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David Salle (b. 1952)
The Collection of Dorothy and Richard Sherwood
David Salle (b. 1952)

The Marionette Theatre

Details
David Salle (b. 1952)
The Marionette Theatre
acrylic and oil on three joined canvases
overall: 77 7/8 x 96 in. (197.8 x 243.8 cm.)
Executed in 1987.
Provenance
Mary Boone Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 1987
Exhibited
New York, Mary Boone Gallery, David Salle: Recent Paintings, March-April 1988, n.p. (illustrated).

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Kathryn Widing
Kathryn Widing

Lot Essay

David Salle reinvigorated oil painting by stunning audiences with pictures like The Marionette Theatre at a time when the art world deemed painting was a stale medium that had passed its prime. Only austere minimalist works were condoned, yet Salle married traditional figuration with Pop Art’s fascination with disparate images. As a leading member of the Neo-Expressionist group of the 1980s, Salle has been praised for combining various painting styles (whether naïve and childlike, photorealistic or historical) onto one picture plane. He created what he termed a “vortex," or a visual whirlwind left open to individual interpretation. Somewhat Surrealist in tone, The Marionette Theatre certainly features such a vortex. Here, three joined canvases unite to mimic superficial thoughts and visuals that might cross our minds in a singular moment.
On the right, dancer Karole Armitage gazes to the left, while simultaneously the viewer is confronted with her twin on the left. Perspective and sense of space is skewed, as the figure’s hand looms large across the canvas. Loosely sketched machinery is painted on her portrait and the palm of her hand. Salle’s striking use of color heightens the mystery in this piece—various hues of green define the right canvas, while black and white encompass the left. Yellow pigment flows from the top of the left canvas, while heavily cast shadows define figures and forms to increase theatricality.
Pastiche is critical in Salle’s oeuvre, and The Marionette Theatre not only pays homage to Walter Kuhn’s Girl In Pierrot’s Hat and Pierrot Lunaire’s poetry, the center of the canvas also nods to Caravaggio's fifteenth-century masterpiece, Conversion on the Way to Damascus. By placing together familiar yet incongruent visuals and objects, Salle asks the viewer to reconsider how information is perceived.

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