Lot 2
  • 2

LAURA OWENS | Untitled

250,000 - 350,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Laura Owens
  • Untitled
  • signed, titled, dated 2013 and numbered LO503 on the overlap
  • oil, acrylic and charcoal on linen
  • 274.3 by 213.4 cm. 108 by 84 in.


Gavin Brown's enterprise, New York Private Collection

Acquired from the above by the present owner


Isabel Venero, Ed., Laura Owens, New York 2015, p. 47, no. 35, illustrated in colour Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Laura Owens, November 2017 - March 2019, p. 516, illustrated in colour (installation view at Gavin Brown’s enterprise, FIAC, Paris, 2013)

Catalogue Note

Los Angeles based artist Laura Owens became well known during the late 1990s for her strikingly individualistic paintings in which references to modes of seeing and making, television and popular culture, the autobiographical and the art historical, collide in kitsch pastel shades and candy colours. Having graduated from CalArts in 1994, Owens swiftly achieved gallery representation and critical recognition; in 1996 significant examples of her work were added to three of the most prestigious museum collections in New York – the Guggenheim, Metropolitan Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art – and in 2003, at the age of only 33, she was granted a mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in LA; indeed, Owens is the youngest artist to have been awarded a survey show in the institution’s history. In November 2017 a major retrospective of Owens’ career opened to great acclaim at the Whitney, and today her status as one of the most important artistic voices of the Twenty-First Century is truly set in stone. Owens’ recent work denotes a putative transition in her practice: the fairy-tale subjects and figurative focus of the mid-2000s has given way to a new painterly hybrid that ostensibly condenses modes of working that span the past two decades of her production. Her earliest spatial concerns and allusions to modes of virtual-mark making are here melded with the whimsical iconography and appropriated imagery that characterises her mid-2000s output. In 2012, the seven monumental paintings known as Pavement Karaoke – a series that made its debut at Sadie Coles HQ in London – heralded this new and ambitious trajectory. As Whitney curator Scott Rothkopf has outlined: “…critics and curators were talking a lot about contemporary approaches to abstract painting that mostly depended on all-over compositions with indirect mark marking and slight pictorial incident, often resulting from chance. Laura’s show seemed to take all this into account but also to thumb its nose at a way of thinking that had grown formulaic, chic, and overplayed in the market. Suddenly she had thrown a grenade into the conversation, refocusing a lot of people’s thinking. The following year I was lucky enough to catch Twelve Paintings at 356 Mission; that’s when things really gathered steam. Each new body of work after that added complexity yet clarity to the process, without ever seeming tricky or overeager” (Scott Rothkopf in: Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Laura Owens, 2017-18, p. 632). Combining labour-intensive processes with ingenious trompe l’oeil effects, these works are captivating images that respond to our contemporary age of smart devices, screens, and technology meditated viewing. Belonging to this later corpus, Untitled from 2013 is testament to the conceptual and pictorial innovation of Owens’ newest body of work and its robust affirmation of painting’s enduring primacy.

First exhibited with Gavin Brown’s enterprise at FIAC in 2013, Untitled is one of seven paintings that exist in the same aesthetic gestalt. An immaculately smooth white gesso ground provides the surface upon which a host of Owens’ archetypal gestures and motifs appear to float. Owens’ signature broad cursive marks – a Twombly-esque script suggestive of linear tracings drawn with the ‘paintbrush’ tool in paint or Photoshop – are rendered visible by their very absence: using vinyl stencils, Owens is able to precisely map and superimpose sharp-edged shapes, trellis-like grids, and intricate patterns onto her work via an accrual of acrylic washes or thickly impastoed applications. As a starting point however, Owens begins her paintings on a computer. Designed in Photoshop before being translated into paint on canvas, these compositions impart an inversion of the simulated. By turning the virtual into the actual with pin-point accuracy, painterly inventiveness, and extravagant materiality, Owens’ work possesses a peculiarly tangible screen-like quality. In Untitled cartoon graphics meet hand-painted daubs, dashes, and scumbling, while large glots of frosting-like impasto are rendered with fake drop-shadows. These elements are layered upon a surface that mimics the virgin white pristineness of household printer paper. The effect is an illusionistic two-dimensional/three-dimensional virtual space that simultaneously conjures and conjoins notepad doodles and hand-drawn scribbles with art historical inferences such as Matisse’s command of colour or line, or even a Surrealist urge to juxtapose and decontextualise. In 1997, not long out of college, Owens outlined the driving impetus behind her art in conversation with artist Rebecca Morris in the following terms: “I think about two-dimensional flat surfaces – how I receive them in the world, what their currency is, and the many ways of interpreting an illusion. I go to the library, the movies and museums. I watch a lot of television every day and use a computer almost every day. All of this enriches and tests my literacy in two dimensional visual culture. I don’t take ideas directly from any particular place. I want to make paintings that are simply about looking at a painting, so fundamentally, that is where I start though other stuff floats in and out” (Laura Owens in conversation with Rebecca Morris, in: Art Muscle 11, No. 3, February/March, 1997, reprinted in: Ibid., p. 123). Perhaps more relevant today than it was twenty years ago, this statement of intent finds perfect articulation in the present painting.