. I don’t have any other gauge. I can’t think about what’s going to interest Joan, what’s going to interest Bob, or Sue or Sam, so I just start to assume that if it engages me on some level and has implications or reverberations for me hopefully it will for someone else. Not always, it doesn’t always” (C. Ray, L. Barnes and D. Cooper, Charles Ray, San Clemente, 1990, p. 14).

    Overall, Ray’s work exhibits a high degree of formal and thematic coherence, much of it involving odd discrepancies in resolution, a visual mismatch among the parts of a work, or a discomforting slip of scale between the work and the “real” object which the viewer thought was its model. Manipulating the viewer’s emotions and perception of what is “real” are at the root of Revolution Counter Revolution and Ray continues to execute this with aplomb and proficiency with each successive work that he executes.

    In Revolution Counter Revolution, Ray has taken the idea of “carousel”, an object that is very easily recognizable, and elevated it to the Duchampian level of high art. For years carousels had been admired for their detailed artisanship and aesthetic beauty. These objects however did not find their way into the museum or gallery. Yet, while the carousel in Revolution Counter Revolution is so close in scale to the real thing, it is simultaneously and hauntingly very different. Ray builds the ultimate amusement ride, however his carousel is designed so that its platform spins in one direction, while the horses travel very slowly in the opposite direction. Ray, thus ultimately subverts this childhood symbol from one of dreaming into one of futility. As the work’s title suggests, revolution is ultimately contradicted by counter-revolution, with an unsettling result. Despite the movement, it seems almost to be standing still.

    Revolution Counter Revolution follows along the same vein as a later work entitled FireTruck, (fig. 1) which Ray created for the 1993 Whitney Biennial in New York, in the sense that Ray has reproduced an object that has certain connotations relating it to a specific accepted meaning. Ray explains, “It was a Tonka toy fire truck scaled-up to the proportions of a real truck. Initially I saw the piece trying to do something to the space of the city. The equation was going to go two ways. It was like a toy becoming a real truck, and when you looked at it, a real truck becoming a toy. It wasn’t like an Oldenburg blow-up, because it blew up its right size rather than to a gigantic size. It was kind of about trying to turn the whole city into a kind of weird toy” (C. Ray quoted in R. Storr, “Anxious Space”, Art in America, November 1998). The present lot also shares a strong connection with Ray’s obsession in manipulating scale and perception, which is central in his iconic works of gigantic sized mannequins, such as Fall, 1991 (fig. 2) and Boy, 1992.

    Through the manipulation of scale and removing the work from its intended context, the object takes on an entirely new meaning, which he artfully masters in Revolution Counter Revolution. “Ray forces us to reflect on things so basic or so close that we take them for granted. By subtly disrupting norms or changing the context of the ordinary, he causes a shift in perception and consciousness – an apprehension of the strangeness in the familiar that is the hallmark of his art…Told in great realism and detail, the ordinary becomes heroic; the simple becomes complex; the obvious becomes mysterious; the closed becomes open-ended; the literal becomes metaphorical. Appearances are shown to be deceptive; nothing is what it seems. (R, Ferguson & S. Emerson, eds., Charles Ray, Los Angeles, 1998, p. 82).

    In describing his work, Ray himself explains “I’ve always thought of speaking about the psychology of the work. I put so much struggle into giving birth to the work, and the psychology has always been the thing that I haven’t had to struggle with. With Oh! Charley, Charley…, it looks like I’m exposing myself; but then you see I’m not. What at first seems vulnerable and open isn’t; it’s masturbation, there’s no entrance, somehow, I’m just flat. Obviously part of my psychology is “yes/no”, “hot/cold.” It’s partly the way I was brought up in the military school. I’ve always been very hesitant to discuss those aspects, because it’s so embarrassing. My objection is not to overt psychology in art, it’s to a dependence on aspects that are generated psychologically from the outside. I’m not against sculpture being provocative, but I would like to find a way to make the provocative nature come more from the piece itself” (R. Storr, ibid).


Revolution Counter-Revolution

Carved wooden elements, steel, fabric and mechanical elements.
Installed dimensions: 115 x 164 x 164 in. (292.1 x 416.6 x 416.6 cm).

$1,500,000 - 2,000,000 

Sold for $1,584,000

Contemporary Art Part I

16 Nov 2006, 7pm
New York