Günther Förg - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 3, 2022 | Phillips

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  • 'The spots became more and more abstract. He learned that they have a three-dimensional level on each spot. They are not just dots in a canvas. They are planned and precisely worked out on an empty filed.' —Michael NeffPossessing a remarkable sense of immediacy, vitality, and unparalleled verve, this untitled work from 2008 belongs to Günther Förg’s iconic Spot Paintings, the last of his illustrious career and representing the culmination of five decades of sustained investigation into the nature of colour and structure. Characterised by loose scrawls of vibrantly hued pigments arranged in staccato formations across a vast expanse of brilliant white ground, the series presents a lyrical extension of the artist’s earlier Grid and Window Paintings. Painted in 2008, the present work highlights the sophistication and confidence of Förg’s handling of paint and emphasises how fundamental the principles of colour and painterly gesture were to his practice.

    Liberating colour from the confinements of line and shape, in the present work Förg generates fascinating variety and movement through the careful juxtaposition of brighter hues of yellow ochre, vermillion, and electric shocks of cerulean blue, which oscillate against the earthier tones of chestnut browns and forest greens. The effect of this executed on such a large, immersive scale is deeply absorbing - highlighting at once the artist’s unique vision, and his sustained dialogue with art historical tradition.


    Modernist Legacies 

    'By referring to the most diverse of artists from widely varying eras and styles of the 20th century, he brings out individual positions that were arguably of unparalleled relevance to artistic practice in subsequent decades.'
    —Bernd Reiss
    Fascinated by modernism and its legacies throughout his career, Förg developed a pictorial language that at once subverts and draws attention to its foundational principles. Born in Germany in 1952, Förg came of age in the height of the 1980s Cologne art scene, where artists like Sigmar Polke and Martin Kippenberger mounted an irreverent challenge against the traditions of painting itself. Resisting easy characterisation from the outset, Förg’s early forays across multiple disciplines including painting, photography, graphic design, and sculpture laid the foundations for the ambitious conceptual and philosophical investigations that would define his career across a range of mediums and distinct bodies of work.

    Addressing the aesthetic and perceptual purity of Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematism, Förg’s early monochromatic wall paintings and lead works interrogated modernist and minimalist concerns from a contemporary perspective. Extending his experiments across a range of other media, Förg moved away from the greys and monochromes of his earlier work, becoming increasingly sophisticated in his command and control of colour with the advent of his Grid Paintings in 1992, prefigured slightly by his Fenster-Aquarelle series. 
    'The brushwork—treated as both means and iconography—is the subject here, and the picture, if there is such a thing, assumes the look of a palette.' —Suzanne HudsonAlthough the lattice-like structures of his Grid Paintings are significantly loosened in the present work, the strikingly rhythmic interplay of horizontal and vertical elements remains. Endowing the piece with a remarkably airy yet architectural quality, Förg masterfully employs negative space to unify and establish harmonies between the disparate passages of colour. The effect of this on such a large scale is vibrantly energetic and atmospheric, recalling the pioneering abstractions of the Dutch modernist Piet Mondrian. While colour would later become increasingly significant for Mondrian, the grid - and the balance of positive and negative elements that it produced – was of fundamental importance from an early stage. Allowing him to move from his more representational beginnings, the grid provided Mondrian with the means to dissolve the image into interlocking horizontals and verticals, generating a pictorial harmony that communicated a deeper philosophical sense of universal balance, resolving the tensions between material and spiritual demands.


    Piet Mondrian, Composition No. 11 in grey, pink, and blue, 1913, Rijksmuseum Kroller-Muller, Otterlo. Image: akg-images

    The transition from densely packed cross-hatchings of contrasting passages of colour to looser, more gestural scribbles evidenced in the Spot Paintings also highlights Förg’s absorption of the lessons of American Abstract Expressionism. Drawing on and developing the investigations into the spatial relationships of colour undertaken by mid-century artists such as Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, the present work possesses a remarkable vitality, the intuitively arranged and animated forms forging complex relationships and intersecting dialogues across the large canvas. The all-over and decidedly calligraphic quality of Untitled, and the Spot Paintings more broadly, most pointedly recalls Cy Twombly’s scumbled canvases, most obviously in the repetitive scrawl and the especially loosely treated passages to the lower right of the canvas where the artist has dissolved the grid completely in allowing paint to run and drip down the canvas. 


    Cy Twombly, Lepanto VII, 2001, Bayerische Staatsgemaeldesammlungen - Museum Brandhorst, Munich. Image: Scala, Florence/bpk, Bildagentur fuer Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte, Berlin, Artwork: © Cy Twombly Foundation 

    Despite this rich and varied net of art historical references, Förg’s Spot Paintings develop a unique language that is immediately recognisable and utterly his own. Presented at Galeria Filomena Soares 2008 exhibition, Gunther Förg: New Paintings, the present work is highly characteristic of what is undoubtably one of the artist’s most important and lyrical bodies of work, described by Rudi Fuchs as ‘triumphant in their uncanny abstraction’ and deliberate in the removal of ‘defined or shaped figuration’.i In this last series Förg’s deep and long-held commitment to an investigation of the nature of painting itself finds joyous expression in the gestural fields of animated brushstrokes that make up these Spot Paintings


    Collector’s Digest 

    •    A master of German contemporary art, examples of Günther Förg’s work now reside in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Tate Modern, London.

    •    After his first solo exhibition with Rüdiger Schöttle Gallery, Munich, in 1980, Förg continued to exhibit widely throughout his life. The present work was included in an important early presentation of the Spot Paintings at Galeria Filomena Soares in 2008.

    •     As well as major solo shows at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Fondation Beyeler, Basel over the years, more recent posthumous exhibitions include the 2021 ‘Constellations of Colour’ with Galerie Max Hetzler in London and Hauser & Wirth’s presentation of Grid Paintings in Los Angeles in 2021, his first solo exhibition in the city. 

    Günther Förg: A Fragile Beauty, Stedelijk Museum 


    i Rudi Fuchs, Gunther Forg: Back and Forth, Gent, 2008. 

    • Provenance

      Galerie Lelong, Zurich
      Galeria Filomena Soares, Lisbon
      Private Collection, Portugal
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Lisbon, Galeria Filomena Soares, Günther Förg: New Paintings, 19 June - 20 September 2008

Property from a Private Collection


Ohne titel

signed and dated 'Förg 08' upper right
oil and acrylic on canvas
200.7 x 240.7 cm (79 x 94 3/4 in.)
Painted in 2008, this work is recorded in the archive of Günther Förg as no. WVF 08.B.0043.

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

Full Cataloguing

£600,000 - 800,000 ‡♠

Sold for £869,500

Contact Specialist

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

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 3 March 2022