Guy de Cointet - New Now New York Wednesday, September 28, 2022 | Phillips

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  • "His drawings and paintings – sometimes doubling as props – use language, shapes, and lines, to disrupt institutionalized hierarchies and reveal the fractured nature of words and letters in the face of human interpretation."
    —Cat Kron 
    Created by Robert Wilhite and Guy de Cointet, Ethiopia is a groundbreaking example of linguistic and abstract performance. A central prop from the play, the present work is dedicated to Julia, the main character who rediscovers familiar objects from her recently deceased grandmother’s home. Unsettling the balance between spoken and written theatre, Note from Ethiopia is quintessentially surreal. Centered around the relationship between objects, language, and people, the play and its props are essential to understanding de Cointet’s work and his deep connection to the failures of language.


    Guy de Cointet, Ethiopia, performance view, November 1976, Barnsdall Park Theatre, Los Angeles performed by Mary Ann Duganne, Jesse Ferguson and Brian Jones. Image: © Manuel Fuentes, Artwork: © Guy de Cointet Society. Courtesy Air de Paris, Romainville.

    De Cointet and Wilhite’s focus on changing the note’s meaning over the course of Ethiopia highlights the surreal, yet lyrical dimension of the performance. Julia promptly exclaims “A note!” as she approaches the house, its absurd polygonal shape causing the audience to laugh. The absurd element of the play constantly develops over time, both from the script and the set itself. “In geometry, as in language, translations are transformations in which only the form’s situation is changed. Unlike alterations of shape, contour, and size, which fundamentally change the altered’s relationship to its original, translations retain a relationship of congruence."i After approaching the “house,” Julia alters the meaning of the note, stating that “it’s the only real poem I’ve ever written, I think. Poetry, to me, seems to be more and more.” Before entering the home, Julia sets the note down and tells the audience: “I wish I knew who the author was,” shifting the narrative once more. It becomes clear to the audience that the plot in Ethiopia is more than just about following the lives of its characters. Julia’s detailed, frantic and incoherent analysis of her surroundings recalls the difficulty of processing reality after a traumatic event. De Cointet is constantly reminding the viewer of familial loss in this nonsensical, heartbreaking performance.


    «Récit d'un temps court», MAMCO, Genève, 01.06 - 04.09.2016. Image: © Annik Wetter - MAMCO, Genève, Artwork: © Guy de Cointet Society. Courtesy Air de Paris, Romainville.

    Language interpretation is at the center of de Cointet’s practice; he creates meaning from the absurd, and A Note from Ethiopia is a prime example of how the absurd element has universal emotional value. While the actors deliver their performance, his works “retain a degree of autonomy."ii Stripping language down to its core and converting it into visual codes and puzzles, the present work functions as a method of rethinking communication and the ways in which language and reality are related, but not necessarily connected.

    i FLEX, exh. cat., Kent Fine Art, New York, 2014, p. 24. 
    ii Guy de Cointet: Ethiopia, ex. cat., MAMCO Geneva, Geneva, 2016, online.

    • Provenance

      Harvey La Tourette (acquired directly from the artist)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      San Francisco, The California Palace of the Legion of Honor Lincoln Park Auditorium; Los Angeles, Barnsdall Park Theatre, Ethiopia, November 1976–April 1, 1977 (performance)

    • Literature

      Marie de Brugerolle, ed., Guy de Cointet, Zurich, 2016, pp. 115, 118–119 (Barnsdall Park Theatre, Los Angeles 1976 performance view illustrated, p. 115)


Note from Ethiopia

acrylic, ink and graphite on panel
21 1/4 x 19 1/2 in. (54 x 49.5 cm)
Executed in 1976.

Full Cataloguing

$15,000 - 25,000 

Sold for $32,760

Contact Specialist

Avery Semjen
Head of Sale, New Now
212 940 1207

New Now

New York Auction 28 September 2022