MARK GROTJAHN (B. 1968)
MARK GROTJAHN (B. 1968)
MARK GROTJAHN (B. 1968)
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MARK GROTJAHN (B. 1968)

Untitled (Mag Blue to Mag Blue Donker Butterfly)

Details
MARK GROTJAHN (B. 1968)
Untitled (Mag Blue to Mag Blue Donker Butterfly)
signed twice, titled twice, inscribed and dated 'Untitled (#705 Mag Blue to Mag Blue Donker Butterfly) #705 Untitled Mark Grotjahn M. Grotjahn (#705 Mag Blue to Mag Blue Donker Butterfly) 2007' (on the overlap)
oil on linen
36 x 30 in. (91.4 x 76.2 cm.)
Painted in 2007.
Provenance
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Donald B. Marron, New York
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2010
Exhibited
New York, Blum & Poe, Mark Grotjahn: Butterfly Paintings, May-June 2014.
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

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Isabella Lauria Vice President, Specialist, Head of 21st Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

With Untitled (Mag Blue to Mag Blue Donker Butterfly), artist Mark Grotjahn proves that he is one of the most poetic and innovative practitioners of contemporary painting. A breathtaking example of his Butterfly series, which the artist began in 2001, the present work is a monument to nature, beauty, and the possibilities inherent in paint itself. Rigorously composed of radiating lines and multiple vanishing points, the intimate canvas pulsates with the shimmering inner light of a butterfly’s wing. Even in all its delicateness and ephemerality, Untitled seems timeless, as if it is reaching forward infinitely into the future.

The philosopher Julia Kristeva has written about the importance of blue, especially in Giotto’s frescoes. She writes that Giotto’s use of blue “takes hold of the viewer at the extreme limit of visual perception,” and the same could be said of Grotjahn, who invites us to the edge of the painting’s support (J. Kristeva, Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, New York, 1980, p. 224). Comprised of painstakingly applied layers of paint and detailed marks, Untitled tames overwhelming details and labor into something beautiful while retaining the evidence of its making. We are grounded in associations with nature, even though the canvas is self-consciously abstract. From multiple loci on the canvas emerge numerous perspectival lines, akin to both mathematical diagrams and the rays of the sun, encompassing both the rational and the natural. Somewhere between emotion and cognition, the canvas activates the viewer in multiple ways, pushing us to rethink what seeing means altogether. As the artist explains, “You can take a light blue and slowly, as it goes clockwise, take it to a darker blue. It still appears to be a monochrome” (P. Tuchman, “Mark Grotjahn on His Latest Show,” Artforum, December 17, 2018, https://www.artforum.com/interviews/mark-grotjahn-on-his-latest-show-78114). The monochrome vibrates with Grotjahn’s marks, enlivening the sublime color with traces of the artist’s hand and the subtlest changes in hue.

Drawing upon Kazimir Malevich’s epochal monochromes, Wassily Kandinsky’s musical abstractions (Grotjahn cites reading Kandinsky’s book Concerning the Spiritual in Art in high school as a formative moment), and Piet Mondrian’s regimented colors, Grotjahn revitalizes painting and the central concerns of the avant-garde, which sought to change the world by completely reframing sight. Change has always been Grotjahn’s medium. Critic Deborah Doering completes the metaphor of the Butterfly series, calling it a “contained experience of ‘the butterfly effect,’—where the seemingly innocuous act of viewing a painting has the potential to make hurricane impact on the other” (D. Doering, “Mark Grotjahn: Butterfly Paintings,” The Seen, May 21st, 2014, https://theseenjournal.org/mark-grotjahn-butterfly-paintings/). In addition to knowledge of modernist painting, an ongoing interest in Renaissance experiments in perspective has consistently inspired Grotjahn. In addition to Giotto, parallels can be seen with the work of Piero della Francesca, Leonardo Da Vinci, Masolino da Panicale, and Raphael. In Untitled (Mag Blue to Mag Blue Donker Butterfly), it is as if the novelty of early investigations into perspective have returned, shaking us awake from visual complacency. The vectors of the present work extend from the past into the present, bringing us closer to the long history of painting.

Untitled (Mag Blue to Mag Blue Donker Butterfly) is an archetypal example of why Grotjahn has been celebrated by critics, historians, and institutions alike. Tellingly, the critic Bob Nickas admires “the artist’s distinctive handling of paint, surface, and chromatics that can appear both subtly modulated and highly expressive, no matter what the final image” (B. Nickas, “Mark Grotjahn: Aspen Art Museum,” Artforum, January 2012, https://www.artforum.com/print/previews/201201/mark-grotjahn-30039). Over the past two decades, Grotjahn has been celebrated for this trademark handling of paint. Represented in numerous international public collections, he has also mounted solo exhibitions at the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas (2014), the Aspen Art Museum, Aspen (2012), the Portland Art Museum (2010), Kunstmuseum Thun, Switzerland (2007), the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2006), and the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2005).

A standout from the Butterfly series, Untitled (Mag Blue to Mag Blue Donker Butterfly) is like a living map or diagram, alive with associations and previously unimagined landscapes of pigment and line. Expressing truths about art history and our current moment, it transports the viewer into a peaceful expanse of blue. Once there, it is clear that it is not a seamless unity of hues, but rather a color field constructed from expressive lines, variations, and layers—a poem. Grotjahn proves that within one visual field there can be innumerable details, improvisations, and potential interpretations, and in so doing, he generously gives us ample room to find ourselves within the skylike expanse of Untitled (Mag Blue to Mag Blue Donker Butterfly).

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