Lot 245
  • 245

Adrian Ghenie

60,000 - 80,000 GBP
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  • Adrian Ghenie
  • Untitled (Elena Ceausescu)
  • signed and dated 2010 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 45.7 by 35.6cm.; 18 by 14in.


Mihai Nicodim Gallery, Los Angeles
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Los Angeles, Mihai Nicodim Gallery, Adrian Ghenie, 2010


Juerg Judin, Ed., Adrian Ghenie, 2013, p. 146, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate although the overall tonality is slightly lighter in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. Very close inspection reveals a hairline unobtrusive tension crack running intermittently in places to the extreme outer edges. No restoration is apparent when examined under ultraviolet light.
"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. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

"I’m not a history painter, but I am fascinated by what happened in the twentieth century and how it continues to shape today. I don’t feel an obligation to tell this to the world, but for me the twentieth century was a century of humiliation – and through my painting, I’m still trying to understand this." (Adrian Ghenie quoted in Jane Neal, Art Review, Issue 46, December 2010, p. 70)

Adrian Ghenie was a twelve-year-old boy living in Baia Mare, Romania, when the country’s communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife Elena were executed by a firing squad on Christmas Day 1989, following a summary trial. During his 21 years as Romania’s president, Ceausescu’s reign was one of fear, suppression of opposition with the help of his merciless secret police, the Securitate, and a forced personality cult. In the few months leading up to the Romanian revolution, anti-communist movements in Eastern Europe gained momentum after Solidarity’s victory in Poland, the Velvet Revolution in Prague and, in a broader sense, with Gorbachev's perestroika. In December 1989, finally, mass protests occurred in Romania, sparked by issues including severe food shortage. In an attempt to reassess his authority, Ceausescu staged a show of support for himself and his own government in Bucharest’s main square. The subterfuge went awry when the population voiced its discontent during his speech and ridiculed him. Violent street fights between the authorities and the people arose, and on 22 December an angry crowd of citizens raided the president’s headquarters. After attempting to flee by helicopter, Ceaucescu and his wife were finally apprehended outside the city, tried and executed.

The present work is based on a photograph of Elena Ceausescu taken the day of her execution, which was widely broadcasted in the international media at the time, triggering hopes for a new wind of political and economic reform. A few days after the execution, the National Salvation Front had assumed power and declared the end of the one-party system. However, the population was quickly disappointed when, rather than honouring the much-awaited democratic reforms, the new government obstructed efforts to bring those responsible for the massacres of 1989 to justice. Originally viewed as symbols of an instant change, pictures of Elena and Nicolae Ceausescu on the day of their trial and execution - such as the source photograph for the present painting - seemed to fade further and further in the Romanian population collective memory.

In the present work, Ghenie used muted tones and scraped the paint down to a thin, translucent film. Through his mastery of oil paint of varying consistency, at once carefully applied and viscerally scratched off to resemble a fading mental picture, the present work is a brilliant example of Adrian Ghenie’s finesse with the expressive potential of the oil paint medium. Throughout his oeuvre, Ghenie hypothesises that barbarity exists deep within the human essence, and aims at revealing this truth lying at the core of every traumatic episode of our recent history. This heroic ambition, along with the artist's remarkable technical virtuosity, makes Ghenie one of the most talented painters working today.