Fred Tomaselli (b. 1956)
Fred Tomaselli (b. 1956)

Untitled (Expulsion)

Fred Tomaselli (b. 1956)
Untitled (Expulsion)
signed, titled and dated 'Fred Tomaselli 2000 Untitled' (on the reverse of each panel)
diptych--leaves, pills, insects, mushrooms, printed paper collage, acrylic and resin on panel
overall: 84 x 120 1/8 in. (213.3 x 305.1 cm.)
Executed in 2000.
James Cohan Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2001
"Fred Tomaselli," New Yorker, 8 January 2001, p. 8 (illustrated in color).
H. Cotter, "Art in Review: Fred Tomaselli," New York Times, January 19, 2001.
N. Wakefield, "Fred Tomaselli: He Brings Ideas to Life," Interview , January 2001 (illustrated in color).
F. Richard, "Fred Tomaselli: James Cohan Gallery/Christine Burgin," Artforum, vol. 39, no. 6, February 2001. p. 150 (illustrated).
D. Grant, "Tomaselli on the Rise," Artnews, vol. 100, no. 3, March 2001, p. 86.
Fred Tomaselli: Monsters of Paradise, exh. cat., Edinburgh, 2004, pp. 13-14, fig. 1 (illustrated in color).
J. Robertson and C. McDaniel, eds., Themes of Contemporary Art: Visual Art After 1980, Oxford and New York, 2005, pp. 200 and 204, pl. 18 (illustrated in color and on the cover).
K. MacMillan, "Art in Aspen, A Feast for the Eyes and Brain," Denver Post, 16 August 2009, p. 6 E.
New York, James Cohan Gallery, Fred Tomaselli, December 2000-January 2001, pp. 5-6 and 20-22 (illustrated in color).
Berlin, 2nd Berlin Biennale für Zeitgenössische Kunst, April-June 2001.
Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art and SITE Santa Fe, Fred Tomaselli: Ten Year Survey, December 2001-May 2002, no. 32 (illustrated in color).
Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Materials, Metaphor, Narratives: Works by Six Contemporary Artists, October 2003-January 2004.
Printemps de septembre à Toulouse, Vertiges, September-October 2005, pp. 58-59 and 184 (illustrated in color).
Aspen Art Museum; Saratoga Springs, Skidmore College, The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery and Brooklyn Museum, Fred Tomaselli, August 2009-January 2011, pp. 93, 184-185, 206-207 and 266, no. 21 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

Fred Tomaselli's Untitled (Expulsion) is an intoxicating profusion of rich visual imagery and traditional art historical metaphors that draws together the diverse worlds of art, nature, theology, and pharmacology. This extraordinary work consciously references the monumental size and configuration of biblical history paintings and frescoes of Renaissance Europe, and, indeed, the Adam and Eve figures are taken directly from Masaccio's masterpiece, The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, c. 1425, a fresco panel in the celebrated Brancaccio Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence, which depicts the event described in Genesis 3:22. Tomaselli's beautifully crafted work is part of an attempt to reconfigure and comment on the physical pleasures derived from both natural and synthetic stimulation. By mixing elements of drug culture with so-called "high" art, Tomaselli questions what comprises pleasure within modern culture and at the same time reassess the role of painting in the modern media age. In the process, Untitled(Expulsion), becomes a place where beauty, nature, sensual pleasure, and artifice meet and, as such, becomes an invigorating reassessment of the values modern society holds dear.
Radiating from a single point on the panel, images stream across the surface like rays from an illuminating sun. These images, comprised of leaves, pills, dead insects, mushrooms, and cutout shapes of mouths, eyes, and hands, rain down on the Adam and Eve figures seeking refuge. Using his signature style of immersing objects in an inky-black background, Tomaselli intensifies the colors to a dazzling degree, while at the same time preserving the individuality of each component as one of the building blocks of the larger, more intricate image.
Tomaselli's method involves the careful and laborious assemblage of a wide range of elements that he first lays out on the studio floor. In Untitled (Expulsion), he mingles pharmaceutical drugs, tiny photographs cut out from magazines, and real pressed leaves, all embalmed below the work's smooth resin surface. Authentic remnants of nature collide with the hyper-reality of photographic details and the transmutation by paint of natural forms, calling into question our notions of nature and the real. On the one hand, we are offered the abundance of an Eden-like paradise, while on the other it seems that true nature has been overtaken by dark forces bent on its destruction. The act of expulsion is expressed in the stream of natural forms that proliferates across the planar field, a plethora of objects disseminated from a distant, mythic radial point, a metaphor for god-like emanations often found in Western medieval and Renaissance art. Tomaselli's meticulous cut-outs also suggest the zealous accumulations of the collector, in the way that the rational framework of categorization and collecting can often give way to dark obsession. Tomaselli's works are highly crafted studies, joining together the worlds of nature and artifice, beauty and pathology. The result is an amazingly rich visual experience that draws not only on the historic tradition of history painting but also brings it up to date. The critic Gregory Volk sees Tomaselli's paintings as an expression the artist's life experience and as essential to its contemporary context: "Tomaselli's supremely hybrid fields set a real standard for what painting can accomplish in the ultra-mediated age when there is so much slippage, notably between nature and its myriad cultural representations. Constantly, his 'pure' paint gets infiltrated with an assortment of non-painted objects, which nevertheless seem very painterly indeed. And at the heart of everything-which is fitting for an artist who counts as his influences out of body experiences in the mosh pits at punk rock concerts in Los Angeles in the late 1970s, LSD visions, and a profoundly personal engagement with nature at various wilderness sights--is an understanding that a painting or a work of art can be an ecstatic encounter, it can do unexpected things to your mind and your soul, it can be, quite literally, a mind altering experience. With Tomaselli, you get this in droves" (G. Volk, "Fred Tomaselli's Hybrid Sublime," Fred Tomaselli, exh. cat., James Cohan Gallery, New York, 2001, p. 5).
Tomaselli's distinctive style derives from the milieu of 1970s southern California. Too late to experience the "free-love" and "hippy" idealizations of the 1960s for himself, their influence is nonetheless strong in his work. He admits to being part of the burgeoning punk scene and as Volk suggests, Tomasseli's own experiments with drugs led to his explorations of the themes of escapism, chemical and otherwise, in his later works. Also growing up surrounded by the make believe world of the Hollywood movie machine and Disneyland's Magic Kingdom, the idea of illusion and artifice was commonplace to him. Yet despite this remarkably post-modern approach, Tomaselli's art is also rooted in strong art historical traditions. They contain the intricacy of Persian miniatures, the cosmic meditative maps of Tibetan mandalas and the profusion and elegance of Rococo.
In 1985, Tomaselli moved to New York, eschewing the dominant East Village scene for Williamsburg. Within the urban landscape, he became an avid gardener (first to camouflage his marijuana plants, whose leaves he at times used in his work), and has claimed that his work resolved more satisfyingly when he recognized the importance of integrating this horticultural experience into his process. Indeed, he collects flora from his garden to use as the materials for his art, such as the leaves in the present work. The insects that began to populate his garden also became a source of inspiration to him. For Tomaselli, the butterflies, moths and assorted flying insects that populate Untitled (Expulsion) have become powerful metaphors for the flights of the unconscious mind: "I always start with the shape of nature but nature is riven with infection, pathology, pain and pollution. We live in a mutating landscape of rapidly hybridizing bits on the level of DNA and binary code, in the cross-pollination of global instant-access culture, of Eastern and Western pictorial traditions, and vernacular and high art references. We see the world through a scrim of ideologies and technologies and the crackling static of chemicals and electronic media. Purity is a myth. Generalized hybridity has produced an even more generalized reality slippage. My work aspires to be a window on this condition" (F. Tomaselli, quoted in Fred Tomaselli: Monsters of Paradise, Edinburgh 2004, p. 43).
On the surface Tomaselli's work, with its brightly colored elements in an arrangement surmounting a gradated black and purple ground, suggests an air of romanticism. But on closer inspection, a complex and incredibly rich range of visual stimuli is revealed that questions the entire nature of visual stimulation, the extent to which it can be manipulated and mediated: "I like to think that I rearrange the use value of my substances; enscapulated in tamperproof resin, these chemical cocktails can no longer reach the brain through the bloodstream and must take a different route to altering perception. In my work, they travel to the brain through the eyes. By mixing real objects with photographed and painted ones, I try to blur the boundaries between them. I like to think that the materials I use are interchangeable, all capable of manipulating reality in perceptual , hazardless potentiality. It is my ultimate aim to seduce and transport the viewer into the space of these pictures while simultaneously revealing the mechanics of that seduction. In other words, I intend the paintings to vacillate between the pre-modernist window and the modernist mirror" (Ibid., p. 43).

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