Günther Förg - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, June 30, 2022 | Phillips

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  • 'I like very much the qualities of lead – the surface, the heaviness […] I like to react on things, with the normal canvas you often have to kill the ground, give it something to react against.' —Günther FörgA towering figure of German post-war painting, Günther Förg’s multidisciplinary oeuvre is characterised by incessant experimentation in a range of mediums, encompassing photography, painting, sculpture and the less traditional approach to materials that we see here. Stunning in its sense of compositional balance and chromatic harmony, Untitled belongs to the artist’s iconic series of Lead Paintings from the 1980s, whose investigations of colour and pictorial representation became landmarks in a history of abstraction.

     

    Referencing the Colour Field techniques of artists such as Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Clyfford Still, Förg’s Lead Paintings use the tactile, physical qualities of the metal to help create a dense and textured canvas, the paint itself becoming highly expressive of these material qualities and endowing the works with an almost architectural dimension. First wrapping the lead sheets over wood, Förg then applied acrylic to the surface, allowing the scratches and imperfections of the metallic ground to become fixed in the paint. The geometric patterning of the work exists side by side with a hazy, ambiguous figuration created through this fibrous and layered brushwork, whilst the minimalist composition unleashes a vivid interplay of inky blues and ferrous rusts. The colours themselves take on the heavy, dense quality of the lead, which lends further richness to their tone and vibrancy. This sense of a finely poised tension established between expression and composition characterises the series as a whole, and is exquisitely realised here.

     

    Lead Paintings installed at Günther Förg - A Fragile Beauty, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 26 May - 14 October 2018.Artwork: © Estate Günther Förg, Suisse / DACS 2022
    Lead Paintings installed at Günther Förg - A Fragile Beauty, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 26 May - 14 October 2018. Artwork: © Estate Günther Förg, Suisse / DACS 2022

    'one could say quite concretely that the composition of my lead pictures is anonymous whereas the manner in which they have been painted is expressive.'
    —Günther Förg

    The juxtaposition of rust elements of the painting with the almost monochromatic blue band reveals a playful subversion of the traditional oppositions of ground and figure – what might at first sight seem a simple gestural abstraction of colour and line gradually reconciles as a landscape of sorts, a burnt umber desert rolling out beneath a night sky, the horizontal brush strokes evoking the movement of the wind and the shimmering life within. Such a ‘free abstract statement’ allows the viewer to, in Förg’s words, ‘sense a figure [that is] not explicitly a figure’.i Indeed, the interdependence of contrasting abstracted elements is key to Förg’s enigmatic works, and is redolent of a Gestalt theory of ground and figure, where neither is perceptible without the presence of the other. Engaging with the aesthetic legacy of modernism and Rothko’s inversion of the relationships between figure and ground, Förg nevertheless resists the more metaphysical dimensions of Rothko’s practice, anchoring his compositions in more formal concerns. Using colour intuitively and without relying on strict principles of symmetry, the present work is bisected horizontally into two zones of contrasted  colour, the blue band standing out prominently against the lead ground, sensuously raw and distilling painting into its pure essence.

     

    Mark Rothko, Red, Orange, Orange on Red, 1962, Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri. Image: © Saint Louis Art Museum / Funds given by the Shoenberg Foundation, Inc. / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / DACS 2022


    Mark Rothko, Red, Orange, Orange on Red, 1962, Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri. Image: © Saint Louis Art Museum / Funds given by the Shoenberg Foundation, Inc. / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko / DACS 2022



     

    The neat separation of the two colours recalls the rigour and formality of minimalist composition, yet the deep tones created here suffuse the lead’s metallic heaviness with hints of gleaming light. These two contradicting yet mutually invigorating energies masterfully showcase the artist’s distinctive command of compositional and chromatic balance, as well as his desire to explore a ‘clarity of form with an expressionist handling.’ii However, where minimalist artists have focused on the reduction and simplification of form, Förg’s emphasis is placed instead on achieving painterly texture and depth, extending his predecessors’ spatial investigations through uncalculated gestures and incongruous material juxtapositions. 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’.iii

     

    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, including major solo shows at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Fondation Beyeler, Basel.

     

    • 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 Günther Förg quoted in, David Ryan, ‘Talking Painting: Interview with Günther Förg Karlsruhe’, 1997, online
    ii Günther Förg quoted in, David Ryan, ‘Talking Painting: Interview with Günther Förg Karlsruhe’, 1997, online.

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    • Description

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    • Provenance

      Mikael Andersen Gallery, Copenhagen
      Private collection, Denmark
      Hauser & Wirth, Zürich
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

21

Untitled

signed, inscribed and dated ‘64/90 Förg 90’ on the reverse
acrylic on lead on wood
180 x 109.9 cm (70 7/8 x 43 1/4 in.)
Executed in 1990, this work is recorded in the archive of Günther Förg as no. WVF.90.B.0826.

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

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Estimate
£200,000 - 300,000 ‡ ♠

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 30 June 2022