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  • "I have always related my paintings as being a stage in and of themselves, the curtains having just parted to reveal a scene where something is about to unfold..."
    — Hernan Bas

    Minimalism (cracking the code) is an arresting example of Miami-born artist Hernan Bas’ narrative-driven portraiture works. Surrounded by an array of richly detailed objects that appear almost ready to tumble out of the frame, a young, hip man crosses his arms from behind a wooden tabletop. Dressed in a thick roll-neck sweater of undulating amber tones, his stylised depiction feels straight out of a high-fashion editorial shoot, accentuated by prominent cheekbones, darkened lips, and a brooding expression that adds an androgynous, waif-like quality to the subject’s overall look. With a pensive gaze that focuses directly behind the viewer in a manner reminiscent of the portraits of Egon Schiele, it is as if we have entered the theatrical scene in its moment of intermission, pausing alongside the protagonist in anticipation of what might happen when the clock starts ticking once more.


    Egon Schiele, Self-Portrait with Physalis, 1912
    Collection of the Leopold Museum, Vienna


    Hunting for Clues

    “I do like the idea that everything is contained—the entire narrative, within the frame of the canvas; but paintings that I consider to be successful are always on the verge of falling apart. To me, that’s the fun of it—the eminent collapse, and also the challenge.” 
    — Hernan Bas  

    Showcasing Bas’ masterful control over the imaginative potential of his medium, Minimalism (cracking the code) is packed to the brim with beautiful details that transform the self-contained space into one of pure fictionalisation. Much like the painting’s elaborate title, however, the narrative remains ambiguously out of reach, therefore inviting viewers to seek out clues in and amongst the various layers of colour and texture.


    As brackets are punctuation marks used to insert additional clarification into a sentence, the title of the present work can thus be considered a tongue-in-cheek reference to breaking away from the compositional demands of Minimalism, an art movement popularised in the 1960s and 1970s characterised by simplistic forms and hard edges. When viewed from this perspective, the various objects situated within the interior scene of Minimalism (cracking the code) reveal an ingenious dual witticism, presented as both figurative portrayals as well as geometric shapes that nod to the influence of artists who helped define the abstract art genre.



    Agnes Martin, Words, 1981
    © 2021 Agnes Martin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

    Foregrounding the composition are two towers of stacked playing cards, with the lower-left pyramid placed at an angle that divulges to the viewer the various suits of the front-facing parts. The theatricality of balance, symmetry, and geometry in its fabrication brings to mind the meticulously handcrafted sculptures of Diane Simpson, of minimal flat forms stacked to create a complex sense of depth. The taller pile behind, however, balanced at a height almost too altitudinous to be possible, eclipses to mere white lines of unrecognisable identification, appearing instead as repeatedly pattered triangles more closely aligned to the geometric vocabulary of abstract artist Agnes Martin.




    Left: Sol Lewitt, Wall Drawing 273, 1975, Collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
    © 2021 Estate of Sol LeWitt/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    Right: Lee Ufan, Correspondence, 1993, Collection of the Tate, United Kingdom
    © 2021  Artists Rights Society (ARS) / ADAGP, Paris


    Both adding to the narrative and hinting at the source of patience required to fashion such delicate card towers, the wall behind the protagonist hosts a layered assemblage of papers connected by a matrix of coloured thread, the totality evoking a police evidence board. Nodding to Bas’ interest in the paranormal and supernatural, the mysteriously dramatic scene stirs the imagination as we are coaxed to wonder what the puzzle is that, through Minimalist references, Bas’ subject is determined to solve. And yet, hunting for clues amongst the wall-pinned paper offers no specific breakthrough as the only marks detectable are the darkened rectangles rendered as if Korean minimalist Lee Ufan left his signature touch on the scene. At the same time, the dizzying overlay of primary-coloured straight line can be considered a homage to minimalist pioneer Sol Lewitt, whose calculated wall drawings of a similar configuration are widely acknowledged as amongst Lewitts’ most revered work.


    And whilst the collection of geometric shapes behind the young man’s back are less distinct in form, perhaps suggestive of the various elements comprising a pet cat’s scratching-post tower, they simultaneously recall the structural approach of American artist Donald Judd—founder of The Chinati Foundation in Texas where Bas was an artist-in-residence in 2013.



    Donald Judd, 15 Untitled works in concrete, 1980-1984
    Collection of The Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas
    © 2021 Judd Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    But although the various elements of Minimalism (cracking the code) may have originated from simplistic, minimalist shapes, the multilayered composition is magnificently intricate, brimming with a labyrinthe of decorative figurations accentuated by lush painterly effects. As such, whilst there are various visual codes that can be seen in respect to artists Bas admires, he twists and blends these into a language entirely his own.


    Weaving References

    “I love the written word but I am at a constant battle trying to make images that can stand alone and compete or, better, surpass the written word. I like when the work becomes an image. That moment when everything I read and thought about to get to this finished painting just drops away, and it gets its own life, its own space for interpretation.”
    — Hernan Bas 

    An eager consumer of literary and historic references, Bas’s work draws from a rich tapestry of sources ranging from Romantic poetry, texts by Oscar Wilde and Joris-Karl Huysmans, folklore, and the drawings of Van Gogh—to goth culture, ornithology, queer male themes, and ‘deep dives into weirdness on the internet’i. His atmospheric canvases are a place in which imaginative possibilities collide, leading the viewer on fantastical adventures that push the potential of his medium in both its technical and narrative capacities. 



    Cinga Samson, Ivory V, 2018
    Lot 1 - Phillips Hong Kong in Association with Poly Auction Evening Sale, 30 November 2021
    Estimate HK$250,000 – 350,000 / US$32,100 – 44,900



    As such, a more contemporary comparison can be made between Bas’ portrait of a young man in a dreamlike environment and the works of Cinga Samon, such as his Ivory series which too, depicts a solitary male figure in otherworldly, ambiguous surroundings. But whereas Samson’s youthful character confronts his audience with a self-aware confidence, standing tall at the centre of each Ivory canvas, the male protagonist of Minimalism (cracking the code) evokes a more introspective intimacy. Appearing almost suspended between the defining stages of adolescence and adulthood, perhaps his unsolved quest is actually a metaphor for the universal angst of coming-of-age, where only experience in time can supply the answers he obsessively searches for.


    Collector’s Digest


    Demonstrative of his position as a key figure within the world of contemporary art, Bas has mounted numerous successful solo exhibitions in recent years. This includes at the Rubell Museum in Miami, which opened on 18 November 2020 and closes soon on 12 December 2021; Creature Comforts at Perrotin in Paris (17 October 2020 – 30 January 2021); Venetian Blind at Victoria Miro in Venice (8 February – 14 March 2020); and TIME LIFE at Lehmann Maupin in New York (7 November 2019 – 4 January 2020).


    Work by Bas is currently being presented in a retrospective called Choose Your Adventure at the Yuz Museum in Shanghai. Running from 28 October 2021 – 9 January 2022, it marks Bas’ debut in China. 


    Works by Bas are represented in numerous prestigious public collections around the world, including at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Saatchi Collection, London; Samuso: Space for Contemporary Art, Seoul; Rubell Family Collection, Miami; and the Brooklyn Museum, Museum of Modern Art, and Whitney Museum of American Art, all in New York.



    i Hernan Bas, quoted in Charlotte Jansen, ‘Hernan Bas on the New Paintings He made during Quarantine’, Artsy, 20 October 2020, online

    • Provenance

      Frederick Snitzer Gallery, Miami
      Acquired from the above by the present owner


Minimalism (cracking the code)

signed with the artist's initials and dated 'HB 19' lower left; further signed with the artist's initials, titled and dated '"minimalism (cracking the code)" HB 2019' on the reverse
acrylic on linen
152.6 x 122 cm. (60 1/8 x 48 in.)
Painted in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for HK$3,780,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+852 2318 2026
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2021