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Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London

Adrian Ghenie
B. 1977
THE HUNTED
signed and dated 2010 on the reverse
oil on canvas
203 by 171 cm. 80 by 67 1/4 in.
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Provenance

Galerie Judin, Berlin

Private Collection, USA

Haunch of Venison, London

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2011

Exhibited

Berlin, Galerie Judin, The Hunted, September - October 2010

London, Haunch of Venison, Adrian Ghenie, September - October 2011

Florence, Centre for Contemporary Culture Strozzina, Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Francis Bacon and the Existential Condition in Contemporary Art, October 2012 - January 2013

Literature

Barry Schwabsky, Ed., Vitamin P₂: New Perspectives in Painting, London 2011, p. 108, illustrated in colour

Juerg Judin, Ed., Adrian Ghenie, Ostfildern 2014, p. 105, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

When Adrian Ghenie was a child, Romania was ruled by Nicolae Ceaușescu’s tyrannical Communist regime. With the political oppression of World War II still tangibly resonating, the figures and events of the war were prescient for any child growing up in the Communist Eastern Bloc. Today this ominous political backdrop comprises the very fabric of Adrian Ghenie’s extraordinary work. Entitled The Hunted and created in 2010 for an exhibition of the very same name, this painting is heady with the lingering portent of malevolence and atrocity. Depicting a baboon defensively backed into a Klimt-esque birchwood forest yet curiously set in a modernist interior, this painting is bewildering and uneasy. Upon closer inspection we notice a giant moth set upon the same table as the monkey then soon realise that the Scandinavian forest setting is in fact a peeling expanse of ‘photo wallpaper’ – the kind that was popular in the 1970s, which became something of a status symbol in Communist Romania owing to its scarce availability. Herein, this work is archetypal of this painter’s practice: invoking the autobiographical and melding it with the symbolic currency of his subjects – the Baboon charts a long history in the personification of evil whilst simultaneously invoking the birth of Darwinism – this painting is Ghenie at his conceptual and technical finest.

The bricolage appearance of The Hunted bespeaks extraordinary painterly skill. The form of the baboon is almost diagrammatical and cut-out. At once evoking Francis Bacon's 1950s portraits of apes and monkeys, the blurred photographic countenance of Ghenie's baboon is contra to the overpainted viscous layers that appear to practically peel away from the canvas surface. These pastose layers work to dispel the primary illusion of a forest setting and instead affirm the claustrophobic environs of a bunker-like room. In this painting incongruences work together in dream-like collusion: the Scandanavian forest mutates into a dark wooden-clad interior, the moth specimen appears far too large for the desk upon which it awaits examination, while the defensive and yet aggressive baboon is at once hunter and hunted. Indeed, correspondingly elusive is the answer to who The Hunted really is.

When considering the symbolic value of both the baboon and the moth, one of Ghenie’s key conceptual dialogues is brought to the fore: the connection between Charles Darwin and the controversial off-shoot of Darwinian thought that is Eugenics. Darwin’s discovery of the human race’s evolution from ape-like ancestors via natural selection opened the door to a whole field of genetic study that would become central to the fundaments of modern biology. Furthermore, serving as landmark evidence in the plight of evolutionism vs. creationism, the case of the peppered moth indefatigably proved the validity of ‘survival of the fittest’ owing to genetic mutation. Into the Twentieth Century, the research of Eugenics proposed the introduction of selective genetic manipulation into human breeding. Thereafter, this theory of an engineered human gene pool by both positive and negative eugenics (the propagation of ideal traits versus their elimination) was not only wholeheartedly embraced by the Nazi party but, in their endeavour to build a master race, was actively put into practice. Ghenie’s fascination with Darwin, Hitler, the Degenerate Art Exhibition of 1937, the Nazi book burnings, and other twentieth-century despots such as Stalin and Lenin, feeds directly from this dialogue between enlightenment progress and its often troubling consequences.

Given the emblematic congruence of both content and title, The Hunted evokes the mass exodus of Nazi war criminals after fall of the Third Reich, many of whom fled to South America via secret ‘ratlines’ to escape arrest. Though some were successfully captured (including Adolf Eichmann and the notorious concentration camp commander Franz Stangl), fewer were prosecuted and many successfully evaded arrest altogether, living out their finals days with relative impunity. Indeed, having been hunted for years, figures such as Dr. Josef Mengele – the infamous Auschwitz physician and vital proponent of Nazi Eugenics – died without passing through the International Criminal Court. With the years inevitably passing and the Nazi populace ageing, this ‘hunt’ has almost reached its end.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London