Lot 11
  • 11

Vija Celmins

bidding is closed


  • Vija Celmins
  • Pan
  • signed and dated 1964 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 24 x 35 1/8 in. 61 x 89.2 cm.


Private Collection, New York (acquired directly from the artist in 1994)
Acquired by the present owner from the above


London, Institute of Contemporary Arts; Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia; Winterthur, Kunstmuseum; Frankfurt, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Vija Celmins: Werke 1964 - 1996, November 1996 - September 1997, p. 16, illustrated in color
New York, McKee Gallery, Vija Celmins, May - June 2001


Lane Relyea, Robert Gober and Briony Fer, Vija Celmins, New York, 2004, p. 120, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

Placed in a monochromatic and non-descript space, Pan appears to be exactly what it claims to be – a generic domestic appliance.  Yet, Pan is a far more sophisticated painting, demanding more attention and provoking more thought than if it was simply a picture of a household object.  Though her subject matter appears at first glance to be simple and straightforward, Celmins maintains that “The recognizable image is just one element to consider.  The paintings seem more a record of my grappling with how to transform that image into a painting and make it alive.... The surface of the painting is very closed and flat, but the feeling of the painting (I hope) is full and dense – like a chord of music, maybe.” (interview with Robert Gober, Vija Celmins, New York, 2004, p. 10)  Celmins’ technique leaves each object carefully studied, methodically painted, yet removed from the Realist tradition.

In Pan, a subtly implied human presence or narrative achieves Celmins’ desire to bring the image alive and achieve a deeper resonance to the subject of the painting. The pictorial plane has only a shallow depth with slight shadows and perspective to suggest an isolated object in a three-dimensional world. Hints of a human presence appear however in the implied act of cooking - the rising steam and the glowing red ‘on’ light which seem to defy the more coolly rendered pan in the intentionally non-descript background. We are aware that a person must have once been in the space, for the machine is on.  And there is a suggestion of things to come, actions that will follow.  But they are noticeably and somewhat uncomfortably absent.