Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction


Gotthard Graubner
1930 - 2013
signed and dated 1990/91 on the reverse
oil and acrylic on canvas on floss cotton
207 by 210 cm. 80 1/2 by 82 5/8 in.
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Galerie Karsten Greve, St. Moritz (acquired directly from the artist)

Acquired from the above by the present owner in the 1990s


Vienna, Bank Austria Kunstforum, Sammlung Hubert Looser Collection, April - July 2012, p. 170, illustrated in colour

Essen, Museum Folkwang, Collection Hubert Looser. A Dialogue: Rodin - Giacometti - Rothko - Scully - Kline - De Kooning, April - October 2016, pp. 73 and 83, illustrated in colour; p. 76, (text)

Catalogue Note

A mottled infusion of red tones saturates the richly painted canvas of Gotthard Graubner’s 1989-91 painting Ohne Titel (Untitled). Its complex web of colour seems to meld from cerise into crimson, rose pink to deepest burgundy, violet to indigo-blue, diffusing and dispersing like a thick plume of billowing smoke. Graubner was born in Erlbach, in Saxon, Germany, in 1930. He is today greatly revered for his intricate articulations and experimental explorations of pure colour, which probe the interweaving relationship between paintings and the light and space that surrounds them. “My paintings expand as the illumination increases,” the artist explains, “and when it is extinguished, so are they. Beginning and end are interchangeable” (Gotthard Graubner cited in: Karl Ruhrberg, et al., Art of the 20th Century, Part 1, Cologne 2000, p. 302).

Characterised by a raw immediacy, vital spirit and contemplative force, Graubner’s large-scale paintings bring to mind the profoundly meditative works of Mark Rothko, who was a great source of inspiration for the artist. Similarly, the resonating influence of Graubner’s palette on contemporary artists such as Sean Scully is deeply apparent, and is also evoked in Wolfgang Tillman’s body of abstract photographs in series such as the Freischwimmer, which investigate the fortuitous patterns and colours that emerge when light is exposed to photographic paper. As with Rothko, Graubner would elaborately apply his paint in layers of varying degrees of transparency, so that, in spite of its ostensible flatness, the pictorial surface is opened up to reveal a colour formation of indefinite, even infinite depth. This is emphasised by the canvas itself, which has been sculpted, shaped and padded by an unseen synthetic cotton material placed between the canvas and the wooden stretcher in a technique unique to the artist known as ‘cushion painting’, turning the work into a three-dimensional body. Whilst on first glance Graubner’s paintings appear monochromatic, they seem to undergo a process of metamorphosis under the gaze of the viewer, unfurling into a polychromatic vortex of iridescent hues. Amorphous and impalpable, Untitled embodies, in a dreamlike manifestation, Graubner’s emotive artistic expression which elevated colour into context, in and of itself.

Widely exhibited in recent years, Untitled was displayed at the Museum Folkwang, Essen, in 2016, the Kunstmuseum Zurich, in 2013, and the Bank Austria Kunstforum, Vienna, in 2012. With its captivating nebula of colour, at once mysterious and enticing, the painting relates back to an earlier series Graubner created between 1968 and 1972 known as the ‘Nebelräume’, or Fog Spaces. Fascinated by natural phenomena, Graubner sought to imbue within his paintings the essential life force of the universe: “The actual reference to nature in my painting happens when I recreate an organism”, he proclaimed. “It is breathing, expansion, and contraction. Organic movements as they are found in cloud formations, in the rhythm of flowing water, or in the still movement of a human body” (Gotthard Graubner cited in: Dorothea Eimert, Art of the 20th Century, New York 2016, p. 282). In 1959, Graubner became involved in the ZERO movement, co-founded by Otto Piene and Heinz Mack the previous year. The great impact of Piene’s 1959 statement, that “A painting is a field of forces, the arena where its author’s impulses all come together, there to be transformed, re-formed into a movement of color,” can be clearly traced in Graubner’s sumptuous, lavish expressions of pure colour (Otto Piene cited in: Zero, Cambridge, Mass, 1973, p. 41).

Contemporary Art Evening Auction