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Tree of Life #6

Tree of Life #6
oil and acrylic on linen; oil and ink on canvas
243.8 x 182.9 cm. (96 x 72 in.)
Painted in 2020
Skarstedt Gallery, New York
Acquired at the above by the present owner
David Salle: Tree of Life, exh. cat., Skarstedt Gallery, New York, 2022 (illustrated).
New York, Skarstedt Gallery, David Salle: Tree of Life, September - October 2021.
Sale room notice
Please note the correct medium for Lot 85 is oil and acrylic on linen; oil and ink on canvas, which is listed on Christies.com, and not as stated in the Gallery Guide.

拍品編號85的正確媒材為油彩 壓克力 麻布;油彩 水墨 畫布,正確媒材應爲佳士得網頁所示,並非拍賣圖錄簡介所述。

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Lot Essay

‘David Salle’s Tree of Life is an invitation to investigate both ignorance and knowledge, good and evil, with the necessary humour.’— Bernard Bilstène

Over two-metre tall, David Salle’s Tree of Life #6 is a monumental piece that exemplifies the artist’s most celebrated composition—a juxtaposition of various visual elements he appropriated from popular culture, advertising, graffiti as well as the history of art. Salle debuted his acclaimed Tree of Life series in 2019 and the present work was shown at the homonymous exhibition mounted at Skarstedt Gallery, New York in 2020. Centring his picture plane with a deciduous tree dominated by a larger-than-life worm, Salle reinvents the recurring motif of tree in the history of art from Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Adam and Eve (ca. 1508-09) to Klimt’s Tree of life (ca. 1905-09) to Magritte’s 16th September (1956) in a humorous way with his versatile and ingenuous visual lexicon. As a subject matter that forms a direct lineage from French painting to American modern art, tree remains one of the elemental myths of American painting. Merging these references into his versatile pictorial plane, Salle’s Tree of Life #6 forms a new discourse of this universal subject matter and addresses a lineage of which we are all part of.

In the present work, the tree trunk adorned with autumn foliage is tinted with cobalt blue and occupies the central portion of the composition. Its root reaches down to the expressive painterly world populated with spontaneous splashes and drips of blue pigments is reminiscent of Yves Klein’s mark-making with ‘living paintbrushes’. On either side of the trunk appear female and male figures in profile and opposite towards each other to symbolise the dual realms of femininity and masculinity. These figures, borrowed from American cartoonist Peter Arno’s mid-century illustrations for the New Yorker magazine, are fashioned in monochrome and bold linear style to unfold alluring human drama as the backdrop of the scene. The young, tanned woman in bathing suit gazes towards the middle-aged man in striped shirt serenely while a mysterious figure with a sunhat next to her is obscured by the blended branches and disproportioned leaves. The two visible figures stand as Adam and Eve in modern times, while the tree, unlike the orthodox one in the Garden of Eden, bears no fruit and is in a deciduous phase of its life cycle with the undulating worm consuming its potency. Employing cinematic techniques like montage and superimposition, the artist pervades his picture plane with dynamic and often absurd relationships. Salle treats painting as linguistic and emphasises the counterbalance of dissimilar elements, while simultaneously integrating the information and visual elements from the media-dominated world which essentially determine our own sense of self. Made during the isolation of the pandemic in 2020, the kaleidoscopic composition in Tree of Life #6 seems to evoke perpetual stream of synchronous thoughts, feelings and visual fragments, constituting whimsical yet ironic commentary on contemporary life.

Born in 1952 in Norman, Oklahoma, Salle received his art training at the California Institute of the Arts between 1970 and 1975, and was mentored by Conceptual artist John Baldessari. Having grown his interest in cinema and montage in his formative years, Salle subsequently worked for the stage in the 80s and later came to prominence as the forbearer of the Pictures Generation who challenges the idea of pictures through appropriation and exploration of materials from mass media, and earnt his first retrospective in 1999 at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, which later travelled to multiple institutions including Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain. His works are widely collected by esteemed institutions including MoMA, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York; and Tate, London. In 2021, Salle debuted his first NFT A Well-Leafed Tree at his retrospective at Brant Foundation.

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