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  • Provenance

    Anton Kern Gallery, New York

  • Catalogue Essay

    With his abstract and geometric pieces, Mark Grotjahn has distinguished himself as a leading artist amongst members of the modern and contemporary canon. Valued for his rigorous interest in optical illusions and perspective, Grotjahn works have been exhibited in numerous museums and are held in collections across the globe. Part of his celebrated and ongoing butterfly series Untitled is a mesmerizing and hallucinatory work. Strips of white radiate off-kilter from the centre of the print? in a bold and dizzying pattern. With their stark, starburst-like formation, the lines convey not just the body of the eponymous butterfly but also a sense of light, spirituality and speed.

    Jutting from the canvas they seem to defy the solidarity of the paper, implying a feeling of depth while also drawing our eyes into the centre of the piece. The forms appear to stretch and shrink and recede. Simultaneously the asymmetrical offsetting of the two ‘vanishing points’ in the piece creates a feeling of tension, disorientating the viewer’s sense of linear perspective, and forcing us into an uneasy concentration.

    For the last two decades, the LA based artist has repeatedly made the butterfly the focus of his work, reducing the organic subject to a formalized and graphic-like symbol so that it becomes almost unrecognizable. As Grotjahn has stated : "It was not exactly what I was thinking about. I called some paintings perspectives but I’m not interested in perspective; I called some butterflies but I don’t think they are butterflies; I call my sculptures masks but they are not masks" (Flash Art n.252 January – February 07). Thus with his butterfly series, Grotajan seems to cleverly toy with us, drawing upon notions of semiology and iconography and bringing us to question how we view the world around us.

    Although the butterfly pieces share a similar symbolism and interest, the individual works vary in format, colour and size, responding to the artist’s continuous desire to explore the boundaries of multiple perspectives movement and optical illusions. Having initially experimented with three-tier perspective Grotjahn quickly moved towards creating pieces with single and two point vantage points, as in the case of this present lot. With their occasional blurred markings, the butterfly pieces give evidence to the artist’s early fascination with handmade-signs, which he made during the early 1990s. Like signs, these works suggest a sense of accident and randomness, encouraging the viewer to think about their conception and the act of making while also subverting the crisp, abstract element of the works.

    As with many of his pieces, in Untitled, one can see a myriad of art historical references. While the use of perspective echoes traditional perspectival techniques used since the Renaissance, the bold, graphic style relates to the Russian Supremus art of the early 1900s. At the same time, the monochromatic nature of the piece makes a clear allusion to the great Op artists of the 1960s such as Bridget Riley Victor Vasarely.

    Grotjahn has credited his early interest in art as influenced by the works of Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee, and indeed the clear and playful interest in organic shapes, evident in Untitled bears testimony to his early fascination with these figures. Through drawing upon this plethora of subjects in this work, Grotjahn demonstrates his masterful ability to harness art historical cannons to create his own complex and dynamic style. Untitled thus stands as a paradigm of the artist’s oeuvre.


Untitled (Butterfly)

coloured pencil on paper
60.6 x 48.2 cm. (23 7/8 x 18 7/8 in.)
Signed and dated 'MARK GROTJAHN 2003' lower right.

£120,000 - 180,000 

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
[email protected]
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Evening Sale 10 February 2014 7pm