Lot 72
  • 72

Wade Guyton

4,000,000 - 6,000,000 USD
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  • Wade Guyton
  • Untitled
  • each signed and dated 2010 on the overlap
  • Epson UltraChrome inkjet on canvas, in two parts
  • each: 84 x 69 in. 213.4 x 175.3 cm.


Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York
Private Collection, France (acquired from the above in 2010)


New York, Friedrich Petzel Gallery, The Space Between Reference and Regret, September - October 2010


This work is in excellent condition. The extremely faint vertical crease at the center of both canvases and a very small number of scattered faint smudges of painting ink are inherent to the artist's process. There are three minute indentations located on the right canvas, 28" from the top and 23-24 ½" from the right edge which are apparently inherent. There is an extremely faint hairline rub mark on the left canvas, located 19 - 19½" from the left edge and 40 ¾-42 ½" from the bottom, as well as one located 22-25" from the left edge and 4-14 ½" up from the bottom edge, both of which appear inhered to the artist's working process. Under ultraviolet light there are no apparent restorations. There are a small handful of scattered areas that fluoresce light yellow and violet that appear to be anomalies to the surface resulting from the artist's working method. Both canvases are unframed.
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

 “You tap a keyboard with one finger and this very large painting emerges. It’s gone against everything we think of as a painting. Pollock flung it; Rauschenberg silkscreened it; Richter took a squeegee; Polke used chemicals. Wade is working in what by now is a pretty venerable tradition, against the conventional idea of painting.” (Ann Temkin quoted in ‘Painting, Rebooted,’ The New York Times, September 27, 2012)

“The beauty of the single X within his framework is that it is a figure we all know in advance, and the disjointed reciprocity between its bilateral symmetry and that of the divided canvas makes it a perfect matrix on which to map—and against which to measure—the errors that animate Guyton’s process.” (Scott Rothkopf in Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Wade Guyton OS, 2012, p. 28)

At the dawn of the millennium, Wade Guyton fed a torn page from a design magazine through his desktop printer after typing one giant letter—his now iconic X—into the tabula rasa of his computer screen. Executed eight years later, Wade Guyton’s bold and seductive Untitled from 2010 is a remarkable feat of painterly bravura from the artist’s mature investigation of the very form that launched his inimitable practice, presenting his signature vocabulary in the exceptionally rare and unique schema of the diptych. A digital Rorschach test in glowing crimson, from every angle the painting reads like a palindrome gone awry. By its nature, the ‘X’ conjures stoppage, which is further reverberated by the starts, stops, and interruptions that march across the bilateral surface of the painting. As Guyton noted, however, “The ‘X’ wasn’t really about a cancellation… It was about trying to figure out how to make a mark or how to make a drawing or how to do anything when you were overwhelmed by the history of art.” (Wade Guyton cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Wade Guyton OS, 2012, p. 19)

Strikingly incorporating Guyton’s trademark symbol of the fragmentary X , here replicated in two expansive picture planes, the present work is at once optically searing and poetically austere, characterizing Guyton’s theoretically incisive examination into the transmission of visual culture in the Twenty-first Century. The artist deploys quotidian digital technologies—the desktop computer, scanner, and inkjet printer—to coax new possibilities from the medium of painting, reveling in the beautiful mishaps that occur as his repertoire of recycled modernist forms are transmitted from the screen through his printer. His Cageian approach to chance and variation is imbued with the hard-edged color field abstraction of modernist painters such as Bridget Riley, Frank Stella, and Daniel Buren, especially in the sumptuous red of this work’s forms, which are extraordinarily more evocative than Guyton’s customary black X’s. Interested in how an image comes into being in the digital age, Guyton’s works retain allusions to the computer that he uses as his paintbrush; as the X’s are imperfectly scaled to the canvas, not occupying the entire surface area and jutting out from the edges in certain regions, the two parts of Untitled suggest the appearance of overlapping windows open on a screen. The X’s scroll side by side, slipping furtively in and out of view: “Never illustrative, Guyton’s paintings speak to an everyday screen culture…thresholds of information that only reveal themselves when the jpeg loses focus, the printer falters… Technical failure is aestheticized but not romanticized.” (Scott Rothkopf, ‘Modern Pictures’ in Exh. Cat., Kunstverein Hamburg, Color, Power & Style, 2005, p. 82)

As Guyton’s printer got bigger, so did his pictures, and thenceforth his X’s. The artist’s forms harbor the potential to be endlessly magnified without distortion, and the present work stands at the climax of this process of enlargement and proliferation, multiplying here beyond the borders of one stretcher across two distinctly large canvases. As Scott Rothkopf elegantly referred to the X, it is a character with “infinite elasticity,” in that it has no inherent scale and can be expanded without corrupting its internal parameters, unlike Warhol’s blown-up flowers or Richard Prince’s Marlborough men. (Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Op. Cit., 2012, p. 41) This concern with seriality and mechanical reproduction may trace back through decades of advancement in modernism and minimalism, but Guyton’s pictures retain a wholly unique and unadulterated visual pleasure that renders them thrilling to look at. Looking at the surface of Untitled, the viewer hangs on the jagged edges of each X, absorbed in the epic rippling and bleeding of the ink as it was fed through Guyton’s machine.

Critic David Frankel described Guyton as “a virtuoso of the inkjet the way Pollock was a virtuoso of the pour…” (Suzanne Cotter, ‘Double Negative’, Parkett 85, 2008, p. 94) Guyton’s painterly process, though indefatigably intertwined with the digital medium, evokes a heroic romanticism akin to the iconic photographs of Jackson Pollock dancing magisterially across his studio floor, captured by Hans Namuth for Life Magazine in 1950. Guyton, whose work is now held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, to name merely a few, first moved to New York from a small town in Tennessee in 1996. While studying at Hunter College under the tutelage of the revered minimalist sculptor Robert Morris, the artist worked for seven years as a guard at the Dia Art Foundation in Chelsea, surrounded by the work of Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, and Dan Graham, artists whose influence is substantially palpable in his oeuvre. Guyton’s paintings slickly combine the tenets of Minimalism with the aesthetics of Modernists like Frank Stella and Ad Reinhardt, while investigating contemporary means of mechanical reproduction akin to Pop Artists like Andy Warhol and Guyton’s visionary peer Christopher Wool.

His paintings candidly record the extraordinarily physical process of their own making. In the skids, smears, and stuttering lines reverberating through the surface of Untitled, we vividly imagine the muscular stops and starts of the robust Guyton wrangling the heavy linen as it jams the printer. As the artist wrestles the unwieldy canvas out from the mouth of his hulking Epson Stylus Pro 11880 inkjet printer—the largest printer Epson makes—tugging and dragging its stubborn weight across his studio floor, the still wet ink is smudged, accumulating dirt and scratches to its surface. The seam horizontally bisecting the center of each panel reveals Guyton’s folding of the canvas, drawing the viewer’s attention to the gestural flipping and re-feeding of the linen through the artist’s Epson twice in order for the image to span the entire width of the picture plane. Untitled basks in seams—the seam of the canvas, the seams between the bars comprising the X’s, the seams inherent in the inkjet printing process, and the center seam of space between the two canvases are all mirrored in a complex system of symmetry and asymmetry. The doubling of the X across its own coordinates is bewitchingly reflected in the doubling of the picture’s surface. Guyton’s formal vocabulary cunningly participates in revealing the artist’s process, as the inherent symmetric composition of the letter X unforgivingly accentuates its own deformity when out of vertical alignment. Here Guyton cleverly and coolly marries aesthetic formalism with a shrewd post-modernist reflection on painting in the digital age, two fundamentally disparate and conceptually competing art historical modes. Guyton locates an uncanny anthropomorphism within pure abstraction, as the X reflects fragmented limbs and dismembered muscles stretched and extended beyond the bars of the canvas. The disjointed reciprocity spanning the two panels maintains a stark elegance and economy of form, even as Guyton excavates the surface of his picture for imperfections in the processes of picture-making.