Chris Ofili - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 16, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Chris Ofili, 'The Naked Spirit of Captain Shit and the Legend of the Black Stars', Lot 45

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 16 May 2019

  • Provenance

    Gavin Brown's enterprise, New York
    Private Collection, Miami
    David Zwirner Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Omaha, Joslyn Art Museum, Fabulism, January 31 - April 25, 2004, pp. 20-21, 95 (illustrated, p. 52; illustrated in phosphorescent state, p. 53)
    New York, New Museum; Aspen Art Museum, Chris Ofili: Night and Day, October 29, 2014 - October 18, 2015, p. 210 (illustrated, p. 156)

  • Literature

    Peter Doig et. al., Chris Ofili, New York, 2009, p. 264 (illustrated in phosphorescent state, p. 98; illustrated, p. 99)
    David Ebony, "A Fresh Look at Chris Ofili, a Painter Propelled by Controversy, at the New Museum", Observer, November 19, 2014, online
    Alexander Shulan, "CHRIS OFILI Night and Day", The Brooklyn Rail, December 18, 2014, online

  • Catalogue Essay

    “When you turn the lights out you get another painting. You look through Captain Shit, you see that he’s just a haze of color, he’s just a thin layer almost like a very soft vocal just laid over the top of a track. You turn the light out and you get a really heavy kind of bass line running through the whole thing.” –Chris Ofili

    Executed in 2000-2001, The Naked Spirit of Captain Shit and the Legend of the Black Stars, is one of ten paintings belonging to the seminal Captain Shit series begun in 1996, from which others are held by Tate, London and the Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh. Saturated in 1970s nostalgia, the present work features Ofili’s invented superhero Captain Shit rendered in a dazzling layer of glitter and resin atop a phosphorescent canvas smattered with gray stars, supported underneath by the artist’s signature elephant dung feet bearing the text “NAKED SPIRIT”. Created two years after Ofili became the first painter to win the Turner Prize since Howard Hodgkin in 1985, this visionary work is one of the last from the series, auguring Ofili’s appointment as the British representative at the Venice Biennale in 2003. The work was a highlight of the 2014 exhibition Night and Day at the New Museum, New York, Ofili’s first major exhibition in the U.S. since his inclusion in the controversial Sensation exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in 1997.

    Ofili created the character of Captain Shit as a means of deconstructing ideas of black iconography in popular culture. He was influenced by a mélange of comic-book characters such as Afrodisiac, Luke Cage and the Black Panther, as well as the 1970s Blaxploitation film genre. The result redresses the absence of black heroes from television, while simultaneously contributing to the caricatured representation of black culture. Captain Shit’s primary homage, as evident by his name, is Captain Sky, the alter ego of 1970s funk singer Daryl L. Cameron, who shares Captain Shit’s dazzling yellow and silver costume and enormous belt buckle emblazoned with “CS”. The overall imagery of the series is informed by Captain Sky’s vintage album cover artworks. The art curator Okwui Enwezor suggests that the Captain Shit series “explores the black male as a kind of comic superhero, but one whose armors of masculinity and powers of persuasion lie in the ambivalent iconographies of the seventies funk music scene” (Okwui Enwezor, Chris Ofili, New York, 2009, p. 152).

    In addition to Captain Shit acting as commentary on black masculinity, the real piece de resistance of the painting comes in the form of mask-shaped magazine cut-outs of faces in the surrounding “black stars”, a reference to actual achievements of black luminaries. When seen in the darkness, the entire canvas becomes emerald green, illuminating the stars which surge to the forefront of the painting as the figure of Captain Shit disintegrates. Poignantly, the true stories of black history displace the parody, which fades into shadow. The clichés embodied in the hyper-macho Captain Shit – with his exaggerated scarlet mouth, long green nails and oversized phallus – are part of Ofili’s wide-reaching exploration of the representation of black culture in Western media, including his profound awareness of societal misrepresentations of the black artist. In a 1995 interview, Ofili explained that the black artist is constantly stereotyped as “the Voodoo king…the witch doctor, the drug dealer, the Magicien de la terre, the exotic” (Chris Ofili, quoted in Marcelo Spinelli, Brilliant! New Art from London, exh. cat., Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1995, p. 67). Ofili’s encyclopedic translation of such pressures into composite characters recalls the wry uber-referentialism of Jean-Michel Basquiat, an artist who greatly influenced Ofili’s early work. Like Basquiat, Ofili weaves in cultural critique using disparate references to racial inequalities, art historical touchstones, jazz and celebrity heroes. Furthermore, his parody is in direct lineage with Andy Warhol’s silkscreens of mid-century celebrities – particularly Warhol’s hip-swinging double Elvis, a motif also referenced in an earlier work from Ofili’s series, Double Captain Shit and the Legend of the Black Stars, 1997.

    Texturally, Ofili’s subversive style emerges through a multilayered amalgam of media relating to both real and imagined “Africanness”. The haptic interplay of resin dots was inspired by Ofili’s visit to Zimbabwe in 1992, where he saw ancient cave paintings, as was the elephant dung. Yet Ofili’s signature incorporation of the substance also figures as a nuanced joke on the media’s perception of “African” art, since it actually comes from the London Zoo. "There's something incredibly simple…about it", Ofili has said. "It attracts multiple meanings and interpretations" (Chris Ofili, quoted in Carol Vogel, “Chris Ofili: British Artist Holds Fast to His Inspiration”, The New York Times, September 28, 1999, online). Although the medium is suffused with references to primitive earth, Ofili decontextualizes these associations by integrating excrement as a sculptural device to lift the painting off the ground, a provocative transgression of the sanctity of the painted canvas. Eliding facile categorization, The Naked Spirit of Captain Shit and the Legend of the Black Stars is as acutely topical and thought-provoking today as it was on the day of its creation. As critic Alexander Schulan marveled on the occasion of the New Museum retrospective, “Even now, 20 years later, the work bristles with the energy that made Ofili a young artworld star, and the issues it raises are no less pertinent” (Alexander Shulan, “CHRIS OFILI Night and Day", The Brooklyn Rail, December 18, 2014, online).


The Naked Spirit of Captain Shit and the Legend of the Black Stars

signed, titled and dated ""The naked spirit of captain shit and the legend of the black stars" 2000/2001 Chris Ofili" on the stretcher and on the overlap
acrylic, oil, phosphorescent paint, paper collage, glitter, polyester resin, map pins on linen, and elephant dung
100 3/4 x 72 x 6 1/8 in. (255.9 x 182.9 x 15.6 cm.)
Executed in 2000-2001.

$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $475,000

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 May | On View at 432 and 450 Park Avenue