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The Rosa de la Cruz Collection


oil on canvas
58 x 48 in. (147.3 x 121.9 cm.)
Painted in 2005.
Anton Kern Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2006
D. Fogle, "At the Center of the Infinite," Parkett, no. 80, 2007, p. 123 (illustrated).
Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Painting in Tounges, January-April 2006.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, Selections from the de la Cruz Collection, December 2009-November 2010.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, Selections from the de la Cruz Collection, December 2010-November 2011.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, Selections from the de la Cruz Collection, December 2011-October 2012.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, Selections from the de la Cruz Collection, December 2012-October 2013.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, Selections from the de la Cruz Collection, December 2013-November 2014.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, Beneath the Surface, December 2014-November 2015.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, You've Got to Know the Rules to Break Them, December 2015-November 2016.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, Progressive Praxis, December 2016-November 2017.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, Force and Form, December 2017-November 2018.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, More/Less, December 2018-November 2019.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, From Day to Day, December 2019-September 2020.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, A Possible Horizon, September 2020-November 2021.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, There Is Always One Direction, November 2021-November 2022.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, Together, at the Same Time, November 2022-November 2023.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, House in Motion / New Perspectives, December 2023-March 2024.

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Julian Ehrlich
Julian Ehrlich Associate Vice President, Specialist, Head of Post-War to Present Sale

Lot Essay

A raucous panorama of color and line, Mark Grotjahn’s Untitled brims with insatiable, ecstatic power. Part of the artist’s acclaimed Face Paintings series, the work is a burst, a prismatic explosion - color and experience melded together. Into a kaleidoscopic ground, Grotjahn has rendered a mask-like face whose angularity recalls Pablo Picasso or Henri Matisse. Yet far from simply aping art historical motifs, the artist has instead breathed new life into the past even as he remains wholly contemporary. Executed in 2006, Untitled is a tour de force, created contemporaneously to Grotjahn’s solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art; the work was exhibited that same year at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
After applying bright swathes of color, Grotjahn scrapes, peels, rakes, and incises the surface of a canvas, leaving behind every trace of his hand’s determination. Shapes emerge out of the impasto pigment, a vortex of activity and animation. Reds, greens, pinks, and blues all combine and meld with one another to suggest skin and flesh. Deceptively simple, each Face Painting announces the methods of its creation. Paint itself is as much the subject of Untitled as the image on the canvas. As Roberta Smith wrote of these works: “They emphasize painting as a psychic and bodily process fueled in part by the devouring and digesting of previous art to formulate a new synthesis” (R. Smith, “Mark Grothjahn; ‘Nine Faces’”, The New York Times, 12 May 2011, online).
With their emphatic embrace of an elementary aesthetic, Grotjahn’s Face Paintings can be placed in dialogue with works by the European Modernists, who found themselves inspired by African and Oceanic art. In the last decades of the nineteenth century, thousands of African and Oceanic sculptures were shipped back to Europe, the result of colonial expeditions and conquests. Treated as artefacts, these were exhibited at ethnographic museums throughout the continent’s major capitals. Young artists in particular flocked to these exhibitions and began to incorporate into their art new ways of depicting the human figure based upon what they saw. Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Matisse’s La Raie Verte, and Amedeo Modigliani’s sculptures, among countless others, all showed the influencing role of what was seen to be exotic and other.
When conceiving of his Face Paintings, however, Grotjahn chose not to engage with indigenous art himself, but rather to look at the art created by these Modernist predecessors. He thought back to his first encounters with Picasso, whose work he saw as a young child illustrated in books owned by his grandfather. years later, Grotjahn decided to make the master of Modernism a springboard for his new artistic interpretations. Accordingly, Grotjahn’s Face Paintings offer new modes of seeing the past.
In addition to French Modernism, much has been made of Grotjahn’s ‘all over’ style and the way in which it extends the legacies of Abstract Expressionism. Like a Jackson Pollock painting, the surface of a Grotjahn canvas is entirely given over to paint. Yet the artist has no affinity for the supposed purity of the formalism associated with The New York School. “With Abstraction Expressionism,” writes Barry Schwabsky, “you were meant to feel the artist’s struggle toward the discovery of the image. It was supposed to have come into existence in the process of painting and it was supposed to have been hard-won … Grotjahn’s paintings too have the immediacy and freshness of discovery about them, but while they manifest the labor that went into them, they don’t evoke struggle … He’s simply not going to let the recalcitrance of materials get in his way, not when he knows their little secrets well enough to bend them to his will” (B. Schwabsky, “Vehicles of Fascination” in Mark Grotjahn, exh, cat., Aspen Art Museum, 2012, p. 61).
The curator Douglas Fogel has divided Grotjahn’s oeuvre into three categories: “The 'mimetic' sign paintings and drawings, the 'abstract' perspective and butterfly works, and the turgidly expressive faces, masks, and flowers that occupy the realm of 'figurative’” (quoted in ibid., p. 59). But Grotjahn’s practice cannot be reduced so cleanly nor so efficiently. Indeed, the thrill of the Face Paintings is the way that works such as Untitled deny any fixed reading. Rather, they seem to pull their viewers through time and theory. By colliding past with present, abstraction with figuration, Grotjahn opens new worlds.

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