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

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  • “When you’re having ideas and then you’re being told they’re bad and then you’re having an inner censor telling you your ideas are bad, that’s no way to live. You’re a prisoner.”
    — Jordan Wolfson

    One of the most exciting and talked about young artists in America today, Jordan Wolfson is a highly controversial figure who has captivated critics and journalists alike, inspiring countless articles with headlines such as, ‘Who Likes Jordan Wolfson?’i (Frieze, 6 Dec 2019) and ‘A new doc asks: is art enfant terrible Jordan Wolfson actually a bad guy?’ii (DAZED, 5 May 2020). Gaining the reputation as the bad boy of the art world, Wolfson has been nicknamed ‘edgelord’ by The New Yorker,iii making controversy an art form in itself. His works have gained notoriety for their shock value, with his VR work Real Violence (2017) shown at the Whitney Biennial demonstrating the artist in a fit of violence.


    His ability to stimulate a reaction from his viewer is evocative of Marcel Duchamp and pioneering works such as his iconic Fountain (1917), in which Duchamp presented a urinal signed ‘R. Mutt 1917’ to the newly established Society of Independent Artists, shocking the board through his questioning of the very nature of art. Untitled  is a fantastic work of Wolfson to come to auction, marking his Asia debut. An inkjet print on canvas, the present work fuses the best of Wolfson’s oeuvre, including his master of technology, obsession with the Internet, visual iconography of textual stickers and naughty red-haired boy, in a physical manifestation of his flair for the provocative. 



    Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917, replica 1964
    Collection of Tate Modern, London


    A Naughty Alter Ego 


    “Annoyingness is an interesting strategy in art-making,...,if you’re annoyed, you’re not indifferent. The work manipulates me, so I’m being triggered. Transgression is key. The only way to know you’re succeeding is if people are upset.”
    — David Zwirner



    Jordan Wolfson, Coloured Sculpture, 2016 exhibited in, London, Tate Modern, Jordan Wolfson; Coloured Sculpture, 3 May - 31 August 2018 



    As seen in Untitled, Wolfson often draws upon the motif of a red-haired boy, interpreted by The New Yorker as his alter ego. Perhaps most famously, his sculpture Coloured Sculpture (2016), arguably problematic in its name and corresponding imagery, is a large scale animatronic instillation in which a flame-haired, cartoon-like boy is hoisted and collapsed, pulled and dropped by chains that fling the body like a rag-doll. Part of the collection of the Tate Modern, London, the unfolding spectacle of a boy ‘getting beaten up’ was described by Wolfson as ‘real violence’.iv The artist further stated, ‘It’s real abuse, not a simulation’.iv The viewer witnesses the torture of the human experience, and the background music of “When a Man Loves a Woman” is perhaps a commentary on the artist’s view of violence, relationships and intimacy. 




    Damien Hirst, A Thousand Years, 1990
    Photographed by Roger Wooldridge © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2012


    Wolfson’s work recalls the deliberately provocative artist, Damien Hirst, exploring similar themes in his sculptural works including death, mortality and technology and triggering an emotional response in the viewer. Stemming from the desire to create ‘something about something important’,v Hirst’s works such as A Thousand Years (1990), depicts a cow’s head in a state of decay amongst flies, aiming to shock the viewer into reflection, demonstrative of his preoccupation with wider issues relating to the human experience of life and death. Further, the humorous essence of the present lot, Untitled, recalls aspects of the work of Chinese Cynical Realists, including Yue Minjun, who imbues his painting and sculptural works with an undeniable satire, and critical commentary through jest. 


    Yue Minjun, Mushroom Cloud, 2002
    Sold by Phillips Hong Kong in November 2019 for HK$2,375,000

    Adopting imagery that he encountered from a young age, Wolfson infuses his red-haired boy with elements from Howdy Doody; the satirical magazine MAD’s mascot, Alfred E. Neuman; and the ‘ragged trousers’ of Huckleberry Finn.iv As such, Wolfson takes his imagery from memory and the rich source material from television and the internet, creating characters that engage the viewer with an air of familiarity, before shocking and unsettling the viewer with violence and the removal of these recognisable characters from their original context. 



    Jordan Wolfson, detail of Untitled, 2014



    In Untitled, Wolfson positions his rusty-haired protagonist at the centre of the composition, seemingly gazing at himself in a mirror, but also interacting with the viewer by appearing to look out from the picture plane. By returning the viewer’s gaze we are immediately intrigued by this cheeky character and his bizarre blue world strewn with cryptic stickers and rambunctious rats. The boy appears to be in another layer of the painting, in his own blue-washed dimension onto which Wolfson has distributed his textual interruptions.


    Further, it is interesting that the artist would place the figures of rats on top of his artistic alter ego, although this focuses the viewer’s attention onto the boy’s reflection that is looking back at us. The notion of a mirror that reflects the image of the boy is reinforced by the way in which this impudent figure reaches up to touch an apparent surface, physically connecting himself to his reflection. His body language is reflected in the mirror, his knees bent thus emphasising the jagged rips of his torn trousers, evocative of Huckleberry Finn. Strewn next to him is the form of an upside down straw hat, although this image is very obscure. Overall, by including the image of the red-haired boy, Wolfson taunts the viewer with a hidden narrative meaning, in a work that is purposefully ambiguous and arguably senseless. 




    Detail image of the present lot



    Engaging with the Enigmatic


    “[Wolfson] refuses to make his intentions clear: pursuing meaning in the work is like stumbling through a mirrored maze.”
    — Dana Goodyear

    Untitled is a fantastically chaotic, brightly-coloured computer rendered inkjet print on canvas, meticulously detailed and immediately captivating through its flashy visual iconography. A startling scarlett liquid, perhaps blood, slowly drips down the canvas, perceptibly thick and forming a concave outline around the central image of the cheeky red-haired boy and a leopard print “sticker” that is almost completely concealed. The vivid leopard print of the sticker seduces the viewer, over which the animated form of a flying bug hovers cumbersomely. With a clear knack for technology, Wolfson scatters textual disturbances throughout the image, and includes a large rat in the middle, pulling up a trash can using a metal chain to perhaps feed the three small, young rats behind him.


    Further, the artist succeeds in creating layers and depth in the work, despite its initial appearance of flatness. This is achieved by the inclusion of shadows, adding an intriguing element of realism to the work, as seen in the shadows behind the representation of the rat, the winged bug and around the outline of the oozing red liquid, onto which Wolfson also includes white highlights to indicate three-dimensionality.




    Detail of the present lot, rotated to show the text



    Wolfson’s oeuvre is both enigmatic and uncensored, embracing whatever comes to mind with no concern as to what other people might think. A provocateur, the artist stimulates the viewer with his imagery, although it is often hard to decipher. Like the red-haired boy, the use of “stickers” in his work is a favoured motif, littering his work with cryptic, and sometimes antagonistic textual slogans. In Untitled, Wolfson permeates his graphic work with small stickers, seemingly pasted on the surface as if randomly, emblazoned with phrases such as, ‘TOUCH IS HATE!’; ‘Socrates was an asshole!’; ‘each time I closed my eyes I asked what Kafka would say about all the shit I didn’t see’; and ‘is death a whore with life’s disease which quacks with cure when pimps may please?’.


    Considered by many as the founding figure of Western philosophy and a hugely influential figure on Western thought, Wolfson does not make it clear as to why he believes Socrates to be an ‘asshole’, but provokes the viewer into deeper thought, and amuses through the evocation of confusion. Placing this particular statement next to the illustrated image of a chimpanzee is also suggestive, and is Banksy-esque in his use of monkeys and apes in making a statement on the human condition (see for example, Lot 22 - Banksy, Laugh Now Panel A, 2002). Perhaps Wolfson is Banksy of the digital realm, although distinctly more mysterious. 




    Banksy, Laugh Now Panel A, 2002



    “I’m no moralist trying to shock people into behaving better.”
    — Jordan Wolfson


    Wolfson has the ability to shock. Including the slogan, ‘this is the hand i jack off with. Sorry! ;^)’ in Untitled, next to a hand emerging from a toilet, does not point to a wider social or political issue, but has the ability to amuse with this crude humour. Indeed, art gallery director, Emma Fernberger, in the documentary on the artist, Spit Earth: Who is Jordan Wolfson? (2020), commented upon the fact that ‘there’s a part of him that wants to be repellent’.vi Finding the art world conservative and not subscribing to the rules of the establishment, Wolfson marches to the beat of his own drum, attracting supporters and antagonists to engage with his art, whether they love it or hate it. 

    Collector’s Digest


    Joining David Zwirner in 2013, Jordan Wolfson continues to become a household name in America and abroad. His work has been featured in solo exhibitions at the gallery in New York in 2014, 2016, 2018 and most recently in 2020 with ARTISTS FRIENDS RACISTS, which later travelled to London where it was on view at Sadie Coles HQ. His installations at David Zwirner were so popular that he had visitors queuing outside around the block, testament to his ability to trigger an emotional and intellectual response in his viewers.


    Significantly, in 2017 he was chosen to participate in the Whitney Biennial, during which he featured Real Violence. His diverse oeuvre is owned by cultural institutions and private collections in the United States, Europe and Asia, such as Tate, London; Museum of Modern Art, New York; and Moderna Museet, Stockholm, to just name a couple.


    His work will be featured in the upcoming solo shows at the National Gallery of Australia, Parkes, Australia, in 2021 and in 2022, his enigmatic oeuvre will be on display at Castello di Rivoli, Museum of Contemporary Art, Turin, Italy. 


    i Diana Hamilton, ‘Who likes Jordan Wolfson?’, Frieze, 6 December 2019, online
    ii Ashleigh Kane, ‘A new doc asks: is art enfant terrible Jordan Wolfson actually a bad guy?’, DAZED, 5 May 2020, online
    iii Dana Goodyear, ‘Jordan Wolfson’s Edgelord Art’, The New Yorker, 16 March 2020, online
    iv Stuart Jeffries, ‘Interview: Jordan Wolfson: ‘This is real abuse- not a simulation’, The Guardian, 3 May 2018, online
    v Damien Hirst cited in Damien Hirst and Gordon Burn, On the Way to Work, London, 2001, p. 128

    vi Ronnie Sassoon, James Crump, Spit Earth: Who is Jordan Wolfson?, 1 May 2020, online

    • Provenance

      David Zwirner, Hong Kong
      Private Collection, Asia
      Acquired by the above by present owner



inkjet print on canvas mounted on aluminum
178.4 x 151.8 cm. (70 1/4 x 59 3/4 in.)
Executed in 2016.

Full Cataloguing

HK$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for HK$2,016,000

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