Kyle Dunn - Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Friday, May 31, 2024 | Phillips
  • “I think of a lot of these paintings as love letters, a revision of a memory from my own experience, or simply a desire or fantasy made tangible through paint. They each have a loose narrative jumping off point, but I try to not fill in all the blanks.”
    — Kyle Dunn


    Precisely composed yet beautifully silly and quietly horrifying, Kyle Dunn’s The Fool balances varying moods across a surreal but all-too-recognisable landscape. At first glance, it seems idyllic: an elfin, shirtless young boy, made to seem massive through a close and low perspective, skips across a Californian road at sunset, flanked by a rainbow and his dog. A small bungalow and a larger forest stretch behind him, all barely failing to conceal a growing wildfire in the corner, either causing or masked by the sky’s deep orange haze. Boy and dog are both caught in mid-air, with blissful expressions and limbs outstretched, but only the snapshot limits of the work protect them from imminent disaster -or, perhaps, they simply don’t care. The menace is pushed to the forefront in its companion picture, The Fool II, where a similar figure tramples plants against a demonic nightscape, but here it is only heightened by the smooth surfaces, camp poses, warm lighting, and subtle air of unreality. 


    Perfect Forms


    Dunn’s theatrical, un-painterly aesthetic emerged through his experience working in other forms of media: he graduated with a degree in interdisciplinary sculpture and first came to prominence for his lurid and coral-like foam pieces, which combined recognisable figures with sensuous, fantastic shapes and colours. Many of his paintings, inspired by ancient bas-reliefs, project elements of the composition or shape the edges in irregular ways, creating unconventional yet comfortably individual spaces for his characters to inhabit. These experiments, however, also bind him to a specific direction once the process has begun, and so these dovetail with flat canvas painting, which offers more room for changes of plan.  


    Furthermore, it allows him to focus more on the visual drama of still images: lighting, lines and poses are frozen into place, yet hint at deeper stories and future actions. The threatening undercurrent of this painting and the sense of danger behind the placid exterior calls back to one of his greatest inspirations, Paula Rego: ‘[her paintings], on the surface, are innocent enough, but seethe with psychosexual menace’. i


    Free Fooling


    A visual throughline throughout his oeuvre is the male body, viewed through an unusually tender, open lens much informed by his identity as a gay man. ‘Boys learn at a young age in [America] to not express emotion or show vulnerability. It’s a toxic cycle that stunts emotional growth and self-expression…I think it’s critical to explore alternatives to all this bravado.’ ii This painting, with its gentle, undignified, yet liberated protagonist is part of his campaign against this –‘In my paintings I think about men presenting themselves as desirable, as being soft and vulnerable, as a way to show the sky won’t fall if you let your guard down a little’ iii. In this, he also takes inspiration from art history: he recently took part in a group exhibition themed around Elisabetta Sirani’s dynamic, sensual baroque portrait of David with the Head of Goliath.


    Dunn’s statement is tinged with irony by this painting: its very title indicates that the man, however happy, free, and admired by the artist, is unprepared for the world burning around him. In the frozen moment of Dunn’s art, his characters are able to live with comfort and pride in themselves, but it is not blind to greater threats -beauty and danger, adoration and fear, are always connected in it.



    Elisabetta Sirani, David with the Head of Goliath, circa 1655-60

    Collector’s Digest


    Born in 1991 and based in Brooklyn, Kyle Dunn achieved his BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, in 2012, and is known for his enigmatic, erotic, and highly stylised depictions of male solitude and intimacy. This work was the title piece of his first solo international exhibition, The Fool, at Galerie Maria Bernheim in 2021. He is represented by P·P·O·W, who have also held solo shows for him in New York in 2023 (Night Pictures, 7 April – 13 May) and 2020 (Into Open Air, 10 September – 17 October). His next exhibition, Kyle Dunn / Matrix 194, will be at the Wadsworth Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, from 7 June – 1 September. His works are also held in public collections worldwide, including the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami, Sunpride Foundation in Hong Kong, and X Museum in Beijing.



    Kyle Dunn, quoted in Kyle Dunn: Ghost World, Interview by Jessica Ross, Juxtapoz

    ii  Ibid.

    iii Ibid.

    • Provenance

      Galerie Maria Bernheim, Zurich
      Private Collection, Zurich
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Zurich, Galerie Maria Bernheim, The Fool, 11 June - 24 July 2021


The Fool

signed, titled and dated '“THE FOOL”, Kyle Dunn 2021' on the reverse
acrylic on wooden panel
152.4 x 121.9 cm. (60 x 48 in.)
Executed in 2021.

Full Cataloguing

HK$350,000 - 550,000 

Sold for HK$482,600

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2027

Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 31 May 2024