Adrian Ghenie (b. 1977)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Adrian Ghenie (b. 1977)

The Hunter (Study for Kaiser Wilhelm Institute)

Details
Adrian Ghenie (b. 1977)
The Hunter (Study for Kaiser Wilhelm Institute)
oil on canvas
78¾ x 52¾in, (200 x 134cm.)
Painted in 2011
Provenance
Haunch of Venison, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2011.
Literature
J. Judin (ed.), Adrian Ghenie, Ostfildern-Ruit 2014, p. 121 (illustrated in colour, p. 122).
Special notice

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Lot Essay

‘I am interested in the presence of evil, or more precisely, how the possibility for evil is found in every endeavour, even in those scientific projects which set out to benefit mankind’ —A. GHENIE

‘We inevitably live in a post-WWII epoch which means that we constantly have to look back to that watershed moment in order to understand our present condition’ —A. GHENIE

‘In terms of composition, colours, atmosphere, I borrow many things from cinema’ —A. GHENIE


A skeletal apparition stands alone in a darkened room, his arm raised in barely-visible salute. Behind him, his antlered prey looms large upon the wall. Books flank the unknown interior – study, library, medical chamber – dissolving down the length of the picture plane into an abstract chromatic haze. Rich in symbolic allusion and cinematic painterly effect, The Hunter is among the largest and most complex works from Adrian Ghenie’s landmark sequence of Studies for “The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute”. Taking its name from the notorious eugenics research centre, the series encapsulates the very essence of the artist’s practice, dramatizing the darkest depths of history upon ambiguous, dimly-lit stages. Veiled and blurred with streaks and washes of pigment, art historical visions quiver before our eyes: Gerhard Richter’s squeegeed panoramas, Francis Bacon’s figural dissections, the stately poise of vanitas and nature morte. Yet, in the work’s deep Old Masterly shadows, other stories linger. In certain lights, the figure’s skeleton speaks of classrooms and textbooks; in others, it evokes the all-too-familiar images of Second World War victims. In another, perhaps, it represents a piercing x-ray: a cold, hard look into the body and soul of the hunter. Though his identity remains unknown, the figures of Charles Darwin and Dr Josef Mengele – both key subjects for the artist – flicker in and out of recognition. ‘I am interested in the presence of evil, or more precisely, how the possibility for evil is found in every endeavour, even in those scientific projects which set out to benefit mankind’, explains Ghenie (A. Ghenie, quoted in A. Akbar, ‘Adrian Ghenie puts fiends in the frame’, The Independent, 29 September 2011). Through painterly and semantic sleight of hand, the artist attempts to visualise the way in which the past cements itself in collective consciousness. In doing so, he forces a haunting slippage between illusion and reality that challenges the viewer to avert their gaze.

The Hunter is a virtuosic example of Ghenie’s erudite painterly technique. ‘In terms of composition, colours, atmosphere, I borrow many things from cinema’, he has explained, citing David Lynch and Alfred Hitchcock as particularly significant influences (A. Ghenie, quoted in R. Wolff, ‘Adrian Ghenie: The Past is Present – And Never Resolved – In the Romanian Artist’s Absorbing, Ambiguous Canvases’, Art + Auction, March 2013). Like a motion picture paused on rewind or a long camera exposure, Ghenie’s brooding mise-en-scène stutters with instability. Pigment piles up on the canvas like a series of translucent, filmic membranes, creating a disarming confluence of foreground and background. In places the surface is thick with impasto; elsewhere, it dissolves into an aqueous mirage. Unplanned abrasions, drips and splatters – characterised by Ghenie as ‘staged accidents’ – litter the painting in impervious textural layers. Each time we come close to comprehending the scene before us, our gaze is overpowered by a sense of dream-like transfiguration: a trick of the light that transforms surreal images into disturbing truths. Immersed in billowing swathes of gloom, the work invokes the spirit of Renaissance memento mori: indeed, when viewed from a certain angle, a second skull hovers like a trompe l’oeil behind the figure’s legs, whose calf muscles suddenly seem to double as its nose. Elsewhere, Mark Gisbourne has drawn attention to the work’s baroque overtones, citing the dawn of anatomical research and dissection during this period (M. Gisbourne, ‘Baroque Decisions: The Inflected World of Adrian Ghenie’, in J. Judin (ed.), Adrian Ghenie, Ostfildern-Ruit 2014, p. 38). Ghenie’s proliferation of tendrils, rivulets, smudges and smears pushes the work’s figurative subject matter to the brink of abstraction, momentarily resolving before unravelling again in the blink of an eye. Like Richter, who rigorously challenged the notion of the image as a true expression of reality, Ghenie’s painterly palimpsests force us to question our readiness to recognise our own histories in their saturated, illusive depths.

Ghenie’s unique historical imagination is founded upon an interest in turning points. Third Reich officials sit alongside Darwin and Van Gogh as key members of his cast: all of them figures who, in the artist’s mind, ruptured the course of humanity. ‘We inevitably live in a post-WWII epoch’, he explains, ‘which means that we constantly have to look back to that watershed moment in order to understand our present condition’ (A. Ghenie, quoted in M. Radu, ‘Adrian Ghenie: Rise & Fall,’ Flash Art, December 2009, p. 49). Having lived in Berlin before moving to London, Ghenie was fascinated by the impact of the Second World War upon the country’s collective psyche: an interest fuelled by his own memories of growing up in Romania under the tyrannical dictatorship of Nicolae Ceau?escu. In particular, Ghenie was moved by the contrast between the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute’s claim to scientific advancement, and the atrocities committed in its very name. ‘Charles Darwin’s ideas, for example’, he explained, ‘were co-opted by the Nazis, such as the concepts of natural selection and the survival of the fittest’ (A. Ghenie, quoted in A. Akbar, ‘Adrian Ghenie puts fiends in the frame’, The Independent, 29 September 2011). In the present work, symbols of learning join hands with symbols of corruption. Is the hunter the man who cracked the evolutionary code, or the one who perverted it? With its multifaceted web of questions that refuse to subside, the work offers a powerful and deeply poignant enigma.

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