Gagosian Athens is pleased to present “Natural Histories,” an exhibition of two painted bronze sculptures by Georg Baselitz and Mark Grotjahn.
When the figurative sculptures of ancient Greece and Rome were unearthed during the Renaissance, they were in a dismembered state, eroded, and had lost nearly all of their original color. Pliny the Elder, in his wide-ranging treatise Natural History (circa 77–79 A.D.), describes the original appearance of these antiquities in detail; brightly painted with pulverized malachite (green), cinnabar (red), azurite (blue), arsenic compounds (yellow, orange), or burnt bone and vine (black). Today in Athens, this exhibition invokes the transformative and fractured lineage of painted sculpture by pairing two artists whose approaches are linked in their bold metamorphoses of wood and cardboard into bronze; as well as their common excavation and engagement of figurative precedents ranging from antiquity to Expressionism.
Seeking to expand the scope of traditional representation in art, Baselitz has constantly revisited and reimagined his chosen motifs over time. In monumental oil paintings, the self is an expressive vehicle, while roughly hewn and boldly painted wooden figures fuse traditional woodcarving techniques with primitivist and folk art impulses. As a consequence of working directly in wood, he has also explored large-scale bronze-casting; in Römischer Gruß / Roman Salute (2004), a patinated bronze leg derived from a carved wooden form, wisps of red-yellow flame rise from a loosely contoured, irregularly painted black boot. The staccato hacks and scars of the original wood are mimetically produced in the rugged yet seamless cast surface of bronze.
Similarly, Grotjahn’s Mask—cast in bronze from a spontaneous cardboard assemblage—records the nuances of the found material with its corrugations, dents, tears, and creases. With holes for eyes and a long tube for nose, it recalls the simple cardboard-box constructions of early classroom activity; supporting itself on a wooden pedestal, it remains stubbornly sculptural. The surface—painted bright orange and yellow with spatters of turquoise and white—resembles a gestural canvas. Replaying the inspirative relationship between Modernists and the arts of Africa and Oceania, Grotjahn’s Mask implies historical weight as well as immediate primal impulse.
Georg Baselitz was born in 1938 in Deutschbaselitz, Saxony, and lives and works near Munich, Germany and in Imperia, Italy. Public collections include Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and Tate Modern, London. Major museum exhibitions include Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1995, traveled to Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., and Nationalgalerie, Berlin); “Aquarelles Monumentales,” Albertina, Vienna (2003); Royal Academy of Arts, London (2007, traveled to MADRE, Naples, through 2008); “Prints: 1964 to 1983,” Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich (2008); Galleria Borghese, Rome (2011); Pinacoteca, São Paulo, Brazil (2011); “Baselitz as Sculptor,” Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (2011–12); Essl Museum, Vienna (2013); Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2013); Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain (2013); and “Georg Baselitz: Remix,” Albertina, Vienna (2014). A major survey of Baselitz’s paintings and sculpture is on view at Haus der Kunst, Munich through February 1, 2015.
Mark Grotjahn was born in 1968 in Pasadena, California, and lives and works in Los Angeles. Public collections include Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Cleveland Museum of Art; Des Moines Art Center; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and Tate Modern, London. Selected solo exhibitions include Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2005); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2006); Kunstmuseum Thun, Switzerland (2007); Portland Art Museum (2010); Aspen Art Museum (2012); “Mark Grotjahn: Circus Circus,” Kunstverein Freiburg, Germany (2014); and “Mark Grotjahn: Sculpture,” Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas (2014).
All images: Installation views of "Natural Histories", Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.