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Property from a Prominent Private Collection


Owens, L.
signed 'Laura Owens' (on the overlap)
oil and acrylic on canvas
36 x 28 in. (91.5 x 71 cm.)
Painted in 2016.
Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne
Private collection
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, London, 3 March 2022, lot 409
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

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Julian Ehrlich
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Lot Essay

With irreverent brushstrokes, illusionistic plays with space, and Abstract Expressionist-like impasto strokes, Untitled is a vibrant example of Laura Owens' painterly hand. The present work is reflective of Owens' radicalization of the painted space, questioning its very conditions. For curator Isabel Venero, “By moving the conversation on painting forward, by taking the oblique view, by recuperating the neglected, and by challenging long-established principles of ‘good art,’” Owens has secured a place among the most influential painters of our time (I. Venero in Laura Owens, New York, 2015, p. 9). Her oeuvre, and particularly Untitled, refreshes, excites, and sets the spark for a discursive engagement with painting and its many stories.

Commanding the canvas, turquoise, blue, and ultramarine brushstrokes mix to create a thick and visually complex painterly surface capable of enhancing the bi-dimensional quality of the canvas and its hidden modernist roots. At the same time, some geometrically organized lines seem to undermine the Greenbergian self-sufficiency of Untitled, outlining a rectangular blue frame that brings a new, young, and rebellious energy to the painting. An additional layer of paint is made of free, quick, strokes of different colors that further enhance the liveliness of the work and its intriguing visual elements. Brilliant colors—namely orange fluorescent, grenadine, teal blue, and turquoise—dialogue with rich yellows and greens, revealing the playful impact of teenage culture, advertising, and digital images on Owens' color palette.

Recalling Sigmar Polke’s bold experimentation with composition, whose first New York retrospective was visited by the artist when she was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, as well as the powerful strokes of Joan Snyder, and the sumptuous colors of Matisse, Untitled succeeds in preserving Owens’ unique art-making process. “All art is collage” claimed the artist in 2017, “Heterogeneous in form … Against the different paradigm of the Gestalt object, like a Jackson Pollock painting—a single image that jolts you. Now art is all about being constructed out of relationships between parts” (L. Owens, quoted in P. Schjeldahl, “The Radical Paintings of Laura Owens”, The New Yorker, 30 October 2017). Indeed, Untitled demonstrates a visual glossolalia of color, texture and form, the fully-realized work equally referential and pioneering.

Continuing the same “irreverent and ‘impolite’ collage-like approach to painting’” which characterized Owens’ Pavement Karaoke series, Untitled further explores the artist’s relationship with art-historical masters—a relationship she began interrogating in the early 1990s and is clearly visible in works like the present example (M. Godfrey in Laura Owens, New York, 2015, p. 91). Owens has been the subject of critical acclaim since her introduction to the LA art scene in the 1990s. Recognized as the youngest artist to ever receive a retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the recipient of several prestigious honors, such as the Hugo Boss Prize, Owens has exhibited in several major museums and institutions including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and Kunstmuseum Bonn. Owens’ work is presently housed in the collections of several esteemed institutions, namely the Tate Modern, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Walker Art Center.

Owen’s unique voice may be aptly defined by the artist’s proclivity for the unpredictable. Imbuing her canvases with an innovative mind and radical reimaginations of pre-conceived ideas about art-making, Owens’ work pushes the limitations on the conventionality and conditions of painting. Works like Untitled belong to their own genre of painting, one both informed by—and resistant to—those which have preceded it. Trans-historical for its painterly collage of traditional conventions, and wholly unique for its ambitious rejections and bold palette, Laura Owens’ Untitled is a transcendent example of an artist’s mind at work at an apex in her career.

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