Natee Utarit - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Saturday, November 23, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Art Seasons Gallery, Singapore
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Singapore, Richard Koh Fine Art, God, King and Country, 12 – 15 January 2012

  • Literature

    Richard Koh Fine Art, Natee Utarit: Illustration of the Crisis, Kuala Lumpur, 2013, pp. 114, 115, 238 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Socio-political discourse in Thailand has profoundly influenced the multifaceted practice of Natee Utarit, one of the most gifted contemporary artists in Southeast Asia. Utarit combines surrealism with a slick hyperrealism comparable to Salvador Dali, but a sharp and discerning take on global political, cultural and historical affairs underpins each of his complex and multilayered works.

    The present lot, King, is presented as a classical Western still life painting, which developed as a formal artistic genre in the Netherlands during the 16th and 17th centuries. Still life historically occupied the lowest rung of the hierarchy of genres in Western academic thinking owing to its superficially decorative subject matter. However, its popularity amongst the ordinary Dutch middle classes - who gradually displaced the church and state as the principal patrons of art in the Netherlands - grew from its ability to hide a multitude of religious and allegorical symbolism within its carefully chosen subjects, at a time when images of religious subjects were strictly forbidden. It is a genre which appeals to Utarit’s love of metaphors and hidden symbols, in an environment where overt criticism of religion and the monarchy are regarded as attacks upon the central, unassailably sacred tenets of contemporary Thai culture:

    Oddly enough, it is the pictorial language of Western painting of centuries past and its obligation to answer such basic questions as who? what? where? how? that can more accurately depict the murky, complex atmosphere that surrounds the events of the present.” (Natee Utarit, quoted in Richard Koh Fine Art, Natee Utarit: Illustration of the Crisis, Kuala Lumpur, 2013, p. 9)

    Central to the story of King is King Rama IV (1804-1868), a major cultural reformer who embraced Western innovations and was known as Thailand’s "father of science and technology". His efforts at modernising the country even came to be immortalised in the Broadway musical and Hollywood film The King and I. He is represented by a small golden statue of Phra Siam Devadhiraj, the guardian deity of Thailand, which was commissioned by Rama IV around 1860. The statue peers through a telescope (astronomy being one of Rama IV’s well-known interests) at a colourful anatomical model of a cow, and perches upon an empty set of scales atop a stack of books – knowledge and the rule of law supporting his reign rather than the weapons of outmoded regimes. A toppled representation of a crown references Thailand’s proud status as the only Southeast Asian country to have evaded Western colonisation.

    To Rama’s left stands a life-sized marble statue of the French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire, who gestures to a pamphlet in his hand, one of the 2,000 books and texts he wrote in his lifetime arguing for freedom of thought and civil liberties. Voltaire championed religious tolerance and for an end to absolutist religious and monarchical authority in favour of a constitutional monarchy, which was implemented in Thailand in 1932. Rather fittingly, Rama turns away from a golf trolley disguised as a cannon, an ominous allusion to the potentially flawed influence of Western soft power in the East perfectly encapsulated by reference to a sport dogged by accusations of elitism since its introduction to Thailand.

    A tableau that reproduces a veritable ‘slice of life’ and unravels some of the complex history and culture behind contemporary Thai society, King is the second work in the tripartite series God, King and Country (2011). This phrase was a key mantra of Thai mentality until the early twenty-first century. Originating in England and introduced to Thailand by Rama IV, it came to represent the belief that Thai citizens were united through loyalty to the king, the revered father of the nation, who brought prosperity and legitimacy to the nation through protection and support for Buddhist institutions. The intrinsic interrelationship of these three institutions is symbolised by Thailand’s tricolour flag: red for nation, white for religion and blue, just as in the West, for monarchy. The deep blue velvet curtain that dominates the background of King, through which a sliver of white curtain is glimpsed (literally and metaphorically), is foregrounded by a candle-snuffer, the Buddhist notion of impermanence taking precedence above all. Its function mirrors the Western momento mori of still life vanitas paintings, for example Hans Holbein the Younger’s The Ambassadors, an acclaimed portrait of two young noblemen surrounded by symbols of their wealth and education, which is dominated by an anamorphic skull.

    Heir to Eastern and Western painting traditions, but unafraid to radically reinvent the pictorial language of today, Utarit has been honoured with recent solo exhibitions at the National Gallery of Indonesia and Singapore Art Museum, as well as inclusion in acclaimed public collections such as the Bangkok University, Bangkok, Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, as well as private collections in Europe and Asia.




signed, titled and dated 'Natee Utarit 2011 "King”' on the reverse
oil on linen
200 x 320 cm. (78 3/4 x 125 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2011, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Art Seasons Gallery.

HK$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for HK$2,750,000

Contact Specialist
Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 24 November 2019