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Angels in the Rain

Angels in the Rain
acrylic and oil on canvas and linen, in three parts
overall: 96 x 131 7⁄8in. (244 x 335cm.)
Painted in 1998
Gagosian Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1998.
David Salle: Pastorale, exh. cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, 2001 (illustrated in colour, p. 18).
S. French (ed.), David Salle: Immediate Experience, Milan 2002 (illustrated in colour, pp. 6-7).

New York, Gagosian Gallery, David Salle: Bears, Interiors, 1999 (illustrated in colour, p. 15).
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, David Salle. 20 Years of Painting, 1999, p. 127 (illustrated in colour, p. 109). This exhibition later travelled to Vienna, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig; Turin, Museo d'Arte Contemporanea Castello di Rivoli and Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum.
London, Saatchi Gallery, Painters' Painters: Artists of today who inspire artists of tomorrow, 2016, pp. 132-133 (illustrated in colour).
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Lot Essay

Acquired by the present owner shortly after its creation in 1998, and included in David Salle’s retrospective at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam the following year, Angels in the Rain is a fascinating example of his dialogue with the past. Composed like a comic book strip or a set of film stills, the work features two angelic statues—based on maquettes for Bernini’s angels on the Ponte Sant’Angelo in Rome—a tangle of abstract lines and three surreal bears on bicycles taken from a book of photographs of the Moscow Circus that Salle owned as a child. In the centre of the lower panel is a collection of vanitas motifs, including a skull, a candle, a dead fish and fruit. Having started his career during the heyday of New York’s ‘Pictures Generation’, Salle views the art of the past with an appropriator’s eye. Throughout his practice, references to the work of his forebears are drawn into discordant alliance with imagery culled from advertising, magazines and his own imagination. The present work harbours a dreamlike sense of déjà-vu, reflecting the noisy dynamics of today’s image-saturated culture.

‘Art history is like a feather bed’, says Salle—‘you fall into it and it catches you’ (D. Salle, ‘John Baldessari’, Interview Magazine, 9 October 2013). For him, the art of the past is simply one resource among many: less a wellspring of technical and stylistic inspiration than a catalogue of images to be plucked at will. Flashes of Old Master paintings join hands with cartoon characters; Renaissance sculptures collide with obscure photographs and pictures from home décor magazines. His reference to the still-life genre in the present work is particularly intriguing. On one hand, his practice rejects the type of symbolism traditionally associated with memento mori, where static objects functioned as metaphors for the human condition. On the other hand, vanitas compositions—much like his own creations—were fundamentally exercises in assemblage, drawing together disparate objects to create a snapshot of the wider world. Just as Salle frequently sparks conversations between unrelated images in his work, here he invites parallels with a seemingly alien mode of picture-making, subtly historicising his own practice in the process.

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