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Pie Fight Study

Pie Fight Study
signed and dated 'Ghenie 2012' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
22 1/4 x 28 7/8in. (56.4 x 73.2cm.)
Painted in 2012
Pace Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2013.
J. Judin (ed.), Adrian Ghenie, Ostfildern 2014 (illustrated in colour, p. 127).
New York, Pace Gallery, Adrian Ghenie New Paintings, 2013, pp. 26 and 41, no. 23 (illustrated in colour, p. 27).
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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Michelle McMullan
Michelle McMullan Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Alive with texture, colour and visceral allusion, the present work stems from Adrian Ghenie’s celebrated early series of Pie Fight Studies. Closely related to his large-scale Pie Fight Interiors, these extraordinary creations were among the works that launched his career, forming the subject of his first solo institutional exhibition Pie Fights and Pathos at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver in 2012. Executed that year, the present work is based on a still from The Three Stooges' 1941 film In the Sweet Pie and Pie. Ghenie transposes the image into electrifying colour, replacing the woman’s dress with a blue and yellow flowery shirt, and adding a striped deckchair and coffee cup to the scene. Thick, sculptural impasto mimics the custard that obscures her features, while the background dissolves into a near-cinematic blur, marbled with skeins of blue, yellow and purple. For Ghenie, the vaudeville slapstick of the pie fight would ultimately become a gateway for exploring what he describes as ‘the texture of history’. The abstract accruals of paint, thrown, scraped and dripped across the surface, dramatise the way in which images become fossilised and excavated over time, inviting the viewer to question what really lies beneath.

With examples held in the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Ghenie’s Pie Fights were begun in 2008. Evoking the films of Laurel and Hardy as well as The Three Stooges, the genre embodied a particular kind of debasement that—for Ghenie—spoke to our relationship with the past. In many of the paintings, the artist substituted the settings and characters of his filmic sources with elusive echoes of scenes from European history. Having grown up in Romania under the regime of Nicolae Ceau?escu, and watched the public broadcast of his execution in 1989, Ghenie was all too aware that some of humanity’s darkest epochs had been progressively flattened by their reproduction through lenses and screens. Operating in the age of the internet, he proposed that paint could help to ‘re-materialise’ some of the sensory reality that our re-telling of history had lost over time. In the Pie Fights, the act of humiliation—a strategy wielded by dictators, the press and other instruments of power—is given tactile, viscous, painterly form.

As well as confronting the horrors of Europe’s recent past, Ghenie’s paintings address figures, art forms and ideas which he sees as vital turning points within the evolution of the human species. The present work weaves together echoes of painterly and cinematic history, stirring up references to the fluid, prismatic surfaces of Gerhard Richter’s abstractions, or the distorted violence of Francis Bacon’s portraits. Both artists were significant influences for Ghenie. The aesthetics of film, too, simmer below the surface of the painting, informed by Ghenie’s admiration for the psycho-dramas of Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch and others. While the sweeping horizontal blur of its background seems to conjure the movement of the thrown pie in the original movie sequence, it also invokes sense of televisual ‘static’, or of frames paused in the process of being rewound. Divorced from time and place, and seemingly arrested in motion, the image is rescued from its origin as a ‘still’, reinjected with life, volatility and ambiguity. The human figure, for all its effacement, becomes a living, breathing reality, wrenched from the virtual world of the screen and resuscitated through paint.

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