Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 22 October 2020 will be highlighted by Peter Doigs iconic Boiler House (1993, estimate in the region of £13 million), a masterwork from his seminal series of Concrete Cabins. During the 1990s, the artist painted nine large-scale depictions of Le Corbusiers abandoned Unité dHabitation at Briey-en-Forêt in Northern France, giving rise to his largest and most distinctive thematic cycle. Boiler House stands alone within the series, capturing the building that Le Corbusier designed to house the Unités coal boiler. Included in Doigs landmark 2008 retrospective at Tate Britain, it is a triumph of painterly bravura and psychological tension. The buildings angular geometries loom large within the thicket, yet Doigs kaleidoscopic surface causes it to shift in and out of focus, approximating the abstract sensation of looking back through time. Laced with art historical resonance from Cézanne, Bonnard and Munch to Mondrian and Richter it celebrates the theme of memory that lies at the heart of Doigs oeuvre. Boiler House will be on view at Rockefeller Center in New York from 1 to 5 October before being exhibited in the King Street galleries in London from 9 October, during Londons Frieze Week and will be on display until the livestreamed events held in London and Paris on 22 October.
Katharine Arnold, Co-Head, Post-War and Contemporary Art, Europe: Peter Doigs magnificent Boiler House is a seminal painting from 1993 from the series recognised to be central to his oeuvre. The painting is charged with a psychological energy that offers the viewer an encounter with a scene as if chancing upon another person in the wilderness. Unlike the other works from the series, Boiler House depicts the boiler house buried in the forest outside the main complex of Le Corbusiers Unité dHabitation. It is an image that speaks to notions of memory and displacement, complex ideas that Doig has explored throughout his career. Christies is delighted to offer Boiler House as the anchor of our Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 22 October. Following the success of ONE, our global relay auction held in July, we will present a sequential sale series in London and Paris, bringing together the collecting communities of these vibrant and dynamic cities.
The artist had already painted four major visions of the Unité dHabitation before Boiler House, including Concrete Cabin, 1991-92 (Leicester Museum and Art Gallery), Concrete Cabin West Side, 1993 (National Gallery of Ireland) and the extraordinary Cabin Essence, 1993-94; he would go on to paint four more, as well as a depiction of the buildings interior in 1999. Aside from its subject matter, Boiler House is distinguished from its companions in a number of ways. Though wrought with the same complex brushwork and atmospheric mise-en-scène that defines the series, the building is granted a new degree of prominence. In Doigs depictions of the Unité, the architecture itself is largely veiled by foliage the viewer never sees the contours of the structure. Here, however, it rises out of the forest in totemic splendour. The trees, formerly entwined, part ways to reveal its form, slicing the composition into rhythmic vertical segments. Both texture and palette, too, are lighter: the dense, fossilised surfaces of Doigs previous depictions give way to ethereal, hazy passages of paint, punctuated by sunlight that bathes the building in an almost metallic glow.
Doig first visited the Unité dHabitation at Briey in 1991, as part of a group of artists, designers and architects known as La Première Rue. Together, the group discussed renovating the first three floors of the building, which had been abandoned nearly 20 years earlier. Built in the late 1950s, the Unité dHabitation or Cité radieuse was one of several concrete structures that sprung up in Europe after the Second World War. Based on Moscows Narkomfin building, it proposed a utopian dream of democratic, communal living, containing an internal network of individual dwellings. The boiler house, situated away from the main structure, was decommissioned after a new machine was installed inside the complex. The entire project, however, eventually fell into social and economic disrepair, leaving Le Corbusiers Modernist fantasy to the mercy of nature. Having travelled through the war graveyards of North East France on his journey to Briey, Doig was reminded that the Unité had been one of the many solutions proposed to improve society in the wake of global conflict.