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  • Provenance

    Anton Kern Gallery, New York

  • Exhibited

    New York, Anton Kern Gallery, Mark Grotjahn, October 9 – November 15, 2003
    Thun, Kunstmuseum, Mark Grotjahn, September 7 – November 18, 2007

  • Catalogue Essay

    "A butterfly in space excites my imagination. Freed from rhetoric I lose myself in time"

    - Lucio Fontana cited in: R. Miracco, Lucio Fontana at the Roots of Spatialism, Milan 2006, p. 49

    "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, Grotjahn's abstracted geometric figure is suitably elusive. In fact, the more familiar it becomes, the more he refines its ability to surprise and, perhaps paradoxically, takes it further away from actual butterflyness."

    - M. N. Holte, “Mark Grotjahn: Blum and Poe,” Artforum, vol. 44, no. 3 (November 2005), p. 259

    Mark Grotjahn's stunning work Untitled (Orange Butterfly) of 2003 is a captivating display of the perspectival arrangement and sumptuous chromatic immersion that has made this artist one of the most exciting painters today. For this painting, Grotjahn has reduced his palette drastically and dispensed with alternating color bands which he had utilized in his earlier work, but the result is far from puritanical or austere; the fractured geometry and handmade aesthetic make for a vibrating and visually active picture plane. Indeed, the intensely orange, lushly textured surface posseses an active, almost palpable, force. "The paintings themselves are hard-edged spatial illusions in rich gradations of colour that appear to expand and contract...Grotjahn actually riffs from the whole range of abstraction: Malevich, Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt, Frank Stella, Brice Marden et al. Unlike the constructivists who rejected decorative reference or 'subjectivity', Grotjahn is actively encoding references including pop psychedelic associations." (M. Henry inAbstract America: New Paintings & Sculpture at The Saatchi Gallery, exh. cat., The Saatchi Gallery,London, 2009-2010, p. 7)

    Grotjahn has explored the esoteric butterfly motif extensively over the past decade in both drawing and painting. His devotion to this singular concept has allowed him to explore color, form and scale in a depth that shares lineage with Rothko and Albers. The Butterfly paintings have a unique and intense visual presence - a central vanishing point, or more accurately two, as the lines hardly ever radiate out from the same locus, in the "body" of the butterfly and an energy emanating out and fluttering through the diagonal lines of the “wings.” There is simultaneous concentration and decentralization.

    The artist has committed to restricting his use of color for some time, working on series of butterfly paintings devoted to individual colors: orange, as in the current example, red, yellow, green, pink, blue, and on. Within these singular color canvases there is distinct variation in tonality that belies any identification with monochromism. The slight tonal shifts from red toward yellow throughout the canvas lend it a shimmering quality, further enhanced by the sheen of the paint itself and its treatment, deeply ridged with brush lines. Far from being simply a textured monochrome work, Untitled (Orange Butterfly) radiates with varying ochre, sienna, umber, and saffron hues.
    Untitled (Orange Butterfly) is an early and outstanding paragon of the Butterfly series and typifies the salient themes of method and concept of his best work. The incredibly precise treatment of the paint and canvas is readily apparent even if, in contrast to his Abstract Expressionist predecessors, there is no apparent struggle or self-revealing quality to the work. It is clearly very deliberately wrought with underpainting and precisely delineated bands of subtly varied, but consistently vibrant orange coloring.

    His early interest in handmade signs is evidenced in the present work through a celebration of the artistic trace, which refuses the precise, hard-edged line often associated with formal abstraction. It can also be seen in the artist's signature, which he makes a peculiar feature in most of his paintings. Signing the front of a work is rare for most abstract artists and an unusual practice in contemporary art in general, yet Grotjahn has prominently placed his name and the date of production on this Butterfly work. The prominent signature with the artist's initials “M G” and the date “2003” in the lower left and right corners as well as the center band of the canvas respectively, precisely renders the importance of text, and color, in his work. The brilliant orange overpainting has been meticulously masked out to reveal the electric green-yellow underpainting. The interplay of the two acid-toned hues immediately attracts the viewer like a flashing neon sign plucked from the artist’s hometown of Los Angeles. The process of masking and meticulous reproduction of text harkens back to his Sign paintings and here serves to announce the artist and his work. A recurring theme in these Butterfly paintings, the signature is a playful compositional element which adds a splash of color and a dash of humor to these otherwise formal abstractions. As discussed by Johanna Burton: "Language plays a significant role on and off the artist's canvases, particularly in his use of ambiguity (saying ‘butterfly’ and meaning ‘abstraction’...). Like Ryman, Grotjahn uses his signature as verbal signifier and as formal device, leaving us to determine where one ends and the other begins." (J. Burton, "Mark Grotjahn: Anton Kern," ArtForum, vol. 42, no. 4 (December 2003), p.146.) The artist's signature, and therefore his identity, is bound up in the painting as a formal component, creating a small sign that indicates Grotjahn's awareness of the relationship between the author, the work and the wider system of artwork as fetish object. For Grotjahn, the whole work is his signature, and the Butterfly paintings his signature style.


Untitled (Orange Butterfly Green M 2003 G)

oil on linen
49 x 39 1/8 in. (124.5 x 99.4 cm.)
Initialed and dated "MG 2003" along the lower edge.

$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Sold for $3,637,000

Contact Specialist
Zach Miner
Head of Evening Sale
[email protected]
+1 212 940 1256

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York 11 November 2013 7PM