MARK GROTJAHN (b. 1968)
MARK GROTJAHN (b. 1968)
MARK GROTJAHN (b. 1968)
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MARK GROTJAHN (b. 1968)
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A Century of Art: The Gerald Fineberg Collection
MARK GROTJAHN (b. 1968)

Untitled (Indian #1 Face 45.46)

Details
MARK GROTJAHN (b. 1968)
Untitled (Indian #1 Face 45.46)
signed with the artist’s initials and dated ‘MG 14’ (lower right); signed three times, titled and dated 'M. GROTJAHN M.Grotjahn UNTITLED (INDIAN #1 FACE 45.64) 2014 M. Grotjahn' (on the overlap)
oil on cardboard mounted on linen
48 1/4 x 37 1/4 in. (122.6 x 94.6 cm.)
Painted in 2014.
Provenance
Blum & Poe Gallery, Los Angeles
Private collection
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Exhibited
Los Angeles, Blum & Poe Gallery, Fifteen Paintings, May-June 2015, n.p. (illustrated and installation view illustrated).
Sale room notice
Please note, the provenance is:
Blum & Poe Gallery, Los Angeles
Private collection
Acquired from the above by the present owner

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Lot Essay

Mark Grotjahn’s Untitled (Indian #1 Face 45.46) is an audacious combination of texture, color, form and intrigue. One of the artist’s heavily constructed canvases, the physical marks that populate the surface of the canvas merge the genres of abstraction and figuration. The present work is exemplary in terms of this painted surface, the texture of the corrugated support and the sophisticated degree of rich impasto perfectly demonstrate Grotjahn’s ground-breaking technique. Both strange, and yet familiar, recognizable forms emerge before begin submerged under a thick veil of paint. As critic Roberta Smith notes: “The faces hold their own, if barely, to affirm in staunchly contemporary terms the human presence behind all of art” (R. Smith, “Mark Grotjahn: Nine Faces,” New York Times, 12 May 2011).

The present work is anchored around a muscular set of vertical, red and white lines that radiate outward like a sunset or a flower about to bloom. Its layers resemble the floral linearity of Georgia O’Keefe’s The Red Maple at Lake George (1926) or the crosshatched brushstrokes of Franz Kline. Emerging from the red trunk are green and brown fronds that are enhanced by the painting’s dark ground. Grotjahn’s choice to use a stage-like backdrop allows the internal forms to stand out as if spot lit. Above all, Untitled evinces his skill as a painter. Using a palette knife, rather than a brush, his marks are assured and expressionistic, oscillating between the known and the unknow. Underlining Grotjahn’s technical innovation, the corrugated cardboard lends a sculptural quality that transforms the face into a three-dimensional mask. Untitled (Indian #1 Face 45.46), in true modernist fashion, does not conceal its material supports or how it was made, thereby embodying a lineage of medium specificity.

Since there is no discernable face as such in Untitled (Indian #1 Face 45.46), we might wonder how Grotjahn has defined and changed portraiture. As curator Johanna Burton has suggested, rather than existing representationally, “Grotjahn’s works are designed to flirt with the eye and plant ideas in the head” (J. Burton, “Mark Grotjahn: Anton Kern Gallery,” Artforum, December 2003). Given this purposeful obliqueness, we could locate the present work within a history of abstract portraiture, beginning with Pablo Picasso. As with Grotjahn, Picasso’s faces have a carefully built depth, epitomized by his portraits of Marie-Thérèse Walter. Critic Jerry Saltz rightly observes, “What Grotjahn paints doesn’t stay put on these variegated surfaces; instead, it shifts around the involuting centerless space. You can discern the ways in which this work is made, yet no formal system appears…His strangely shamanic art gives me a remnant of the pow I get from those ancient eternal faces in Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (J. Saltz, “Mark Grotjahn: Making Spirits Dance,” Artnet News, June 14, 2011, Like Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, the present work also deconstructs the body, or the masks that conceal it, in heretofore unconsidered ways.

Untitled (Indian #1 Face 45.46) is both a painting and a cipher. It asks to be decoded and looked at closely, and upon sustained consideration it can evoke any number of associations. It is like a dream, a vision both individual and collective. Yet its aims are not always so metaphysical. By featuring the cardboard support of the painting, Grotjahn shows that overlooked materials can become central and transformative. He makes the case that all of life’s moments, from the mundane to the mythical, coalesce into a shifting image of humanity—a face that necessarily changes and adapts to the march of time.

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