Nov 14, 2016

The Rise and Rise of Adrian Ghenie

After a record breaking year we take an in-depth look at the Cluj School artist's meteoric rise in the art world
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In a challenging year for art investors, Adrian Ghenie’s auction results continue to exceed expectation. In February this year, Ghenie’s ‘The Sunflower of 1937’ sold for £3,177,000 in London, marking the highest price for his work.

That was until Christie’s Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Auction in October, when, possibly buoyed by the weak pound and with a string of foreign investors looking to make the most of the exchange rate, a bidding war sparked as one of Ghenie’s earlier pieces ‘Nickelodeon’ took center stage. The result was a final sales price of £6.2m against a high estimate of £1.5m.

Los Angeles-based dealer and artist agent Stefan Simchowitz summed it well:

“Ghenie is positioned as the next Bacon.”

The Pace Gallery artist is probably one of only a handful of artists whose auction prices exceed their gallery prices, and with a modest number of paintings created each year and a long line of collectors eagerly awaiting his work, it’s easy to see why.

Born in 1977 in Communist era Romania, Ghenie and his fellow Cluj School artists have lived through revolution and witnessed a country transition to democracy at a young age. They've tackled this transition and their feelings towards their history head on in their work with often brutal honesty. Importantly, in a world of conceptual art, of video and of performance, the Cluj School painters have hit upon the thirst from collectors for the medium of paint and taken the art world by storm.

Best known for his ‘Pie fight’ series, Ghenie paints dark, broody, multi-layered canvases that explore the connection between stories of Eastern Europe and memories from his youth. He paints gesturally, using palette knives, stencils and embracing incidental expressions by sometimes dripping and pouring paint.

Aesthetically, the distorted faces of Ghenie’s portraits suggest influences from Francis Bacon, but his clever uses of such subjects as Darwin delve into deeper questions:

"I am interested in the presence of evil, or more precisely, how the possibility for evil is found in every endeavour, even in those scientific projects which set out to benefit mankind. Charles Darwin's ideas, for example, were co-opted by the Nazis, such as the concepts of natural selection and the survival of the fittest.”

He entered the art world in 2006 with a series of black and white paintings and over time has transitioned to the accomplished use of fiery, vibrant colours. Yet, while aesthetically his work has embraced colour, the darker undertone remains. Those fiery reds and vivid yellows that we witnessed in ‘The Sunflower of 1937’ in Ghenie's own words were used to depict Van Gogh’s masterpiece as if subjected to the hauntings of Nazi Germany.

This latest auction result shows the value of his earlier work when both aesthetic and theme remained dark. Nickelodeon was the centerpiece within the ‘Darkness for an Hour’ exhibition, his first in the UK. Painted in 2008, it was created not long after his first exhibition with Plan B in 2006. Yet, at over four metres in width, it is no less ambitious or colossal than ‘The Sunflower of 1937’ and one of the earlier examples of the defining ‘Pie Fight’ series.

But it is not only these large scale works that are attracting interest from art collectors across the world and there seems no limit to Adrian Ghenie’s appeal. Expect to be hearing about this exciting artist more and more over the years.