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Dirk Skreber (b. 1961)
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Dirk Skreber (b. 1961)

Untitled (Ultraviolence)

Dirk Skreber (b. 1961)
Untitled (Ultraviolence)
oil on canvas
90½ x 128in. (230 x 325.3cm.)
Painted in 1999
Luis Campaña, Cologne.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
V. Breuvart (ed.), New Perspectives in Painting-Vitamin P, London 2002 (illustrated in colour, p. 311).
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Ausstellung Hypermental, November 2000-January 2001.
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No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

Lot Essay

At first glance, Dirk Skreber's Untitled (Ultra Violence) shows a clean, crisp image of a building painted on an almost monumental scale. The stark lines recall architectural drawings, and as such speak of hope, of potential, of a building to come. In this light, the picture recalls positive and optimistic images of future developments, of city planning and social engineering, speaking of well-intended civic idealism. By contrast, the greyness and stillness of Untitled (Ultra Violence) also invokes the disillusionment in the pictures of similar subjects by artists such as Gerhard Richter and Thomas Struth, works which often captured the punctured hopes for reconstruction in the Post-War era. The idealism and order in those artists' works was often deflated by the grim reality of day-to-day existence in the places they depicted. In Untitled (Ultra Violence), the underlying reality is even more shocking and contrasts all the more dramatically with its subject: this work was painted in 1999 and shows Columbine High School, which the same year had gained intense notoriety when two of the pupils there had walked in with a vast arsenal and massacred many of their schoolmates before turning their weapons on themselves.

Skreber's paintings often represent scenes of disaster, be it natural or man-made. Floods, earthquakes and battleships are shown with a strange detachment, from a cool and usually bird's-eye perspective. And yet the surfaces of his paintings have a marked materiality. The drips that criss-cross the surface disrupt the crisp rendering of the almost photographic, accurate image in Untitled (Ultra Violence), speaking of painterly events, chance occurrences, the result of hazard, charting the movements of the painter and crystallising moments in the inception of the painting. It seems that the accidents on the surface of the painting, tiny capsules of artistic disruption, of a minor violence, somehow echo the events that underlie the image of this unassuming school building. At the same time, this materiality emphasises the fictitious nature of representing a subject in two dimensions, undermining the entire suspension of disbelief and process of interpretation upon which illustration relies. Skreber's demonstration of the artifice of painting is made all the more dramatic by his exploitation of the tension between this artistic indulgence, bringing our attention to the picture's surface, and the intensely traumatic nature of the scene. The contrast between that immense tragedy and its use here as the premise for a painterly adventure itself is a striking and haunting result of the increasing anaesthetised reaction of the public to images of disaster, which are trotted out so often in our media-saturated society that we, like Skreber, become immunised and detached. And it is in the contrast between Skreber's involvement with the paint surface and his deliberate lack of involvement with his subject matter that the painting gains its haunting power.

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