PWCeve_lot 47_Ghenie
Adrian Ghenie (b. 1977)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTOR
Adrian Ghenie (b. 1977)

Turning Point 1

Adrian Ghenie (b. 1977)
Turning Point 1
oil on canvas
59¼ x 118 3/8in. (150.5 x 300.5cm.)
Painted in 2009
Galeria Plan B, Berlin.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2009.
Prague, Prague Biennale 4, 2009.
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. These lots have been imported from outside the EU for sale using a Temporary Import regime. Import VAT is payable (at 5%) on the Hammer price. VAT is also payable (at 20%) on the buyer’s Premium on a VAT inclusive basis. When a buyer of such a lot has registered an EU address but wishes to export the lot or complete the import into another EU country, he must advise Christie's immediately after the auction.
Sale room notice
Please note that this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.

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Katharine Arnold
Katharine Arnold

Lot Essay

‘I’ve played a kind of Russian roulette. And then, often, but not always, by destroying a face or some detail, things take on a new dynamic. This notion of managing failure is in fact the only way something can break through’

‘I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists’

A panoramic display of painterly skill and visionary intensity, Turning Point 1 (2009) captures one of Adrian Ghenie’s central themes: the decisive moment in history. The vast canvas, which was featured in Ghenie’s first UK solo show in 2009, presents a trio of characters around a table. They are depicted amid a bruise-dark maelstrom of magenta, purple, blue, black and brown hues, with flares of raw white and bursts of blood red. The setting verges on abstraction, its directional drags and marblings of paint adding a visceral sense of momentum. Sharp edges, created by masking off and revealing areas of paint during Ghenie’s layered process, ignite bright swathes of colour against dramatic darker depths. Recalling Ghenie’s iconic Pie Fight series, the composition is based on a still from a deleted scene from Stanley Kubrick’s biting satirical film Dr Strangelove (1964), in which the War Room descends into a riotous custard pie battle shortly before the world is destroyed. Ghenie recasts the still as an image rife with painterly uncertainty, an ambiguous assembly in which the three men could be playing chess, gambling, or discussing a deal. The pale man to the left, standing in shirt-sleeves and tie, resembles the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, and bears a grin that echoes the sharp-toothed mouths of Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. Facing him is a man whose russet, bearded profile conjures Vincent van Gogh, a totemic figure for Ghenie. To the right, a more shadowy presence suggests the straight-nosed silhouette of Marcel Duchamp. The table at which they play is incandescent, its bright white dissolving outlines as it illuminates. Ghenie’s fascination with history and its actors is brought to vivid life. The work’s spectral strata of translucency and rupture evoke the haunting quality of printer glitch, ashen film footage and damaged photographs. Flickering strokes conjure a sense of smouldering corrosion. The chance-based abstract elements of Ghenie’s technique – the scrapes, drips and smears which he has called ‘staged accidents’ – come together with the game that the characters are playing to embody the coincidences and flashpoints of history. We are made witness to a turning point, a pivotal moment centred around the fulcrum of the table. Just as the past can be viewed in myriad ways, however, the climactic event is ambiguous and mutable: details, motives and personalities are lost, obscured, and distorted in the rich palimpsest of time.

There is a distinctly cinematic complexion to Ghenie’s work. His paint anatomises an age mediated by screens. The canvas itself becomes a screen that filters and edits even as it reveals; the warping and effacement of the paint becomes a poetics of memory, showing how the lenses through which we see the past can alter our present. ‘David Lynch came along and gave me the solution’, Ghenie has said. ‘In terms of composition, colours, atmosphere, I borrow many things from cinema’ (A. Ghenie, quoted in R. Wolff, ‘Adrian Ghenie’, Art + Auction, March 2013, p. 94). The dreamlike, disjunctive ambiguities of Lynch’s movies, which shine a noirish spotlight on the dark subconscious of the American psyche, certainly offer an apt analogy for Ghenie’s work. But paint, for Ghenie, has its own unique power. ‘If someone asked me how I see painting,’ he explains, ‘I’d say that, after it lost the illustrative role it had in centuries past, when, because there were no video cameras yet, you had to illustrate certain things, painting is the only medium for expressing the visceral nature of the world. Any painting is the result of a physical interaction’ (A. Ghenie, quoted in L. Vasiliu, ‘Adrian Ghenie: My Method Is Managing Failure’, Scena 9, 2015 http:// is-managing-failure). Evidence of this ‘physical interaction’ abounds in Turning Point 1. Its blurred streaks recall the muscular force of Gerhard Richter’s squeegee technique, and its improvised daubs the bodily choreography of Abstract Expressionism. By bringing this gestural approach to source imagery which he views initially through the screen of his laptop, Ghenie rematerializes the digital picture. Time seeps messily back and forth through his paintings, in defiant opposition to the impermeable, wipe-clean surfaces and virtual worlds of modern life. ‘What interests me’, Ghenie explains, ‘is the texture of history’ (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. 29).

While the identities of the three players in Turning Point 1 are shifting and chimeric, each figure is imbued with potent historical and art-historical significance. The Duchampian profile to the right invokes one of the twentieth century’s most revolutionary artists, the father of conceptual art whose work dealt a major blow to the primacy of painting (and who, incidentally, renounced art altogether to focus on chess for the last forty years of his life). No less important to Ghenie is van Gogh, whose self-portraits he has often melded with his own. The Dutch artist’s brushstrokes, churning with the disquiet of a tortured mind, have had a clear influence on Ghenie’s technique. Van Gogh, whose work was declared ‘degenerate art’ by the Nazis in 1937, also has a place within the dim chambers of European history that so captivate Ghenie: his monumental painting The Sunflowers in 1937 (2014) imagines van Gogh’s masterpiece subject to fiery disintegration. The ghostly dictator to the left, meanwhile, summons a more recent darkness. Having grown up under Ceaușescu, Ghenie, like millions of other Romanians, watched him being executed on television on Christmas Day in 1989. Television, like the Internet, has a flattening effect on experience. A mere change of channel could switch from light entertainment to an event of critical significance. In paint, Ghenie finds the perfect medium through which to explore this theatre of the absurd, his masquerade of famous men displaying the ways that screens can at once illuminate, disguise and confuse.

Dr Strangelove’s deleted scene brings cartoonish slapstick into the nuclear horror of the Cold War, exposing the absurdities of power in a pitch-dark farce of doomsday brinkmanship. These men, flinging cream at one another before the film climaxes with the end of civilisation, have the fate of the world in their hands. Ghenie’s paint likewise records and examines corruption: of an image, of a digital file, of human will. Other cast members of his paintings have included Elvis Presley, Adolf Hitler, Josef Mengele and Charles Darwin, the latter of whom are linked by the Nazis’ monstrous perversions of Darwin’s evolutionary theory. Ghenie’s interest in such figures is rooted not only in their impact on Europe’s recent history, but also in how strong personalities can foster ideologies of mindless evil as easily as bright flashes of genius. In Turning Point 1, we could be seeing a scientific breakthrough, a triumph at the chessboard, a gamble in the game of war, or a strategic move in international diplomacy. Widescreen clarity is beset by visual flux and static. To claim any picture as a fixed truth would be a failure to acknowledge the ghosts, shadows and phantasms that stalk our visions of the past. Subjecting icons of history to near-dissolution in his crucible of paint, Ghenie declares his resistance to rigidity of ideas and of interpretation, leaving the work as an open, catalytic space. Spectacular in impact and masterful in execution, Turning Point 1 revives painting itself as a compelling and honest mode of narrative, with twists and turns of texture, colour and composition embodying all the layered beauty, terror and tumult of our times.

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