Lot 42
  • 42

ADRIAN GHENIE | Pie Fight Study

350,000 - 450,000 GBP
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  • Adrian Ghenie
  • Pie Fight Study 
  • signed and dated 2013 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 44.6 by 54.9 cm. 17 1/2 by 21 5/8 in.


Pace Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2013


New York, Pace Gallery, Adrian Ghenie: New Paintings, March - May 2013, p. 29, illustrated in colour  


Juerg Judin, Ed., Adrian Ghenie, Ostfildern 2014, p. 59, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the pale greens are stronger, the whites whiter and the composition overall is more vibrant in the original. Colour: This work is in very good condition. Very close inspection reveals minor wear to all four corner tips and a minute speck of loss towards the lower left corner. The paint surface fluoresces unevenly which is consistent with the artist's layer of pigment and working process; no restoration is apparent when examined under ultra violet light
"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. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

“If you try to recreate an object from memory you wind up projecting yourself into the work; it becomes very personal, a self-portrait based on your subjectivity.”
Adrian Ghenie in conversation with Stephen Riolo, ‘Adrian Ghenie, Pie Eater’, Art in America Magazine, October 2010, online.    Thick, gelatinous oil paint is smeared across the face of the enigmatic protagonist in Adrian Ghenie’s painting Pie Fight Study. Executed in 2013, the work exemplifies the artist’s entrancing pictorial style, which blends elements of abstraction and representation, history and myth, atrocity and humour to spectacular effect. The painting stems from the artist’s renowned Pie Fight series. Begun in 2008, this thought-provoking opus saw Ghenie reimagine some of the most notorious figures of twentieth-century history, in particular those of Nazi Germany, in the immediate aftermath of having had a custard pie thrown in their face. Drawing on the slapstick humour popularised by American movie stars such as Charlie Chaplin, the Three Stooges, and Laurel & Hardie, Ghenie’s Pie Fight paintings are at once comical and oddly disquieting. 

Born in communist Romania in 1977, Ghenie grew up under the fraught and oppressive regime of the country’s then dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. Deeply effected by his own experiences of political turmoil, the artist developed a more widespread fascination with the unprecedented atrocities that occurred within the Twentieth Century. Often dreamlike and uncanny in nature, his paintings grapple with the weighty burden of the past on our contemporary moment. He explains, “I’m not a history painter, but I am fascinated by what happened in the twentieth century and how it continues to shape today. I don’t feel any obligation to tell this to the world, but for me the twentieth century was a century of humiliation – and through my painting, I’m still trying to understand this” (Adrian Ghenie cited in: Jane Neal, ‘Referencing slapstick cinema, art history and the annals of totalitarianism, Adrian Ghenie’s paintings find ways of confronting a “century of humiliation”’, Art Review, December 2010, online).    

A composition of rich and gestural magnitude, the present work exemplifies the artist’s masterful approach to painting. Dense layers of paint, in mottled hues of earthy greens, turquoise, and indigo, transform the background into an embellished and abstract realm, reminiscent of one of Gerhard Richter’s finest Abstrakte Bilder. Working with both brush and palette knife, Ghenie deftly creates a textured and tactile topography which is at once self-referentially painterly and hauntingly redolent in its multifarious evocations. Indeed, the impasto paint smeared across the subject’s face doubles over as congealed custard cream, obfuscating his features and leaving a suit and tie as the only remaining indicators of his identity. One cannot help but recall René Magritte’s renowned 1964 masterpiece La Grande Guerre, and indeed Pie Fight Study is deeply imbued with a sense of the surreal. Distorted beyond tangible recognition, Ghenie’s protagonist similarly evokes the canonical paintings of the British post-war master Francis Bacon who, like Ghenie himself, employed a technique of effacing, overpainting, marking, and tracing to conjure an intoxicating sense of psychological intensity.

Ghenie’s oeuvre is driven not only by the shortcomings of history, but by those of memory itself. Often fallible and unreliable, our memories inevitably fade and falter over time. In Pie Fight Study, the viscous paint or cream, then, takes on a third significance as the hazy fog of temporality. For the past is an impalpable entity, its fragments stitched together to form our cultural, collective and personal recollections, as much as our conception of history. Indeed, personal memory and social history are essential to Ghenie’s practice, and his subjects are manipulated so as to suggest an erasure, a palimpsest, a notion of reminiscence that transcends immediate definition, yet delves the viewer into a potent contemplation of the human condition. Playing with our perception of reality in such a way, Ghenie’s Pie Fight Study exemplifies the interrogative and captivating practice of one of the leading figurative painters of our time.