DONALD BAECHLER (1956-2022)
DONALD BAECHLER (1956-2022)
DONALD BAECHLER (1956-2022)
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The Collection of Thomas and Doris Ammann
DONALD BAECHLER (1956-2022)

Self-Portrait as Jasper Johns

Details
DONALD BAECHLER (1956-2022)
Self-Portrait as Jasper Johns

acrylic, resin and paper collage on canvas
80 1⁄8 x 79 3⁄4 in. (203.5 x 202.5 cm.)
Executed in 1984.
Provenance
Galerie Ascan Crone, Hamburg
Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Zurich, circa 1986-1987
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Brought to you by

Michael Baptist
Michael Baptist Specialist

Lot Essay

Donald Baechler, one of the most important of the Neo-Expressionist artists, brought intensity, humor, ingenuity, and compassion to contemporary painting. A fixture of the New York art world for forty years, Baechler showed alongside Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, and later Jean-Michel Basquiat at the legendary Tony Shafrazi Gallery. As can be seen in Self-Portrait as Jasper Johns, Baechler had a sensibility that was both elegant and punk, evocative of an era of the productive melding of art and life. Widely exhibited since the 1980s, Baechler’s work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and the Centre George Pompidou, Paris.

Self-Portrait as Jasper Johns, a reference to the iconic American painter, is built up from a textured  surface of paint and paper collage. Hovering above the ground is the blended portrait, rendered in graphic blacks reminiscent of German expressionism of the early twentieth-century or the transgressive lines of Franz Kline. Baechler juxtaposes himself/Johns with a burning, melting candle that is almost like flowing paint. He thereby forges a dreamlike association with complex meanings, like disparate but interconnected points on the timeline of art history. The scale of Self-Portrait as Jasper Johns places the viewer within the scene, freeing us to seek order and entropy alike within a canvas that is as introspective as it is humorous. As critic Robert Pincus-Witten points out, “The work alights without fail on the side of refinement and tact” (R. Pincus-Witten, “Critics’ Pick: Donald Baechler at Fisher Landau Center for Art,” Artforum, n.d.).

Citing influences as diverse as Giotto and Cy Twombly, Baechler also helped popularize contemporary German artists like Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, and Georg Baselitz in the United States. Of his abiding interest in history and chance, Baechler noted, “Not every line goes where I want it to go, so I’ve got to paint it over and start again. For me this is a critical method that builds up a history, or this illusion of history in a painting. It’s much more interesting to have the line go astray, and to corral it back into place” (D. Baechler, quoted in D. Kapp, “Donald Baechler by David Kapp,” BOMB, July 1, 2000). The same could be said of life itself and its many contradictions.

An adventurous and surreal painting of epic proportions, Self-Portrait as Jasper Johns is a monument to two great artists. Still, it is not static, and it offers new meanings with each viewing that inspire us to see ourselves on the same plane as our heroes and contemporaries. Self-Portrait as Jasper Johns is an egalitarian work that engages the coextensive nature of multiple lives, media, and histories. One of the greatest painters of his generation, Baechler was unafraid to challenge perception and follow his wonderfully divergent interests.

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