Jonathan Gardner - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 7, 2024 | Phillips

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  • “I think of the paintings like different views into one shared world. I’m not sure about a story, but the idea that things could be happening in between the paintings is intriguing.”
    —Jonathan Gardner

    In Jonathan Gardner’s Reading Menus, we are catapulted into his stylised, Surrealist realm where subconscious impulses converge with an expert understanding of composition and perspective. First shown in his solo show Living Images with Almine Rech in 2021, the present work depicts a restaurant scene. On a flattened pictorial plane that pushes the composition towards the viewer, a central, white-clothed table hosts two enigmatic figures. With identical poses, they obscure their faces behind large menus, inviting speculation into their identities and intentions. Atop the table, a still life scene unfolds; a half-eaten biscuit, plates, glasses and vases are arranged with precision, the latter evoking the subtle curves of a Constantin Brancusi sculpture. A stylised, floral ground of deep blue engulfs the tables, framed by an oscillating pink wall, off-centred Neoclassical column and floating greenery. Despite the semblance of narrative, Gardner, like the Surrealists who preceded him, leaves us with more questions than answers, inviting us into his painterly dream world. As the artist describes, ‘I often start with abstraction and create a figure or objects out of it. This also leaves the narrative to contain the remnants of abstract thoughts.’i


    In a collage-based approach, Gardner begins with drawings that can then be enlarged and moved around his canvases independently of each other. Once happy with the composition, Gardner transfers this to a canvas, adding bold accents of colour. Speaking of his practice, he cites the freedom of initially working with independent elements as critical to the success of the work, with his characters inhabiting these carefully constructed scenes in nonchalant reverie, perhaps as Roberta Smith suggests ‘distracting us from how carefully he engineers the compositions.’ii By marrying innovation and intuition with mathematical precision, Gardner’s arrangements seem to warp space and time, suspending them between the dream world and the ordinary.


     Jim Nutt, I’m All A TWit, 1969, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
    Artwork: ©  Jim Nutt 

    Having studied at both New York’s School of Visual Arts and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the latter under the tutorage of Chicago Imagist and ‘Hairy Who’ member Jim Nutt, it comes as no surprise that acute attention is paid to the pictorial space and the composition of his work. Speaking of his experience with Nutt, Gardner recalls weekly classes wherein a single work from the Chicago Institute was studied at great lengths, allowing him to understand in detail how the work was constructed.iii Alongside the works of his mentor whose creative use of pictorial space rendered bold and graphic portraits of women in dialogue with Pablo Picasso’s many iterations of the theme, Gardner’s canvases embody the same strain of youthful fearlessness and the uncanny.


    This balance between the familial and strange is one that captured the artists of the Surrealist movement at the start of the 20th century. Adhering to André Breton’s manifesto to resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an ‘absolute reality’, the Surrealists rendered illogical scenes that came from their subconscious. Like his predecessors such as Giorgio de Chirico and René Magritte, Gardner taps into his personal cache of experiences, figures, and landscapes to create a world that feels simultaneously familiar and foreign. Gardner's canvases resonate with myriad art-historical influences, ranging from Indian miniature paintings of the 19th century to the Cubism of Picasso and Léger, and even the Memphis design movement of the 1980s. 


    Giorgio de Chirico, Interno metafisico con biscotti, 1916, Menil Collection, Houston. Artwork: © DACS 2024

    And yet, despite these art-historical resonances, Gardner’s work seems entirely contemporary in their leisure settings, depicting a quiet that seems particularly stark in our fast-paced present. Unfolding in vibrant colours with compositional precision, Gardner’s canvases inhabit the space between figuration and abstraction, the familiar and the uncanny, reality and imagination. As Roberta Smith concludes, Gardner’s careful engineering ensures ‘all the paintings’ parts are kept in check, just this side of mutiny.’iv


    Collector’s Digest


    • Jonathan Gardner lives and works in New York. He studied at New York’s School of Visual Arts and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.


    • Gardner creates large-scale figurative canvases that distort the pictorial space. Studying in Chicago under Jim Nutt, influences ranging from Cubism, Surrealism, Abstraction to the Chicago Imagists can be found in his work.


    • Represented by Almine Rech, Casey Kaplan and Jason Haam, Gardner has held international solo exhibitions in Paris, New York and Seoul. The present work was included in the artist’s 2021 presentation Living Images with Almine Rech. Later this year, Gardner will be the subject of a solo exhibtion with Almine Rech in London. 


    i Jonathan Gardner quoted in Doria Arkoun, ‘Jonathan Gardner - Savoring life’, Metal Magazine, Online

    ii Roberta Smith, ‘New York Art Galleries: What to See Right Now’, 21 March, 2019, New York Times, Online

    iii Jonathan Gardner quoted in ‘In the Studio: Q&A with Artist Jonathan Gardner’, 21 February, 2020, Online

    iv Roberta Smith, ‘New York Art Galleries: What to See Right Now’, 21 March, 2019, New York Times, Online

    • Provenance

      Collection of Almine Rech (acquired directly from the artist)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Almine Rech, Jonathan Gardner: Living Image, 20 November – 18 December 2021
      Meymac, Abbaye Saint André Centre d’Art Contemporain, VARIA, 10 July – 9 October 2022, pp. 11, 14 (illustrated, p. 11)

Property of a Distinguished Private Collection


Reading Menus

signed and dated ‘J. Gardner 2021’ on the reverse
oil on linen
101.6 x 142.2 cm (40 x 55 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2021.

Full Cataloguing

£100,000 - 150,000 

Sold for £127,000

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099


20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 7 March 2024