Sotheby’s, New York, 9 March 2012, Lot 298 (consigned by the above)
Galerie Max Hetzler (acquired from the above sale)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Eschewing the traditional canvas format, the towering almost herculean Lead Paintings are made by tirelessly wrapping vast sheets of lead, often in several layers, around a wooden frame; a process that imbues Förg’s work with its entirely unique material presence. As visible in the lower register of the present work, fold marks are discernible where the lead has been wrought and wrestled flat over its support thus acting as an indexical referent of the artist’s physical wrangling with metal. Leaving the lead completely untreated, the artist would then traverse over the chalky, oxidised surface with rich, luscious pigment in bold colour fields, which emphasise the solidity of the support and endow these powerful works with their overwhelming gravitas. In Förg’s practice, the Lead Paintings never include more than two colours; in Untitled deep unmodulated plum dominates the upper register, providing a tantalising visual counterpart to the silvery surface of the robust lead. The textural variance of the metal lends this work its constant intrigue: “I like very much the qualities of lead – the surface, the heaviness. Some of the paintings were completely painted, and you only experience the lead at the edges; this gives the painting a very heavy feeling – it gives the colour a different density and weight. In other works the materials would be explicitly visible as grounds. I like to react on things, with the normal canvas you have to kill the ground, give it something to react against. With the metals you already have something – its scratches, scrapes…” (Günther Förg in conversation with David Ryan, in: David Ryan, Talking Painting: Dialogue with Twelve Contemporary Abstract Painters, London 2002, p. 77).
Förg’s career-long fascination with material qualities is something that is firmly entrenched within the history of Modernism. We immediately think of the precedent of Robert Ryman, whose practice was so focused on materiality, whilst the muscular, virile use of lead in Untitled instantly recalls the organic, powerful sculptures of Richard Serra. Visually, however, the colour field works of Abstract Expressionist giants like Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman are perhaps the most obvious precedent, while the scratchy marks apparent in the upper register of the work remind us of Cy Twombly's canonical blackboard works. Nonetheless, the present work is distanced from Abstract Expressionism’s concern with the sublime and metaphysical aura; Untitled is instead a manifesto of pure formalism, an essay in Förg’s defining rationalism and an utter celebration of absolute materiality.
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