CECILY BROWN (B. 1969)
CECILY BROWN (B. 1969)
CECILY BROWN (B. 1969)
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CECILY BROWN (B. 1969)
4 More
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PROMINENT PRIVATE COLLECTION
CECILY BROWN (B. 1969)

Kiss Me Stupid

Details
CECILY BROWN (B. 1969)
Kiss Me Stupid
signed ‘Cecily’ (lower left); signed and dated ‘Cecily Brown 1999’ (on the stretcher); signed and dated ‘Cecily Brown 99’ (on the reverse)
oil on linen
60 x 75in. (152.4 x 190.5cm.)
Painted in 1999
Provenance
Gagosian Gallery, New York.
Private Collection, New York.
Anon. sale, Christie's New York, 17 November 2000, lot 431.
Private Collection, New York.
Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2004).
Anon. sale, Sotheby's New York, 11 November 2008, lot 57.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
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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Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

A monumental spectacle spanning almost two metres in width, Kiss Me Stupid is a dazzling large-scale painting by Cecily Brown. Painted in 1999, two years after she made her solo debut in New York, the work captures the flourishing of her carnal abstract language at a pivotal moment in her career. Its palette is extraordinary: electric tones of green, pink, red and blue collide in kaleidoscopic formations, scattered across the surface like fireworks. Fleeting hints of bodies are tangled together in a bacchanalian dance; echoes of art history flit across their mercurial forms. Brown manipulates her pigment in rich, tactile layers, toying mercilessly with the boundary between abstraction and figuration. Like many of the artist’s canvases from this period, the work is elusively titled after a Hollywood movie: the 1964 comedy Kiss Me, Stupid, starring Dean Martin and Kim Novak. Near-cinematic in scope, it takes its place alongside major canvases from this year, including examples held in the Broad, Los Angeles, Tate, London and the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, New York.

Brown is currently the subject of a major exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: her first fully-fledged museum survey in the city that she made her home. British by birth, she moved to America in 1994, disillusioned by London art scene. The Young British Artists, or YBAs, were in their ascendancy at the time, famed for their wild brand of conceptual subversion that had pushed painting out of fashion. With grand figures such as Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach still alive and working, there was little space for a young painter to make her mark. In New York, by contrast, the medium was experience something of a renaissance at the hands of a younger generation. Brown quickly took her place at its helm, mounting her first solo exhibition in the city at Deitch Projects in 1997. ‘This is an intoxicating time to be painting,’ she wrote in Flash Art the following year, ‘and New York an exhilarating and sympathetic climate. The mood is generous and open and eclectic’ (C. Brown, ‘Painting Epiphany’, Flash Art, no. 200, May-June 1998).

During this euphoric period, Brown began to move away from her early artistic language. The cartoon-like rabbits and other characters that had defined her youthful canvases gave way to vast, surging terrains, in which tantalising glimpses of human bodies tumbled amid explosive colours and gestures. Brown was deeply inspired the work of Willem de Kooning, who was still living in Long Island when she first arrived in New York. She shared his oft-quoted belief that ‘flesh was the reason oil paint was invented’: in her hands, pigment would become a living, breathing entity in its own right. ‘It’s sensual, it moves, it catches the light’, she enthused (C. Brown, quoted in D. Peck, ‘New York Minute: Cecily Brown’, AnOther, 14 September 2012). Alive with echoes of de Kooning’s seminal Women, as well as his visionary abstract canvases of the 1970s, the present work also bears witness to the wider influence of Abstract Expressionism upon her visual imagination, its intuitive, all-over surface inviting comparison with the works of Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner.

Brown also found much to be admired in the works of figurative painters. Francis Bacon, who had died while she was a student at the Slade School of Art, offered a powerful source of inspiration. ‘I love the way [he] talked about the grin without the cat, the sensation without the boredom of its conveyance’, she explained. ‘… I’ve always wanted to be able to convey figurative imagery in a kind of shorthand, to get it across in as direct a way as possible. I want there to be a human presence without having to depict it in full’ (C. Brown, quoted in press release for Cecily Brown, Gagosian Gallery, New York 2008). Bacon, who himself drew upon the influence of artists such as Rembrandt and Velázquez, also offered Brown a conduit to the art of the past. Kiss Me Stupid, with its suggestions of languorous nudes, conjures echoes of Ingres’ The Turkish Bath (1863), Cézanne’s ‘bathers’ or Titian’s Diana and Actaeon (1556–1559); hints of a central standing figure invokes Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (1482-1485). None, however, are permitted to focus: all dissolve beneath the sweep of the brush, tumbled into abstraction.

The work also captures Brown’s dialogue with cinema. The films of Hollywood’s Golden Age would lend their titles to a number of canvases during this period: Tender is the Night, Trouble in Paradise, No Room for the Groom and others quiver with strain of romantic nostalgia. Originally written with Marilyn Monroe in mind for the lead role, Kiss Me, Stupid was one of the more risqué films of its day, whose plot captured the zeitgeist of the sexual revolution in America during the 1960s. Yet ultimately, any sense of narrative connection to the painting is enigmatic. For Brown, these films were not explicit visual sources: instead, their titles were selected for their poetic resonance, each a kind of hook that prompted chains of visual association. Nonetheless, a sense of cinematic experience pervades the painting, its flickering surface conjuring the illusory dynamism of the silver screen. Bodies and colours scramble and merge, as if cut and spliced at speed. Paint takes centre stage as the leading lady, alive with thrilling new revelations.

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