Günther Förg - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Thursday, October 14, 2021 | Phillips

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  • 'The great struggle for artists is the annihilation of static equilibrium in their paintings through continuous oppositions among the means of expression… Abstract art is a concrete expression of such vitality.' —Piet MondrianWhile written just over a decade before Günther Förg was born, Piet Mondrian’s argument that the vitality of abstract art is achieved through the juxtaposition of contrasting elements resonates with the German artist’s approach to painting. Created in 2004, Untitled shares its title with Mondrian’s best-known series of abstract works. Yet, even as Förg responds to the lineage of this nonrepresentational art produced in the early decades of the twentieth century, his painting offers a distinctly contemporary reimagining of its principles.


    Piet Mondrian, Composition with red, yellow, black, blue and grey, 1921, oil on canvas. Photo credit: Longterm loan of The Rembrandt Society / © Mondrian/Holtzman Trust / Bridgeman Images

    The monumental canvas is divided into three areas containing intersecting lines executed in fiery orange, piercing black, and sandy grey-beige. Unlike Mondrian’s ‘Composition’ series, the rectangular forms are not demarcated using solid fields of colour, nor are the borders between them delineated with heavy black tracks. Instead, lines are applied to the canvas with a sensuous freedom. They alternate in unpredictable formations of closed rectilinear boxes and open structures, exploring ideas of internal and external space. While harmonious in nature, the painting exudes a ‘vitality’ generated by the ‘oppositions’ of colour and form that animate the counterbalanced elements executed upon the canvas.i

    Untitled builds upon Förg’s earlier series of ‘Gitterbilder’ or ‘grid paintings’. Commenced by the artist in 1992, the series represents an experimentation with the crossbar form. Intersecting lines are densely packed over passages of contrasting colour laid out on canvas. Unlike the earlier disciplined regularity of Agnes Martin’s grids which she executed using rulers, tape, and string as guides, Förg applies his lines in a free-form manner. In Untitled, his instinctive application of paint is given greater freedom than in the Gitterbilder series as the gridded lines dissolve into the negative space of the neutralising grey-beige background, creating an impression of lightness.


    Agnes Martin, Untitled, 1965, ink on paper. Promised gift of Emily Fisher Landau, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. © 2021. Digital image Whitney Museum of American Art / Licensed by Scala © Agnes Martin Foundation, New York / DACS 2021

    'I think painting is a resilient practice; if you look through the history of painting it doesn’t change so much and we always see it in the present. It is still now'
    —Günther Förg
    Born in Füssen in 1952, Förg emerged in the German art scene in the 1970s following his training at The Academy of Fine Art Munich. While experimenting with both painting and photography throughout his artmaking career, by the turn of the twenty-first century he had developed an idiosyncratic painterly style that he continued to advance until his death in 2013. Reflecting the art historical significance of his oeuvre, Förg has been cast as both the successor of a German Neo-Expressionism pioneered by Georg Baselitz, Per Kirkeby, and Markus Lupertz, and a key inheritor of an avant-garde European modernism as epitomised by the gestural mark-making of Cy Twombly. The critical impetus to situate the artist within these broader artmaking traditions parallels the painter’s own vast knowledge of art history and his understanding of how his practice relates to it: ‘fundamentally as soon as we engage with painting, we have the same problems that faced those at the beginning of the century or even before; problems around colour, form, composition’.ii As evidenced in Untitled, it is the artist’s intuitive understanding of these three components of artmaking that positions his work as powerfully relevant today.


    Piet Mondrian, Composition with red, yellow, black, blue and grey, 1921, oil on canvas. Photo credit: Longterm loan of The Rembrandt Society / © Mondrian/Holtzman Trust / Bridgeman Images
    Cy Twombly, Untitled (Bacchus), 2005, acrylic on canvas, Museum Brandhorst, Munich. © 2021. Photo Scala, Florence/bpk, Bildagentur fuer Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte, Berlin © Cy Twombly Foundation

    Collector's Digest


    •    The first solo exhibition of Günther Förg’s work in Los Angeles is currently on show at Hauser & Wirth until 9 January 2022. The gallery presents two generations of the artist’s Gitterbilder (Grid Paintings) which anticipate his experimentation with the crossbar form in the present work.


    i Piet Mondrian, quoted in John Elderfield, ed., Modern Painting and Sculpture: 1880-The Present at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2004, pp. 207-208
    ii Günther Förg, quoted in David Ryan, Talking Painting: Dialogues with Twelve Contemporary Abstract Painters, London, 2002, p. 80

    • Provenance

      Galerie Lelong, Zurich (acquired directly from the artist)
      Galeria Filomena Soares, Lissabon
      Massimo De Carlo, Milano
      Private Collection, Europe
      Acquired from the above by the present owner



signed and dated 'Förg 04' upper left
acrylic on canvas
200.9 x 280.6 cm (79 1/8 x 110 1/2 in.)
Painted in 2004, this work is recorded in the archive of Günther Förg as no. WVF.04.B.0229.

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

Full Cataloguing

£250,000 - 350,000 ‡ ♠

Contact Specialist

Tamila Kerimova
Specialist, Director, Head of Day Sale

20th Century & Contemporary Art

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 14 October 2021