Albert Oehlen - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Saturday, May 7, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin
    Luhring Augustine, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Luhring Augustine, Twenty Five, May 7 - June 18, 2010

  • Catalogue Essay

    "You don't make stupid jokes in art.” Martin Kippenberger

    "I am a traveling salesman. I deal in ideas.” Martin Kipperberger

    “I'm not a big theory person. So when I get asked questions that demand serious statements, I just make it up.” Albert Oehlen

    Martin Kippenberger and Albert Oehlen: Playing with the Unsolvable

    Albert Oehlen and Martin Kippenberger are among the most iconic German artists of the past century. Emerging from a generation ridden with national and political disillusionment, they navigated controversial subjects with artistic levity. Through their satirical and outlandish humor, Oehlen and Kippenberger investigated the current generational culture of their homeland of Germany. As art historian Gregory H. Williams has observed regarding the prevalence of wit in German art of the 1980’s, “for a nation confronting a horrific period from its recent past, the embrace of laughter must be considered as a radical response to matters of a most serious nature.” (Gregory H. Williams, Permission to Laugh: Humor and Politics in Contemporary German Art, 2012, p. 11)

    The past resonates as a consistent theme in Kippenberger’s paintings of the 1980’s, exemplified by Plusquamperfekt - gehabt haben (Past Perfect - have had), 1984. The title alone emphasizes the grammatical past and past perfect tenses, which function to distinguish the particular order of past events. Kippenberger’s titles act as clues to an unsolvable visual puzzle. The tension of the “have had” of the title echoes the resistant connection between the composition and the text. A simplistic house stands at the center of the composition; the four-sided structure is a reference to fellow German artist Hubert Kiecol’s Standardhausers. Kiecol exhibited his small concrete houses, stairs and other architectural models at Galerie Max Hetzler in 1984, the same year that the present lot was painted. Kiecol’s scaled down architectural forms investigate the nature of home and security. In the present work, Kippenberger’s appropriated Standardhauser is made of brown and is accompanied by two of his iconic white eggs and vibrant green pickles or German gherkins. The egg for Kippenberer references rebirth, reproduction and the natural cycle in the form of a comical artistic symbol. The lower quadrant of the composition is a sea of charcoal black upon which a “g” and an “h”—referencing gehabt haben in the title—can be faintly made out, as though drawn into the paint with his pointer finger.

    For both Kippenberger and Oehlen, the canvas became a plate upon which to serve their colorful cultural commentary, constantly shifting between stinging criticism and playful wit as can be seen in Oehlen’s painting entitled Lämmle Live. The work was painted in 2004, the year that the television show Lämmle live ended its nine year run. The program played live every Saturday night and featured Brigitte Lämmle, a psychologist who dispensed advice to viewers calling into her show seeking personal guidance. Brigitte’s appearance is often commented upon: her loose fizzy hair, thickly knit wool sweaters, tweed skirts and box-like sneakers established her as the embodiment of comfort. Over 15,000 people called in every Saturday night while only ten were selected to be on the talk show to share their most intimate personal struggles. This reference to the exposure of inner turmoil is visually illustrated in the present lot, as Oehlen draws art historical references to the palette of his teacher Sigmar Polke, while the cacophony of smudges and drips calls upon the active compositions of his friend and fellow painter Christopher Wool. Within the scene, half-obscured figures are discernable. The face of a man with small wire rim glasses in the upper right quadrant, the legs and feet of a figure donning very Brigitte-esque white thick socks and sneakers at the upper left, and the full body of a man speaking through a megaphone runs horizontality along the lower left edge of the canvas. This chaotic storm of imagery could perhaps allude to the mental states of Lämmle live’s callers, all desperately seeking a quick fix their pressing problem. The painting may stand as an homage to the female mentor or a criticism of the gimmicky, media-based form of psychological advice that was dispersed so haphazardly to the public. This visual tangle of human forms and geometric swaths of paint has been aptly described by curator Michael Clark, citing Oehlen as an artist who “has painted himself into a position where none of his canvases can be described as either abstract or figurative… Freed from any notion of formal repetition, of content or theme, he is able to investigate, question, experiment and play in the plastic cosmology – the very material and matter – that constitutes and defines that universe.” (Martin Clark, “Abstract Painting Must Die Now” in Albert Oehlen: I Will Always Champion Good Painting, 2006, p. 59)

    Oehlen and Kippenberger, as comrades and partners-in-crime, danced the line of social decency in order to push the boundaries of their artist genius. The bad boys of the Cologne-based gallery, Galerie Max Hetzler, Oehlen explains that he and Kippenberger “made asses of ourselves and made everyone hate us. We climbed on tables and pulled down our pants—extreme artist behavior.” (Albert Oehlen in Susanne Kippenberger, Kippenberger: The Artist and His Families, 2011, p. 246) Beneath this boisterous and performative appearance, the two artists, ever engrossed in the world around them, responded to current events with a poignant joke often conveyed – or misconveyed - through a series of undecipherable symbols, yet it “become(s) clear that ambiguity was a conscious stance.” Max Hetzler recollects that Oehlen and Kippenberger “took extreme positions and brought a sharp intelligence to bear,” the two artists’ daily exchanges sparked an affectionate visual language, one which was fueled by the public’s reactions. “In order to maintain public interest in their work, the artists had to keep their in-jokes just comprehensible enough for an uninitiated viewer to find access. The present lots sprinkle false visual hints at a complex pictorial enigma, clocked in the guise of humor; Oehlen’s and Kippenberger’s inside jokes became the catalyst for their successful outward creations. (Gregory H. Williams, Permission to Laugh: Humor and Politics in Contemporary German Art, 2012, p. 11, 146)

  • Artist Biography

    Albert Oehlen

    Albert Oehlen is a German contemporary artist whose work explores the capabilities and failures of painting in the age of postmodernism. His deconstructed artworks reduce painting to a discordant mixture of its constituent elements—color, gesture, motion, and duration—and celebrate the resulting disharmony as an artistic expedition to the frontiers of the abilities of painting. Oehlen began his career in the art scenes of Cologne and Berlin, becoming associated with the Junge Wilde artists who sought to create works that defied classification and disrupted the artistic status quo. He has carried this sense of rebelliousness into his mature career with works that incorporate digital technologies as well as more traditional media. Oehlen’s paintings are marked by inherent, gleeful contradictions, always wielded with a cavalier confidence in the artist’s prowess – his uncooperative fusions of abstraction and figuration, for example, expose the inefficiencies of each art mode and explore the function of painting as much as its meaning.

    Oehlen has attracted critical praise befitting the innovative nature of his work, and he has been the subject of several major exhibitions at institutions such as the Mumok, Vienna and the New Museum, New York. He lives and works between Bühler, Switzerland.

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Property of a Private American Collector

Ο ◆11

Lämmle live

oil on canvas
110 1/4 x 133 7/8 in. (280 x 340 cm)
Signed and dated "A. Oehlen 04" on the reverse.

$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for $845,000

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 8 May 2016