Lot 4
  • 4

Günther Förg

Estimate
180,000 - 220,000 GBP
Sold
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Description

  • Günther Förg
  • Untitled 
  • signed and dated 89 on the reverse  
  • acrylic on lead on wood
  • 150 by 110cm.; 59 by 43 3/8 in.

Provenance

Private Collection, Munich (acquired from the artist)

Acquired from the above by the present owner

Catalogue Note

With its bold chromatic bisection, material presence and unerring visual expression, Untitled is a superlative example of Günther Förg’s Lead Paintings, the most well-known series from the artist’s oeuvre. The works, which were created in the late 1980s and early 1990s, have recently enjoyed renewed critical attention, with posthumous exhibitions held at both White Cube, London, and Skarstedt Gallery, New York, in 2015. Imparting a complex operation between the optical weight and atmospheric relationship of two colours, the Lead Paintings juxtapose the planar divisions of flat paint against the coarse patina of pliable lead. This comprehensive series is one of the great contemporary contributions to abstract art, wherein the artist’s focus is on the formal and material exploration of painting. As Förg has said, “For me, abstract art today is what one sees, and nothing more” (Günther Förg in conversation with Thomas Groetz, quoted in: Florian Steininger, ‘The Painter’s Coat,’ in: Exh. Cat., Vienna and Klosterneuberg, Essl Museum Contemporary Art, Günther Förg: Back and Forth, 2007, p. 13). Like his friend and contemporary Christopher Wool, Förg sought a new language for abstract painting in a decade when figuration and the excesses of Neo-Expressionism was prized above abstraction and material.

Whilst replete with art historical references, Untitled is truly contemporary: Förg’s process-based methods use chemical reactions, and innovative and unconventional metal grounds in their execution. Instead of using traditional canvases, Förg’s Lead Paintings are formed through wrapping sheets of lead, sometimes in several layers, around a wooden frame or panel, before painting directly onto them with no treatment or preparatory ground. In the present work, fold marks are visible where the lead has been physically flattened and wrought around its support, imbuing the work with a commanding, visceral presence. The oxidised patina of the lead surface and its textural striations emphasises the solidity of its support, in turn creating an overt sense of gravitas.

The artist relishes in the physical qualities of lead, as he once declared: “I like very much the qualities of lead – the surface, the heaviness. Some of the paintings were completely painted, and you only experience the lead at the edges; this gives the painting a very heavy feeling – it gives the colour a different density and weight. In other works the materials would be explicitly visible as grounds. I like to react on things, with the normal canvas you have to kill the ground, give it something to react against. With the metals you already have something – its scratches, scrapes…” (Günther Förg in conversation with David Ryan, Karlsruhe, 1997, quoted in: David Ryan, Talking Painting: Dialogue with Twelve Contemporary Abstract Painters, 2002, online). In Förg’s praxis, the Lead Paintings never include more than two colours: the colour of the metallic lead recalls the sober tones of the artist’s earliest grey abstract works, and here the scintillating vermillion of the smooth monochrome coat of colour brings to mind Barnett Newman’s seminal ‘zip’ painting, Vir Heroicus Sublimis, painted in 1950-51.

Whilst wholly unreferential, Förg mimes the demanding objectivity of Minimalism by staging his works as defiant, spatially-oriented, and three-dimensional objects: instead of the sublime metaphysical aura of paintings by Rothko and Newman it is the factual quality, the reality of a surface to which paint is applied that is the essential characteristic of Förg’s lead works: “What you see is what you see,” to quote Frank Stella’s poignant statement about abstract painting (Frank Stella quoted in: Steininger, op. cit., p. 13). As part of a highly-acclaimed, multi-disciplinary career that spanned over thirty years, the Lead Paintings are rightly esteemed as the apogee of Förg’s practice.

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