Human depiction can be seen in art as early as the Paleolithic age, the most famous of which was the 'Venus of Wineldorf'. Artistic dimensions of the human form highlight cultural values and societal attitudes toward gender, figurative art, and the relationship between humanity and the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence. Representations of the human body in art, whether identified as religious or secular, raise questions concerning structures of power, ideology, and identity. Artistic renderings and religious interpretations of the human body privilege it as a symbolic value and a political agent, especially during periods of protest against societal norms and definitions of gender as sexual identification. It is thus unsurprising that the human figure has been a subject of visual representation for artists seeking to explore the human condition through art over the decades, and has even developed into key tropes such as portraiture and the Nude, recognized in the canon of art history.
This season, Christie's is pleased to present Figurative Visions: Contemporary Southeast Asian Art from an Important Asian Collection, a group of works that ask the questions: Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? The role and meaning of the human body incorporates a diverse range of cultural forces, including but not limited to art and religion. Different cultures and eras interpret the meaning and value of the human body in distinctive ways.
The collection features two works by prominent Thai artist Natee Utarit from his Fragment and the Sublime series and an earlier series, The Last Description of the Old Romantic. The Greeks decided very early on that the human form was the most important subject for artistic endeavours, blending both the sacred and the secular in physical perfection. The arbitrary value placed on such works maintained for many centuries in the hierarchy of genres, whereby history and portrait paintings were valued above landscape or still life works. Utarit investigates this subjective nature of value through his works, elevating paintings of still life in The Last Description of the Old Romantic (Lot 452) and juxtaposing paintings of flowers with that of ancient Greek and Roman forms, through the visual illusion he creates in The Fragment and the Sublime I (Lot 460).