Albert Oehlen - 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, July 2, 2020 | Phillips

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  • In Short

    “This mirror idea allowed me to make an 'original' invention, but one that is bearable because it is so hackneyed” – Albert Oehlen

  • Mirror Paintings

    Depicting a somber  gallery wall, Im Museum II is an important early example from Albert Oehlen’s Mirror Paintings series, or “Spiegelbilder.” In these seminal works, completed between 1982 and 1990, the artist rendered rooms in a muted palette of earthy colors punctuated by actual fragments of mirrors collaged directly onto the canvas.

    The Mirror Paintings constitute a pivotal series in Oehlen’s oeuvre, sitting between the Bad Paintings and raw figurative works of his early career and the “post-non-objective” paintings of the late 1980s and 1990s. Embodying an idiosyncratic approach to light, scale, and color, which would permeate his later series, these paintings solidified Oehlen’s reputation as a master subverter of painterly tradition. One of Oehlen’s earliest bodies of work, the Mirror Paintings are currently being reconsidered as a decisive moment in his career, and were the subject of exhibitions at Galerie Max Heltzer and Nahmad Contemporary last year.

    In his 2020 essay, “Albert Oehlen’s Mirror Paintings, An Inescapable Contingency,” Raphael Rubinstein analyzes the series by what he considers to be the three defining characteristics of the works: that they are simultaneously “paintings with mirrors,” “paintings with things attached to them,” and “room paintings.”[i]

    A Painting with Mirrors

    Mirrors, of course, have been recurrent motifs in the history of art for centuries, featuring in the paintings of Diego Velázquez and Johannes Vermeer as well as in Japanese ukiyo-e. Actual mirrors, as opposed to images, have also had a prominent role in art at least since Enrico Baj’s mirror on brocade works from the 1950s; the following decade, mirrors began turning up continually, such as in Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms, Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Quadri Specchianti, and Gerhard Richter’s 4 Panes of Glass, 1967, Herbert Foundation, Ghent.

    A Painting with Things Attached to It

    Through the 19th century, artists very rarely attached objects to the surface of any painted support. In this sense, Im Museum II positions itself within an art historical lineage of modernism begun by Pablo Picasso’s Still Life with Chair Caning, 1912. Subsequently, innumerable works—such as Kurt Schwitter’s Merzbild assemblages and Francis Picabia’s Portrait of Cézanne, 1920—further interrupted pictorial illusion with actual three-dimensionality. By gluing mirrors on his paintings, Oehlen thrust himself into two 20th century modes of art-making: “the mirror-work and the painting-with-object-attached.”[ii]

    A Room Painting

    “I only used mirrors in pictures depicting rooms, so that the viewer can place himself in the room. These rooms were chosen not on the basis of design, or architecture, or any other such criteria, but on the basis of their meaning, which I attribute to them in relation to society,” Oehlen elucidated. “Museum, apartment, Hitler’s headquarters, things like that: a summons to appear in the picture.”[iii] By placing the viewer—and ostensibly the room he or she is in—within the painting, Im Museum II reflects both the closeness and dissidence between the dark corners of the past and our present.

    [i] Raphael Rubinstein, “Albert Oehlen’s Mirror Paintings, An Inescapable Contingency,” Albert Oehlen: Spiegelbilder / Mirror Paintings 1982-1990, Berlin, 2020, pp. 9-21.
    [ii] Raphael Rubinstein, “Albert Oehlen’s Mirror Paintings, An Inescapable Contingency,” Albert Oehlen: Spiegelbilder / Mirror Paintings 1982-1990, Berlin, 2020, p. 13.
    [iii] Albert Oehlen, quoted in Wilfred Dickhoff and Martin Prinzhorn, Kunst Heute, no. 7, 1990, p. 37.

    Johannes Vermeer, The Music Lesson, circa 1662. Royal Collection, London, Photo credit: HIP / Art Resource, NY

    Thomas Struth, Louvre III, 1989. Musee National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Photo credit: Philippe Migeat © CNAC/MNAM/Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY, Artwork © 2020 Thomas Struth
    • Provenance

      Galerie Max Hetzler, Stuttgart
      The Metzger Collection, Essen
      Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2004

    • Exhibited

      Stuttgart, Galerie Max Hetzler, Albert Oehlen: Montparnasse, da war das Leben klasse, September 3 – 30, 1982
      Bologna, Galleria d’Arte Moderna; Essen, Museum Folkwang, La giovane pittura in Germania – Die junge Malerei in Deutschland, November 20, 1982 - January 10, 1983, p. 88 (illustrated)
      Kunsthalle Budapest; Tampere, Sara Hildén Art Museum, German Expressionism in the Metzger Collection, January 24 – November 18, 1984, no. 110, p. 138 (illustrated, p. 6)
      Berlin, Galerie Max Hetzler, Albert Oehlen: Gemälde Paintings 1980-1982, May 24 – June 22, 2002, p. 32 (illustrated, p. 33)
      Karlsruhe, Museum für Neue Kunst, Obsessive Malerei: Ein Rückblick auf die Neuen Wilden Karlsruhe, September 27, 2003 - January 4, 2004, p. 15 (illustrated, p. 183)

    • Literature

      Albert Oehlen: Spiegelbilder / Mirror Paintings 1982-1990, exh. cat., Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin, 2020, p. 17 (illustrated)

Property from an Important European Collection


Im Museum II

oil, lacquer and mirror on canvas
63 x 63 in. (160 x 160 cm)
Executed in 1982.

Full Cataloguing

$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for $560,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 2 July 2020