A monumental work spanning two metres in height, Untitled is a superb example of Günther Förg’s celebrated Gitterbilder or Grid Paintings. Conjuring the vivacity of an urban landscape, Untitled thrums with life. The painting exemplifies Förg’s ability to construct space within the flat picture plane: the intersecting nets of horizontal and vertical line seem to dance across the dazzling ground, creating a potency that grows across the canvas. This complex, considered arrangement is complimented by Förg’s nuanced use of colour, furthering the experimentation of his celebrated works on lead. Against a gleaming white, passionate red and black lines are tempered by pale pinks, blues, and greys which open from the centre of the canvas. Enveloping its viewer in a tapestry of lines, Untitled summons an astonishing depth.
Painting should be sexy. It should be sensual. These are things that will always escape the concept”
Although Förg began the Grid Paintings in the early 1990s, he had first used the lattice motif in his earlier series, the Fenster-Aquarelle or Window Watercolours. For the artist, each series was finite, with a specific and planned ending, but he often reincarnated certain motifs or gestures and gave them new forms. Characterised by delicate lines traced against a wash of colour, the Fenster-Aquarelle reimagined a traditional art-historical motif: as their title suggests, these were abstracted portals, windows onto another world, an image Förg reprised in his Gitterbilder. As art historian Rudi Fuchs noted, ‘Förg uses the idiom of geometric abstraction with the same naturalness with which Monet used the lilies in his garden pond: material and forms that happen to be at hand, easily available as the vehicle for aesthetic sensibility, painterly style and vision’ (R. Fuchs, ‘Abstract, Dialect, Förg’, Günther Förg, exh. cat. Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 1995, p. 20).
Born in Germany, Förg studied art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, where he was immersed in Art Informel, a gestural form of abstraction. He enthusiastically engaged with art history, riffing upon and borrowing from his Modernist predecessors. Describing his relationship to the medium, Förg said, ‘I very much like the work of Baselitz, who is interested in an abstract expressionism. People are often amazed at that, and they have accused me of having returned to traditional painting. But painting is really important. There are, of course, times when one negates that, but today I see my work as more aligned with the classical tradition in art’ (G. Förg, quoted in D. Dietrich, ‘An Interview with Günther Förg’, The Print Collector’s Newsletter, Vol. 20, No. 3, July–August 1989, pp. 82-83). With one eye to the past, Förg nevertheless sought a new visual vocabulary which expanded the possibilities of colour and form.
Förg’s paintings also invite comparison to those of Colour Field painters such as Clyfford Still, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko, who endeavoured to capture a chromatic sublime in their spiritually-charged canvases. While Förg himself was less interested in the transcendental potential of painting than in its material properties, his work evinces a similarly sensuous approach. The architectural space opened by Untitled is enthralling, offering an alluring portal to another world. It is a scintillating object whose physicality is meant to be felt. ‘Really,’ said Förg, ‘painting should be sexy. It should be sensual. These are things that will always escape the concept’ (G. Förg, quoted in D. Ryan, ‘Talking Painting: Interview with Günther Förg,’ Karlsruhe 1997).
Lot Essay Header Image: Present lot illustrated (detail).