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The Collection of Thomas and Doris Ammann

The Fourteen Stations, No. XII

The Fourteen Stations, No. XII
oil and wax on linen
78 x 93 in. (198 x 236 cm.)
Painted in 1981-1982.
Saatchi Collection, London
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Zurich, 1988
Acquired from the above by the present owner
M. Auping, P. Carlson, L. Cooke et al., Art of Our Time. The Saatchi Collection. Volume 4, London, 1984, n.p., no. 126 (illustrated).
"Francesco Clemente Talks with Brooks Adams," Artforum International, XLI, no. 7, March 2003, p. 59 (illustrated).
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery; Groninger Museum; Karlsruhe, Badischer Kunstverein; Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Francesco Clemente. The Fourteen Stations, January-October 1983, p. 29 (illustrated).
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Francesco Clemente. Stations of the Cross, April-June 1988.
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum, Clemente, October 1999-June 2000, no. 165 (illustrated).
Milan, Palazzo Reale, La Transavanguardia Italiana, November 2011-March 2012, p. 95, no. 12 (illustrated).
Locarno, Pinacoteca Comunale Casa Rusca, Sandro Chia, September 2018-January 2019, n.p., no. 50 (illustrated).


Isabella Lauria
Isabella Lauria Vice President, Senior Specialist, Head of 21st Century Evening Sale


One of the first painters to champion the return to figuration that would become known as Neo-Expressionism, Francesco Clemente found new life in artistic traditions that critics had all but proclaimed dead. The Fourteen Stations, No. XII is a masterful example of the artist’s rich personal iconography and investigations into symbolism. Part of a series of canvases that the artist began in 1981 upon his arrival in New York, it is a richly-realized composition that highlights Clemente’s unique style. In an intensely personal reflection, the works in this series represent the point where “style blends with iconography, iconography turns into an attribute of personal style, all gives itself over to the artist’s project of devising a self” (C. Radcliffe, quoted by M. Auping, “Francesco Clemente,” in Art of Our Time: The Saatchi Collection, Vol. 4, 1984, London, p. 32). Emerging from the towering presence of non-representative abstraction and calculated conceptualism in the mid-twentieth century, artists in the 1970s and 80s reinvigorated painting with an eye for internal dialogues and emotive portrayals. Along with fellow Americans Julian Schnabel and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Clemente helped to bring back recognizable subjects to the mainstream and influence future generations to do the same.

Against a blue-green sea of stars, lightning bugs, or some unexplained astral phenomena, a figure sits in a neutral field slowly merging with the very paint itself. A predominant face in grayscale sits atop a body dressed in a mottled red shirt with what appear to be greenish legs and upturned hands. From the right, a writhing yellow form reaches into the figure and becomes part of its essence. Two small faces, a man with a pursed mouth and a woman with red lipstick are crowded into the space beneath the main figure’s face. It is unclear if they are part of its body or are held captive by a giant presence. It is possible that the main subject is actually a self-portrait of the artist as Clemente’s own visage was frequently included in his work. Michael Auping notes that “Ultimately, Clemente’s art is as much about himself as it is about other people. Clemente’s self-portrait is a central aspect in his art, a ghost-like protagonist staring out at the viewer glaring almond eyes, wide mouth, and short-cropped hair as he moves through a series of arcane dramas with history, art, religion, death, birth and, most intensely, his own psyche” (M. Auping, Ibid.).

Indeed, comparing the painted presence to a photograph of the artist, the distorted face does bear a resemblance to its maker and with that brings a more introspective tone to the work as a whole. Rendered with oil and wax on linen, the loaded colors and heavy presence of dark tones gives the entire work a seething, immersive feel that pulls the viewer’s eye into the inky blacks and rich tones. Swirling brushwork and the fluid movement of forms only serve to further this enchantment as the figure stares out past us into the unknown.

In the Catholic liturgy, the “fourteen stations” refers to a fourteen-step prayer and art cycle commemorating the last day of Jesus Christ before his death. Station twelve, as is referenced in the present example, correlates to Christ dying on the cross atop the hill Golgotha (Calvary). It is often represented in religious art with Jesus hanging from the cross surrounded by followers in mourning. Clemente was enthralled with many aspects of the metaphysical including Christianity but also alchemy, astrology, and other mythologies. Therefore, The Fourteen Stations, No. XII is better read as an expressive investigation into the felt meanings behind these systemic values instead of as an illustration of a religious event. Instead of creating representations of the biblical events, the Fourteen Stations comment on the human condition. “He approaches religion as he does art,” notes Auping, “less as a monolithic set of beliefs and more as a living organism affected by our anxious responses to the everyday realities of life” (M. Auping, Ibid.). Well-traveled and famously nomadic, Clemente absorbed the world in various places and manners throughout his career. Having painted the entire series from which the current example hails concurrently during late nights and early mornings at the very beginning of his stay in New York, it is prudent to attach autobiographical intonations to the works. Drawing upon the legacy of internal dialogue found in the German Expressionists before them, the Neo-Expressionists reexamined the self through a supposedly dead medium and, in doing so, found new life.

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