Stefanie Heinze - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 13, 2023 | Phillips
  • “I want to take the stiffness out of how things look nowadays.” 
    —Stefanie Heinze

    Appearing to melt and metamorphose before our eyes, the hallucinatory, liquid forms of Berlin-based artist Stefanie Heinze merge with vivid colour to form surreal and surprising compositions. Vibrant, lively, and sharply humorous, her paintings feature a host of playful, invented characters drawn from clever combinations of body parts, animal hybrids, and organic forms, realised in glorious technicolour in the present work. Representing the rising artist’s auction debut, the large-scale Median (Fin Fatale) demonstrates the quick-witted word play for which Heinze is best known, playfully evoking the trope of the femme fatale and taking apart the gendered cultural construction.


    A familiar trope from film and literature, the ‘femme fatale’ is typically a mysterious, sensually attractive (although often morally ambiguous) woman, exuding sexual confidence and known for seducing lovestruck men with her feminine charms. A mainstay of hardboiled pulp thrillers and Film Noir, her power over men aligns her to more historically entrenched archetypes such as the Witch or Siren, her motives and intentions often remaining deliberately ambiguous. Sharply intelligent, and with a highly stylised fast-talking, quick-witted repartee, she undermines the traditional structures of male power, instead often weaponizing her femininity to deadly ends.


    Barbara Stanwyck as iconic femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson in Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, 1941.


    Nevertheless, the defining physical characteristic of the femme fatale is her beauty; she remains defined by the terms of the male gaze, even as she uses this to her nefarious advantage. Although this character has been most memorably embodied on screen (and, often, in black and white), the lurid colours and eye-catching angularity used in the covers of 1930s pulp fiction crime stories also seems registered here, capturing Heinze’s deft blending of high and low culture.


    Rather than a reversion to type, Heinze’s Median (Fin Fatale) playfully subverts all of these expectations, the humorous word play between ‘fin’ and ‘femme’ deflating and deconstructing this gendered trope, just as the body of the titular character is similarly taken apart and recombined under her painterly hand. Dominated by the sweeping arc of a fish tail, the eccentric hybrid creature rears up against a rock, the line of body arching back and culminating in talon-tipped breasts, visually recalling a memorable scene in Disney’s 1989 Little Mermaid as the crescendo of the protagonist’s song (which itself communicates the strength of her desire both for the Prince and for bodily metamorphosis) reaches its climax with the crashing waves breaking behind her.


    Spicy Adventure Stories, November 1936



    Although Heinze does not connect her work directly to any art historical movement, her paintings and drawings belong to a lineage of Surrealist abstraction that includes the work of the likes of Joan Miró, Arshile Gorky, and Neo Rauch, even as they revel in their unique rearticulation of these influences. Gorky’s fluid, biomorphic forms and bright, bold colour contrasts do certainly stand as an important touchstone, perhaps even more so given the primacy of drawing in the practices of both artists.


    Often working on both sides of the paper, Heinze approaches her drawings intuitively, letting forms and compositions be guided by ‘what's immediate, profane or just coming from the unconscious.’i Tearing up her drawings and recombining them in new pictorial arrangements, Heinze deliberately ‘disrupts relationships and narratives, uncovering weaknesses in their meaning.’ii Transferring these new, reconstructed forms to canvas Heinze embraces what she describes as ‘translation errors’, her practice replicating the same kind of challenge to order and dismantling of power structures that her paintings address on a thematic level. 


    Arshile Gorky, Mojave, 1941-1942, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Image: © Frank Buffetrille. All rights reserved 2023 / Bridgeman Images


    Collector’s Digest

    • Stefanie Heinze lives and works in Berlin. She studied at the National Academy of Fine Arts, Oslo and the Academy of Fine Arts, Leipzig.

    • In addition to multiple group shows, Heinze’s solo exhibitions include Frail Juice, Petzel Gallery, New York in 2020; Ruler, LC Queisser, Tbilisi in 2019; Odd Glove, Capitain Petzel, Berlin in 2019; Food for the Young (Oozing Out), Mary Boone Gallery in 2018; and Genuflect Softly #1, Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London in 2017. She has also shown works in group exhibitions at international institutions such as Saatchi Gallery in London, The Hepworth Wakefield, Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami.

    • Collections include MAMCO Genève; Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden; Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; Marguerite Hoffman Collection, Dallas; Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin; and The Rachofsky Collection, Dallas.



    i Stefanie Heinze, ‘Stefanie Heinze Interviews Stefanie Heinze’, Paper, 23 October, 2020, online.

    ii Pippy Houldsworth, Stories of the Imaginary (Self-Portrait of Two Lemons), 2021, press release, online.

    Colin Lang, ‘Fail Better: Collin Lang on Stefanie Heinze’, Texte zur Kunst, 1 June, 2019, online.

    • Provenance

      Capitain Petzel, Berlin
      Acquired from the above by the present owner


Median (Fin Fatale)

signed, titled and dated ‘ST. HEINZE 2018 “MEDIAN (FIN FATALE)”’ on the reverse
acrylic and oil on canvas
160.2 x 180.2 cm (63 1/8 x 70 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2018.

Full Cataloguing

£60,000 - 80,000 ‡♠

Sold for £165,100

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+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 13 October 2023