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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… 显示更多 Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection

Untitled (Crimson Red and Canary Yellow Butterfly 45.93)

84 x 47 ¾ in. (213.4 x 121.3 cm.)
Blum & Poe, Los Angeles.
Private collection, London.
Private collection.
Anon. sale, Phillips, New York, 16 November 2016, lot 2.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.


Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas


In Untitled (Crimson Red and Canary Yellow Butterfly 45.93), Mark Grotjahn carefully orchestrates alternating bands of high-keyed red and yellow into a dazzling example of his iconic practice. His deceptively simple trademark form consists of radiating lines converging on one or more vanishing points, which he identifies as ‘butterflies’. In the present work, Grotjahn has reduced his often eclectic palette, opting instead for alternating bands of crimson and canary yellow, resulting in an almost hypnotic experience. Indeed, the combination seen in this particular work—the strict geometry combined with the high-keyed color—hits the viewer with an almost bodily force.

The composition of Untitled is divided equally by a central axis upon which diagonal lines race outwards from a central vanishing point. These expansive rays create a mesmerizing optical illusion as they appear to both approach and recede at high-speed momentum. But these dynamic lines are stopped in their tracks by the confines of the sheet, bringing it back to the level ground of modernist flatness in a manner reminiscent of Barnett Newman’s ‘zips’.

The regimented angles and bold colors knowingly allude to geometric abstraction’s numerous art histories, including Renaissance perspective, the utopian vision of Russian Constructivism, and the reductive strategies of Minimalism. As Robert Storr has aptly put it: “Grotjahn is not an artist obsessed with positing a wholly unprecedented ‘concept’ of art, but rather is concerned with teasing nuanced experience out of existing concepts or constructs according to the opportunities presented by a specific, well-calculated conceit. Nor is he really preoccupied with Ezra Pound’s mandate to “make it new”; rather he wants to make it vivid, and applies all of his impressive skill to doing just that” (R. Storr in ‘LA Push-Pull/Po-Mo-Stop-Go’, Mark Grotjahn, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2009, p.6).

Grotjahn’s practice is rooted in conceptual art and his paintings and drawings pursue a number of individual and seemingly contradictory strands, including the Butterfly works, as well as expressively painted faces, masks and flowers, all of which touch on historical referents. His career began in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, where he made a name for himself with the Sign Replacement Project that involved him making faithful copies of hand-written shop signs, trading them in for the originals, and exhibiting them as his own. In 1998 he exhibited a shift in his practice when he displayed these exchanged sign works next to a set of paintings stimulated by the perspectival inventions of the Renaissance, particularly dual and multiple vanishing points. “At the time I had just moved to L.A. and I had been doing conceptual performance work in the Bay Area, Grotjahn explains. “I opened a gallery with my friend Brent Peterson and started showing and working with other artists. That took care of a lot of my conceptual needs as well as feeling connected to a larger community. And I started to think about why I got into art in the first place. I was always interested in line and color. I wanted to find a motif that I could experiment with for a while. I did a group of drawings over a period of six to twelve months. The drawing that I chose was one that resembled the three tier perspective, and that is what I went with” (M. Grotjahn quoted in A. Douglass, ‘Interview with Mark Grotjahn’, October 6, 2010, at Intrigued by this idea but unhappy with the landscape connection suggested by the horizontal orientation, Grotjahn soon tilted the axis ninety degrees. With the vertical body anchoring the center of the composition and the vectors radiating like starbursts, Grotjahn discovered a graphic framework that has become his most sustained visual investigation, and a vital component of contemporary art.

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