Mark Grotjahn is active/lives in California. Mark Grotjahn is known for prismatic, abstract paintings and drawings.
Biography from the Archives of askART
"He’s the Very Model of a Modern Major Artist," by Robin Pogrebin, July 30, 2017, The New York Times, Art & Design section
Biography from the Archives of askART
Sitting in his expansive studio in the Echo Park section of Los Angeles last year, the abstract painter Mark Grotjahn refused to answer questions about the way he does business. More recently, he declined several requests to discuss his success — namely the auction high of $16.8 million set this spring at Christie’s (more than double Mr. Grotjahn’s top price to date, $6.9 million in 2010).
But while Mr. Grotjahn, 49, may not want to talk about his bull market or business model, the art world certainly does. He has managed to take control of his career and influence the monetary value of his works in a way that is rare for an artist of his generation.
“He’s probably an artist who’s in more demand today than any other,” said the collector Alberto Mugrabi. “He’s so good that he controls everything. He controls when galleries make shows, he controls who they sell a painting to — he’s on top.”
Where artists once had largely monogamous relationships with their dealers and were happy not to have to bother with business details, now many are choosing Mr. Grotjahn’s path, seeking to maximize their international exposure through multiple galleries, and to actively manage their own markets.
“Artists whose work is in great demand are in charge,” said Ann Philbin, director of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, who has been tracking Mr. Grotjahn since the late ’90s. “They can call the shots and Mark figured that out pretty early.”
Mr. Grotjahn is represented by four dealers — including the heavyweight Larry Gagosian — without the promise of exclusivity they would obviously prefer.
He has direct relationships with his collectors and even occasionally sells to them right out of his studio, bypassing his dealers. And his tight control over both the quantity and sale of his paintings means that he can help affect how much of his work is sold at auction, which can lead to higher bidding.
“He’s the most important artist of his generation,” said the media mogul David Geffen, who owns six Grotjahn paintings and recalled recently losing out on one that sold for $22 million.
“I have bought works out of his studio; I’ve also bought works privately,” he added, referring to dealers. “I bought a sculpture of his for the Museum of Modern Art. He tries to sell them to people who are collectors rather than investors.”
When collectors buy his work, Mr. Grotjahn expects them to keep it or to donate it to a museum; he tries not to sell to buyers who are likely to resell works for profit.
Mr. Grotjahn, an abstract artist, had his first solo shows with Blum & Poe, then a young gallery in Santa Monica, in 1998 and 2000. He sold only one painting from the second show, for $1,750, and called that experience “a whipping.”
Today, museums with Mr. Grotjahn’s artworks in their collections include MoMA, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
“There was always a conscious conversation about the importance of placing pictures in museums and in great collections,” said Timothy Blum, a founder of Blum & Poe. “It becomes a pretty precise methodology.”
The collector J. Tomilson Hill owns four Grotjahn “Butterfly” paintings — bold geometries, with lines radiating from a central axis. Mr. Hill said that when he was chairman of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington the artist asked him to donate one of his “Face” paintings, which Mr. Hill did in 2012. “I said, ‘I’m happy to buy one, but I want one for myself, too,’” Mr. Hill said.
Mr. Grotjahn may not forgive Marie-Josée Kravis, MoMA’s president, for selling a work that he had understood was going to MoMA. The work was one of three “Circus” paintings featured in the museum’s 2014 “Forever Now” contemporary painting survey; the other two were donated by their owners, Donald B. Marron and the billionaire investor Steven A. Cohen — also MoMA trustees.
“Both the gallery and the artist were very disappointed with this situation,” Mr. Blum said.
Ms. Kravis said in an email: “I can only strongly assert that never have I sold a painting promised to MoMA from any artist.”
While most artists prefer to be far removed from the auction business, Mr. Grotjahn weighs in on how his pieces are displayed and described in auction catalogs, and he tries to have a say in who ends up buying them.
“Ultimately, he’s the decision maker,” said Loic Gouzer, Christie’s co-chairman of postwar and contemporary art in the Americas. “He wears the pants in the relationships he has with his galleries.
Those galleries — which also include Anton Kern in New York and Shane Campbell in Chicago — may chafe, but they have accepted his independence.
“Artists like Mark — they run their own show, as they should,” Mr. Blum said. “They’re the ones who’ve taken all this risk and stared into that void.”
At the same time, some in the art world are concerned that Mr. Grotjahn’s prices have upstaged his artwork.
Influenced by abstract and pop culture art, Mark Grotjahn creates paintings, many of them large scale and elongated, that combine hard-edge design and expressionism. On canvas, he builds opaque layers with thick impasto paint that radiates from a central point. With under-painting and much texture, many of these paintings convey radiant light and three dimensionality, a deception of space.
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Grotjahn was born in Pasadena, California, and lives primarily in Los Angeles. His art education included enrollment at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhegan, Maine; University of Colorado, Boulder where he received a B.F.A.; and University of California, Berkeley, where he earned an M.F.A.
Exhibition venues include Los Angeles, New York, Santa Monica and London.
Holte, Michael Ned. "Reviews: Mark Grotjahn". Artforum, November 2005, pg. 259-260
Goodbody, Bridget. "Mark Grotjahn: Drawings at Hammer Projects, U.C.L.A.'s Hammer Museum, Los Angeles." Art on Paper, May/June 2005, pgs. 78-80
Trainor, James. "Rates of Exchange " Frieze, October 2003, p.116-117.
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