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  • 'What matters for the journey, which this series chronicles, is not arriving at some final Beatific Vision but the more earthly, carnal dreams and visions to be glimpsed along the way.' —Stuart Hall 

    A work of exceptional and exquisite vibrancy that occupies a place of profound importance in British artist Chris Ofili’s oeuvre, Triple Beam Dreamer is closely related in execution and vision to the series of five large-scale works presented in the artist’s ambitious exhibition Within Reach, presented at the Biennale Internazionale d'Arte di Venezia in 2003. Included as part of Ofili’s major mid-career retrospective held at Tate Britain in 2010, and in his first American survey exhibition Night and Day at the New Museum in 2014, the large-scale Triple Beam Dreamer is a dazzling representative of the key formal and thematic concerns of the series, and of Ofili’s work from this period more broadly. An Edenic vision retold through the prism of pan-African pride, Ofili’s sensually recumbent nude is a heady celebration of sensuality and erotic love in paradise. 

     

    Densely layered and highly patterned, the present work demonstrates Ofili’s effortless mastery of his materials, the culmination of earlier stylistic and formal investigations combining glitter, beadlike dots of acrylic and oils, coats of resin, map pins, leaves, and elephant dung in compositions such as the controversial The Holy Virgin Mary, 1996 and the deeply moving No Woman No Cry, 1998, now part of the Tate collection. 

     

    Chris Ofili discusses his practice and distinctive approach to materials in this 2010 film made on the occasion of his major retrospective at Tate Britain. Skip to 5.00 for Ofili’s reflections on No Woman No Cry. 

     

    Employing the same fluid sense of line and beaded lattice motif used in these earlier works, the Within Reach series and related works formalises the radically reduced palette first seen in Ofili’s 1997 painting Black Paranoia. In place of the broad spectrum of chromatic hues used previously, Triple Beam Dreamer and its sister works employ a palette deliberately restricted to the red, black, and green of the pan-African flag. Through a rich interplay of biblical, mythological, political, and art-historical referents, Ofili builds a powerful, unfolding narrative of an ‘Africa’ ‘re-imagined, a landscape of the mind, free for dreaming, visually recalled, as from another place – from elsewhere; ‘Africa’, not remembered but dreamt in its translated ‘Afro’ idiom.’i 

     

    Red, Black, and Green and the World Within Reach 

    'I was trying to push the red as far as it needed to go in certain areas before it needed to flip to a green. It’s a bit like when you are listening to a great harp solo in an Alice Coltrane track, where the strings are really gliding along through the track, and then Pharaoh Sanders might play a horn that kind of interrupts things, and then it falls back into the harp.' —Chris Ofili

    Designed by Jamaican political activist Marcus Garvey and adopted in 1920 as a symbol of African and diasporic identity and solidarity, the triband of red, black, and green represents the blood, skin, and lush natural resources that at once unites people of African descent and identifies the historical targets of colonial violence and exploitation. By restricting his palette to these colours, Ofili makes a powerful statement about the politics of representation and identity, and of his intention to reclaim a narrative space within which to explore themes of Black love and liberation unconditioned by an exoticising or exploitative gaze. 

     

    Detail of the present work 

    Working in collaboration with visionary architect David Adjaye, Ofili extended this narrative space into the psychical realm of the gallery itself, transforming the interior of the British Pavilion into a lushly textured world of immersive passages of red, black, and green. Bathing viewers in these intense hues as they passed from room to room, Adjaye also installed low lighting and lush carpets to deliberately slow the transit of the visitors through the galleries. Radically altering the relationship between the viewer and the work through this transportive experience, the collaboration worked to bring the world of Ofili’s paintings that much closer – almost, in fact ‘within reach’. The central room of the pavilion was crowned with a geometrically complex canopy of fractured shards of coloured glass that produced the effect of an explosion of coloured light. Appropriately titled AfroKaleidoscope, the enormous steel and glass sculpture evoked the recurring pointed star motif running across the series and recreated a sense of the interior world of the paintings with great accomplishment. 

     

    Referencing American artist David Hammons’ 1990 African American Flag, Ofili signposted the crossing into this this new, imaginative universe with his own take on the Union Jack, reimagined in bands of red, black, and green. Hung over the entrance to the Tate Britain on the occasion of Ofili’s 2010 retrospective, Union Black now resides in Tate’s permanent collection. 

     

    Reimaging Paradise

    'I always think of the work as coming out of hip-hop culture, which is an approach to making and looking at things with no hierarchy. Everything just gets everything.' —Chris Ofili 

    Riffing on the languorous exoticism of Henri Rousseau and the undulating line of Paul Gauguin as much as racial stereotypes borrowed from Blaxploitation movies and pornography, Ofili draws us into a jungle world ‘rich, lush, forever proliferating with a painted abstraction of fullness and ripeness and teeming life, a tropical memory, an artificial paradise, a glittery, spangled, over-ripe floor-show fantasy Eden.’ii 

     

    Henri J. F. Rousseau, The Dream, 1910, Museum of Modern Art, New York. Bridgeman Images

    Rendered in a brilliant field of tightly packed, black pointillist dots (that evoke early post-Impressionist masters as much as the more contemporary experiments of Sigmar Polke) the reclining nude dominates the composition, the fluid line of her form undulating behind the intricate beaded lattice and veils of resin that hang between her and us. Seductive and sensual, her body is defined through accents of vibrant red and green that are echoed in the swelling vegetal forms surrounding her. Unlike Rousseau’s awkwardly rigid nude, Ofili’s presents a powerful image of sexuality as rooted in nature’s abundance. Following a loosely Edenic narrative, Triple Beam Dreamer presents sexual vitality and seduction as existing in balance with, rather than in defiance of, paradise. Collapsing the false dichotomies of good and evil, sacred and profane, Ofili brings these complex extremes into direct contact in the present work where glitter and elephant dung, verdant nature and the title’s references to street drugs and 90s gangster rap negotiate with one another in a single image. 

     

    Elemental Energy 

     

    Ofili’s use of elephant dung is essential to creating this sense of colliding oppositions. A hallmark of the artist’s practice, he first began to incorporate the material in his work after his first trip to Africa in 1992, where he was struck by the stark differences between his rigid formal training in British art schools and the energy and force compacted in the natural landscape he found there. As a totemic piece of that landscape, the elephant dung introduces an explosive energy to Ofili’s compositions. As the artist describes: ‘I don’t think there is any ‘beauty and ugliness’, just different degrees of response to something – different degrees of energy […] in some of the paintings I’ve made in the past, I was trying to put the two together in order to measure them up […] and see if the paint could be as energetic, as powerful.’iii

     

    Detail of the present work

    In the context of this richly abundant imagining of paradise, the dung also operates as a potent symbol of growth, of the cycles of life, and of the constant proximity of the alluring to the repulsive. Tellingly, this series is united by the recurring motif of the exploding red, black, and green star crafted from elephant dung that hangs in the sky above the trysting lovers and reclining nudes. A potent symbol of life-giving energy and potent vibrancy, Ofili uses the material to energise the entire series, the works presented resting on two dung feet emblazoned with ‘Triple’ and ‘Beam’ respectively.

     

    It was precisely this collapsing of the seductive into the repulsive that also energised Édouard Manet’s scandalous 1863 Olympia, and the present work certainly draws on this important art historical precedent. Without the intensity of Olympia’s unflinching gaze, the languorous figure of Triple Beam Dreamer presents us with less of a challenge than an invitation, a potent expression of female sexuality enjoyed on her own terms.

     

    Édouard Manet, Olympia, 1863, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Bridgeman Images

    The public scandal generated with the unveiling of Olympia speaks precisely to this sense of discomfort at the proximity between the sacred and the profane, love and lust, seduction and repulsion that is dramatised in Ofili’s large-scale canvas. Unsurprisingly perhaps, moral outrage once again erupted in 1999 when then New York Mayor Rudolf Giuliani opposed the display of Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary in the Brooklyn Museum as part of the touring Sensation exhibition. Continuing to provoke discussion and debate, Ofili’s works build complex narratives around African and diasporic culture, black stereotypes, history, and exoticism, and of this impressive body of work Triple Beam Dreamer is a tour-de-force.

     

    Collector’s Digest

     

    •    Winner of the 1998 Turner Prize, British artist Chris Ofili has exhibited widely since coming to prominence in the early 1990s. In the past two decades, Ofili has had significant international exhibitions including at Tate Britain in London, the New Museum in New York, and representing Britain at the 2003 Biennale Internazionale d'Arte di Venezia.

     

    •    A member of the influential Young British Artists group promoted by collector and gallerist Charles Saatchi, Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary was the subject of controversy when the 1999 Sensation exhibition toured to New York.

     

    •    Limited to the colours of the Pan-African flag, Triple Beam Dreamer signals its relationship to a significant series from the early 2000s that crystallised with Ofili’s presentation at the 2003 Biennale Internazionale d'Arte di Venezia.

     

    i Stuart Hall, ‘Chris Ofili in Paradise: Dreaming in Afro’, Victoria Miro, 2003, online 
    ii Adrian Searle, ‘A Fine Romance’ in Chris Ofili: Within Reach, British Pavilion 50th Venice Biennale, 2003, n.p. 
    iii Chris Ofili, quoted in ‘In Search of the Real Me’, Tate Magazine, 1 January 2010, online 

    • Provenance

      Gavin Brown's enterprise, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2002

    • Exhibited

      London, Victoria Miro, Chris Ofili Freedom One Day, 25 June - 3 August 2002, n.p. (illustrated)
      London, Tate Britain, Chris Ofili, 27 January - 16 May 2010, pp. 108, 167 (illustrated, pp. 106-107)
      New York, New Museum; Aspen Art Museum Chris Ofili: Night and Day, 29 October 2014 - 18 October 2015, pp. 202, 210 (illustrated, pp. 204-205)

    • Literature

      Chris Ofili. within reach, exh. cat., L Biennale Internazionale d'Arte di Venezia, British Pavilion, 2003, n.p. (referenced in vol. I Words; detail illustrated in vol. III Installation)
      Carol Becker, ed., Chris Ofili, New York, 2009, pp. 164, 265 (illustrated, pp. 166-167)

Property from an Important American Collection

27

Triple Beam Dreamer

signed, titled and dated '''Triple beam dreamer'' 2001-2002 CHRIS OFILI' on the overlap
acrylic, oil, leaves, glitter, polyester resin, map pins and elephant dung on linen, with two elephant dung supports
195.3 x 304.8 cm (76 7/8 x 120 in.)
Executed in 2001-2002.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£600,000 - 800,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £1,014,700

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2021