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David Salle (B. 1952)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more VISIONARIES: WORKS FROM THE EMILY AND JERRY SPIEGEL COLLECTION
David Salle (B. 1952)

Footmen

Details
David Salle (B. 1952)
Footmen
diptych—oil and acrylic with wood bowl on canvas
93 x 120 in. (236.2 x 304.8 cm.)
Executed in 1986.
Provenance
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1986
Literature
M. Brenson, "Romanticism Or Cynicism? Only Salle Knows," The New York Times, 27 April 1986, p. H31 (illustrated).
M. A. Staniszewski, "Corporate Culture," Manhattan, inc., vol. 3, no. 4, April 1986, p. 164 (illustrated in color).
"The Art Of The Mega-Collector," New York Newsday, 18 May 1986 (installation view illustrated in color).
A. Wallach, "David Salle: There's Mystery in His Art," Newsday, 16 January 1987, p. 23 (illustrated).
D. Whitney, ed., David Salle, New York, 1994, p. 135, pl. 56 (illustrated in color).
R. Brooks, et al., Richard Prince, New York, 2003, p. 34 (illustrated).
Exhibited
New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, David Salle, April-May 1986.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art; Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario and Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, David Salle, January 1987-January 1988, pp. 33 and 76 (illustrated in color).
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Vienna, Museum Moderner Kunst, Foundation Ludwig; Torino, Castello di Rivoli and Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum, David Salle, April 1999-April 2000, pp. 52 and 126 (illustrated in color).
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Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

David Salle’s paintings are a compendium of major moments in the history of art reshuffled into complex statements that earned the artist a place, not only among the heavyweights of 1980s painting but also in the canon of painting throughout time. Over his career, he frequently returned to present fragments and details from works by Baroque artists like Diego Velázquez and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne, and early twentieth-century masters as René Magritte. In Footmen, a monumental painting from 1986, the left side of the diptych includes references to Jasper Johns and Kenneth Noland in the yellow and blue target affixed to the center of the painting and a grid of silkscreened images that recall the work of Andy Warhol. Next to the circular appendage, the image of a man’s face replicates a detail from Velasquez’s 1628 painting, The Triumph of Bacchus (Museo del Prado, Madrid). Salle has marked out the man’s eyes and highlighted his impish smile by painting his lips in the same salmon color of the background. The painting’s other half tells a different story: an image of a man crawling down a set of train tracks is masterfully painted on a grand, gray scale. Rather than draw specific conclusions from these broad ranging and mysterious juxtapositions, Salle makes us question the subject of his pictorial puzzles.

When Footmen was first exhibited at the legendary Leo Castelli Gallery in 1986, esteemed art critic Michael Brenson wrote, “In a Salle show, there are always objects fixed to canvases that can sometimes unleash an exhilarating proliferation of meanings. For example, the small blue-and-white bowl attached to Footmen resembles a Kenneth Noland Target. But the target also resembles an eye. Since Salle has also identified circular shapes with orifices, it is also possible to see the form sexually and to interpret the eye bowl as a welcoming sexual invitation as well as a sexual target. If our primary response to the work is visual, looking is also the main action within the painting. While the bowl and an appropriated figure alongside it from a painting by Velasquez look at us, a young man—in an image that could be from a film still—looks away, staring longingly at railroad tracks, which themselves suggest a sexual interpretation” (M. Brenson, “Romanticism or Cynicism? Only Salle Knows,” New York Times, April 27, 1986).

When the painting was exhibited at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art in 1987, William Wilson further attempted to attempted to unravel not only the mystery of Footmen in particular, but also Salle’s paintings in general. He advises us to “‘listen’ as much as ‘look’ because the parts of a Salle painting come together based on the association of words that attach to the images. Titles are glad to help. Footmen has one panel showing a kid staring down a railroad track. It is painted in gray, the color of thought. Get it? The other panel is red for danger and passion. It bears copy of a head from Velasquez’s picaresque painting… Manet did a version of the same painting. Both are classic images of the male as a wandering poetic loner and ne’er-do-well. In the background are fuzzy silk-screen photographs that evoke the image of a pregnant girl in an empty room” (W. Wilson, Solving Salle’s Mystery, Los Angeles Times, May 10, 1987).

The complex rebus of pictorial, linguistic, sonic and poetic associations and signifiers offered by Salle would come to define Neo-Expressionist, also called-Post-Modern painting in the 1980s. Born in reaction to the cool logical approaches of Conceptualism and Minimalism in the 1970s, painters like Salle but also Julian Schnabel, Jean Michel Basquiat, Eric Fischl and Elizabeth Murray in the United States and others like Albert Oehlen, Anselm Kiefer, and Georg Baselitz in Germany explored the exuberance of pattern, color, texture, and material. Like the Pictures Generation of artists working at the same time who were thinking through the impact of film, television and advertising images often through the medium of photography, Neo-Expressionists reorganized
the barrage of mediated images into painted compositions. At the helm of the style in American painting was David Salle for the ways in which the artist saw the contemporary as a moment within a longer time span of the art of painting.

For Brenson, the swirling puzzle of references in Salle’s paintings are emblematic of the time in which the painting was made: “Salle’s strengths… have a lot to say about what it means to be an artist in an age of pluralism—where so many conflicting constituencies exist side by side, and where every artistic approach may be analyzed from the perspective of every other… It can be no mystery then why Salle has described his work as ‘anti-declarative.’ He does not want it to provide answers. He does not want us to be comfortable with it. He wants to challenge ‘permissions’ and to be a model of transgression. Salle also said five years ago that he would like to think of his work as ‘totally promiscuous and omnivorous.’ He sees all aspects of culture as interrelated and everything as grist for his artistic mill. The paintings offer not stories but endlessly shifting perspectives. If the struggle between romanticism and cynicism—between the need to trust feeling and a compulsion to look at and question everything—is crucial to the charged work of David Salle, it is also a struggle in which an entire decade is engaged” (M. Brenson, ibid.).

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