Property from a Swiss Private Collection
Christie’s is delighted to present works by Georg Baselitz, Robert Mangold, Markus Lüpertz and Eduardo Arroyo from a Swiss private collection. Spread across the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening and Day auctions, the selection boasts exceptional provenance: each work was formerly part of the prestigious Crex Collection, whose pioneering embrace of the European and American avant-garde from the 1960s onwards transformed public appreciation of contemporary art in Switzerland and beyond. Prominently exhibited since their creation, the works exemplify the collection’s international outlook, rigorous eye for quality and fearless engagement with the art of its time.
The selection captures the twin poles of painterly exploration during the 1970s and 1980s: from Minimalism in America to the revival of expressive, figurative modes in Europe. Mangold’s Irregular Yellow-Orange Area with a Drawn Ellipse (1987) and Violet Tilted Ellipse/ Gray-Ochre Frame (1989) showcase his ground-breaking studies of the relationship between form, colour, line and surface. Baselitz’s Weiblicher Akt – liegend (1977), by contrast, grapples with the tradition of the reclining female nude, inverting and sublimating the subject’s form through rich, gestural brushwork. Lüpertz’s Arrangement für eine Mütze I – dithyrambisch (1973) and Arroyo’s Peintres Aveugles (1975), meanwhile, use politically-charged imagery that navigates between figurative and abstract registers.
Historically, Minimalism and Neo-Expressionism were at odds with one another: the former had declared figurative painting dead, while the latter sought to breathe new life into its traditions. The present selection, however, demonstrates a vivid conversation between the two modes. Artists such as Baselitz and Lüpertz were interested in how we create and receive meaning from images, probing the relationship between form and content. While Mangold rejected figurative subjects, his practice was similarly concerned with the primal interaction between basic visual elements, asking how they conspire to produce something we recognise as pictorial space. Such dialogues bear witness to the collection’s sharp curatorial instinct: seen together, the works posit art-making as an act of research and communication, capable of challenging the ways in which we process the world around us.
Georg Baselitz, Weiblicher Akt – liegend, 1977
Formerly held in the Crex Collection, Weiblicher Akt – liegend (Female Nude – Lying) (1977) is a monumental explosion of form and content by Georg Baselitz. Broad swathes of black, white and burnt sienna slice across a vast canvas over three metres wide. Baselitz employs tempera in combination with oil, creating an Old Masterly depth of matt, saturated colour. Charged with earthy physicality, the brushwork echoes the abstract bravura of Franz Kline or Willem de Kooning. Only on close inspection does a black diagonal – slashed through the painting’s centre – emerge as the reclining nude of the title. Based on the artist’s wife, Elke, she lies on her front, with one hand on her chin and one foot raised behind her. In Baselitz’s signature style, she is also upside-down. Baselitz had employed this device since 1969 as a way of ‘emptying’ his pictures of tradition and associated meaning – a reaction to the ravaged cultural landscape of post-war Germany. In 1975, following his move to the vast castle in Derneburg where he would live for the next three decades, Baselitz began to work at an increasingly ambitious scale and with a heightened concern for his compositions’ formal power. Like many paintings of this period, Weiblicher Akt – liegend reflects his interest in American Abstract Expressionism, de-emphasising subject matter in favour of vigorous painterly dynamics. Debuting in a show of new paintings at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven in 1979, the work has been widely exhibited since, including in Baselitz’s major 1995 retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, which later travelled to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.
While studying in Berlin in 1958, Baselitz witnessed two early European exhibitions of Abstract Expressionism which were to mark him deeply: the groundbreaking show The New American Painting, and a major Jackson Pollock retrospective, both mounted by New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The freedom, power and dramatic scale of the works he saw by Pollock, de Kooning, Motherwell, Kline, Rothko and others greatly impressed the young painter. Unlike the glibly narrative National Socialist and Communist art that he had grown up with, these were paintings that tackled painting, rather than illustrating stories or delivering messages. Richard Shiff suggests that ‘The prominent critic Will Grohmann’s reaction to the new American art was most likely similar to Baselitz’s: “Here, there is no comfort, but a struggle with the elements, with society, with fate.” It could be argued that physical “elements” (their materiality), “society” (its politics), and “fate” (German history) became the content of Baselitz’s art, despite his insistence (particularly strong in recent years) on the inherent political and social autonomy of painting’ (R. Shiff, ‘Georg Baselitz Grounded’, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, Vol. 28, No. 1, 2002, pp. 54-55).
While the 1958 shows inspired Baselitz with their liberated, existential spirit, his own early achievements – such as the ‘Heroes’ of the mid-1960s – were decidedly figurative, reworking Romantic and Expressionist modes into devastating images of Germanic desolation. It was not until the late 1970s that he would grapple formally with the grand ‘all-over’ compositions of the New York School in his paintings. With its scorched slashes and gashes of black, white and umber, Weiblicher Akt – liegend pays clear homage to the work of Franz Kline. At the same time, its incorporation of the reclining nude reflects Baselitz’s concurrent interest in the most timeworn traditions of figurative painting: his other works from this period include similarly storied subjects of still-life and landscape, always inverted and sometimes paired in diptychs, as if to equalise a bottle and a human figure as vessels of negated meaning. Where his earlier ‘upside-down’ works had overturned symbolically weighty images such as the eagle, by this stage Baselitz had shifted focus from Germany’s catharsis to the uprooting and fracture of art history at large.
Weiblicher Akt – liegend is an emphatic statement, painted with such expressive intensity that its pigments appear almost carved or hacked into a hard surface. This bold, graphic handling of light and dark relates the painting to the large-format linocuts – unprecedented in their enormous scale – that Baselitz had started making in the same year, and which would in turn lead to his revolutionary first sculpture, Modell für eine Skulptur, in 1979. Synthesising, fragmenting and rebuilding art history into a vivid disorder entirely his own, Weiblicher Akt – liegend sees Baselitz’s painting at its most physical, rebirthing the medium with an electric bodily jolt. ‘Whenever I start a painting,’ he has said, ‘I set out to formulate things as if I were the first one, the only one, and as if all the precedents didn’t exist – even though I know that there are thousands of precedents ranged against me. One has always to think of making something, something valid. That’s my life’ (G. Baselitz in conversation with J-L. Froment and J-M. Poinsot, 1983, in D. Gretenkort (ed.), Georg Baselitz: Collected Writings & Interviews, London 2010, p. 71).