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The Collection of Thomas and Doris Ammann

The Fourteen Stations, No. XI

The Fourteen Stations, No. XI
oil and wax on linen
78 x 93 3⁄4 in. (198 x 238.1 cm.)
Painted in 1981-1982.
Saatchi Collection, London
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Zurich
Acquired from the above by the present owner
M. Auping, Art of Our Time. The Saatchi Collection. Volume 4, London, 1984, n.p., no. 125 (illustrated).
Francesco Clemente, Kestner-Gesellschaft, exh. cat., Hanover, December 1984-January 1985, p. 20 (illustrated).
Francesco Clemente. Three Worlds, exh. cat., Philadelphia, 1990, pp. 117 and 187, fig. 40 (illustrated).
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery; Groningen, Groninger Museum; Karlsruhe, Badischer Kunstverein; Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Francesco Clemente. The Fourteen Stations, January-October 1983, p. 27 (illustrated).
Chicago, Museum of Contemporay Art, Francesco Clemente. Stations of the Cross, April-June 1988.
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum, Clemente, October 1999-June 2000, no. 164 (illustrated).
Milan, Palazzo Reale, La Transavanguardia Italiana, November 2011-March 2012, p. 94, no. 11 (illustrated).

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Lot Essay

Francesco Clemente’s The Fourteen Stations, No. XI belongs to a series of canvases the artist began when he arrived in New York in 1981. Rich with the symbolism and highly expressive brushwork for which he is known, this large-scale painting is now regarded as one of his most significant and accomplished works. Laden with both religious and secular references, it epitomizes Clemente’s unique visual language, one that is more symbolic than narrative, and—as Carter Radcliffe noted—represents an art where “style blends with iconography, iconography turns into an attribute of personal style, all gives itself over to the artist’s project of devising a self”(C. Radcliffe, quoted by M. Auping, “Francesco Clemente,” in Art of Our Time: The Saatchi Collection, Vol. 4, 1984, London, p. 32). Widely exhibited in both Europe and the U.S.A, The Fourteen Stations, No. XI is an early example of what would become known as Neo-Expressionism, a movement that revived the medium of painting just some critics were about to declare it dead.

In the center of this imposing canvas a group of naked figures huddle together. So closely are they entwined that their bodies and limbs appear to coalesce and merge into one contiguous mass of twisted mottled flesh. Their nakedness comes under the gaze of at least a dozen eyes; cycloptic glares that pierce the darkness to interrogate and probe the figures’ exposed state. All the while, the figures are contained within the open palm of a large black hand that sweeps them up (or lays them down) in their dark and ominous environment. In contrast, on the horizon a verdant land appears to await those who are able to escape the clutches of this threatening land. A bright blue sky shrouds the tops of steep mountains, up which a path leads, past the picturesque trees, to the Calvary-like summit at the pinnacle of the picture plane.

As a leading member of the movement that became known as Neo-Expressionism, Clemente’s painterly style rejected traditional standards of composition and depicted the human body in powerful, yet rudimentary, ways. Here, his robust figures show the same degree of complex layering as those seen in the work of Willem de Kooning, whom Clemente had studied extensively after seeing the older artist’s work at a large retrospective exhibition in the Swedish capital, Stockholm. But along with other proponents of this new form of painting—such as Jean-Michel Basquiat—Clemente allowed his figures to be imbued with a more brittle emotional tone that reflected contemporary urban life and vales; the apparent primitive manner of their composition intended to communicate a sense inner turmoil, alienation, and ambiguity. Here, the abstract depiction of the environment, compared to the highly worked and rendered surface of the figures, enhances that sense of pictorial tension.

Clemente was fascinated by metaphysical systems (Christianity, alchemy, astrology, mythology, the Tarot), but despite the often disparate array of imagery on offer, critics warn against looking for a step-by-step translation of his paintings, instead appreciating his compositions for their rhythm and the subtle management of the images. His Fourteen Stations were loosely based on the biblical stories of Jesus entry into Jerusalem, yet these are not religious paintings; they were more intended as comments on the modern human condition. “He approaches religion as he does art,” writes Michael Auping, “less as a monolithic set of beliefs and more as a living organism effected by our anxious responses to the everyday realities of life” (M. Auping, “Francesco Clemente,” in Art of Our Time: The Saatchi Collection, Vol. 4, 1984, London, p. 32).

Famously nomadic—Clemente maintains ‘home bases’ in Italy, India, and New York—The Fourteen Stations, No. XI, was painted when the artist first arrived in New York in 1981. He painted all twelve paintings in the series concurrently—often working late in the evening or at night. The result is a complex network of autobiographical experiences rather than a single, coherent narrative. Painted in oil—a new medium for the artist—their dynamic and expressive brushwork is more symbolic than representative. His fluctuating symbolism undergoes constant re-invention, and at times is reminiscent of the private, witty world of Paul Klee, and at other times recalls the dark symbolism of William Blake. Ultimately, Clemente’s art is as much about himself as it is about other people, writes Auping, “Clemente’s self-portrait is a central aspect in his art, a ghost-like protagonist staring out at the viewer glaring almond eyes, wide mouth, and short-cropped hair as he moves through a series of arcane dramas with history, art, religion, death, birth and, most intensely, his own psyche” (Ibid.).

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