• Post-War & Contemporary Art Da auction at Christies

    Sale 7756

    Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Auction

    17 October 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 134

    Mark Wallinger (B. 1959)

    Angel

    Price Realised  

    Mark Wallinger (B. 1959)
    Angel
    projected video installation
    dimensions variable
    duration: seven minutes and thirty seconds
    Executed in 1997, this work is number four from an edition of ten plus one artist proof


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    All is not what it seems in the world of Mark Wallinger. For over twenty years, Wallinger - a Turner Prize winner in 2007 - has created a panoply of works that, upon first inspection, seem to be simple enough representations of various subjects but which, upon closer examination, reveal themselves to be slippery, shifting paradigms that question the mechanics and semantics of representation and meaning. A self-portrait seems innocuous enough, until one realizes that one of the eyes is a real glass eye; a life-size, hyper-realistic rendition of a racehorse mesmerizes the viewer, but then our gaze is troubled by the fact that we are looking at two halves of two different horses. His artistic world is one inhabited by text pieces that are readable only in mirrored reflection; installations where the principal elements are configured upside down; video works where the comic qualities of a bear outfit clash with the eerie, frightening shadows of a vacant building at night; a life-size figure of Christ rendered as an ordinary man on a grand plinth in Trafalgar Square or an outlandishly large white horse placed in the middle of the English countryside. Wallinger places his image, and their various indices, in all sorts of flux - sometimes playful, sometimes unexpectedly dark. Whether it is composition; perspective; representation or any other visual parameter by which we try to understand the hegemony of the object, Wallinger manipulates that to curious effect. By doing so, the viewer can never be sure of any trajectory of signification he seems to suggest with each and every work. The visual, intellectual and, often, physical flux that Wallinger subjects his work to becomes our own flux so that the act of looking and reading the work is often the same as unravelling code.

    This act of manipulation is nowhere more profoundly executed than in Wallinger's celebrated video installation, Angel. Here the artist, dressed as his alter-ego 'Blind Faith' (bringing in to play questions of religious belief), occupies the majority of the screen and recites the opening five verses of the Book of John: "In the beginning was the word and the word was God ". He is dressed in sober-looking clothes; white shirt, black tie with dark glasses and a white cane which he swings from side to side throughout his reading. Behind him we see figures ascending and descending escalators. However, all is not what it seems. The rather garbled sound made by the artist when reciting the biblical text as 'Blind Faith' is because, in real time, Wallinger has learned to recite the text phonetically - and backwards, so that when the film is looped backwards itself, the phonetic sounds become, relatively, understandable. As such, a myriad of antagonisms come in to play here: he assumes the role of 'Blind Faith' and yet he is not blind; he swings his cane and yet is not actually moving (rather walking forwards on an escalator moving in the opposite direction); the text is delivered 'backwards' and played 'backwards' but is presented to the viewer in reverse, which, ironically, allows the viewer to understand. The figures on the escalator go up when they go down and vice versa. What we believe to be real is clearly not, and Angel thus uses its own means of making to question the dynamics of faith.

    Angel was executed at Angel tube station, chosen deliberately by Wallinger because it is the largest escalator in the London Underground system. After delivering his reading of the Book of John, Handel's Zadok The Priest, traditionally played at coronations upon the anointment of a new sovereign, is played with great flourish and the figure of Blind Faith is transported upwards, as if an angel flying to Heaven or, as often depicted in art history, a laureated King joining the Gods. Angel can be seen as Wallinger's 'Last Judgement', but, of course, with a twist. The lost souls heading down are actually going up; those going up are in fact going down. Good becomes evil and vice versa. The act of judgement now becomes uncertain and our faith in that act is questioned.

    Special Notice

    Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
    VAT rate of 15% is payable on hammer price plus buyer's premium.


    Provenance

    Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London.


    Pre-Lot Text

    In Wallinger's 1997 video installation Angel, language is reversed and time bent backward. To make the piece, the artist memorized the opening five verses of the Book of John ("In the beginning was the Word...") as if played on tape in reverse. He then delivered the incomprehensible spiel to a fixed-position video camera while walking backward up the downward-bound central escalator at London's Angel, Islington, tube station (thus, of course, remaining in the same spot). In the installation, commuters ascend and descend the up and down escalators to Wallinger's left and right; given the setup, though, it is they who appear to be facing the wrong way and walking backward. Having spoken his piece, the artist reverses up the escalator, climbing higher and higher until he disappears from view. In the finished work, we hear the biblical passage the right way around and see the commuters perform the antics they do, because the original footage runs in reverse. As a concluding flourish, the opening strains of Handel's 1727 coronation anthem Zadok the Priest musically shroud the ascending Wallinger in baroque splendor.

    This account, however, omits an important fact: The artist doesn't perform in Angel as "himself" but as "Blind Faith," a sober-looking but faintly outlandish, even sinister, persona clad in dark glasses and black tie. Blind Faith carries a white cane, which he swings from side to side as if he's finding his way; he seems almost to conduct the commuters' upward and downward movement, like a sightless deity apportioning justice in a Last Judgment scene. But because the video tape is reversed, the commuters heading heavenward are really on their way down, and vice versa. The first shall be last, and the last first.

    R. Withers, "Customs Man--Mark Wallinger's Video Art," ArtForum, Summer, 2001.


    Literature

    Wounds, exh. cat., Stockholm, Moderna Museet, 1998 (another from the edition exhibited).
    Lost Horizon, exh. cat., Basel, Museum für Gegenwartskunst, 1999 (another from the edition exhibited).
    Fourth Wall, exh. cat., London, National Theater, 1999 (another from the edition exhibited, illustrtated pp. 48-49).
    Credo, exh. cat., Liverpool, Tate Gallery, 2000 (another from the edition exhibited).
    Mark Wallinger, exh. cat., Venice, 49th Venice Biennale, British Pavilion, 2001 (another from the edition exhibited).
    R. Withers, "Customs Man--Mark Wallinger's Video Art", ArtForum, Summer, 2001.
    Warum! Ebenbild-Abbild-Selbstbild, exh. cat., Berlin, Martin Gropius Bau, 2003 (another from the edition exhibited).
    Prophet and Poet, exh. cat., New York, Bard Center for Curatorial Studies, 2004 (another from the edition exhibited).
    The Human Condition, The Image of Man in Art, exh. cat., Barcelona, City History Museum, 2004 (another from the edition exhibited).
    Mark Wallinger, exh. cat., Mexico City, Museo de Arte Carillo Gil, 2005 (another from the edition exhibited).
    When Humor Becomes Painful, exh. cat., Zurich, Migros Museum, 2005 (another from the edition exhibited).
    Belief, exh. cat., Singapore, 1st Singapore Biennale, 2006 (another from the edition exhibited).
    Mark Wallinger, exh. cat., Braunschweig, Kunstverein Braunschwieg, 2006 (another from the edition exhibited).
    Mark Wallinger, exh. cat., Aarau, Aargauer Kunsthaus, 2008 (another from the edition exhibited).
    Angel, exh. cat., Frankfurt, Museum für Moderne Kunst, 2009 (another from the edition exhibited).


    Exhibited

    London, Royal Academy, Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection, September-December 2007 (illustrated, p. 177).