Ewa Juszkiewicz - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | Phillips

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  • “My gestures are the tools to break a cliché and overturn a well-known order. I replace what is classical and connected with the canon into what comes from nature and senses. Paradoxically, by covering these portraits I want to uncover individuality, character, emotions. I want to bring out the vitality.” 
    — Ewa Juszkiewicz

    As a rising star in the world of contemporary art, the buzz around Polish-painter Ewa Juszkiewicz continues to grow at a catapulting rate. Following the announcement of her representation by the esteemed Gagosian gallery last year, she has since been honoured with a solo exhibition at Gagosian in New York, and two sell-out solo shows at Almine Rech in London and Paris. As the first work by the artist to be offered at auction in Asia, Appropriation is an arresting image that beautifully exemplifies Juszkiewicz’s distinctive style, portraying an oil painted rendering of a marble bust of a woman partially cloaked by invasive green foliage. Encapsulating the artist’s interest in art historical depictions of the female sitter and the ways in which past cultural imperatives continue to reverberate, Juszkiewicz remixes classical portraiture to ‘disturb the harmony and façade and to bring these characters to life’. i




    The present work exhibited at Gdańsk City Gallery, The Skeletons Must Rise, 14 July – 26 August 2018
    © Ewa Juszkiewicz



    Ideals of Beauty


    “I wish to tell a new tale and create my own language: ambiguous, dense, natural, and organic.”
    — Ewa Juszkiewicz


    Born in Gdańsk, Poland in 1984, and holding a PhD earned at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, Juszkiewicz has been interested in the genre of portraiture since first starting out on her artistic path. Though impressed by the artistry and technique of portraiture painting from the Western canon, Juszkiewicz was struck by her observation that under the dominant male gaze, women were very often portrayed in a uniformly passive way. As she explains, ‘Their poses, gestures, and facial expressions were very similar and showed no deep emotion or individuality. As a result, I developed a strong need to reference those portraits, and to establish a dialogue with them. I was driven by a desire to revitalise history, or rather, to create my own story on the basis of it.’ ii




     Left: The Venus de Milo

    Collection of the Louvre, Paris

    Right: Bust of Aphrodite/Venus

    Collection of The Museum of Liverpool



    Alluding to the work’s title, Appropriation draws an instant comparison to stone carved sculptures from Ancient Greece and Rome, of ideal figures, perfectly proportioned and balanced, who became symbols of both physical and moral excellence. In fact, with curling hair pinned to the sides of the subject’s symmetrical face, there is a distinct likeness between the bust in the present work and the portrayals of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of beauty, and her Roman counterpart Venus - such as the famous Hellenistic period Venus de Milo which is now housed in the collection of the Louvre in Paris.




    Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Head of Medusa, 1630

    Collection of the Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome


    Uprooting Venus and Aphrodite’s historically recognised symbolism for love, lust, passion, and pleasure, Juszkiewicz delicately conceals part of the subject of Appropriation’s smooth, marble, expressionless face with a dense covering of leaves, some of which are starting to wither and brown. As such, in substituting the marble art-historical connotations of classicised perfection with something tainted and depraved, Juszkiewicz’s figure fades into the anonymity of the natural world like a haunting dream - perhaps alluding to the myth of Medusa, who reclaimed her curse as powerful protection against the male gaze. Striking a balance between the glorified and the grotesque, and between theatricality and naturalness, Juszkiewicz disrupts stereotypical ideals of beauty to challenge misogynist notions of ownership around female identity, breaking the obsession and illusion of the decorative background role women have so often been expected to play.


    Juszkiewicz’s Surrealist Portraits




    Left: Ewa Juszkiewicz, Untitled (after Joseph Karl Stieler), 2020

    © Ewa Juszkiewicz

    Right: Joseph Karl Stieler,  Portrait of Auguste Strobl, 1828



    Though the present work undoubtedly nods to works of Classical antiquity, Juszkiewicz’s acute sensitivity to colour and sophisticated treatment of her oil paint medium further aligns her working methods to that of the Renaissance and Old Masters to the 19th century. And yet, infused with the spirit of Surrealism—an artistic and literary movement stemming from the late 1910s and early 1920s that sought to channel the unconscious to unlock the power of the imagination—Juszkiewicz’s unconventional portraiture innovates the genre through a contemporary perspective.


    Frida Kahlo’s thought-provoking self-portraits are interesting to note in respect to the present painting, as both artists’ work explores how women and the female body are seen and perceived, wholly debunking Sigmund Freud’s ask of ‘What do women want?’ Incorporating symbolism and metaphor to discuss the most complex aspects of female identity, Kahlo and Juszkiewicz’s subversive representations convey an inner worldview of such variety that no single question could encompass the nature of the female imagination.




    Frida Kahlo, Self Portrait, Dedicated to Dr Eloesser, 1940
     2021 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    “I am my own muse. The subject I know best. The subject I want to know better” 
    — Frida Kahlo

    But whereas Kahlo explored this through presentations of herself, celebrating her features and drawing from her emotions to curb others’ expectations of how a woman should look and behave, Juszkiewicz directly transforms the past in dialogue with the modern day to denature and destruct codes. Like the socially critical History Portraits by Cindy Sherman, whom Juszkiewicz has acknowledged for the influence on her work, in appropriating art historical representations of women and imbuing them with contrasts and contradictions, viewers are presented with a trifecta of meaning, prompted to consider the afterlife of such presentations of identity.




    Julie Curtiss, Escargot, 2018

    Lot 6 – Phillips Hong Kong Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

    Estimate HK$ 400,000 - 600,000 /  US$ 51,300 - 76,900



    A more contemporary comparison can be made between Juszkiewicz and the work of French-Vietnamese painter Julie Curtiss, whom too, reworks female archetypes through a sense of the uncanny, playing with notions of concealment versus exposed. Unlike Curtiss, however, whose painterly style is characterised by illustrative line, shadow, and colour, conjuring a dreamlike quality in her balance of the bizarre and the banal, the ethereality of Juszkiewicz’s portraits twists to almost satirical. Giving character to her appropriated subjects by manipulating their features to beyond recognition or substituting them with large polypore, the bodies of insects, bouquets of flowers, tribal masks, or draped fabrics, Juszkiewicz succeeds in creating works that are near-classical in form, but radical in concept.


    As she explains, ‘In these paintings, by covering or modifying a portrait, I want to disrupt the known order and shatter the uniform and conservative image of female beauty. Through a metamorphosis of classical paintings, I change their interpretation and provoke new, alternative associations… By interweaving elements relating to the canon and tradition with elements derived from nature and the senses, I want to release the expression, emotion, and vitality previously hidden by convention.’ii


    Collector’s Digest


    As one of the most celebrated contemporary Polish painters, Juszkiewicz’s work has been featured in extensive exhibitions at galleries worldwide, including at Gagosian in New York (17 November 2020 – 4 January 2021) and Almine Rech in Paris (4 September – 9 October 2021) and London (18 June – 31 July 2020).


    She is currently included in an exhibition called Arcimboldo Face to Face hosted by the Centre Pompidou-Metz in France, running from 29 May – 22 November 2021.


    Works by Juszkiewicz’ reside in the esteemed museum collections of the National Museum in Gdańsk, the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, BWA Galeria Bielska in Poland, and Zachęta of Contemporary Art in Szczecin, Poland.




    i Ewa Juszkiewicz, quoted in Lucy Rees, ‘Ewa Juszkiewicz’s Surreal Portraits Challenge the Role of Women in Art’, Galerie, 9 October 2019, online

    ii Ewa Juszkiewicz, quoted in Claire Selvin, ‘Painter Ewa Juszkiewicz Wants to Shatter Conservative Ideas About Beauty’, ARTnews, 25 November 2020, online

    • Provenance

      lokal_30, Warsaw
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Gdańsk City Gallery, The Skeletons Must Rise, 14 July – 26 August 2018

Property from an Important Polish Collection



signed, titled and dated 'Eva Juszkiewicz "'Appropriation'" 2018' on the reverse
oil on canvas
80 x 60 cm. (31 1/2 x 23 5/8 in.)
Painted in 2018.

Full Cataloguing

HK$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for HK$1,890,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+852 2318 2026
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2021