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Antelope Attacked near Gas Pipe 2

Antelope Attacked near Gas Pipe 2
signed and dated 'Ghenie 2019' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
98 3⁄8 x 116 1⁄8 in. (250 x 295 cm.)
Painted in 2019.
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner
St. Petersburg, General State Building, State Hermitage Museum, “I have turned my only face…” Paintings by Adrian Ghenie, November 2019-February 2020, pp. 27 and 79, fig. 26 (illustrated).
Berlin, Templehof Airport, Diversity United: Contemporary European Art, June-December 2021.

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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis Head of Department

Lot Essay

Rising to critical acclaim as one of the most celebrated contemporary painters of his generation, Adrian Ghenie’s masterful handling of paint and illusionistic space continually probes our understanding of the medium and its trajectory in the digital age. Antelope Attacked Near Gas Pipe 2 is a brilliant example of the artist’s ability to meld painterly abstraction with a pointed analysis of tradition, formal tropes, and the history of art. It was featured in the artist’s landmark 2019 solo exhibition I Have Turned My Only Face… at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, and emphasizes the fervor with which Ghenie is constantly evolving and developing as an artist. Its roiling surface is difficult to pierce upon first viewing, but an extended study reveals a densely populated composition that continually offers up new vantages. Ghenie’s practice is one of exploration and investigation. “I’m looking for a type of painting that might somehow preserve the tradition and the history of the medium, but at the same time might also involve a total break with twentieth-century painting. … It’s not about whether I succeed in finding this new painting – the idea is that I’m trying to discover the possible resources of painting as a medium, wondering if I can still achieve that image, not necessarily shocking, but brand new” (A. Ghenie, quoted in “Adrian Ghenie in conversation with Mihai Pop,” Adrian Ghenie: Darwin’s Room, exh. cat. Romanian Pavilion, Biennale de Venezia, 2015, p. 83). Grappling with the prevailing axiom of the late twentieth-century that painting had died, the artist continuously mines visual culture in order to tease out new ideas and create work that counters the artform’s death knell.

A monumental configuration of twisting shapes, contrasting styles, and radiating colors, Antelope Attacked Near Gas Pipe 2 pulls the viewer in by the sheer nature of its veracity. Though heavily abstracted, Ghenie uses the horizon line to separate a tumultuous foreground from the soft sky in the back that fades from pink to blue as if portraying a calm sunrise or sunset. A large mottled passage of blue-black paint rises up like a mountain or the back of some great beast, only to smash into the angular areas of brown, cream, and bloody red below. The force of the impact results in a chaotic explosion of paint and form that ripples through the entire picture plane. In the near ground, extending off of the canvas at the bottom edge, a sharp element shaped like a lightning bolt gives form to the titular gas pipe. It is shaded in places to give it some cylindrical form, but in others it seems to meld back into the rest of the work. But where is this antelope? And why does Ghenie mention the animal’s demise?

The artist often works with references to extant artworks from throughout the history of painting, and this canvas in particular draws from Henri Rousseau’s The Hungry Lion Attacking an Antelope (1898-1905). The red swoop in the center of Ghenie’s image is an abstraction of the alpha predator as it lunges onto its prey. The antelope’s leg and bent knee are seen to the right of the bend in the gas pipe, and the artist even deals with shadow and the three-dimensional rendering of these animal forms before launching wholly back into the vibrant play of shape and color above. “I work on an image in an almost classical vein: composition, figuration, use of light,” the artist has commented. “On the other hand, I do not refrain from resorting to all kinds of idioms, such as the surrealist principle of association or the abstract experiments which foreground texture and surface” (A. Ghenie, quoted in M. Radu, “Adrian Ghenie: Rise & Fall,” Flash Art, December 2009, p. 49). Though one might not immediately catch the reference upon looking at Ghenie’s work (something which is fully intentional on his part), comparing the two sees a conversation between compositional elements and even the soft gradient of the sky.

The conflagration of traditional methods with pure abstraction creates a visual dichotomy that pulls the viewer through the work. Making visual allusions to the frottage and collage of Surrealists like Max Ernst, Ghenie also emphasizes the power of a single brushstroke floating in space. At one moment we find something to hold on to, something we recognize, until suddenly being thrust once more into the fray. “You can’t invent a painting from scratch; you are working with an entire tradition,” he notes. “The pictorial language of the 20th century, from Kurt Schwitters’s collages to Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, makes up a range of possibilities that I utilise in order to create a transhistorical figurative painting–a painting of the image as such, of representation” (A. Ghenie, quoted in “Adrian Ghenie in Conversation with Magda Radu,” Adrian Ghenie: Darwin’s Room, exh. cat., Romanian Pavilion, Biennale de Venezia, 2015, p. 31). Harnessing this language, Ghenie goes beyond the previous nomenclature to find new reasons for painting to exist. Using chiaroscuro and lighting effects more reminiscent of the figurative work of Rembrandt and Caravaggio to craft a bulbous, turbulent abstraction lets him go beyond the linear path of art history to find new modes of working.

Born in Romania, the artist witnessed the execution of the country’s dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall as a young boy. He was also privy to the subsequent realization by the population that much of the information they had been told for years prior had been twisted from reality. Facts can be faked and the truth can be manufactured. This new cultural awakening affected Ghenie as he began to make art, purposefully bucking the established norms in an effort to more fully explore painting beyond what was prescribed. Representing Romania at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, he brought some of this to the fore, explaining, “My generation knows what life was like before the Internet. And so you still happen to hear echoes of the old world when you wake up in the morning … Then, you realize that the world is changing its texture, is changing its skin. I am very sensitive to this aspect. The world is beginning to have the texture of easy-to-clean surfaces. It no longer has pores. All the objects around us are beginning to be shinier and shinier” (Ibid., p. 32). Interested in both preserving old knowledge while also thinking of the future, Ghenie’s works ripple with a temporal texture. Each allusion to the Old Masters is confronted by an almost digital glitch or expressive abstraction. Rather than rewrite history, he wants to learn from it, expound on it, and display his findings to the viewer.

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