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Diplomacy I

Diplomacy I
signed with the artist's initials, titled and dated 'LYB 2009 DIPLOMACY I' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
74 7/8 x 98 3/8in. (190.2 x 250cm.)
Painted in 2009
Faye Fleming & Partner, Geneva.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
C. Okeke-Agulu, ‘New Order’, in Arise Magazine, September 2009 (studio view illustrated in colour, p. 115).
B. Espejo, ‘Vitaminas para el crecimiento de la pintura’, in El Español, 15 December 2011 (illustrated in colour).
J. Lott and S. S. Patel (eds.), Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Any Number of Preoccupations, exh. cat., New York, The Studio Museum in Harlem, 2010, fig. 12 (illustrated in colour, p. 30).
B. Schwabsky, Vitamin P2: New Perspectives in Painting, London 2011, p. 324, no. 3 (illustrated in colour, p. 325).
C. A. Nelson, ‘Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s “Fly in League with the Night”’, in e-flux, 14 January 2021.
J. Sofronjevic, ‘Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Characterised by Contrast’, in Artmag, 19 May 2021 (illustrated in colour).
E. Alexander, ‘Inside the Order Is Always Something Wild’, in Tate Etc., issue 52, Summer 2021, p. 64 (illustrated in colour, p. 63).
Geneva, Faye Fleming & Partner, Manifesto, 2009.
London, Tate Britain, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Fly In League With The Night, 2020-2023, pp. 18 and 178 (illustrated in colour, pp. 98-99). This exhibition later travelled to Stockholm, Moderna Museet; Dusseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen; Luxembourg, Mudam Luxembourg - Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean and London, Tate Britain.
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.

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Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Included in Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s landmark retrospective at Tate Britain, London earlier this year, Diplomacy I is an icon of her practice. Painted in 2009, it belongs to a trio of works that represent her first major group compositions. The paintings depict a group of suited delegates, recalling Marion Kaplan’s photographs of African Heads of State at a summit in Uganda in 1967. Into each work, however, Yiadom-Boakye has inserted a single woman, here incongruously clad in pink. Executed at the dawn of her rise to critical acclaim, the work captures many of the ideas and techniques that have since come to define her practice. Important conversations about race and gender lurk in the shadows; echoes of art history simmer amid rich, expressive brushwork. In an image of diplomatic relations, Yiadom-Boakye invites us to consider how stories we thought we knew might be retold.

Scenes of ceremony and celebration recur throughout Yiadom-Boakye’s oeuvre. Of these, writes the curator Okwui Enwezor, the Diplomacy paintings represent her ‘most striking’. In the present work, the figures assemble against a velvety blue backdrop, their shadows long upon the ground. Their gazes are fixated on the viewer as if posing for a photograph, the whites of their eyes gleaming through the texture. A single figure, in long white Sudanese robes, stands with his back to the spectator. Yiadom-Boakye’s lone woman glows brightly amid the ensemble: centred and poised, she assumes an air of quiet authority. Enwezor writes that by disturbing the ‘all-male club of leaders’, this female protagonist ‘suggests a mild critique of post-colonial heroism in which women play no role.’ Yiadom-Boakye, in turn, ‘seems to open up key questions of gender inequality’, offering ‘an explicit assessment of the struggle of women for visibility in the patriarchal political structures of the postcolonial states’ (O. Enwezor, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Any Number of Preoccupations, exh. cat. The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York 2010, p. 30).

At the time of the present work, Yiadom-Boakye was beginning to take her place on the international stage. 2010 would see her first major institutional show open at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Shortly afterwards, her landmark presentation at the Chisenhale Gallery, London, earned her a nomination for the 2013 Turner Prize. Plucked from her imagination, though often informed by pre-existing images, her fictional characters wrote bold new chapters for Black representation in art. Yet while political narratives strain at the edges of her compositions, Yiadom-Boakye does not lay claim to specific messages or agendas. Her subjects are Black, she explains, because she is: they are extensions of her imagination. Similarly, the women who haunt the Diplomacy series are there for themselves, as much as for their meaning. ‘I want the painting to feel timeless’, the artist explains; ‘… we know what political art is supposed to look like, but I think there are many ways to make it’ (L. Yiadom-Boakye, quoted in A. Sargent, ‘Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Fictive Figures’, Interview Magazine, 15 May 2017).

A writer as much as an artist, Yiadom-Boakye draws inspiration from many sources. Her characters live lives beyond the painting: we, as viewers, are only privy to single, inconclusive snapshots. Many of her paintings are deliberately evocative of works from the Western canon, their compositions imagined afresh with a new cast of subjects. Here, the piercing, direct gazes of the figures conjure memories of Edouard Manet and Edvard Munch; the solemnity of the affair, meanwhile, invokes Henri Fantin-Latour’s 1864 painting Hommage à Delacroix. For all their ceremonial uniformity, each figure is precisely and individually wrought, a multitude of fleeting emotions registering upon their faces. We do not know where they have come from; nor do we know where they are going. Yet, captured in a brief moment of inexplicit congregation, they reveal more about the dynamics of history, painting and human interaction than any narrative canvas.

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