Joel Mesler - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, June 8, 2021 | Phillips

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  • “Space may be the final frontier but it's made in a Hollywood basement.” 
    — The Red Hot Chili Peppers


    Joel Mesler was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1974. Pursuing an interest in art that he developed at a young age, Mesler received his MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1999. He continued to paint throughout the early 2000s before following a love interest to New York in 2007, where he opened his gallery Rental in Chinatown shortly thereafter, putting a pause on his studio practice. Whilst that location of Rental closed in 2010, Mesler has operated several galleries over the past two decades, including Feuer/Mesler and Untitled, both in New York, Retrospective in Hudson, and the third iteration of Rental in East Hampton. But in 2015, he picked up his paintbrushes again, and has had multiple widely acclaimed exhibitions since.


    Notably, this has included at Harper’s Books, New York, and the Simon Lee Gallery in London, both in 2018; the Kantor Gallery, Los Angeles in 2017; and Torri Gallery, Paris in 2016. Most recently, Mesler has been honoured with a solo exhibition at the David Kordandsky Gallery in Los Angeles, which ran from 23 January – 6 March 2021 and was hugely successful, with the presented works instantly sold out, leaving a long waiting list of hopefuls. An upcoming exhibition at the prestigious Lévy Gorvy in Hong Kong is also scheduled to open on 23 June 2021: titled Joel Mesler: In the Beginning, it will mark Mesler’s first solo show in Asia. 



    Joel Mesler at David Kordandsky Gallery, Surrender, 23 January – 6 March 2021

    Courtesy Eric Minh Swenson


    The Iconic Beverly Hills Hotel

    As the second work by Mesler to be offered at auction in Asia, and the largest of his canvases to have been offered at auction before, Untitled (Tony Chang Goes to Hollywood) is impressive in scale, immediately commanding attention at almost two metres long. Executed in 2019, the present painting marvellously encapsulates Mesler’s distinct, playful aesthetic, rendered in vibrant acrylic painted directly onto the raw linen surface. Distinctive of his visually arresting painterly style, Untitled (Tony Chang Goes to Hollywood) is graphically simplistic, executed in a strong yet minimalist colour palette with clean lines that form both the background and the text ‘HOLLYWOOD’ that directly alludes to the title from the centre of the composition. Intermixed across the entirety of the canvas in various shades of green are a bold banana leaf pattern, its design reminiscent of the famous Martinique pattern that adorns the wallpapers of The Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles. 

    Interior of the Beverly Hills Hotel, Los Angeles, showcasing the famous Martinique wallpaper print



    Steeped in Hollywood history since its opening in 1912, The Beverly Hills Hotel quickly became a place for the city’s brightest lights to socialise, considered as the spot for A-listers, financiers, and studio-moguls to see and be seen. Transported from Hollywood and into international screens across many classic movies, the allure of the ‘Pink Palace’ as a beacon of glamour is known the world over. With its familiar green and white tropical banana-leaf stripes, The Beverly Hills Hotel wallpaper print was created by CW Stockwell and introduced into the newly-renovated hotel in 1949 by decorator Don Loper. The graphically bold and vibrant design has since been touted as one of the most recognisable prints in the world, becoming synonymous with Southern California style.


    Garnering icon status amongst guests and designers alike, the Martinique design has proven to be a viable source of inspiration for a multitude of creative outlets and can be found in the collections of brands Dolce & Gabbana and Michael Kors, on the covers of multi-platinum albums by artists such as Mariah Carey, and spotted in the background of big-screen hitters such as the cult series Friends and movie California Suite, a 1978 American comedy featuring Maggie Smith who won an Oscar for her role.



    Still of California Suite, 1978, featuring Maggie Smith inside The Beverly Hills hotel


    Indeed, while brainstorming for a 2017 exhibition of Mesler’s work titled Down and Out in Beverly Hills, the art dealer who curated the show texted Mesler a photo from the prolific Beverly Hills Hotel. A flash sense of memory hit the artist immediately, casting him back to a family Easter brunch at the Polo Bar of the hotel, held just at the start of his parent’s long divorce. The meal came to an abrupt end when his father tossed the dining table, ‘splattering eggs Benedict on his wife’s lap and shouting “I can’t take it anymore!” Eleven-year-old Joel chased his manic father out the door while his mother followed behind in their tan Mercedes station wagon’ i. Reflecting back on the moment he received the text, Mesler explains, ‘I remembered scratching the wallpaper, having it in my nails’, instantly deciding ‘this is where my next body of work is coming from’i. The motif finds monumental expression in Untitled (Tony Chang Goes to Hollywood), a major work that can be considered a culmination of this strand of Melser’s celebrated painterly style.


    As Sly as a Snake

    Weaving and winding around the tall banana leaves, however, is the ruby-red body of a snake, decorated with a pattern of repeated diamonds. Its coiling shape references the serpent from the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, who infamously tempts Eve, consequencing in the pair eating the forbidden fruit from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” and being cast out of the Garden of Eden, marking the beginning of all of man’s sin and suffering. A motif that Mesler frequently employs in his oeuvre—at times with the snake’s head and tail replaced by pointing hands that too, reference the Biblical story of creation—in the present painting, the serpent’s figure is shown as incomplete with its head and body beyond the constraints of the canvas perimeter. As such, its fearsome form teeters on the edge of abstraction as is not immediately apparent, thus becoming all the more sly as a hidden danger that, when twisted around the ‘HOLLYWOOD’ text, introduces metaphorical interpretations as well relating to beckoning temptations of the star-studded city.  



    Defendente Ferrari, Eve Tempted by the Serpent, circa 1520-25
    Collection of the University of Michigan Museum of Art, United States



    The constricting snake’s body in Untitled (Tony Chang Goes to Hollywood) further recalls the work of other contemporary artists who have famously included the reptile’s figure in their practice. Notably, this includes the American artist Keith Haring, whose visual vocabulary is, like Mesler’s, characterised by an instantly recognisable line and lexicon of symbols. Along with bats and monsters, Haring would explore the image of the snake in his work to connotate notions of hellishness or fear. At the same time, however, Haring would use the snake motif to conjure ideas surrounding sensuality or knowledge, believing the opposing characteristics go hand in hand. Experimenting with almost cartoonish elements, both artist’s work takes on a graphic simplicity that communicates to everyone.


    Keith Haring, Untitled, 1984
    © Haring Foundation



    Untitled (Tony Chang Goes to Hollywood)

    Whilst relatively ambiguous, the title of the work, Untitled (Tony Chang Goes to Hollywood), perhaps marks a link to the actor Tony Chang who starred in the 1984 action film Heroes for Hire, and 1991 thriller Blood Chase. At the same time, however, the title can be understood more generally as an allusion to the countless stories of those who journey over to the ‘City of Dreams’,  tempted by the desire of being one of the lucky ones who makes it big, chasing their ambitions whilst the iconic Hollywood sign looms over them from up above on Mount Lee. 


    Hollywood Sign, Mount Lee, Los Angeles



    Exuding a melancholic humour that is typical of his oeuvre, Untitled (Tony Chang Goes to Hollywood) showcases Mesler's ability to brilliantly merge language with his distinct painterly style to explore the autobiographical themes of childhood and the continuous journey of self-discovery into adulthood, with 'the hand of judgement pointing to geographical locations that mark significant moments in the genesis of his personal evolution'ii.



    Detail of the present work

    His deadpan humour continues onto the reverse of the work, where Mesler stamps the canvas with ‘The Estate of Joel Mesler’. Whilst this inclusion plays to his experienced understanding of art-world dynamics, including the significance of provenance, it also boils down to Mesler’s respect for the brevity of life. As Mesler asserts himself, ‘It’s all being made until it’s no longer made anymore’iii.


    i Joel Mesler, quoted in ‘The Alphabet of Creation (For Now) Press Release’, Simon Lee Gallery, 2018, online 
    ii ‘The Alphabet of Creation (For Now) Press Release’, Simon Lee Gallery, 2018, online
    iii Joel Mesler, quoted in Boris Kachka, ‘How an Art Dealer Became an Up-and-Coming Painter’, The New York Times, 19 June 2018

    • Provenance

      Rental Gallery, New York
      Private Collection, Asia
      Acquired from the above by the present owner


Untitled (Tony Chang Goes to Hollywood)

signed, inscribed and dated 'The Estate of Joel Mesler Joel Mesler 2019' on the overlap
acrylic on linen
116.8 x 193 cm. (45 7/8 x 76 in.)
Painted in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

HK$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for HK$1,638,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

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

Hong Kong Auction 8 June 2021