Lot 2
  • 2

Mark Grotjahn

4,000,000 - 6,000,000 USD
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  • Mark Grotjahn
  • Untitled (Grey White and Yellow Lined Over Blue Green Face 809)
  • signed and dated 09; signed twice, titled, dated 2009 and numbered #809 on the overlap
  • oil on cardboard mounted on canvas
  • 101 x 72 in. 256.5 x 182.9 cm.


Blum & Poe, Los Angeles
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 2010


Los Angeles, Blum & Poe, Seven Faces, February - April 2010
Aspen, Aspen Art Museum, Mark Grotjahn, February - April 2012, p. 45, illustrated in color


This work is in excellent condition. There is a raised bit of cardboard at the lower left edge, 4 ½-4 ¾" up from the lower left corner, as well as one 23 ½-24" up from the lower left corner. There is a raised tip of paper (stiffened by heavy paint application) at the bottom left corner and a small area of paper loss along the left edge, 18-21 ¼" up from the bottom (which displays paint on the revealed canvas beneath), so both appear to date from the time of execution. The canvas is not framed.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Rife with riveting vertiginous motion that ricochets across its immense surface, Mark Grotjahn’s Untitled (Grey White and Yellow Lined Over Blue Green Face 809) from 2009 is a landmark of Grotjahn’s most esteemed body of paintings. Possessing the same roughly convergent one-point perspective as the artist’s Butterfly paintings, yet devouring the picture plane in its denser, braver, and more wildly variegated surface, Grotjahn’s Face paintings are a monument to the artist’s mesmerizing bravado and graphic unruliness, the achievements that place the artist in the same league as antecedents like Pablo Picasso and Willem de Kooning. Painting atop sheets of primed cardboard mounted on linen with both brush and palette knife, Grotjahn’s brash gestural handling of pigment results in a thickly ridged surface that formally echoes the corrugated cardboard upon which the image lies. Echoing the gestural vigor of Abstract Expressionist action painting fused with the complex perspectival logic of Cubism, the present work puts forth a torrential energy archetypal of Grotjahn’s most compelling paintings. Exhibited in the significant retrospective of Grotjahn’s body of work at the Aspen Art Museum in 2012, curator Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson praised the dramatic immediacy and retinal thrill of this series: “In the face paintings Grotjahn’s intentions are more frontal. The application of paint appears haphazard, quick, less thoughtful. Grotjahn’s disruption in these works is the result of his carving into their cardboard structure. Physicality here includes his scrapes, cuts, peels, or inlays of these elements… Ultimately, these acts of destruction come out of love—wanting to know something so intensely that it must in fact be destroyed to be known.” (Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson, ‘Disruption’ in Exh. Cat., Aspen, Aspen Art Museum, Mark Grotjahn, 2012, p. 56)

Grotjahn's Face paintings operate within the tension between the ostensibly incongruous poles of abstraction and figuration, complicating the formal correlation between the faces and the pictures’ purely geometric organizations of radial bands of color. Hovering close to illusionism yet entirely evading mimesis, the present work harbors a shamanistic graphic unconscious that lends abstraction a vigorously beating human pulse. Burrowing out from the vicious primal slashes of Grotjahn’s brush are vague suggestions of an anthropomorphic visage hidden amongst the thicket of impasto: two elongated almond-shaped eyes peer from behind the kinetic scrawl, furrowed above the bridge of a partially rendered nose. As bundles of cascading paint slash in all-over yet carefully choreographed directions, the representational fragments that emerge from pure abstraction render the present work a thrilling treatise on the development of modernist painting. Like de Kooning’s propulsive women or Basquiat’s warrior kings, Grotjahn’s masked face splinters across the canvas, carving room for complex figural relationships amidst a sea of thrashing pigment. Mesmerizing and hypnotic, the present work is a tributary to Grotjahn’s extreme acuity to spatial perspective—the face concurrently surges and recedes through the picture plane, while the high-velocity lines sculpt a vectored relief akin to the most avant-garde Futurist paintings. A flurry of verdant green, cobalt, grey, and yellow hues weave through each other and course across various paths, bursting with chaos while synthesizing an incredible clarity and composure.

Signing the painting along the top bar is an archetypal autographic tendency of Grotjahn’s, whose most complex paintings bear prominent maker’s marks, a cunning painterly gesture in the tradition of Robert Ryman. However, in the present work, Grotjahn inverts his signature in the mirror image, a compelling and distinctive conceptual endeavor that broadcasts the anthropomorphism of this painting—we are reminded of its corporeal relation to ourselves in the jarring re-orientation of language, which would only prove legible if presented in a reflective surface. As praised by Roberta Smith, Grotjahn’s Face paintings, “emphasize painting as a psychic and bodily process fueled in part by the devouring and digesting of previous art to formulate a new synthesis. In particular, these large, vertical cardboard-on-canvas works appear to feast on the painting and sculpture of early Modernism, when abstraction and representation were not seen as mutually exclusive. Possessing a torrential force, they are not so much covered with thatches of thrashing, tensile lines as bursting with them, as with live, barely controlled wires… Here rawness rather than finish prevails. The radiating, ricocheting lines never submit; the flaring planes never emerge. The faces hold their own, if just barely, to affirm in staunchly contemporary terms the human presence behind all art.” (Roberta Smith, ‘Art in Review,’ The New York Times, May 12, 2011) Untitled (Grey White and Yellow Lined Over Blue Green Face 809) possesses an unnervingly seductive inner force, an energy that sucks the viewer into its kaleidoscopic hold and refuses to let go.