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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property from a Private European Collection

Revolution Counter Revolution

Revolution Counter Revolution
carved wood, steel, fabric and mechanical elements
115 x 164 x 164 in. (292.1 x 416.6 x 416.6 cm.)
Executed in 1990. This work is unique.
Galleria Franz Paludetto, Turin
Private collection, Italy
Anon. sale; Phillips de Pury & Company, New York, 16 November 2006, lot 22
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Charles Ray, exh. cat., Newport Harbor Art Museum, 1990, p. 33 (illustrated).
C. Knight, "Sculptor Takes Himself Out of Picture," Los Angeles Times, 5 August 1990.
Charles Ray, exh. cat., Malmo, Rooseum Center for Contemporary Art, 1994.
Au-delà spectacle, exh. cat., Paris, Centres Georges Pompidou, 2000, p. 37 (illustrated).
P. Ritter, "Too Much Joy," Citypages, vol. 21, no. 1007, 22 March 2000.
J. Ranciere, The Emancipated Spectator, London, 2008.
R. Smith, "Anti-Mainstream Museum's Mainstream Show," New York Times, 5 March, 2010, p. C21.
J. Saltz, "Less Than the Sum of Its Parts," New York Magazine, 25 March 2010 (installation view illustrated).
DESTE 33 Years: 1983-2015, exh. cat., DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Art, Athens, 2015, p. 490 (installation view illustrated).
J. Kraynak, Contemporary Art and the Digitization of Everyday Life, Berkeley, 2020, pp. 132-133, fig. 3.4 (illustrated).
Charles Ray, exh. cat., Paris, Centre Pompidou and Bource de Commerce, 2022, p. 180 (illustrated).
Los Angeles, Burnett Miller Gallery, Charles Ray, November 1990.
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center; Portland Art Museum; Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne, Centres Georges Pompidou; Mexico City, Museo Rufino Tamayo; Miami Art Museum, Let's Entertain: Life's Guilty Pleasures, July 2000-November 2001, p. 146, no. 59 (illustrated)
Turin, Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, January 1999-December 2003 (on loan).
Special notice

On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

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Isabella Lauria
Isabella Lauria Head of 21st Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

The subject of three recent international retrospective exhibitions (at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Centre national d'art et de culture Georges-Pompidou, and the Bourse de Commerce-Pinault Collection in Paris), Charles Ray has skillfully eluded categorization for the majority of his career. Working in a myriad of media and pursuing a heady course of innovation and investigation into form, surface, and subject, his oeuvre explores the interstitial space between the unreal and real, the extraordinary and the everyday. Revolution Counter-Revolution is a defining example of the artist’s ability to create an aura of complex systems within a sculptural object. Frank Benson, a sculptor who studied under Ray and has worked in his studio noted, “He really pushed this idea that the medium of sculpture was space, as opposed to clay or wood.” (F. Benson, quoted in J. Farago, “Charles Ray is Pushing Sculpture to Its Limit”, New York Times, January 26, 2022). Forging beyond medium-specificity, Ray has worked tirelessly since the 1970s to reinvent and reassess the very roots of the sculptural tradition. Looking for a way to ascend beyond pictorial and abstract modes of thought, works like Revolution Counter-Revolution go beyond the subject and illustrate the artist’s meditative scrutiny of the relationship between the sculpture’s individual parts and the realized whole. Intimately detailed and carefully rendered, each piece of the work exudes a temporal debt. The attention to detail is immaculate, and as Ray himself notes, "in contemporary art, surface is an expression of anxiety, and no one is as anxious about surface as I am." (C. Ray, interviewed by R. Storr in, "Anxious Spaces," Art in America, November 1998, p. 144). Creating a level of perfection not seen in ordinary life, Ray elevates his works to a near-Platonic ideal while still keeping them grounded in the physical world.

Laboriously crafted over the course of two decades, Revolution Counter-Revolution is a testament to Ray’s work ethic and his careful, purposeful pace. Often working on works for years at a time, the artist immerses himself in the process of creation and frequently constructs multiple versions in varying materials until he is satisfied with the result. The present example is a painstakingly reproduced carousel that for all intents and purposes is the mirror of an actual functioning object. The horses hover on their poles in mid-gallop under a stylized big top that is replete with fanciful imagery and ornate detailing. In the middle, a large turn wheel is present for the operator, and the base is an immaculate cylindrical floor that seems ready for patrons to jump on. However, in this instance, the carousel is designed so that the platform rotates in one direction while the horses spin in the opposite. The visual contradiction of this odd push and pull subverts the original intent of the device and creates an uneasy equilibrium. “Ray forces us to reflect on things so basic or so close that we take them for granted. By subtly disrupting norms or changing the context of the ordinary, he causes a shift in perception and consciousness—an apprehension of the strangeness in the familiar that is the hallmark of his art… Told in great realism and detail, the ordinary becomes heroic; the simple becomes complex; the obvious becomes mysterious; the closed becomes open-ended; the literal becomes metaphorical. Appearances are shown to be deceptive; nothing is what it seems” (R, Ferguson & S. Emerson, eds., Charles Ray, Los Angeles, 1998, p. 82). Working on Duchampian levels of subversion, Ray methodically instills a level of uncanniness into the everyday. Those objects, figures, and devices that seem so ordinary at first glance quickly take on many levels of introspection that render them wholly attractive to deep rumination.

Within Ray’s oeuvre, the objects occupy a specific space that puts them into conversation with his figures and early performative and conceptual work. An air of disbelief or unease is palpable when items like carousels or farm equipment are plucked from their usual locations and placed in the gallery. However, rather than using a vintage machine or buying a new one from a manufacturer to attain this connection with the viewer, Ray handcrafts each part from a variety of materials. In Tractor, 2005, for example, the artist recreated the title object with the help of assistants. “Some people saw it and thought, ‘Oh, you painted a tractor silver,’” says Benson, “But I feel Charley was very excited that the interior of the tractor had also been sculpted. No one would ever see that work that was inside the transmission. But he and anyone who knew about the work would know it was complete” (F. Benson, ibid.). This pride in completion and every minute detail is important to Ray because it takes the conversation around sculpture to another level. The present example is a testament to the artist's meticulous nature and continued contemplation, with Ray revisiting the work 20 years into his career following its inception. Beneath the present layers of grayscale lies an array of polychrome hues, which Ray had originally applied in 1990. Further meditation on this work and its significance to the artist's career occurred on the occasion of its display in a 2010 exhibition, resulting in Ray's decision to repaint the surface. As an extension of Ray's undermining of the carousel's familiarity, he removes its universally-recognized connotations of play and vibrancy, rather confusing the viewers' collective consciousness with a muted palette. Rather than letting a hollow shell suffice or creating a purely superficial copy, works like Revolution Counter-Revolution question how sculptural production affects the meaning of the work and highlight the unseen processes inherent in the artist’s methods.

Since 1990, Ray has focused on making sculptures that reflect the intricacies of American life. Like his peer Jeff Koons, these investigations often take the form of highly-detailed constructions that mimic real-life objects in exacting detail. The exactness, processes, and ultimately, cost of production, are related in their basic forms, but whereas Koons steers toward a path laden with Pop references and imagery from the current era, Ray is entrenched in a literary and historical discussion. Jason Farago, writing about the critically acclaimed exhibition Figure Ground at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, spoke to this, noting “Unlike Koons, Ray has channeled his Americana through a profound engagement with the whole history of Western sculpture, from archaic Greek statuary to the bronzes of Rodin and the welded steel of David Smith and Anthony Caro. Classical and modern, universal and particular, grand and every day, his reclining nudes or wrecked cars appear to slide through time itself” (J. Farago, “Charles Ray is Pushing Sculpture to Its Limit”, New York Times, January 26, 2022). This interest in the past stemmed in part from his childhood, when he was enrolled in a boarding school perplexingly run by the military and Benedictine monks. This strict environment was only eased by courses at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where Ray studied on the weekends. From here came a confluence of artistic creation and an abiding interest in ancient philosophy, theology, and a precise working method.

Key to a full understanding and fruitful reading of Ray’s production is thinking about the questions he asks himself. How do you create a sculpture that has lasting power while juggling the artform’s traditions and the shadow of objecthood? According to the artist, the answer is ‘embedment’, “a kind of ontological rightness, an implantation within a certain space and time and society. That embedment can take place through the weight of the stainless steel or the careful soldering of the aluminum, or the classicized majesty he brings to this subjects” (op. cit.). Ray began teaching at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1981 at a time when a number of forward-thinking young artists were assembling within the faculty ranks. Among them, John Baldessari, Mike Kelley, Nancy Rubin, and Chris Burden became Ray’s colleagues. In the case of artists like Kelley, and especially in works like More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid and The Wages of Sin, 1987, the idea of embedment and imbued history is paramount. The artists working at UCLA during Ray’s early tenure wanted to bring attention to all of the hours, thoughts, and processes leading up to the final product. The object shown in the gallery is only the end result of a massive project that morphs and changes within the mind of the artist and the viewer. When asked about the “Well, they’re really directed toward the viewer, because I figure maybe what interests me might interest the viewer. I don’t have any other gauge. I can’t think about what’s going to interest Joan, what’s going to interest Bob, or Sue or Sam, so I just start to assume that if it engages me on some level and has implications or reverberations for me hopefully it will for someone else. Not always, it doesn’t always” (C. Ray, L. Barnes and D. Cooper, Charles Ray, San Clemente, 1990, p. 14). More interested in the exploration and investigation than creating works that have mass appeal, Ray’s sculptures can sometimes appear opaque at first glance. But as the audience learns more and digs deeper, the multilayered projects begin to bloom.

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