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Peter Halley (b. 1953)
The Place
signed '“Peter Halley”' twice and dated '1992' (on reverse)
acrylic, fluorescent acrylic, and Rolla-A-Tex on two attached canvases
overall: 95½ x 85 7/8in. (242.5 x 218cm.)
Painted in 1992
Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
R. Fleck, ‘Peter Halley, Broad Conduit Boogie-Woogie’, in Flash Art, No. 165, summer 1992 (illustrated in colour, p. 109; installation view illustrated in colour, p. 109).
T. Godfrey, M. Mottahedan and K.Schubert (eds.), Once upon a Time in America: The Mottahedan Collection, London 1999, p. 118 (illustrated in colour, p. 230.
C. Reynolds (ed.), Peter Halley: Maintain Speed, New York 2000 (illustrated in colour, p. 204; installation view illustrated in colour, p. 15).
P. Kalb, Art Since 1980, Charting the Contemporary, London 2013, no. 5.10 (illustrated in colour, p. 127).
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Peter Halley, 1992.
Paris, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Peter Halley, 1992.
Des Moines, Des Moines Art Center, Peter Halley- Paintings 1989-1992, 1992-1993 (illustrated in colour, pl. 11).
Essen, Museum Folkwang, Peter Halley- Bilder der 90er Jahre, 1998-1999 (detail illustrated in colour on the front cover; illustrated in colour, p. 37).
London, Tate Modern (on long term loan since 2000).

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Katharine Arnold
Katharine Arnold

Lot Essay

‘My work, as a whole, attempts to represent late-twentieth-century systems of communication and organisation. I still feel, as I did in the 1980s, that I am presenting, in the arena of art, images of a pervasive system whose reach is too seldom acknowledged as determining the parameters of our thinking, movement and social relations’

‘Since 1980, my images seem, step by step, to have grown more complex and fast-paced in a way that somehow parallels the acceleration of the movement and information in the new computer culture. I take great pleasure in the idea that my work could be a mirror of this era of change’

On long-term loan to Tate, London for the past seventeen years, Peter Halley’s The Place is a monumental example of his celebrated geometric abstractions. Spanning over two metres in width and height, the work presents a network of interconnected cells, rendered in radiant Day-Glo hues of red, blue, yellow and pink. Executed in 1992, following the artist’s major touring retrospective at the CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain, Bordeaux, it exemplifies the psychosocial approach to abstraction that first brought him to prominence in New York during the 1980s. Like his contemporaries Jeff Koons and Ashley Bickerton, Halley was initially associated with the so-called neo-geometric (‘neo-geo’) conceptualist movement that took hold in the East Village. Building on the languages of Pop Art, Minimalism and Op Art, his work sought to capture what he saw as the ‘geometricisation of modern life’. His compositions – conceived as a series of ‘cells’ or ‘prisons’ connected by ‘conduits’ – strove to reflect not only the city’s three-dimensional urban grid, but also the burgeoning flow of information spawned by computer technology. In works such as The Place, geometric abstraction becomes a metaphor for the isolating effects of these new structures. The single square – once, for Kazimir Malevich, the ultimate site of modernist aspiration – is now recast as a zone of confinement. Like an organism fed from a tube, its only contact with the outside world is via a series of rigid ‘conduits’ that mimic the flow of a circuit board. Included in the artist’s solo exhibition at the Museum Folkwang, Essen (1998-99), the work speaks to a world in which there are no longer singular ‘places’, but only vacuums that exist between endless currents of data. It is a signifier without a signified: a perfect expression of the postmodern condition.

Halley is highly regarded as a cultural theorist. In this vein he was strongly influenced by the writings of the French post-structuralists – notably Jean Baudrillard – whose ideas were widely discussed in New York intellectual circles during the early 1980s. Halley was particularly fascinated by the relationship between the individual and larger social structures: a dialogue that is played out in his works. ‘The paintings are a critique of idealist modernism’, he claims. ‘In the “colour field” is placed a jail. The misty space of Rothko is walled up’ (P. Halley, ‘Notes on the paintings’, 1982, reproduced in Peter Halley, exh. cat., Waddington Galleries, London, 2007, unpaged). Abstraction had previously made claims to transcendence; now, as its structures were imposed upon contemporary society, it had become a means of imprisonment. Halley’s use of Roll-A-Tex – a textural additive common to suburban buildings – lends his works a base architectural quality, as if extracted from the ceiling of a clinic or motel. His vibrant Day-Glo hues are similarly conceived: where bright primaries had offered a new ground zero for artists such as Piet Mondrian, here they are reduced to markers of artifice, evoking government-issued neon signs and the glare of city lights. Using Baudrillard’s terminology, Halley regarded his Day-Glo palette as a ‘hyper-realisation’ of modernism’s chromatic ambitions. It is ‘a signifier of “low budget mysticism”’, he claimed. ‘It is the afterglow of radiation’ (P. Halley, ‘Notes on the paintings’, 1982, reproduced in Peter Halley, exh. cat., Waddington Galleries, London, 2007, unpaged). For Halley, these types of colour – once deployed in deliberately non-representational terms – were now reflective of contemporary life. In the same way, the geometric grids espoused by his forebears were no longer ‘abstract’, but had come to define our systems of communication. As such, works such as The Place visualise – for Halley – the dynamics of figurative reality.

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