Mark Grotjahn - Contemporary Art Day Sale New York Friday, May 15, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Blum & Poe, Los Angeles

  • Catalogue Essay

    “I intellectually believed that art can be whatever you wanted it to be, but only by doing something does the idea become true. It is one thing to say you know something mentally but it is another thing to actually know it, physically. It is one thing to say I believe art can be like this and another thing to do it and know it.” Mark Grotjahn, 2013
    A veritable rainbow seems to quiver and reel in Mark Grotjahn's Untitled (Colored Butterfly White Background 2 Wings), converging on a central vanishing point to initiate a nearly dizzying, physical viewing experience. Untitled (Colored Butterfly White Background 2 Wings) is part of the artist's most acclaimed Butterfly series, examples of which are held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Indeed, as Michael Ned Holte states, "The butterfly has become to Mark Grotjahn what the target is to Kenneth Noland, the zip was to Barnett Newman, and the color white is to Robert Ryman..."( Mark Grotjahn," Artforum, November 2005, p. 259).

    The skewed angles and plucky colors of Grotjahn's Butterfly works knowingly allude to geometric abstraction's numerous art histories, including the utopian vision of Russian Constructivism, the reductive strategies of minimalism and the hallucinatory images of Op Art. As Robert Storr has aptly stated, "Grotjahn is not an artist obsessed with positing a wholly unprecedented 'concept' of art, but rather is concerned with teasing nuanced experience out of existing concepts or constructs according to the opportunities presented by a specific, well-calculated conceit. Nor is he really preoccupied with Ezra Pound's mandate to 'make it new;' rather he wants to make it vivid, and applies all of his impressive skill to doing just that" (R. Storr, "LA Push-Pull/Po-Mo-Stop-Go," Mark Grotjahn, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2009, p. 6)

    To create these radiant, prismatic drawings, Grotjahn follows a specific and exacting process. He first begins by mapping out the triangular radii in pencil. He then establishes the alternative palette by laying out a colored pencil over the initial layout, working systematically, and filling in his contours from left to right. A central vertical line divides the sheet in half, the triangular vectors or wings splaying outward from this point. The left and right wings do not meet in the middle; instead the composition is always asymmetrical. Within these highly controlled compositions, the heft of the artist's body is occasionally visible with the segments evidencing a burnished sheen of weighty layers of colored pencil; his landscape of concentrated working artfully combines the aesthetics of abstraction with the emotional response of the viewer. While at first glance the Butterfly's aesthetic seems entrenched in hard-edge modernist discourse, it's exquisitely and meticulously rendered radiating bands – which recall the insect's delicate, cantilevered wings – seem to flutter nearly organically. As Storr describes, this singular fusion of past and present, organic and abstract, is why the Butterfly series forms the artist's most important body of work. "Grotjahn's abstractions are, in relation to traditional pictorial modes, a matter of having your cake and eating it too, of experiencing vertiginous spatial illusions only to be brought back to the level ground of modernist flatness-only then to have the picture plane once again yield to the probing eye." (R. Storr, 'LA Push-Pull/Po-Mo-Stop-Go' Mark Grotjahn, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, London 2009, pp. 4-5). Speaking to the myriad complexities and references that can be plucked from the depths of the Butterflies, Douglas Fogle states: "The butterflies, whose bodies are the vanishing points of multiple perspectival systems, literally move across the paper with an almost cinematic dynamism with a scaffolding of vertical stabilizers defining their spatiality, they bring to mind fractal geometries of perhaps the seminal film title sequences of the legendary designer Saul Bass. I am reminded in particular of Bass's opening titles to Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest where an abstract grid of lines crosses the screen only to eventually form the contours of the modernist glass facade that defines the opening shot of the film. As with these film titles, Grotjahn's butterflies hover precipitously close to this line between abstract geometry and illusionistic spatiality, displaying a kind of graphic unconscious that constitutes a paradoxically systematic disruption of a rational and orderly system.” ("In the Center of the Infinite," Parkett no. 80, 2007, pp. 8-9).


Untitled (Colored Butterfly White Background 2 Wings)

color pencil on paper
24 x 18 in. (61 x 45.7 cm)

$200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for $425,000

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Day Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

Contemporary Art Day Sale

New York Day Sale 15 May 2015 11am