Günther Förg - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 20, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Overview

    A symmetrical image of delectable simplicity, Untitled is a particularly vibrant example of Günther Förg’s exhaustive series of Lead Paintings, which the artist developed in the late 1980s and completed in the early 1990s. In these works, Förg juxtaposed acrylic and lead on flat wooden supports, revealing the tonal and textural variations deriving from the metallic material’s progressive oxidisation. Focusing on the formal abilities enabled by the metal, Förg circumvented the tide of figurative painting that was pervading his native Germany in the 1980s; instead, he remained attached to abstraction, and the organic processes with which the genre could be achieved. In the present composition, towering almost two metres in height, Förg celebrates the charismatic presence of two disparate yet commanding hues: a natural, meandering silvery colour – organically washed out in places – and a deep, rich blue pigment.

    'I like very much the qualities of lead - the surface, the heaviness. Some of the paintings were completely painted, and you only experience the lead at the edges; this gives the painting a very heavy feeling - it gives the color a different density and weight.' —Günther FörgWhile Förg’s initial painterly experiments were occupied with stringent black monochrome works, the Lead Paintings followed a stationary period in the artist’s creativity, following his abandonment of painting in the early 1980s. It wasn’t until commencing his Lead Paintings at the end of the decade that Förg began utilising the medium again, covering wooden frames with sheets of lead, and subsequently painting directly onto the sheets, without treatment or preliminary ground. Emitting a distinctive solidity, the artist’s choice of materials never failed to highlight the strength of his chosen colour. Laying bare any residing marks on the lead ground, he moreover built upon the material’s potentiality, and exploited the possibilities enabled by the brushstroke in conjunction with the chosen chrome. In this sense, it is the materiality of the present work that most powerfully distinguishes it from other two-dimensional abstractions. ‘I like very much the qualities of lead – the surface, the heaviness’, the artist claimed. ‘Some of the paintings were completely painted, and you only experience the lead at the edges; this gives the painting a very heavy feeling - it gives the colour a different density and weight. […] With the metals you already have something - its scratches, scrapes’.i


    Materiality As A Maxim 

    '[Painting] should be sensual. These are things that will always escape the concept.' —Günther FörgA work replete with contrasts and dualities, both chromatic and textural, Untitled prodigiously captures Förg’s preoccupation with the ephemeral and the natural. Split by a single, vertical blue line, the composition highlights a prevalence of geometry that is reminiscent of minimalist compositions, most strikingly Barnett Newman’s infamous ‘zip’ paintings, bisecting fields of colour on otherwise spare grounds. Yet, unlike Newman’s signature ‘zip’ works, Förg’s Untitled attends not to the supposed metaphysical significance of the bisecting line; rather, the artist attributes importance to the materiality of the surface itself. ‘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 elucidated.ii


    Onement I
    Barnett Newman, Onement I, 1948, oil on canvas and oil on masking tape on canvas, Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence.

    Celebrating the substance of lead and revealing the exquisite sensual properties of a deep, meditative blue, Untitled embodies the artist’s fundamental painterly formula in a way that incorporates composition, space, colour and materiality. 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


    i Günther Förg, quoted in David Ryan, Talking Painting, Karlsruhe, 1997, online.

    ii Paul Schimmel, Günther Förg: Painting/Sculpture/Installation, exh. cat., Newport Harbor Art Museum, California, 1989, p. 15.

    iii Günther Förg, quoted in Günther Förg: Paintings on Lead, exh. cat., Thomas Dane Gallery, London, 2006, p. 7.

    • Provenance

      Private Collection (acquired directly from the artist)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner



signed and dated 'Förg 95' on the reverse
acrylic on lead on wood
180 x 110 cm (70 7/8 x 43 1/4 in.)
Executed in 1995, this work is recorded in the archive of Günther Förg as no. WVF.95.B.0650.

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 

Sold for £315,000

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 20 October 2020