Allumettes (Matches)
signed and dated 'BARCELÓ, 07' (on the reverse)
mixed media on canvas
3614 x 2918in. (92 x 74cm.)
Executed in 2007
Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
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Lot Essay

Painted in 2007, Allumettes is a poetic, elemental work by Miquel Barceló. Against a granular ground of pale grey impasto, two matches stand side-by-side. One is upright, bearing an unlit, coral-red head: the other is burnt out, its upper half a withered arabesque of black charcoal. The match, for Barceló, is a memento mori. Like a smoking candle or fading flower in a vanitas still-life, it symbolises the transience of earthly being. Its profile, aptly, verges on the anthropomorphic: in 2015, Barceló would unveil fourteen large-scale bronze Allumettes in a courtyard installation in Salamanca, whose spindly forms – at varying stages of combustion – recalled the existential figures of Alberto Giacometti.

The match motif has a specific resonance for the Mallorca-born Barceló, who remembers acquaintances burning out, or extinguishing their lives entirely, in the hard-partying New York art world of the 1980s. A carbonised matchstick speaks of brevity, but also of brightness. Barceló’s earthy, richly textural paintings have often reflected on ephemerality, decay and the cycles of life, sometimes incorporating unusual media and processes: he has used termites to gnaw holes in works on paper, and blackened canvases with cinders from the fireplace. Fragile and poignant before their ash-grey backdrop, Barceló’s Allumettes remind us that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

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