Lot 1135
  • 1135


5,500,000 - 7,000,000 HKD
10,015,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Adrian Ghenie
  • The Blue Rain
  • oil on canvas
  • 240 by 190 cm; 94½ by 74⅞ in.
signed and dated 2009 on the reverse


Tim Van Laere Gallery, Antwerp
Haunch of Venison, London
Private Collection (acquired from the above)
Christie's London, 16 October 2014, lot 71
Acquired by the present owner from the above sale


Antwerp, Tim Van Laere Gallery, Adrian Ghenie, 3 December 2009 - 16 January 2010


Judin, J. ed., Adrian Ghenie, 2014, Hatje Cantz, pp. 148-9 (illustrated in colour)

Catalogue Note

In the compelling and intensely atmospheric The Blue Rain, the boundaries between fact and fiction, past and present, figuration and abstraction blend and blur into a brooding dreamlike haze. Rendered in the hallmark style of Ghenie’s masterful visual practice, the work draws together incongruous narratives and motifs as diverse as the Berlin wall and Elvis into a sumptuously painted, superbly rendered and surrealistic amalgamation of colour and form that slips in and out of focus like the half-remembered fragments of a fading dream. Possessing a coalition of heavily laboured medium, fluid brushwork, and exuberant tracts of dragged paint, The Blue Rain exhibits Ghenie’s post-modern fluency as a painter: the lower half melds the squeegee scrape of Gerhard Richter’s post-photographic abstraction with the psychological intensity of Bacon portraits; while the atmospheric colour fields of the top half are distinctly reminiscent of Mark Rothko. Speaking of how he draws reference from these artistic influences, and indeed how artists over time draw reference from each other, Ghenie once remarked: “There is a nice anecdote about Francis Bacon looking at Rothko. He didn’t look at Rothko in awe – he wanted to figure out whether it would fit as background for his silhouettes. Rothko for him was a background provider” (Adrian Ghenie in conversation with Marta Gnyp, ‘Adrian Ghenie’, Zoo Magazine, December 2017, online). Manifesting a Rothko-esque background and a Bacon/Richter inspired foreground, The Blue Rain is a stratified visual and metaphorical palimpsest that harbours myriad allusions to art, history, science and subjectivity – a superb example from Ghenie’s oeuvre.

Born in Romania in 1977, Ghenie grew up under Nicolae Ceausescu’s repressive communist regime and lives and works in Berlin today. As exemplified by the present work, the artist’s internationally acclaimed visceral pictorial language and psychologically charged paintings addresses some of contemporary history’s darkest chapters to metaphorically explore themes of malevolence, totalitarianism, dictatorship and the very fallibility of human nature. Prominently featured in The Blue Rain, separating the figures on the foreground from the abstract background, is a looming grey wall that cuts through the composition. It is not difficult to discern an association with the Berlin Wall, which for decades divided the city that has become Ghenie’s second home. Indeed, the legacy of dictatorship is an important narrative aspect of Ghenie’s oeuvre, which includes portraits of the likes of Hitler, Lenin and Josef Mengele. As Ghenie remarks: “I’m not trying to make my biography like I grew up in a communist dictatorship – I was just a kid, I didn’t have any trauma. But what happened in Romania after ’89 – the fall of the Berlin Wall – was very interesting. When you realize a whole country can be manipulated and made to believe one thing about itself, and then the regime falls and you find out that no, it was the other way around… I saw how it is possible to manipulate a whole country. What is the truth? What is trauma?” (Adrian Ghenie quoted in: Andy Battaglia, ‘Every Painting is Abstract: Adrian Ghenie on his Recent Work and Evolving Sense of Self, Artnews, 17 February 2017, online). The Blue Rain thus manifests as a collusion of identity, philosophical, social and historical reflection. The German shepherd in the composition could be read as a symbol for eugenics, being a breed of dogs that is known for its intelligence; yet this serious historical narrative seems to be contradicted by the presence of Elvis at the centre of the composition. Ghenie’s father adored Elvis and impersonated the Jail House Rock singer throughout the 1960s. The Blue Rain was exhibited in a show at the Tim Van Laere Gallery in Antwerp that was centered around the motif of Elvis. The press release for the exhibition explains: “Elvis, the subject of this show, is part of the research dealing with the history of entertainment and analyzing the iconography generated by that industry. Elvis Presley is extremely relevant in this research because he is arguably the first great icon on a global scale. His myth has generated a huge amount of visual cliché which makes his aesthetic so unique and appealing that his fame has managed at that time to cross the iron curtain and create imitative phenomena” (Press release, Tim van Laere Gallery, ‘Adrian Ghenie’, December 2009 – January 2010, online). In other words, Ghenie here visualizes the intricate space of personal and collective memory after the fall of the Berlin wall – a complex subject dealt through the interweaving of complicated personal and historisocial narratives, motifs and idioms. In the artist’s words: “On one hand […] I work on an image in an almost classical vein: composition, figuration, use of light. On the other hand, I do not refrain from resorting to all kinds of idioms, such as the surrealist principle of association or the abstract experiments which foreground texture and surface” (Adrian Ghenie in conversation with Magda Radu, in: ‘Adrian Ghenie: Rise & Fall’, Flash Art, November-December 2009, p. 49).

In visualising his surreal spaces, Ghenie is often inspired by cinema as much as art-history, and has often admitted the influence of Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch. The peculiar position that cinema holds between truth and illusion has provided Ghenie with fertile grounds for conceptual and formal investigations. Cast in an atmospheric aura of cold blue light, The Blue Rain is likened to the capacity of the silver screen to conjure fiction in the guise of reality. As the artist has remarked upon the mystical allure of film: “I’m jealous of the specific power of cinema to build a virtual state, and of its capacity to break with reality. For two hours you’re completely under its spell! And there’s something spectacular and seductive about this entire story which has become so familiar to us” (Adrian Ghenie in conversation with Magda Radu, in exh. cat. Venice, Romanian Pavilion, Biennale de Venezia, Adrian Ghenie: Darwin’s Room, 2015, pp. 82-83). Typically working from source images viewed on his laptop screen, the artist champions the act of giving corporeal form to imagery in an increasingly cerebral, digitised, social landscape. This peculiar method of working redresses the relationship between source and reference in contemporary acts of recording through imagery, whilst simultaneously drawing equivalence between mediums in their capacity to document, to reinterpret, and to beguile. Proclaiming himself as part of a generation that “knows what life was like before the Internet”, Ghenie speaks of a realisation “that the world is changing its texture, is changing its skin […] The world is beginning to have the texture of easy-to-clean surfaces. It no longer has pores. All the objects around us are beginning to be shinier and shinier” (Ibid., p. 32). Replete with references to the development of painting – from the melancholic chiaroscuro of Caravaggio to the slick brush undulations of Bacon – here Ghenie employs the broad reach of the medium to subsume the historical development of the image-making technologies, ultimately forming a trans-historical mode of visualising the world.