Untitled

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, Europe
    Dorotheum, Vienna, 19 May 2011, lot 1596
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Literature

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

  • Catalogue Essay

    Executed in 1988, Untitled is an early example of Günther Förg’s iconic series of Lead Paintings, completed during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Innovative, visceral and technically accomplished, the present work showcases Förg’s fascination with the materiality of painting.

    Untitled is a work of contrasts and dualities; the composition itself, a striking lateral dichotomy between two seemingly understated fields of colour, explores the physicality of painting on lead whilst celebrating the imperfections of the medium. Unembellished and organic, the artist’s preoccupation with the ephemeral and the natural is brought to the fore. Förg’s innate and intuitive approach to colour is exemplified in Untitled, complimenting the oxidised grey lead of the work’s imperfect surface. Emphasising the purity of colour two clearly defined bands instil Untitled with the sensuality of chromaticity, the exposed lead allowing the material qualities of the work to become Förg’s vehicle for expression.

    Painting thinly layered washes of acrylic paint onto untreated sheets of lead, the artist barely conceals the metal patina beneath, and despite the essential importance of colour forges a composition almost translucent in its coverage. This exposes the natural flaws of the patina of the oxidised lead, any residing marks and scrapes in the lead ground, asserting a certain sense of density to and weight to the composition, as well as deliberately revealing the gestural brushstrokes made by the artist’s hand. Building upon the history of the material he has chosen to use, Förg’s Lead Paintings celebrate the formal architectural and material qualities of his work. Commenting on the materiality of the structure he notes ‘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. With the metals you already have something – its scratches, scrapes’ (Günther Förg, quoted in David Ryan Talking Painting, London, 2002, p. 77). The malleable metal wraps around the wooden structure, softening the edges of the painting and encouraging the viewer to consider it as an object occupying a physical space rather than a flat, two-dimensional work: ‘our comprehension of the work shifts as we first concentrate on the flat surface of the picture plane and then turn our attention to the literal space these objects occupy … Förg’s selection of lead as a support also stresses the materiality of the painting as it imposes its colour, reflective properties, and textures onto the work’ (Bonnie Clearwater, ‘Günther Förg: Beyond Painting,’ Günther Förg: Painting/Sculpture/Installation, exh. cat., Newport Harbor Art Museum, California, 1989, p. 21).

    Developing the abstract nature of his work, Förg advocates it as a means of expression in which the materiality of the surface becomes paramount: ‘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, ‘Introduction’, Günther Förg: Painting/Sculpture/Installation, exh. cat., Newport Harbor Art Museum, California, 1989, p. 15). Rejecting the metaphysical significance found in the work of the Abstract Expressionists, throughout his opus the artist favours the reductive contemplation of raw materiality. Despite this, obvious visual and aesthetic comparisons with the work of these artistic predecessors are apparent; Förg’s concern with tonality builds upon the avant-garde legacy of Abstract Expressionism. Barnett Newman’s ‘zip’ paintings, with their vertical strips of contrasting hues, bear a strong resemblance to Förg’s Lead Paintings, as do Palermo’s colourfully divided canvases. Departing from this legacy, however, Förg’s Lead Paintings are devoid of the essence of the sublime and painterly finesse, instead reminiscent of the Minimalist and non-spiritual sculptures of Donald Judd. Förg adamantly asserts himself as distinct from his fellow artists: ‘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. 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).

    Rooted in the trajectory of Modernism, Förg appropriates and interprets its legacy in a distinctly post-modern era: ‘Förg didn’t care about the boundaries between disciplines and movements and went his own way’ (Hripsimé Visser, quoted in Günther Förg: A Fragile Beauty, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2018, online). Celebrating the materiality of painting and the substance of lead, Untitled embodies the artist’s fundamental artistic principles in a way that incorporates composition, space, colour and elemental materiality effortlessly in a unique exploration of dimensionality and energy: ‘colours emerge, the paintings become more open, and even the material’s arbitrary elements on the surface and 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).

18

Untitled

signed 'Förg '88' on the reverse
acrylic on lead on wood
180 x 120 cm (70 7/8 x 47 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1988, this work is recorded in the archive of Günther Förg as No. WVF.88.B.0001.

Estimate
£120,000 - 180,000 

sold for £393,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 hhighley@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 5 October 2018