Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction


Glenn Brown
B. 1966
oil and acrylic over plaster and metal armature, in plexiglass vitrine on wood base
sculpture: 85 by 71.5 by 45 cm. 33 1/2 by 28 1/8 by 17 3/4 in.
vitrine: 186.6 by 88 by 65.9 cm. 73 1/2 by 34 5/8 by 26 in.
Executed in 2005.
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Thomas Dane Gallery, London (acquired from the artist)
Acquired from the above by David Teiger in 2005


London, Thomas Dane, Translations: Creative Copying and Originality, July - September 2005 
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Glenn Brown, May - June 2007, n.p., illustrated in colour


Exh. Cat., Liverpool, Tate Liverpool; and Turin, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Glenn Brown, 2009, pp. 100-01, illustrated in colour
Exh. Cat., London, Gagosian Gallery, Glenn Brown: Three Exhibitions, 2009, p. 97, illustrated in colour
Lynn MacRitchie, ‘Interview: Glenn Brown’, Art in America, 18 March 2009, online, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

“I want my [work] to be between states in every way you can think of, between beautiful and ugly, between violent and passive, between happy and sad, between male and female.”

Glenn Brown in conversation with Hari Kunzru in: Gagosian Quarterly, Spring 2018, online

Rendered in thick, gelatinous layers of impasto paint, Glenn Brown’s sculpture Life is Empty and Meaningless (2005) is filled with intriguing contradiction. The work is at once alluring and elusive, beautiful and grotesque, and perfectly encapsulates the 2000 Turner Prize nominee’s celebrated artistic practice which grapples with, in Brown’s own words, “a world that is made up of all the accumulated images stored in our subconscious that coagulate and mutate when we sleep” (Glenn Brown cited in: ‘Glenn Brown’, Gagosian, New York 2014, online). Balanced delicately between the boundaries of abstraction and figuration, the sculpture is characterised by a viscous conglomeration of criss-crossing colours which have been densely layered over a metal armature, and encased in a Plexiglas vitrine: to one side of the work are dark, sobering streaks of paint in tar-black, teal, forest green, cobalt blue and vermillion, to the other are saccharine pastel hues in greens, yellows, pinks and blues, with dazzling streaks of white. From out of this complex mesh of paint the bust of a figure begins to emerge, its head hung in hyperbolic despair. The eyes are deep-set voids, like the sockets of a skull; the mouth a drooping semi-circle delineated in red.

Brown frequently refers to himself as an appropriation artist whose works are entirely contingent on the canon of art history, and indeed the present sculpture is as reminiscent of Frank Auerbach’s portrait paintings, as it is of Vincent van Gogh’s expressive brushmarks, or Salvador Dalí’s surrealistic dreamscapes. With its melancholic demeanour and downcast gaze, the work evokes a plethora of seminal artworks from Henry Fuseli’s drawing The Artist’s Despair Before the Grandeur of Ancient Ruins (1778-80) to Pablo Picasso’s poetic rendering of The Old Guitarist, (1903-04), from the Blue Period. Seeking to address the tensions of a contemporary society where fact and fiction, history and myth, reality and reproduction converge and collide, Brown contends with the weight of an intangible past which inevitably informs the present. 

Brown first ventured into the realm of three-dimensions in 1995, and his sculptural practice forms an intriguing counterpart to his smooth and glossy painterly style. In his virtuoso paintings, Brown manipulates reproductions of works by established artists from Diego Velázquez and Rembrandt to Chaim Soutine and Georg Baselitz, playfully distending and distorting their subject matters and colour schemes in Photoshop, before sumptuously conveying the results in paint. Whilst his iconic canvases are characterised by the appearance of thick, tactile paint, they have in fact been laboriously created with tiny brushstrokes, and are as planar and pristine as a photographic reproduction. Brown is fascinated by the vast impact of the digital age on everyday life, and his arduous artistic process becomes a compelling metaphor for an image-saturated world forever in flux, in which nothing can ever truly be seen through fresh eyes. “That idea of becoming something, anything, that surrounds us, taking on information, taking on our environment – all that’s still there in my work,” he explains. “That’s why I appropriate images from other people: I get to become Rembrandt or Fragonard or Van Gogh. I’m always in a state of becoming somebody else” (Glenn Brown in conversation with Hari Kunzru in: Gagosian Quarterly, Spring 2018, online). As if desiring to bring Auerbach’s painted figures to life off the canvas, Brown’s visceral sculptures offer a means of making manifest the ostensible impasto of his own paintings. With its sardonically humorous title, Life is Empty and Meaningless brilliantly captures the contemplative nature of Brown’s interrogative artistic practice.  

Contemporary Art Evening Auction