Adrian Ghenie (b. 1977)
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Adrian Ghenie (b. 1977)

Pie Fight Study

Adrian Ghenie (b. 1977)
Pie Fight Study
signed and dated 'Ghenie 2014' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
29 3/8 x 21 3/8in. (74.5 x 54cm.)
Painted in 2014
Galerie Judin, Berlin.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Berlin, Galerie Judin, Berlin Noir, 2014.
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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.

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Lot Essay

‘You can’t invent a painting from scratch; you are working with an entire tradition … The pictorial language of the twentieth century, from Kurt Schwitters’s collages to Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, makes up a range of possibilities that I utilise in order to create a transhistorical figurative painting – a painting of the image as such, of representation’—A. GHENIE

An outstandingly vivid example of Adrian Ghenie’s most iconic series, Pie Fight Study (2014) exemplifies the lush brushwork and supreme command of atmosphere that have made Ghenie one of the leading figurative painters of his generation. Against a bipartite background – strident yellow and green impasto to the left, dark folds of red and green curtain to the right – Ghenie depicts a woman dressed in a tiger-skin coat. She has had a pie thrown in her face, and claws cream (or is it paint?) from her eyes. She is painted in shimmering strata of translucency and rupture, evoking the haunting quality of printer glitch, worn film footage and damaged photographs. Flickering violet and ochre strokes conjure a sense of lurid dissolution. The images for this series originate in stills of early black-and-white comedy movies, sourced by the artist from the Internet: the filtering screen of his laptop adds to the rich layers of history, memory, and distortion that are central to Ghenie’s practice. With deft distortions of face and figure inherited from Francis Bacon and a cinematic sensibility inspired by David Lynch, Pie Fight Study combines cartoonish slapstick with a dreamlike meditation on screens, surface, and how the lenses through which we view the past can alter our present. The result is a kaleidoscopic and unsettling vision, dramatising the shifting depths of history in glorious technicolour.

The woman’s extravagant furs make reference to an infamous leopard-skin coat worn by Nicolae Ceau?escu’s wife, Elena. Having grown up under Ceau?escu’s communist dictatorship, Ghenie, like millions of other Romanians, saw the couple executed on television on Christmas Day in 1989. The cartoon humiliation of the pie fight is thus brought into electric conversation with the memory of death by firing squad; the paint on the woman’s face becomes a powerful image of façades slipping and dark realities being unmasked. Television, like the Internet, has a flattening effect on experience. A mere change of channel could switch from light entertainment to the darkest, most pivotal moment in a country’s psyche. In paint, Ghenie finds the perfect medium through which to explore the ways that screens can at once illuminate, disguise and confuse. Ghenie’s choice of subject in Pie Fight Study, however, is presented without any narrative context: for all that this picture may echo a chapter in Romanian history, we do not know who the woman is, or why or by whom she has been targeted. Ghenie throws the double-edged nature of situational humour into sharp relief – where do we draw the line between laughing at another’s misfortune and pitying their plight? The ambiguous and complex nature of shame infuses the work with a compelling emotional resonance.

Ultimately, in works such as Pie Fight Study, texture, form and colour are rejuvenated as modes of narrative in themselves. Ghenie stages a reinvigoration of painterly tradition, subsuming the mirages of the motion picture into a vibrant tableau that celebrates the vast postmodern potential of the medium in an age of smooth, flat, impermeable surfaces. ‘If you look at a Rembrandt,’ Ghenie has said, ‘you see that it is belaboured to a certain extent; things didn’t come out right somewhere. The return to painting relates to the digitization of the world, in a way, but not entirely. Painting is like a plaster cast of the times in which we are living. It rematerializes the digital image. The bulk of the images I incorporate into painting come from the digital world – I see them through my laptop; I don’t see them through a window anymore’ (A. Ghenie, quoted in ‘Adrian Ghenie in Conversation with Magda Radu,’ Adrian Ghenie: Darwin’s Room, exh. cat. Romanian Pavilion, Biennale de Venezia, 2015, p. 31).


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