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Self-Portrait with Animal Mask

Self-Portrait with Animal Mask
signed and dated 'Ghenie 2018' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
58 1⁄8 x 39 1⁄2in. (150.2 x 100.4cm.)
Painted in 2018
Galeria Plan B, Berlin.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Venice, Palazzo Cini La Galleria, Adrian Ghenie: The Battle Between Carnival and Feast, 2019, pp. 34 and 43 (illustrated in colour, p. 35).
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.

Brought to you by

Keith Gill
Keith Gill Vice-Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Europe

Lot Essay

Included in Adrian Ghenie’s celebrated exhibition The Battle Between Carnival and Feast at the Palazzo Cini, Venice, in 2019, Self-Portrait with Animal Mask offers a swirling vision of metamorphosis. Man becomes beast in the electrifying alchemy of paint, colour and gesture, with human legs and striped shorts still visible beneath a writhing serpentine torso and head. Painted in 2018, the work takes its place within Ghenie’s rich body of self-portraits: a central strand of his oeuvre. Over the course of his practice he has depicted himself in the guise of Vincent Van Gogh, Charles Darwin and Elvis Presley; he has painted himself as a monkey, and travelled back in time to the end of the Second World War. Here, he casts himself as a shaman, caught between human and animal forms. Ghenie weaves together layers of art-historical reference: from ancient mythologies of shape-shifting and zoomorphism, to the metamorphic language of Surrealism, the torrid abstraction of Willem de Kooning and the animalistic gestures of Francis Bacon. In his hand, Ghenie holds a brush, as if mutating through the sheer force of his own artistry.

Ghenie’s self-portraits lie at the heart of his practice. Within an oeuvre dedicated to exploring our relationship with images and history, his own face and body have become central, allowing him to visualise paint’s transformative power in intimate terms. Raised in Romania, Ghenie watched Nicolae Ceauşescu executed on television in 1989, and became fascinated by the way that transmitted or reproduced imagery can neutralise our response to it. Through his intuitive, visceral handling of paint, the artist seeks to ‘rematerialise’ his subjects, rescuing them from page and screen and bringing them forcefully into physical reality. The present work seems to allegorise this very process, its rich mutations of colour, texture and form causing its subject to change state. Many artists throughout history repeatedly returned to their own image as means of documenting their discoveries: from Rembrandt, Dürer, Schiele and Van Gogh to Warhol, Bacon and Basquiat. Ghenie’s particular interest in roleplay might be seen in the context of Martin Kippenberger’s self-portraits, in which he regularly assumed different personae—the figure’s shorts, in particular, seem to echo the artist’s seminal suite of self-portraits inspired by Picasso.

Coinciding with the opening of the 58th Venice Biennale, Ghenie’s exhibition at the Palazzo Cini was a triumph. ‘The world’s most exciting painter under the age of 50?’ asked the critic Jackie Wullschläger‘No-one approaches Adrian Ghenie’ (J. Wullschläger, ‘Adrian Ghenie at Venice’s Palazzo Cini declares painting as a vital force’, Financial Times, 10 May 2019). The paintings exhibited—from vast landscapes and Géricault-inspired seascapes to intimate portraits—demonstrated important new directions within his art. Luca Massimo Barbero, Director of the Fondazione Cini’s Institute of Art History, draws particular attention to his technique, describing his use of the palette knife to ‘cut’ his way through the painting. More than ever before, there is a sense of architectural ambition in the way that Ghenie builds his forms, with lines, corners, curves and angles slicing their way through marbled passages of colour. The result, as Barbero explains, is comparable to a battle, in which the artist simultaneously exploits and resists the natural will of the paint (L. Massimo Barbero, video for Adrian Ghenie: The Battle Between Carnival and Feast, Palazzo Cini, Venice). In the present work, we watch as this process seeps into Ghenie’s own body, his form evolving and dissolving before our eyes.   

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