Sanya Kantarovsky - 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Sunday, June 6, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Art has never been about morality or about the pure and clean and correct. Its always been about the grime and pain and totally unfair contradictions of being aliveand humour, very much so, is a kind of pressure valve.”               Sanya Kantarovsky [1]

    Surreal and complex, the distinctive figurative paintings of Moscow-born, New York-based artist Sanya Kantarovsky have drawn significant attention from across the globe. He has recently been the subject of solo shows at Kunsthalle Basel and the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow and his works can be found in esteemed collections around the world, including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., Tate Modern, London, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.


    Kantarovsky draws elements from folktales, children’s stories and cartoons into his paintings. Despite moving to the United States as a child, Kantarovsky’s Russian roots, in particular the Russian artistic avant-garde idea of ostranenija (‘defamiliarisation’), have influenced his predilection for inverting the familiar to change his audience’s perspective of the world, to feel as though they are looking at something for the first time.[2] A storyteller first and foremost, a patchwork of influences runs through Kantarovsky’s Symbolist and Surrealist paintings, including Marc Chagall, James Ensor, and most discernibly in Temperature, Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period.


    Temperature and Picasso’s Buveuse assoupie (Sleeping Drinker) (1912) both immediately strike the viewer with their implicit sense of turmoil. With their respective portrayals of a hunched figure, gazing downward, imminent calamity is foreshadowed. The defining attribute of Picasso’s Blue Period is his use of blue and blue-green hues, channeling his pain and suffering and echoing his psychological state as he sank into a deep depression. Similarly, the scene Kantarovsky sets is eerie and cold, but the blue tones also play to the viewer in an ambivalent manner, at times evoking a comforting, even soothing aura.


    Picasso, Sleeping Drinker, 1912
    Picasso, Sleeping Drinker, 1912

    Kantarovsky has previously alluded to being fascinated by the simultaneous and often contradictory truths in life, such as the intertwined nature of cruelty and love, or violence and beauty. [3] This philosophy is manifested in Temperature. A menacing figure bends over the female subject, its hand outstretched - it is unclear whether to help or hurt. Likewise, the female subject is also painted in a paradoxical manner. She is pale and vulnerable in a tub, yet her expression and sharp eyes hint at a latent fierceness and aggression. This clever and subtle ambiguity at play reflects how Temperature encapsulates Kantarovsky’s ability to portray human nature, where the overlap of good and bad is ubiquitous, and at times even indistinguishable.


    Sanya Kantarovsky

    The artist in his studio


    [1] Sanya Kantarovsky quoted by Dodie Kazanjian, ‘The Darkly Comic Art of Sanya Kantarovsky’, Vogue, 15 May 2019, online

    [2] Jason Rosenfeld, ‘Sanya Kantarovsky with Jason Rosenfeld’, The Brooklyn Rail, June 2019, online

    [3] Paula Erizanu, ‘Urbanites and existential angst: the not quite figurative world of painter Sanya Kantarovsky’, Calvert Journal, 22 December 2020, online

    • Provenance

      Art: Concept, Paris
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Art: Concept, La Perle, 16 December 2016 - 04 February 2017



signed, titled and dated 'Sanya Kantarovsky "TEMPERATURE" 2016' on the overlap
oil and watercolour on canvas
152.5 x 114.5 cm. (60 x 45 1/8 in.)
Executed in 2016.

Full Cataloguing

HK$550,000 - 750,000 

Sold for HK$2,142,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Associate Specialist, Head of Day Sale

20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 7 June 2021