Untitled

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  • Provenance

    Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Zurich
    Saatchi Collection, London
    Phillips de Pury & Company, New York, November 16, 2006, lot 35
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Zurich, Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Albert Oehlen, January 21 - March 31, 2005, p. 10 (illustrated)
    London, Saatchi Gallery, The Triumph of Painting - Part 2, July 5 - October 30, 2005

  • Catalogue Essay

    In Albert Oehlen’s Untitled, 1993, paint in its various guises detonates across the monumental canvas. Vividly exemplifying the key tenants of Oehlen’s “post-non-representational” paintings created between 1988 and 1997, figuration is set against abstraction as a cacophony of brushstrokes, colors and forms coalesce on the vast canvas with a deliberate nonchalance that belie its studied formal complexity. It was with works such as the present one that Oehlen burst onto the international art scene in the mid-1990s, when his work was included in group exhibitions with like-minded artists such as Martin Kippenberger and Christopher Wool and he received his first institutional United States solo exhibition at The Renaissance Society, Chicago, in 1995. His prescient oeuvre is currently the subject of the acclaimed monographic exhibition Cows by the Water at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, Italy.

    Painted in 1993, Untitled was conceived five years after Oehlen achieved his artistic breakthrough during his now legendary sojourn with partner-in-crime Martin Kippenberger to Spain. As Oehlen recalled of the secluded period living and working with Kippenberger in early 1988, “I wanted to start something new that I was dreaming of for a long time, which was abstract painting…In a way it was because I thought that art history went from figurative to abstract. And I should do the same. I should have the same development in my life as art history” (Albert Oehlen, quoted in Glenn O’Brien, “Albert Oehlen”, Interview Magazine, May 2009, p. 106). Emulating, but also transcending the progression of 20th century modernism from figuration to abstraction, Oehlen sardonically labeled his efforts “post-non-objective”. Walking in the conceptual footsteps of his mentor Sigmar Polke, Oehlen from then on and throughout the mid-1990s pursued an unprecedented mash-up of seemingly incompatible aesthetics, vocabularies and materials – irreverently pulling apart the art historical legacy of such movements as Cubism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, but also the then dominant tendency of Neo-Expressionism.

    At first glance, Untitled appears to fuse a breadth of techniques from such predecessors as Willem de Kooning, Brice Marden, and Jackson Pollock, yet closer consideration reveals that the painting is not as abstract as what the incongruous layering of marks might lead to believe. The presence of a human leg and a mask-like face, both subtly modulated to suggest plasticity, disrupt the purported purity of abstraction. With regard to this simultaneous pursuit of abstract and figurative painting, Oehlen notably explained one year after painting the present work, “I’m not interested in the autonomy of the artist or of his signature style. My concern, my project, is to produce an autonomy of the painting…The question ‘abstract or not abstract’…is irrelevant to me” (Albert Oehlen, quoted in Diedrich Diederichsen, “The Rules of the Game", Artforum, November 1994, online).

    It is the abolition of the difference between figurative and nonfigurative art that is at the core of Oehlen’s “post-non-objective” project. He achieves this through a process of negation; not in the sense of erasure or subtraction as Christopher Wool would later pursue, but, as he defined, “the visible working through of inferences, misunderstandings, ideas to be criticized, and also your own mistakes” (Albert Oehlen, quoted in Diedrich Diederichsen, “The Rules of the Game", Artforum, November 1994, online). Oehlen to this end puts forth, as Hamza Walker discerned “a chorus of contradictory gestures; figuration is set against abstraction, form against anti-form, the rhythm of pattern versus a meandering stroke, and a muddy mix of colors juxtaposed against vibrant pigment straight from the tube…Oehlen's paintings are always autonomous in so far as they have managed to eliminate through contradiction an allegiance to any particular style” (Hamza Walker, “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly”, The Renaissance Society, 1995, online).

    Oehlen’s singular achievement is to fuse these disparate elements into a powerful composition that seems frozen in a deafening and liberating crescendo of both discordant and harmonious form and color. His syncretic approach, as Oehlen’s current exhibition at the Palazzo Grassi highlights, is not unlike that of a jazz musician riffing on a set of classics. Oehlen, who was associated with the Punk scene, uses a similar analogy when speaking of artistic freedom: “I see it this way: it’s the confluence of earnestness and ridiculousness that allows the artist to run riot. It’s comparable to a classic jazz soloist. He runs riot within his harmony and stretches it as far as it can go” (Albert Oehlen, quoted in Albert Oehlen: Home and Garden, exh. cat., New Museum, New York, 2015, p. 102). Whilst seemingly announcing itself with the tempo of impromptu brushstrokes, the electrifying composition is in fact the achievement of a deliberate and methodological working method. Each drip, smudge and stroke that would otherwise be the product of improvisation is carefully painted, just as the composition is intentionally constructed to teeter at the edge of total dissolution. Untitled viscerally exemplifies how the uninhibited freedom and excess of Oehlen’s radical practice has reconfigured the possibilities of the medium of painting.

Ο ◆17

Property of an Important European Collector

Untitled

signed and dated "A. Oehlen 93" on the reverse
oil, spray paint and enamel on canvas
78 3/4 x 78 3/4 in. (200 x 200 cm.)
Executed in 1993.

Estimate
$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

sold for $1,515,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278
aloiacono@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 November 2018