Mark Grotjahn - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Tuesday, November 15, 2022 | Phillips

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  • Wildly colorful lines of oil paint slash down the center of Mark Grotjahn’s Untitled (Circus No. 12 Face 44.30), 2014, over a ground of ovoid shapes. There is a fierce velocity to the thickly impastoed marks, which fly to all corners of the composition, like the trails of airplanes, or the silk sashes of trapeze artists, perhaps. Drawing on visual cues as wide-ranging as the vaulted ceilings of Italian Renaissance paintings and the neon lights of Circus Circus casino in Las Vegas, Untitled (Circus No. 12 Face 44.30) combines the artist’s painterly innovations to date with a rich legacy of traditional and modern art historical painting.

    "[Grotjahn] possesses the ‘historical sense,’ which [Modernist writer T.S.] Eliot considered indispensable to an artist in his maturity: a consciousness of the past’s multiplicity, of the spectrum of historical voices that speak through any contemporary voice."
    —Mark Prince
    Grotjahn’s Circus group premiered at the artist’s first German solo exhibition at Kunstverein Freiburg, Freiburg im Breisgau, in 2014, and its works now populate major museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Broad, Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Circus combines the techniques of the artist’s two earlier series, Butterfly and Face, on a larger and more theatrical scale.i 

     

    Untitled (Circus No. 12 Face 44.30) draws its geometric intensity and attention to perspective as an organizing force from Butterfly, and, as the title of the present work indicates, the Circus paintings are a subset of the Face series, in which the artist uses the human form as the basis of his abstraction. One can see eyes in the ovoid shapes in the top half of Untitled (Circus No. 12 Face 44.30), and the slope of a nose in the slashing verticals. Two small, red swirls, at bottom center, suggest nostrils over a white, featherlike upper lip.

     

    The visibility of the faces in Grotjahn’s works, especially as Face morphs into Circus, grows more abstracted over time. The artist creates within an early Modernist paradigm in which abstraction and figuration are not mutually exclusive, and this tension serves as the inspiration for his work.ii As Mark Prince writes, “For Grotjahn, the vanishing point had become the vanishing self.”iii

     

    [left] Bartolomeo Montagna, Madonna Enthroned with Infant Jesus among Saints, 1485. Museo Civico, Vicenza, Italy. Image: © Ghigo G. Roli / Art Resource, NY [right] Umberto Boccioni, Materia, 1912. Private collection, Milan. Image: Bridgeman-Giraudon / Art Resource, NY
    [left] Bartolomeo Montagna, Madonna Enthroned with Infant Jesus among Saints, 1485. Museo Civico, Vicenza, Italy. Image: © Ghigo G. Roli / Art Resource, NY
    [right] Umberto Boccioni, Materia, 1912. Private collection, Milan. Image: Bridgeman-Giraudon / Art Resource, NY

    Untitled (Circus No. 12 Face 44.30) embodies the signature art-historical inspirations of Grotjahn’s oeuvre. In addition to the visual similarity to the practices of Abstract Expressionists such as Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, the Circus series has a decidedly Italian bend to its referents. As with his three-tiered perspective paintings of the late 1990s, and the aforementioned Butterfly series, Grotjahn’s Circus draws inspiration in a combined subversion and homage to Italian Renaissance ideals of one- and two-point perspective. Untitled (Circus No. 12 Face 44.30), in particular, recalls the most challenging of Italian Renaissance perspectives: the four-point span of a vaulted cathedral ceiling.

     

    The planes of perspective in Untitled (Circus No. 12 Face 44.30) pull each other at the seams, in a dynamic spread across the composition that itself references the intense, even overwhelming motion of Italian Futurist paintings of the early 20th century. The resulting web-like, swooping marks recall the draping canvas of a circus marquee, in garish, over-the-top carnival color.

     

    Georges Seurat, Le Cirque, 1890-1891. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Image: Picture Alliance/DPA / Bridgeman Images
    Georges Seurat, Le Cirque, 1890-1891. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Image: Picture Alliance/DPA / Bridgeman Images


    Grotjahn cites post-Impressionist painter George Seurat’s Le Cirque, 1890-1891, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, as the point of departure for the Circus series.iv Indeed, the tension between dynamic foreground and static background in Le Cirque is reflected in the layering of ovals and slashes in Untitled (Circus No. 12 Face 44.30), and the inherent high-brow, low-brow tension of the circus as a performance space further translates into the rest of Grotjahn’s sources. In addition to his art historical referents, he cites the Las Vegas casino, Circus Circus, as the title of the Kunstverein Freiburg exhibition.

     

    The marquee of Circus Circus casino, Las Vegas. Image: Picture Alliance/DPA / Bridgeman Images
    The marquee of Circus Circus casino, Las Vegas. Image: Picture Alliance/DPA / Bridgeman Images

    Just as Untitled (Circus No. 12 Face 44.30) revels in an Italian Futurist and Abstract Expressionist dynamism, its bright colors contrasted against lines of black and blue remind one of how marquee lights shoot through the desert darkness of Las Vegas. The reference to hyper-consumerist Las Vegas is a further self-reference, too; Grotjahn’s earliest works were a series of paintings replicating the signs of local businesses. Like Italian Renaissance altarpieces, Futurist compositions, and Seurat’s Le Cirque, Las Vegas itself is an imagined, spectacular place; it is the unreal rainbow of untenable perspectives expressed emotively through the lines of Untitled (Circus No. 12 Face 44.30). The work is a riotous combination of references to Grotjahn’s own practice and art history at large. In short, it’s signature Grotjahn.


    i Caroline Käding, “Der Trapezkünstler/The Trapeze Artist,” in Mark Grotjahn: Circus Circus, exh. cat., Kunstverein Freiburg, Freiburg im Breisgau, 2014, pp. 17, 20.
    ii Roberta Smith, “Mark Grotjahn: ‘Nine Faces,’” The New York Times, May 12, 2011, online.
    iii Mark Prince, “The Divided Self: Mark Grotjahn’s ‘Circus’ series/Das geteilte Selbst: Mark Grotjahns ‘Circus’-Serie,” in Mark Grotjahn: Circus Circus, exh. cat., Kunstverein Freiburg, Freiburg im Breisgau, 2014, p. 24.
    iv Käding, 18.

    • Provenance

      Private Collection
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2019

    • Literature

      Mark Grotjahn: Circus Circus, exh. cat., Kunstverein Freiburg, Freiburg im Breisgau, 2014, pp. 52, 60 (illustrated, p. 53)
      "Mark Grotjahn: Circus Circus," DISTANZ, no. 9089, April 2015, p. 28 (illustrated)

Property of an Established Private Collector

16

Untitled (Circus No. 12 Face 44.30)

signed with the artist’s initials, numbered and dated "MPG XII 14" lower right; signed with the artist's initials and partially titled "C 12 C 12 MPG" on the turnover edge; further signed, titled, numbered and dated "UNTITLED (CIRCUS NO. 12 FACE 44.30) 2014 2014 M. Grotjahn MARK GROTJAHN #12 XII" on the overlap
oil on cardboard mounted on linen
101 1/2 x 73 5/8 in. (257.8 x 187 cm)
Painted in 2014.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$8,000,000 - 12,000,000 

Sold for $9,809,000

Contact Specialist

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 November 2022