Lot 1
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Mark Grotjahn

600,000 - 800,000 USD
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  • Mark Grotjahn
  • Untitled (French Grey Fan 10-90% Butterfly with Warm Grey 90% Between)
  • signed twice, titled, dated SEPT 2006, inscribed FOR WHITNEY SHOW and variously inscribed on the reverse
  • colored pencil on paper
  • 60 by 48 in. 152.4 by 121.9 cm.


Anton Kern Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 2006


New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Mark Grotjahn, September 2006 - January 2007, illustrated in color on the cover (as Untitled (French Grey 10-90% Butterfly))


Blum & Poe and Anton Kern Gallery, Mark Grotjahn: Drawings, New York, 2006, p. 43, illustrated in color
Jerry Saltz, "The Parallax View," The Village Voice, October 17, 2006, illustrated in color 


This work is in excellent condition. Please contact the Contemporary Art Department at +1 (212) 606-7254 for the report prepared by Alan Firkser at Paper Conservation Studio, Inc. The work is framed in a wood frame painted white under Plexiglas.
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

Conceived specifically for his solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2006, and illustrated on the front cover of the exhibition's publication, Mark Grotjahn’s Untitled (French Grey Fan 10-90% Butterfly with Warm Grey 90% Between) is an exhilarating example of the artist’s highly accomplished butterfly compositions. Undermining traditional notions of one-point perspective by disrupting the rigidity of its very order, this large-scale drawing is sensuous in its richly worked and burnished surface, beaming with an irrepressible energy and generating a hallucinatory optical experience. The present work entices the viewer into its spellbinding vortex, producing a gripping perceptual effect that hovers between the sobering flatness of early Modernist painting and the expressionistic effect of its vertiginous intensity. As the elegant spectrum of black, white and grey bands ribbon toward a central vanishing point, Grotjahn’s drawing engages with influences as diverse as the spatial illusions of Op Art, the social utopianism of Constructivism, and the avant-garde radicalism of analytical Cubism. Jerry Saltz noted in his review of the Whitney exhibition: “In Grotjahn’s retinal-cerebral wormhole, space recedes and is flat at the same time. Possibilities open and systems waver as seeing turns into something richer, less certain, and more alive.” (Jerry Saltz, "The Parallax View," The Village Voice, October 17, 2006)

Grotjahn’s formal focus on one-point perspective relates to academic conventions of painting developed by Leon Battista Alberti during the Renaissance in order to skillfully render depth within a flat surface, opening the two-dimensional plane miraculously into an infinite three-dimensional space. Here, a central vanishing point marks the center of the butterfly’s “abdomen,” while flying rays dart outward, fluttering across the diagonal trajectories of the slightly skewed “wings”—their tremoring vectors conjure the sensation of being captured mid-flight. Summoning natural world phenomena, while investigating the fundamental tenets of abstraction, the artist achieves a result that is as aesthetically seductive as it is rigorously analytical. Grotjahn’s Butterfly works operate within the tension between the ostensibly incongruous poles of abstraction and figuration, complicating the formal correlation between the winged insects that they reference and the pictures’ purely geometric organizations of shapes. As Douglas Fogle notes, “Grotjahn’s butterflies hover precipitously close to the line between abstract geometry and illusionistic spatiality, displaying a kind of graphic unconscious that constitutes a paradoxically systematic disruption of a rational and orderly system.” (Douglas Fogle, “In the Center of the Infinite” in Parkett 80, 2007, p. 117)

Since 2001, Grotjahn has employed his now-iconic butterfly motif with single, dual, and multiple vanishing points across a highly regarded series of paintings and works on paper. As remarked by Michael Ned Holte, “The butterfly has become to Mark Grotjahn what the target is to Kenneth Noland, the zip was to Barnett Newman, and the color white is to Robert Ryman. Grotjahn’s abstracted geometric figure is suitably elusive. In fact, the more familiar it becomes, the more he refines its ability to surprise and, perhaps paradoxically, takes it further away from actual butterflyness.” (Michael Ned Holte, “Mark Grotjahn,” in Artforum, November 2005, p. 259) Thickly layered, the riveting Untitled (French Grey Fan 10-90% Butterfly with Warm Grey 90% Between) stuns in its exceptional clarity and mesmeric beauty. The refined precision and symmetry of its black-and-white palette act as counterpoints to the formal architecture of the composition, modulating color in such a way that strengthens the dynamic volume of the surface. In the reductive palette of the present example, Grotjahn’s composition reverberates with incredible urgency, pronounced elegance, and magnificent composure. Intricately wrought and carefully choreographed, Untitled (French Grey Fan 10-90% Butterfly with Warm Grey 90% Between) envelops the full force of Grotjahn’s extreme acuity for spatial relationships, endlessly engaging anyone who stands before it in a dynamic optical experience. The radial bands of binary black and white possess an unnervingly seductive inner force, a concentrated energy that draws the viewer into its hypnotic hold and refuses to let go.