Günther Förg - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, February 12, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Günther Förg, 'Untitled', Lot 12

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 13 February

  • Provenance

    Luhring Augustine Hetzler Gallery, Santa Monica
    Galerie Michael Janssen, Cologne
    Private Collection, Hamburg
    Phillips de Pury & Company, London, 14 October 2006, lot 68
    Private Collection, Florida
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Dallas Museum of Art, Encounters 2: Günther Förg and Skeet McAuley, 9 August - 27 September 1992

  • Literature

    We thank Mr. Michael Neff from the Estate of Günther Förg for the information he has kindly provided on this work.

  • Catalogue Essay

    Towering high above the viewer’s eye, Untitled, 1990, is a particularly vibrant example of Günther Förg’s exhaustive series of Lead Paintings, developed in the late 1980s and completed in the early 1990s. In these works, Förg juxtaposed acrylic and lead on flat wooden supports, revealing the tonal and textural variations deriving from the metallic material’s progressive oxidisation. Focusing on the formal abilities enabled by the metal, Förg circumvented the tide of figurative painting that was pervading his native Germany in the 1980s; instead, he remained attached to abstraction, and the organic processes with which the genre could be achieved. In the present composition, Förg celebrates the charismatic presence of two disparate yet commanding hues: a natural, meandering silvery colour – organically washed out in places – and a deep, cherry red pigment. Untitled was notably highlighted in the exhibition Encounters 2: Günther Förg and Skeet McAuley which took place at the Dallas Museum of Art in 1992, marking the first museum exhibition of Förg in the United States, as well as the inaugural presentation of his Lead Paintings to the country's wider public.

    While Förg’s initial painterly experiments were occupied with stringent black monochrome works, the Lead Paintings followed a stationary period in the artist’s creativity, following his abandonment of painting in the early 1980s. It wasn’t until commencing his Lead Paintings at the end of the decade that Förg began utilising the medium again, covering wooden frames with sheets of lead, and subsequently painting directly onto the sheets, without treatment or preliminary ground. Emitting a distinctive solidity, the artist’s choice of materials never failed to highlight the strength of his chosen colour – herein, a sensual red. Laying bare any residing marks on the lead ground, he moreover built upon the material’s potentiality, and exploited the possibilities enabled by the brushstroke in conjunction with the chosen chrome.

    In this sense, it is the materiality of the present work that most powerfully distinguishes it from other two-dimensional abstractions. ‘I like very much the qualities of lead – the surface, the heaviness’, the artist claimed. ‘Some of the paintings were completely painted, and you only experience the lead at the edges; this gives the painting a very heavy feeling - it gives the colour a different density and weight. In other works the materials would be explicitly visible as grounds. I like to react on things, with the normal canvas you often have to kill the ground, give it something to react against. With the metals you already have something - its scratches, scrapes’ (Günther Förg, quoted in David Ryan, Talking Painting, Karlsruhe, 1997, online). A work replete with contrasts and dualities, both chromatic and textural, Untitled prodigiously captures Förg’s preoccupation with the ephemeral and the natural.

    Expanding on the radically understated appearance of his work, Förg has advocated that abstraction is a means of expression in itself, whereby the materiality of the surface is of superior importance. ‘Working in a language (abstraction) that in the twentieth century has been described as spiritual, religious, symbolic, profoundly universal, and mythic, there seems nothing of that in Förg’s reality… a sense of nothing but the thing itself’, Paul Schimmel wrote (Paul Schimmel, Günther Förg: Painting/Sculpture/Installation, exh. cat., Newport Harbor Art Museum, California, 1989, p. 15). The artist, in this sense, rejected the metaphysical significance imparted by Barnett Newman in his infamous Zip paintings; instead, he veered towards the quiet contemplation enabled by Donald Judd’s non-spiritual sculptures. ‘Lacking both a clean, hard edge, as in Palermo’s paintings, and the unbridled gesture of the expressionists, Förg’s composition and technique lie somewhere in between’, continues Paul Schimmel. ‘The edges are neat but not precise, hand-made and rapidly laid down, with spontaneity having priority over structure…chance and spontaneity are emphasized further in the Lead Paintings in which the natural oxidation of the lead neutralizes the personal touch’ (Paul Schimmel, ‘Introduction’, Günther Förg: Paintings/Sculpture/Installation, exh. cat., Newport Harbor Art Museum, California, 1989, p. 14).

    Celebrating the substance of lead and revealing the exquisite sensual properties of a quasi-scarlet red, Untitled embodies the artist’s fundamental painterly formula in a way that incorporates composition, space, colour and materiality. As a result, ‘colours emerge, the paintings become more open, and even the material’s arbitrary elements in the patina become part of the picture’ (Günther Förg, quoted in Günther Förg: Paintings on Lead, exh. cat., Thomas Dane Gallery, London, 2006, p. 7).



acrylic on lead on wood
280.4 x 160.3 cm (110 3/8 x 63 1/8 in.)
Executed in 1990, this work is recorded in the archive of Günther Förg as No. WVF.90.B.0532.

£400,000 - 600,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £411,000

Contact Specialist

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099
[email protected]


Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 13 February 2020