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Works sold for the MOWAA Rainforest Gallery and the Nigeria Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2024

Reverse Dive Red

Reverse Dive Red
signed, inscribed and dated ‘T RED Tunji 2023 SURE WHY ELSE FINE’ (on the overlap); signed and dated ‘Tunji Adeniyi-Jones 2023’ (on the reverse)
oil and graphite on canvas
74 x 52in. (188 x 132.1cm.)
Executed in 2023
Donated by the artist to MOWAA, courtesy of White Cube.

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Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

‘It is an honour to be involved in such a momentous occasion for Nigeria, and it is my pleasure to contribute a work to this cause’ (Tunji Adeniyi-Jones)

Christie’s and the Museum of West African Art (MOWAA) in Nigeria are collaborating to raise funds for MOWAA and its initiatives to create a cultural ecosystem in Benin City, based on the art of the past, present and future. A number of artists have generously agreed to donate original works of art to the auction, including Yinka Shonibare, Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, Lakwena Maciver and Victor Ehikhamenor. Proceeds from the sale of the works will go towards MOWAA initiatives including the presentation of the Nigeria Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia, 2024—commissioned by the Governor of Edo State and also curated by Aindrea Emelife—and the 20-acre Creative Campus, including the Rainforest Gallery. Designed by the Dakar-based architecture firm Worofila, the Rainforest Gallery will be dedicated to showcasing Modern and Contemporary art, as well as historic exhibitions.

A single figure somersaults elegantly round the canvas of Tunji Adeniyi-Jones’ Reverse Dive Red (2023). The subject is plunged into an environment of swirling, blossoming, and intertwining leaves in vibrant tones of red, orange and yellow, offset with flashes of green and magenta. He emerges through the mass in a simultaneous embrace and grapple with the painting’s natural world. The botanical patterns swoop and circulate in a clockwise direction, following the figure’s lithe body and ultimately leading to his face. The anonymous subject communicates vividly through his acrobatic motion and direct gaze. Renowned for their bright colours, dancing figures, and natural motifs, Adeniyi-Jones’ paintings emphasise the importance of dance and body language—a reverberation of his Nigerian heritage. His signature visual lexicon rises to the challenge posed by the more than five hundred languages spoken in the country. In the present work, as across his oeuvre, movement and gesture become an essential, universal dialect.

Tunji Adeniyi-Jones was born and educated in the UK, and now lives and works in the USA. He begins his works with studies in ink pen or watercolour on paper. Different seasons or times of day determine the mood which he applies to the work: the present painting’s palette conjures an autumnal atmosphere. His style gestures towards Matisse’s colourful papier-découpé, a technique which he imbues with patterns and motifs informed by West African artistic traditions. His other artistic inspirations include Ben Enwonwu, Bob Thompson, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Aaron Douglas and Chris Ofili: the latter’s ornate, intricately patterned paintings resonate particularly closely with Adeniyi-Jones’ work. Reverse Dive Reds flowing foliage and tessellating shapes produce a mellifluous quality which embraces the viewer from afar. The subject’s stylised limbs are rendered in a heroic, harmonious style that recalls classical depictions of the body, reminding us that every Western myth or fable that we know of has an equally compelling African counterpart. Ancient West African visual art is represented particularly rarely outside of the continent. Adeniyi-Jones intends his paintings to be a visual accompaniment to the lineage of twentieth-century authors including Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and Amos Tutuolas, who were also motivated to correct the elision of African culture from the global landscape.

Adeniyi-Jones received his MFA from Yale School of Art and has exhibited in multiple solo and group exhibitions globally. From New York, to London, Los Angeles, to Milan, to Sweden and California, his work has received international critical acclaim. He has been selected as part of the presentation of the Nigeria Pavilion at the 60th Venice Biennale, opening in April 2024. Exuding charisma and dynamism, Adeniyi-Jones’ signature dancers and warm, vibrant colour palettes—as in the present painting’s symphony of burnt oranges and saffron yellows—form a transcendent language which speaks volumes.

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