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

Tart Wit, Wise Humor

Tart Wit, Wise Humor
signed, titled and dated ‘Glenn Brown ‘Tart Wit, Wise Humor’ 2007’ (on the reverse)
oil on panel
57 x 42 3/4in. (144.8 x 108.6cm.)
Painted in 2007
Gagosian Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
R. Vousden and H. Freedberg (eds.), Glenn Brown: Three Exhibitions, New York 2009, pp. 100 and 135 (illustrated in colour, p. 101).
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Glenn Brown, 2007 (Illustrated in colour, p. 45; detail illustrated in colour, p. 47).
Liverpool, Tate Liverpool, Glenn Brown, 2009, p. 174 (illustrated in colour, p. 69; detail illustrated in colour, p. 70). This exhibition later travelled to Turin, Foundazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo and Budapest, Ludwig Museum.
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 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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Lot Essay

Included in Glenn Brown’s landmark touring exhibition that opened at Tate Liverpool in 2009, Tart Wit, Wise Humor is a sumptuous example of his wry historical appropriations. With exquisite, photorealist strands of pigment, the artist translates Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s eighteenth-century painting Venus and Cupid into a vision of surreal wonder. Subtly compressing the original work’s oval format, Brown embellishes his subject with immaculate curlicues of hyperreal colour: her flesh is marbled with ribbons of pink and red, swirling like a galaxy. The folds of her clothes and the curls in her hair are reborn with crisp clarity, while the infant in her hands is transformed into an abstract, rainbow-coloured mass. As is typical of Brown’s practice, his adaptation is infused with sly subversions, from the dark shadows that linger round her face, to the sharp, needle-like line that slices through the picture plane towards her neck. Yet a comic wit prevails: tellingly, Brown’s title is taken from an article published in the January 1991 edition of Artforum, in which the scholar Donald Kuspit examines the fundamentally humorous spirit of the avant-garde. It is a text that speaks pertinently to Brown’s practice, where the halls of art history become playgrounds for postmodern pranks.

With a major two-part retrospective planned at the Sprengel Museum and Landesmuseum, Hannover, in 2023, Brown stands at the forefront of a generation of British artists who came to prominence in the 1990s. He studied with Michael Craig-Martin at Goldsmiths, and counts artists such as Damien Hirst, Peter Doig and Chris Ofili among his contemporaries. By 2007, he was on the brink of international acclaim: the following year saw a major solo exhibition at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, while the Tate Liverpool show of 2009 marked his first touring exhibition, travelling to the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin and Ludwig Museum, Budapest. Inspired by the photorealist paintings of Gerhard Richter, as well as the appropriative practices of the so-called ‘Pictures Generation’, the artist’s distinctive trompe-l’oeil brushwork set him apart from his peers. From a distance, the present work’s surface resembles thickly-worked strands of impasto; only up close does its flat, impossibly smooth sheen reveal itself. Like Roy Lichtenstein, Sigmar Polke and others who attempted to ape the mechanisms of image production, Brown blurs the line between reproduction, quotation and mutation, asking what it means to make a painting in the digital age.

Brown takes his place within a long line of artists who have played with history: from Andy Warhol’s dialogue with Renaissance painting, to Francis Bacon’s reworkings of Velázquez and Van Gogh. Following preliminary sketches, he scours art history books for a work that matches his vision, often employing computer technology to bend its proportions to his will. Within his pantheon of muses, Fragonard became a frequent pin-up. The latter’s rococo excesses, in many ways, are perfectly suited to Brown’s intricate, highly mannered arabesques; so, too, are his free-spirited, frequently playful subjects. While the artist often delights in the discord between his subject matter and his oblique titles, here there is a palpable sense of synergy. In ‘Tart Wit, Wise Humor’, Kuspit wrote that ‘The violence that avant-garde art does to the modern view of things is basically comic, for it opposes the weariness and misery that modern seriousness has made of life’ (D. Kuspit, ‘Tart Wit, Wise Humor’, Artforum, January 1991). It is a statement that might apply to both Brown and to Fragonard: artists for whom the inherent wit of the paintbrush offered a portal to fanciful realms, far away from the banalities of everyday existence.

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