Glenn Brown (b. 1966)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Glenn Brown (b. 1966)

Böcklin's Tomb (copied from 'Floating Cities' 1981 by Chris Foss)

Details
Glenn Brown (b. 1966)
Böcklin's Tomb (copied from 'Floating Cities' 1981 by Chris Foss)
signed and dated 'Glenn Brown 1998' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
87 x 130in. (221 x 330cm.)
Painted in 1998
Provenance
Patrick Painter Inc., Los Angeles.
Private Collection, Germany (acquired from the above in 1999).
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner.
Exhibited
Los Angeles, Patrick Painter Inc., Glenn Brown, 1998.
London, Jerwood Gallery, Glenn Brown, 1999.
Bignan, Domaine de Kerguéhennec, Glenn Brown, 2000, p. 80, no. 49 (illustrated in colour, p. 30 and installation view illustrated, p. 4).
Zurich, Kunsthaus Zürich, Hypermental: wahnhafte Wirklichkeit 1950 - 2000, von Salvador Dalí bis Jeff Koons, 2000-2001, p. 160 (illustrated on the cover and pp. 148-149; detail illustrated, pp. 2-3). This exhibition later travelled to Hamburg, Hamburger Kunsthalle. London, Serpentine Gallery, Glenn Brown, 2004, p. 106 (illustrated in colour, p. 41).
Liverpool, Tate Liverpool, Glenn Brown, 2009, p. 169 (illustrated in colour, p. 83). This exhibition later travelled to Turin, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, and Budapest, Ludwig Múzeum.
Special notice

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.
Sale room notice
Please note that the correct final line of provenance for this work should read: Acquired directly from the above by the present owner.

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Lot Essay

'I am not happy until I have disoriented viewers by disrupting their perspective and their perceived place in the world'
(G. Brown, interview with R. Steiner, Glenn Brown, exh. cat., Serpentine Gallery, London, 2004, p. 99).

'The science fiction paintings do have a sentimental religious subject: Jesus the Living Dead (After Adolf Schaller), 1997-1998, was always perceived as the view of Jesus from the cross thinking: 'My Lord why has Thou forsaken me; Böcklin's Tomb (copied from Chris Foss), 1998, was a religious place of rest for an atheist I am not trying to fill the void, which is left by a lack of faith. I am trying to decorate a work that is genuinely without faith'
(G. Brown, quoted in interview with S. Hepworth, 'Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me', London, May 2000, in Glenn Brown, exh. cat., Domaine de Kerguéhennec, Bignan, 2000, pp. 69-70).



Painstakingly executed on an epic scale which the viewer can almost walk into, the extraordinary detail and technical virtuosity of Glenn Brown's Böcklin's Tomb (copied from 'Floating Cities', 1981, by Chris Foss), 1998, transports the viewer into another universe. Reimagining an already imagined world, Brown's artistic simulacrum has taken a book-sized illustrated reproduction and recontextualises it again on a massive scale, firmly the placing popular imagery of science fiction into the art historical canon. Bathed in the subtle tones reminiscent of Picasso's Blue Period, Brown subjects the cosmic scene to changes of mood according to his altered palette.The work presents a solitary space station marooned in outer space, borrowing from Swiss symbolist Arnold Böcklin's desolate Isle of the Dead, with the main colour-idea for this work, along with the title and many of the details of buildings including the swirling water motif that becomes the cloudy skies inspired by Ferdinand Keller's work Tomb of Bocklin from 1901-1902, itself an homage to Böcklin's Isle of the Dead. In Böcklin's painting, the tiny islet is covered in dense, shadowy cypress trees growing at the centre of an isolated cemetery; in Brown's composition, the mysterious tomb has been cast out into the unknown. Created on the heroic scale of classical history painting, the vastness of this vista envelopes the viewer with such power and detail that its potential reality becomes almost plausible. Continuing the legacy of Appropriation Art, established by Marcel Duchamp, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Sherry Levine and Richard Prince, where artists assumed existing images and projected them into a different context, Brown updates this strategy for the 21st century. In his skillful handling of paint and his conceptual ingenuity grounded in Postmodern critical theory, the present work represents the very apogee of Glenn Brown's most iconic works. A triumphant masterpiece of a magical atmosphere, Böcklin's Tomb (copied from 'Floating Cities', 1981, by Chris Foss), was exhibited in Brown's 2004, critically acclaimed mid-career retrospective at Serpentine Gallery, London. Spanning over three metres, this hyperrealist landscape dominated the first room of the Tate Liverpool solo exhibition in 2009, which later travelled to Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin.

The composition rooted in fantasy is one of three unique variations Brown created appropriating the popular imagery of science fiction master illustrator, Chris Foss's Floating Cities, 1981. A testament to Brown's commitment to the image, he returned to Foss' galactic scene again and again, amplifying the illustration to epic proportions. The progression and extrapolation of Brown's appropriation can be seen across the series: in 1995 Brown created an exact copy in The Pornography of Death (painting for Ian Curtis), copied from 'Floating Cities' 1981 by Chris Foss. In this version Brown revisits the image, inversing the composition, and enveloping it in a cool all-over blue. In 2002, Brown revisited the image again in Dark Angel (for Ian Curtis), 2002, rendered it in a glowing yellow, departing completely from Foss' original arrangement.

The choice of Foss' well known science fiction paintings featured on the covers of novels by Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, paradoxically betrays a singularity or individuality in the face of mechanisation that encourages viewer engagement. Foss' illustrations from the early 1980s speak of pop culture's renewed interest in Science Fiction, with Star Wars, Alien, and Blade Runner launching a new branch of consumerism. Setting this work in the high/low tradition of pop artists like Lichtenstein and Warhol, Brown seeks to recompose imagery sourced from science fiction books, reinventing the design to create fresh compositions. Quoting and transforming Foss' compositions which are already manipulated to fit the pages of a novel to triumphant proportions, Brown uses scale as a tool to highlight the layers of reproduction. The monumental scale of the work sets up a natural dichotomy between the small-scale book illustration and large-scale history paintings. This represents a point of departure for Brown's unique and instantly recognisable imprint. As he explains: 'whether I see the actual painting or not doesn't matter. In the end, what is important is the nature of the reproduction I work from. In fact it is always the somewhat sad reproduction that fires my imagination, not the real painting. It allows me space to figure out ways to adapt the colour, the form, the orientation' (G. Brown, quoted in Interview with R. Steiner, Glenn Brown, exh. cat., Serpentine Gallery, London, 2004, p. 95).


Rendered in a palette of cyan blues and silvery whites Böcklin's Tomb (copied from 'Floating Cities' 1981 by Chris Foss), features a solitary space station marooned in outer space. Brown borrows from Swiss symbolist Arnold Böcklin's desolate Isle of the Dead, where the tiny islet is covered in dense, shadowy cypress trees populating the centre of an isolated cemetery. In Brown's composition, the mysterious tomb has been cast out into the unknown. As Brown himself has suggested, 'the science fiction paintings do have a sentimental religious subject: Jesus the Living Dead (After Adolf Schaller), 1997-1998, was always perceived as the view of Jesus from the cross thinking: 'My Lord why has Thou forsaken me; Böcklin's Tomb (copied from Chris Foss), 1998, was a religious place of rest for an atheist I am not trying to fill the void, which is left by a lack of faith. I am trying to decorate a work that is genuinely without faith' (G. Brown, quoted in interview with S. Hepworth, 'Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me', London, May 2000, in Glenn Brown, exh. cat., Domaine de Kerguéhennec, Bignan, 2000, pp. 69-70). Brown introduces a millennial sensibility to Böcklin's thesis; his super flat, hyper-real aesthetic recalls computer-generated video games, simultaneously resituating imagery of the past and future in a contemporary context.

This sweeping celestial landscape spanning over three metres was created on the grand scale of landscape paintings as in the work of J. M.W. Turner. Brown's work simultaneously balances the sense of his intellectual progression of painting in the late 20th century, with his acute relationship with tradition German Romantic painters of the 19th Century, such as Caspar David Friedrich. The artist's relationship with the landscape also offers an oneiric atmosphere of man's place in a vast universe. Where Romantic painters made use of staffage figures alone within a huge landscape to highlight the triology of the unknown: the triviality of the individual, the transitory nature of human life, and the premonition of death, Glenn's cosmic city appears jarringly vacant. It is unabashedly intended to both astound and distance the viewer from the unknown limits of outer space.

A magnificent trompe l'oeil, what first appears as the raised impasto surface, the craters of the moon reveal themselves to be a carefully executed and impossibly smooth surface. Brown's pictorial space is perceived in relation to the surface qualities of a painting. The delicate plume like highlights of misty white sfumato advance towards the viewer, creating the optical illusion of three-dimensionality as the darker tones recede toward the background. The flatness of the surface strengthens the illusion of three-dimensionality; the smoothly painted areas intensify the feeling of cool detachment. Floating in an immaterial void, the expanses of swirling indigo rouse a vertiginous sense of wonderment, awe, and terror conjured by the inimitable vastness. '[The science-fiction works] weren't made in the normal way with daylight or reality. The subject was always the unhealthy unreal world of books and illustrations. A world where the only air available was between the pages' (G. Brown, quoted in S. Hepworth, 'Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me', Glenn Brown, exh. cat., Domaine de Kerguéhennec, Bignan, 2000, p. 68). Brown's bravura of brushstrokes appear to create brilliant impasto paintings with thick decisive lines, yet on closer inspection the surfaces are flat, gleaming and perfectly smooth, refined with a staggering assembly of beautiful yet eerily coloured swirling lines. Brown denies any physical indicator of his own authorship: 'It could be said that with the flatness of my paint, I am denying my physical presence' (G. Brown, interview with S. Folie, in A.M. Gingeras (ed.), Dear Painter, paint me...: Painting the Figure since late Picabia, exh. cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d'art moderne, Paris, 2002, pp. 86-89).

As indicated in the title of his work, Brown's copying from science fiction illustrations creates a bizarre, seemingly irreverent collision between the old and the new, the high and the low, the spiritual and the ephemeral or commercial. Intentionally choosing to enlarge small illustrations reproduced on book covers as his departure point, Brown demonstrates a self-awareness of the contemporary postmodern dialogue. Producing work in wake of mechanical reproduction, Brown's considered sourcing of illustrations engages in a self-criticism particularly citing Walter Benjamin's theories of authorship, reproduction, and the relevance of painterly expression. In seeking to recompose and elevate the banal imagery sourced from the cover of equally-banal science fiction books, this work also celebrates kitsch in the high/low tradition of Jeff Koons. In his exquisite treatment of paint, Brown elevates the banal to that of the immaculate, transforming not only his source image, but our perception of judgments and our own place in the greater realm of the universe. With its vivid departure from reality, estranged from its original source, Brown's surreal, hallucinogenic palette has introduced an existential dimension, prompting the viewer to ask questions about the picture itself, the cosmos it represents, and our own place within our surroundings. Brown's singular cosmic vision offers up a boundless space to contemplate the frightening immensity of a man's place in the universe.

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