ADRIAN GHENIE (B. 1977)
ADRIAN GHENIE (B. 1977)
ADRIAN GHENIE (B. 1977)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTOR
ADRIAN GHENIE (B. 1977)

Turning Point 1

Details
ADRIAN GHENIE (B. 1977)
Turning Point 1
oil on canvas
59 1/4 x 118 1/4in. (150.5 x 300.5cm.)
Painted in 2009
Provenance
Galeria Plan B, Berlin.
Private Collection, Europe (acquired from the above in 2009).
Anon. sale, Christie's London, 6 October 2017, lot 47.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Exhibited
Prague, Prague Biennale 4, 2009.
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. This lot will be removed to our storage facility at Momart. Christie’s will inform you if the lot has been sent offsite. Our removal and storage of the lot is subject to the terms and conditions of storage which can be found at Christies.com/storage and our fees for storage are set out in the table below - these will apply whether the lot remains with Christie’s or is removed elsewhere. Please call Christie’s Client Service 24 hours in advance to book a collection time at Momart. All collections from Momart will be by pre-booked appointment only. Tel: +44 (0)20 7839 9060 Email: cscollectionsuk@christies.com. If the lot remains at Christie’s it will be available for collection on any working day 9.00 am to 5.00 pm. Lots are not available for collection at weekends. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord Director, Senior Specialist

Lot Essay

A panoramic vision spanning three metres across, Turning Point 1 (2009) is a masterpiece of painterly and cinematic drama by Adrian Ghenie. Amid a maelstrom of marbled paint—red, turquoise and magenta flash through the chiaroscuro darkness—three figures face one another. The nature of their activity is lost amid the stuttering veils of pigment: they could be diplomats, gamblers at a table, or drinkers at a bar. The man in shirt-sleeves to the left wears a delirious grin, while the face and shoulders of the central figure are encrusted with florid paint. His obscured profile seems to echo one of Ghenie’s artist-heroes, Vincent van Gogh; the silhouette to the right recalls that of the Dadaist genius Marcel Duchamp. Relating closely to Ghenie’s iconic ‘Pie Fight’ works, which retool the slapstick of silent film to explore dark historical themes, the painting is based on a deleted scene from Stanley Kubrick’s 1963 movie Dr. Strangelove.

Kubrick’s black satire, made at the height of the Cold War, was originally to have featured a climactic custard-pie fight in the Pentagon’s War Room before the world ends in nuclear catastrophe. The director cut the scene after it was filmed, declaring its farcical tone inconsistent with the rest of the picture. Staging his protagonists in an ambiguous, flickering space, Ghenie conjures his own scene of momentous tension—a ‘turning point’ fraught with possibility, where tragedy and comedy intermingle, and decisions and their unknowable consequences proliferate through the liquid, mutable painterly surface. In glorious Technicolor, the painting is saturated with what Ghenie has called ‘the texture of history’ (A. Ghenie in conversation with M. Radu, in Adrian Ghenie: Darwin’s Room, exh. cat. Romanian Pavilion, Venice 2015, p. 29).

Born in Romania under the regime of Nicolae Ceau?escu and currently based in Berlin, Ghenie has long been fascinated by the darker forces that shaped the twentieth century, and which continue to impact our present. He often works from monochrome photographs he finds online, zoning in on powerful figures and pivotal moments that have left indelible marks on their time. His portraits have included scientists, artists and dictators, with a particular emphasis on the legacy of the Second World War. In this sense, his ‘Pie Fight’ motif seems something of an exception. What do these clownish images have to do with the seismic dramas of history? More than a mere vaudeville routine, the pie-in-the-face trope revealed something disturbing to Ghenie—just as it did, seemingly, to Kubrick—about the human condition. ‘When I cropped these images from the films, I realised it was a very psychological, very powerful image’, he says. ‘… It’s also about humiliation, which is a very strange ritual in the human species’ (A. Ghenie, quoted in R. Wolff, ‘In the Studio: Romanian Painter Adrian Ghenie’s Sinister Mythology’, Art+Auction, March 2013). In the present painting’s warzone of widescreen, centrifugal brushwork, the line between humour and violence becomes unnervingly uncertain.

In his focus on Dr. Strangelove, Ghenie foregrounds a special interest in cinema. Like the silver screen, the picture plane is a surface for projecting stories through colour and form. ‘I’m jealous of the specific power of cinema to build a virtual state,’ Ghenie has said, ‘and of its capacity to break with reality. For two hours you’re completely under its spell! … I’d like to bring something of this magic, of this entire force, into painting’ (A. Ghenie in conversation with M. Pop, in Adrian Ghenie: Darwin’s Room, ibid., p. 83). It is no accident that his paintings are composed with a virtuoso sense of light, performance and suspense. The present work’s play with the medium is particularly complex, riffing on Kubrick’s deleted scene itself as a historical document of what might have been. While the movie engaged imaginatively with the nuclear brinkmanship of the Cold War, it may also have been shaped by another cataclysm. Some accounts state the pie-fight scene was cut not because of its absurdist quality, but due to a line in which one character shouts ‘Gentlemen! Our gallant young president has been struck down in his prime!’: the first test screening took place 22 November 1963, the day of John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

In tandem with his dialogue with cinema and historical events, Ghenie’s work is animated by a deep love for the history of art. He hybridises ideas and techniques from a range of sources, drawing on the past’s lessons to forge his own unique language. As a young painter, he sought to emulate artists like Rembrandt, to whom he had been drawn since he was a child: he concealed this interest from his teachers at the art academy in Cluj, who advocated an Abstract Expressionist style of painting. As his practice deepened, he began to enfold a kaleidoscopic array of allusion into his works, drawing on centuries of painterly achievement. Turning Point 1 churns with atmospheric shadow and motion, its dynamic grandeur matching the most dramatic canvases of the Renaissance. ‘I think I’m from that kind of Baroque species’, Ghenie has said. ‘… A type of painting which turns the energy and the movement of the body into the image’ (A. Ghenie in conversation with M. Peppiatt, in J. Judin (ed.), Adrian Ghenie Paintings 2014-19, Berlin 2020, pp. 119-120). Other passages conjure the dragged squeegee technique of Gerhard Richter, while also evoking a filmic display beset by gaps and glitches.

Ghenie has frequently engaged with the work of the Dadaists—who challenged the separation of art and politics, and were declared ‘degenerate’ by the Nazi regime—and of Vincent van Gogh, whose turbulent, existential vision runs through his works in texture and spirit alike. The spectres of Duchamp and van Gogh both appear to haunt the present painting’s protagonists. Perhaps most strikingly, however, their smeared faces echo the turbulent, ghostly visages of Francis Bacon. Bacon, in his engagement with the horrors of his age and in his use of photography, is a key inspiration for Ghenie. ‘Ideas’, Bacon once said, ‘always acquire “appearance veils”—the attitudes people acquire of their time and earlier time. Really good artists tear down those veils’ (F. Bacon, quoted in H. M. Davis and S. Yard, Francis Bacon, New York 1986, p. 23). It is a mission that resonates profoundly with Ghenie’s own practice. In its rich palimpsest of layers, lenses, history and fiction, Turning Point 1 conveys both the seductive power of illusion and the difficulty of seeing reality as a complete picture. Caked in paint, Ghenie’s subjects laugh as the world falls apart around them.

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