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

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  • Video

    Gary Hume, 'Magnolia Door One', Lot 21

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 13 February

  • Provenance

    Richard Salmon Gallery, London
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1988

  • Catalogue Essay

    ‘Just listen with the vastness of the world in mind. You can’t fail to get the message’ – Pierre Boulez

    ‘The doors swing to and fro, all day and all night long…’ (Adrian Searle, ‘Gary Hume’, Frieze, 5 June 1993, online).

    Opening and closing to the thoroughfare of bodies, hasty nurses, convoys of cleaning equipment and new life, hospital doors are silent witnesses to life’s most defining and perfunctory moments, encapsulating the spectrum of complexity that commands each person’s existence. In Gary Hume’s Magnolia Door One, 1988, the faint traces of circular windows in the upper quadrant of the canvas and the neat separation at its centre re-envision a door in its static state. An early example of Hume’s iconic series of Door Paintings, Magnolia Door One is an important formulation in which the artist employed the eponymous colour, immediately following the three seminal Mint Green Doors he presented at Damien Hirst’s Freeze show in 1988. Commenced the same year, the Magnolia doors were conceptualised specifically in reference to their colour. ‘I went to St Bartholomew's Hospital with a tape measure and a piece of paper, measured numerous doors and made schematic copies of them’, he said. ‘I used house paint in an institutional colour, magnolia, which is a colour of no choice… it was about democratic use of the symbol of the door’ (Gary Hume, quoted in 'Brilliant': New Art from London, exh. cat., Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1995, p. 45). Though Hume’s early doors captured the interest of only a select few in 1988, the artist went on to represent Great Britain in the Venice Biennale eleven years later. Today, his works are held in the prominent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate, London, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among others.

    A study in liminality, Hume’s Magnolia Door One looks at the dutiful structure of the door that, in the context of hospitals, physically separates life from death. At the same time, the artist uses a neutral, transitional hue that vacillates between many different colours, evoking the chromatically diminished art of Agnes Martin, who equally studied chromatic soothening in her minimalist canvases. Pink, beige, or green according to the viewer’s position and perspective, Magnolia Door One posits as a chameleon of sorts, adapting to all situations like a double-swing door. As a result, the painting is as transitional in subject matter as it is in aesthetic; it presents itself as a great leveller both in meaning and in form. Commenting on the portals’ capacity to carry poetic meaning, Adrian Searle writes, ‘It seems entirely appropriate to our time that the painting-as-window should have become a painting-as-door, and that the door should be closed. It is an image of closure and impenetrability which still manages to allude to the idea of something beyond – withheld, unseen, absent. There's a dumb poetry in the image of the shut door. The paint is built up, layer on layer, accentuating in relief the parts of the door. It is painted as well or as badly as you or I might decorate a door. Any drips are accidental’ (Adrian Searle, ‘Gary Hume’, Frieze, 5 June 1993, online).

    Similarly displacing and physically embodying objects to elevate, honour and commemorate all the things that surround us, Rachel Whiteread's sculptural output sheds light on the household items and familiar architectural structures we often overlook. Just like Hume’s work, Whiteread’s sculptures are evocative of much more than that which they represent indexically. They bring the viewer back to the notion of inescapability, as outwardly closed and impenetrable structures. Equally, Robert Gober and Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ silent sculptures come to mind – notably in their transformation of movable or live constructions into mute, seemingly sterile forms. In displacing what was once known into the realm of the nebulous, these artists address the poetry that is located in the ordinary – those small alterations that render the invisible visible again.

    Exploring the difference between the painted and the real, Magnolia Door One moves between strangely representational and iconographically minimal. Like a doorway, it is just the right size to encompass a human body – designed to meet human needs, and therefore, immediately evocative. An exceptional example of one of Hume’s most compelling ideas, the present painting demonstrates the medium’s ability to convey emotion through a simple, quintessential rendering.

The Robert Tibbles Collection: Young British Artists & More


Magnolia Door One

signed and titled 'MAGNOLIA DOOR ONE HUME' on the reverse; further inscribed 'SOLD TO STOCKBROKER' on a label affixed to the reverse
household gloss on canvas
254 x 162.6 cm (100 x 64 in.)
Painted in 1988.

£20,000 - 30,000 

Sold for £40,000

Contact Specialist

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


Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 13 February 2020