Albert Oehlen - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, February 13, 2013 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles
    Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin
    Private Collection, Geneva

  • Catalogue Essay

    Albert Oehlen was born in 1954 in Krefeld, Germany and studied under Sigmar Polke in Hamburg. Linked to the Düsseldorf School and once a close friend of the late Martin Kippenberger, Oehlen combines a genuine love of painting and its beauty with a good measure of scepticism towards its fundamental rules and regulations. That eternal question in contemporary art theory, "is painting dead?", has lost none of its controversy over the course of his career. On the contrary, it is the vigorous presence of artists such as Oehlen which helps keep the flame of painting blazing amidst the storms of criticism.

    Oehlen has always stuck to the traditional roots of painting – the exploration of colour and form, space and depth – but the power of his work lies in its unorthodoxy. Oehlen is in favour of confronting its received dogma, initially rejecting all beauty and dispensing with style in order to regain an authentic, expressive quality. rebellious and restless, his practice ranges from large abstract canvases to small-scale collages. Constantly re-evaluating his approach over the years, he has lately started using a computer to compose his canvases.

    Measuring 190 centimetres square, Student II is a large-scale self-portrait set within a mesh of abstract architecture. It is a painting which speaks of a deep admiration for the force of Francis Bacon’s self-depictions: the Irish master’s metaphysical investigations resonate in Oehlen’s own cage-like structure. And surely Oehlen must feel an affinity with Bacon: a man whose constant, lifelong struggle with the hotly contested medium of painting resulted, eventually, in supreme masterworks.

    In Student II, Oehlen’s rough, spontaneous brushwork is executed solely in black and white, marking the beginning of his grey paintings. this reduction in tones came about when Oehlen was in Spain and only had a very limited palette at hand. Here he brushes up against neoclassicism and cubism: works such as Portrait of Wilhelm Uhde (1910) by the self-reinventing Pablo Picasso come to mind. this exclusion of colour provoked in Oehlen an increased desire for vibrant paint: "I wanted to paint even more intensely coloured pictures, and I prescribed to myself the grey tones as therapy, in order to artificially heighten the lust for colour." (Albert Oehlen, ed. by Hans-Werner Holzwarth, Cologne, 2009, p. 378). And by thus stripping his work down to its basics, Oehlen was able to use the grey tones as a springboard for different possibilities within his paintings – becoming the trigger as opposed to the end.

  • 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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Student II

oil on canvas
190 x 190 cm (74 3/4 x 74 3/4 in)
Signed, titled and dated 'Student II, A. Oehlen 97' on the reverse.

£150,000 - 250,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £169,250

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

14 February 2013