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Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London

Adrian Ghenie
B. 1977
THE SUNFLOWERS IN 1937
signed and dated 2014 on the reverse
oil on canvas
280 by 280cm.; 110 1/4 by 110 1/4 in.
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Provenance

Galerie Judin, Berlin

Acquired from the above by the present owner

Exhibited

Berlin, Galerie Judin, Berlin Noir, 2014

Malaga, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga, Adrian Ghenie, 2014-15, p. 85, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

Based on what appears to be the fourth incarnation from Vincent van Gogh’s iconic series of sunflower canvases (National Gallery, London), Adrian Ghenie’s The Sunflowers in 1937 is an extraordinary and monumental reimagining of van Gogh’s masterpiece as subject to the events of twentieth-century history. Executed on a truly colossal scale, Ghenie’s painterly manipulation is heretofore unparalleled; the archetypal tonalities of van Gogh’s original are cut through by fiery reds, magentas, strident blue-greens, and soot-like passages of black to deliver a metamorphic vision of this famous vase of flowers. The clarity of their forms has become distorted, smudged, blurred, while a veil of confetti-like painterly additions appear as ashes, weightlessly floating in front of the picture plane. As though witnessing van Gogh’s Sunflowers in a state of near inferno, we imagine molten passages of oil paint shrinking to blackened welts as the canvas itself begins to disintegrate and disappear into thin air. Part of a body of work exhibited at Galerie Judin in the artist’s 2014 Berlin Noir show, the present work and its counterpart pieces conjure the vicious campaign for cultural cleansing that was the Third Reich’s denouncement of ‘degenerate art’. Entitled The Sunflowers in 1937 this painting pictures van Gogh’s masterpiece as haunted by the evil deeds of Nazi Germany.

1937 was the year in which the Nazi regime held the infamous exhibition of ‘Degenerate Art’ at the Institute of Archaeology in the Hofgarten in Munich. Masterminded by Joseph Goebbels as a counterpart to the concurrent ‘Great German Art’ exhibition held only a stones throw away at the Haus der Deutschen Kunst, the ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibition comprised some 650 works deemed an ‘insult to German feeling’. With the aim to educate the German public against the evils of modern art, prohibited works by avant-garde artists such as Nolde, Kirchner, Dix, Beckmann, and even works by non-German artists such as Mondrian, Chagall, and Kandinsky, were exhibited in narrow rooms emblazoned with derisive slogans and accompanied by propagandist wall captions intended to inflame public opinion. Forming part of Hitler’s campaign to cleanse Germany from a culture of ‘degeneracy’ – a term used to refer to avant-garde movements considered elitist, intellectual, foreign, and socialist influenced – thousands of artworks were seized from public institutions across Germany during 1937-38 and were either traded or sold, while works that failed to sell on the international market were burned in the yard of the fire station in Lindenstrasse in Berlin-Kreuzberg on 20th March 1939. In addition to the 1937 exhibition, Hitler’s final list of ‘Entartete Kunst’ comprised an inventory of more than 16,000 pieces encompassing even those by nineteenth-century artists such as Vincent van Gogh. Indeed, the inventory lists a self-portrait seized from the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungenin in Munich that was sold for 175,000 Swiss Francs. This project of 'cultural cleansing' caused many countries to remove works by van Gogh and other blacklisted artists from display during the Nazi occupation; for example, in an effort to save their valuable collection, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam hid such works in an underground bunker during the war.

For Adrian Ghenie, van Gogh holds a place of central importance; as a six year old he kept a Sunflowers painting printed on the cover of a Romanian art magazine under the his pillow for a number of months, and as an adult, Ghenie has even painted his own likeness in the guise of van Gogh’s famed self-images, in works from 2012 and 2014.

Ghenie’s Berlin Noir show took its name from Philip Kerr’s popular trilogy of crime novels in which the reader follows the protagonist, a police officer turned private investigator named Bernie Gunther, through the corruption and oppression of 1930s Berlin – Ghenie’s adopted home city. As though assuming the first hand perspective of this character, many of Ghenie’s paintings created for this exhibition invoke the notorious Nazi book burning ceremonies such as the one held in Opernplatz, Berlin on 10th May 1933 – an event well documented in black and white photographs from the time. That van Gogh had already garnered an international market saved his works from destruction (bar one version in the series that was destroyed in a fire in Japan during the war); however in Ghenie’s painting, the Dutch master’s Sunflowers is imagined as subject to the same fate as the many so-called ‘degenerate’ artworks and books that perished at the hands of the Nazis.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

|
London