David Salle (b. 1952)
signed, titled and dated '"Drink" David Salle 1990' (on the reverse)
acrylic and oil on canvas
48 x 78in. (198 x 122cm.)
Painted in 1990
Dennis Hopper Collection, Santa Monica (acquired directly from the artist).
Anon. sale, Christie's New York, 11 November 2010, lot 326.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

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Alexandra Werner
Alexandra Werner

Lot Essay

From the celebrated Tapestry Painting series, David Salle’s Drink, 1990, previously in the collection of Dennis Hopper, presents a compelling conglomeration of imagery which swirls across his canvas. In Salle’s hallmark style, incongruous images flit over the surface in jarring juxtaposition, like half-remembered thoughts, or snippets of an overheard conversation. The spectator is at once invited into a secret world of fleeting glimpses, and simultaneously denied full access, barred by a lingering sense of the unknown, the unanswered and the inconclusive. Overlaid atop a pastoral backdrop, derived from a copy of a 16th or 17th century tapestry, Salle paints a rendition of a Giacometti sculpture, which seems in interplay with an African mask to its right. Enigmatic in its raw immediacy, the work reads like an open-ended question. ‘I feel that the only thing that really matters in art and in life,’ wrote Salle, ‘is to go against the tidal wave of literalism and literal-mindedness—to insist on and live the life of the imagination. A painting has to be the experience, instead of pointing to it. I want to have and to give access to feeling’ (D. Salle quoted in J. Malcolm, ‘Forty-One False Starts’, New Yorker, 11 July 1994).
At the vanguard of Appropriation Art and Neo-Expressionism in New York, when Cindy Sherman was clothing herself in filmic cliché and Renaissance costume, Jeff Koons was ransacking high and low culture and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s image-poetry was taking the world by storm, Salle was a pivotal figure in the 1980s American art scene. His packed canvases seem to speak to the endless and unstoppable flow of time, where fact, data and the past merge to form what he describes as ‘a tremendous explosion of information and knowledge’ (D. Salle quoted in J. Malcolm, ‘Forty-One False Starts’, New Yorker, 11 July 1994). In Drink, two panels have been inserted into the main canvas. The larger of the two, positioned towards the top centre of the work, depicts a woman in antiquated clothing sipping from a glass filled with an unknown liquid, which she clasps tightly in two hands. Painted in black and white from a photograph taken by Salle, she stands out from the surrounding haze of colour. As if to highlight this stark disparity, a bold orange thought-bubble hovers above her head – it remains, however, entirely empty, thwarting any hope of narrative explication. Janet Malcolm comments on this ‘mysterious dark-haired woman’, a recurring motif in a number of Salle’s paintings, as a figure who both ‘disturbs and excites us, the way people in dreams do whom we know we know but can never quite identify’ (J. Malcolm, ‘Forty-One False Starts’, New Yorker, 11 July 1994). It is this very sense of half-recognition, of burgeoning or submerged significance, which is so vital to Salle’s work.

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