Gagosian is pleased to present an exhibition of Mark Grotjahn’s Untitled (Dancing Black Butterflies), a drawing in nine parts. Originally shown in the Kunstmuseum Thun, Switzerland, this is the first exhibition of this drawing in the United States.
Living in Los Angeles in the mid 1990s, Grotjahn began working on a stream of densely worked pencil drawings, followed by oil paintings that focused on perspectival investigations of dual and multiple vanishing points, techniques used since the Renaissance to create the illusion of depth and volume on a two-dimensional surface. Grotjahn’s formalist compositions of complex, skewed angles and radiant, tonal color allude to the multiple narratives coursing through the history of modernist painting, from the utopian vision of Russian constructivism to the hallucinatory images of Op art. The extreme elegance of the works is tempered by processual scuffs and markings that introduce a sense of contingency into otherwise highly controlled compositions.
While at first glance Grotjahn’s oeuvre seems bound to purely aesthetic issues in modernist discourse, references to nature and movement are plentiful. His butterfly motif, one of several recurring connections to the natural world, along with flowers and water, has yielded extensive possibilities in both drawing and painting. Nature and culture merge in the Butterfly drawings, where groupings of vibrant, multicolored triangles are anchored to gently sloping, vertical lines. Resembling abstract butterfly wings, the works call to mind the butterfly effect, introduced by a mathematician and meteorologist in the 1960s, which maintains that the subtlest movement of a butterfly’s wings could eventually cause a tornado—a ready analogy, perhaps, to Grotjahn’s quietly provocative experiments within the history of abstraction.
To this end, Untitled (Dancing Black Butterflies) pursues the butterfly motif to its ultimate formal and historical conclusion, the rainbow-hued “wings” pared back to elementary black. These sequential drawings follow the subtle shifts in movement of forms, suggesting a performative aspect to Grotjahn’s work.
May 27–June 2, 2020
In his paintings, drawings, and sculptures, Mark Grotjahn interweaves and revitalizes various historical modes of abstraction, probing the limits between gesture and geometry, impulse and exactitude. His works unfold according to precise yet mutating rubrics, resulting in an expansive vocabulary of visual motifs that migrate from one series to the next in almost obsessive permutations. By finding variations within his immediately identifiable style, Grotjahn reveals the complexities of authorial gesture.
Photo: Olivier Zahm
New Capri, Capri, Free Capri
October 30–December 22, 2018
555 West 24th Street, New York