Mark Grotjahn - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Sunday, November 8, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Stephen Friedman Gallery, London
    Private Collection, USA
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Dallas, The Warehouse, Room by Room, February 26 - December 5, 2014

  • Catalogue Essay

    Mark Grotjahn’s Untitled (Brown Butterfly Purple) explores the formal quality of perspective as a unique aesthetic in its own right, an exploration the artist began early in his career after moving to Los Angeles in 1996. The work, comprised of oil on linen, is a prototypical “butterfly” painting, one of two major categories of Grotjahn’s works characterized by radiating strokes or marks converging on one or many vanishing points. As Michael Ned Holte described in 2005, “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”, in Artforum, November 2005, p. 259) The result is a pseudo-monochromatic representation of two distinct anchors at the central vertical line splitting the surface, out of which infinite fine strokes emerge and spill out to the borders.

    The American artist rose to fame at the end of the 20th-century with his Sign Replacement Project, in which he meticulously recreated shop signs and traded in his creations for the originals from vendors in Los Angeles. Heavily influenced by the movements of Pop Art and Op Art, Grotjahn’s fascination with city storefronts and signage forayed him into the LA arts scene. After exhibiting these signs alongside his earlier three-tier perspective works, characterized by vibrantly colored sections radiating from horizontally oriented vanishing points, Grotjahn began his butterfly works. These earlier works were thought by many to resemble abstracted landscapes, a connection of which the artist was not fond. By placing his perspective rendering into a more distinctly vertical space, Grotjahn founded an original graphic aesthetic in the butterfly works that he has become widely recognized for. The present lot uniquely combines the precise qualities of his three-tier perspective works with the handmade process from his recreated signs. While extremely exacted, Untitled (Brown Butterfly Purple) reveals the artist’s hand upon close inspection of the surface. As if etched into the layers of surface paint, his brush strokes read as subtly beautiful tonal and textural variations. Grotjahn’s personal mark is further emphasized by the purple, hand-painted signature prominently lining the right border, a common feature found in Grotjahn’s works.

    Grotjahn’s butterfly paintings place the artist uniquely in the canon of art history. Unlike painters of the past and present who rely on one-point or two-point perspective to represent three-dimensional space on a flat surface, Grotjahn utilizes the phenomenon to create an image that does not represent anything at all. This makes the subject of his drawings and paintings the science of perspective itself, not a landscape, portrait nor interior. As the artist humbly said in an interview in 2013, “I knew that the history of non-representational painting is already more than 100 years old and I knew that I’m part of that language. But it is like playing in a rock n’ roll band and asking: are you aware that you are part of the history of rock n’ roll?” (M. Grotjahn, M. Gynp, Interview with Mark Grotjahn, Zoo Magazine #38, January 2013).


Untitled (Brown Butterfly Purple)

oil on linen
70 x 35 in. (177.8 x 88.9 cm)
Signed and dated "Mark Grotjahn 2004" along the right edge.

$1,800,000 - 2,200,000 

Sold for $1,925,000

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 8 November 2015 7pm