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Pollyanna Wrestlers

Pollyanna Wrestlers
signed and dated ‘Jenna Gribbon 2018’ (on the overlap)
oil on canvas
72 x 60in. (183 x 152.5cm.)
Painted in 2018
Fredericks & Freiser, New York.
Irena Hochman Fine Art Ltd., New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2019.
J. Higgie, B. Hollweg and A. M. Gingeras, Jenna Gribbon, Berlin 2021, pp. 86 and 337, no. 87 (illustrated in colour, p. 87).
New York, Fredericks & Freiser, When I Looked At You The Light Changed, 2019.

Brought to you by

Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Presented in Jenna Gribbon’s breakthrough New York solo show When I Look At You The Light Changed in 2019, Pollyanna Wrestlers (2018) is an outstanding example of the artist’s subversive and sensual figurative practice. Two women, one nude and one in trousers rolled up to her knees, are locked in a wrestler’s grapple amid a grand, opulent room. Time and space are unidentifiable. A shimmering chandelier and plush red velvet curtains oscillate in and out of focus, suggesting a historic setting, and yet the women are somehow contemporary, and almost recognisable. Their smooth skin, reminiscent of Ancient Greek marble statues that typically depict muscular nude men, is punctuated by the fluorescence of their pink nipples—a leitmotif within Gribbon’s oeuvre. The women feel at once at home and out of place within the antiquarian textures and rich palette of their setting.

The present work is part of a series based on photographs Gribbon took when she invited her friends to a wrestling party at her apartment. Evoking Manet’s Olympia and Titian’s Venus of Urbino, the artist stages her composition in a luxurious interior traditionally reserved for women in docile repose. As opposed to gazing upon a passive sitter, however, the spectator is made to feel like a voyeur in a private domain. The curator Alison Gingeras states that ‘I see [Gribbon] as a direct heir to the legacy of artists like Cassatt and Morisot’ as she continues to interrogate gendered spaces and gazes (A. Gingeras, quoted in D. Kazanjian, ‘Jenna Gribbon’s Pursuit of Pleasure in Queer Portraiture’, in Vogue, 15 November 2022). The work is titled after the 1960 Disney movie Pollyanna: a childhood favourite of the artist’s. Gribbon, who was unaware of her sexuality until her adult years, was later to learn from her girlfriend that Pollyanna is considered a ‘gay icon’.

Dynamic and athletic, Gribbon’s wrestlers are also tender and endearingly awkward. Transmuting the stereotypical imagery of grappling, bruised men, embodied in works such as Gustave Courbet’s The Wrestlers (1853), Gribbon deftly holds up an ironic mirror to a male-dominated canon. Here, instead of struggle and brute strength, the viewer is met with a gently erotic scene suffused with serenity. For Gribbon, the relationships between the artist and sitter are more than paint-deep: often depicting her friends and her partner MacKenzie Scott, her oeuvre centres queer experience and pleasure. The sell-out success of When I Looked at You the Light Changed propelled her approach to critical acclaim, establishing her at the forefront of figurative painting. At once timeless and contemporary, the present work captures the sumptuous intimacy and warmth that has come to characterise her practice.

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