LOT 034

1933 - 2004

Système sériel vert-rouge
acrylic on canvas
on verso signed, titled on the labels, dated 11/12/1967 and inscribed "#34" and "G.M.-T-1967-10"
90 x 72 in, 228.6 x 182.9 cm

Estimate: $200,000 - $300,000 CAD

Sold for: $313,250

Preview at:

Estate of the Artist

William Seitz, Seventh Biennial of Canadian Painting, National Gallery of Canada, 1968, page 5

National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Seventh Biennial of Canadian Painting, July 5 - September 1, 1968, catalogue #34
Galerie de Bellefeuille, Montreal, Guido Molinari, November 8 – 26, 2018
Galerie de Bellefeuille, Montreal, Guido Molinari, Toronto, 2019
Paul Kuhn Gallery, Calgary, Guido Molinari | Large Scale, February 8 – March 28, 2020

Système sériel vert-rouge from 1967 is an outstanding example of the dynamic intensity of colour in motion, the hallmark of Guido Molinari’s oeuvre. Molinari produced these lusciously austere striped paintings, composed exclusively of coloured stripes of equal width, only between 1963 and 1969. These are the paintings that brought him into the international limelight and established his reputation.

His 1967 paintings are larger in scale, and they capture a new artistic energy and ambition. In 1966, Molinari received a John Simon Guggenheim fellowship, awarded to exceptional individuals in pursuit of scholarship in any field of knowledge, which gave him encouragement and the capacity to aim for more. He doubled the size of his studio space, worked tirelessly on larger canvases and exhibited often, including shows at the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. It was a year of unparalleled activity, breathtaking experimentation and innovative striped canvases. The importance of this work was acknowledged by the Art Gallery of Ontario’s purchase of Mutation sérielle verte-rouge and by the artist being selected as Canada’s representative at the 1968 Venice Biennale.

Close examination of the AGO’s Mutation sérielle verte-rouge and Système sériel vert-rouge reveals how Molinari created such unique colour / space, as he termed it. Mutation sérielle verte-rouge, painted in 1966, is a composition with four groups of six stripes each repeated in the same order while the individual hue, value and saturation of each colour remain constant. This open structure could extend infinitely; the perceptual challenge is in holding such a large group of stripes in one’s mind when observing a painting that is one unit, or identical halves and quarters.

As difficult as it may seem, in our painting, Système sériel vert-rouge, Molinari ups the perceptual ante significantly. The colour / space in this painting reveals a new system of contained intensity. None of the colours repeat; each of the colours green, red and blue appear four times, but with every occurrence there is a subtle variation. Each colour is different in hue and saturation, whereas their value remains constant. The stripes are in groups, although they repeat only as inversions of their partner group in the other half of the painting. A central division separates these two equivalences. An observer could unravel Molinari’s colour / space further; each half hosts three groups of three stripes. These potentially identical groups are subverted in a contrapuntal composition by the near-identical elements that subdivide Molinari’s unerring, unrelenting flat surface into equivocal either-or situations, engaging responsive eyes with their unending permutations.

Molinari’s achievements, particularly in his striped paintings, reflect his love of music and a youth spent immersed in music. Molinari grew up at a time when new musical composition strategies, specifically Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique, were gaining in popularity, and the discussion of music was a constant in his home. Underlying the structure of the twelve-tone technique are set forms used to create generative transformations that paradoxically are simultaneously unpredictable and inevitable. These set forms can occur in original (prime), inversion, retrograde or retrograde inversion forms. Without us delving too deeply into this musical analogy, its characteristics have a remarkable similarity to Molinari’s repeating colour / space of stripes, with the titles Mutation rythmique, Système sériel or Bi-sériel hinting at equally systemic transformations.

As with many works of art, there is an intriguing inscription “#34” on the back of Système sériel vert-rouge. The number reveals a path to Molinari’s international debut in the exhibition The Responsive Eye and points to the importance of MoMA curator William Seitz. This 1965 exhibition in New York defined a new grammar for art based on perception as the vital link between the observer and a work of art. Seitz elevated the role and responsibility of observers with art that was experiential and durational, and attained meaning only through its engaged exchange with observers. Two years later Seitz found himself in Canada, a guest of the National Gallery, traveling coast to coast, to ultimately select “fifteen painters that are surely among the most interesting practicing in Canada today,” for the Seventh Biennial of Canadian Painting, shown in the summer of 1968 at the National Gallery of Canada, in which Système sériel vert-rouge was catalogue #34.

We thank Gary Dufour, an art historian based in Mount Claremont, Australia, for contributing the above essay. Dufour curated the exhibition Guido Molinari, 1951 – 1961: The Black and White Paintings, shown at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Windsor and Art Gallery of Ontario in 1989 – 1990.

Estimate: $200,000 - $300,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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