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  • Provenance

    Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin
    Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York
    Privatsammlung, Florida, USA
    Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay


    'I always had a wish to become an abstract painter. I wanted to reproduce in my own career the classical development in the history of art from figurative to abstract painting.'

    -ALBERT OEHLEN, 2006


    Throughout his career, Albert Oehlen has contended with the practice of mark making. The present, lot rendered in thin washes of acrylic and oil, represents the artist’s foray into abstract painting. Oehlen weights the canvas with large colorful swathes of thinly applied paint, swatches of teal, brown, purple and yellow gliding across the canvas, expanding and intensifying across the picture plane: as though rendered in watercolor rather than oil and acrylic, the undulating forms take on capricious shapes of their own that trail across the composition and enact the independence of Oehlen’s exploratory impulse.

    As a vital member of the 1980s enfants terribles generation, Oehlen, along with close friend and fellow German artist Martin Kippenberger, depicted the figures and objects of daily life as a means to produce works of wild and rough intensity. By the 1990s the violent handling of mediums and paint in particular had been abandoned by Oehlen, who instead began to explore the freedom of abstraction. He embraced the less regimented and more spontaneous forms of paint application even in his choices of medium. He explains ‘I painted with acrylic paint, and the reason why I went to oil was mainly because I didn’t control it. I was looking for the insecurity of it.’ (Albert Oehlen in conversation with Glenn O’Brien, Interview Magazine, January 2011). The present lot, a mixture of oil and acrylic, therefore presents two contradictory practices: the safety in predictability and the freedom of losing control. Oehlen explains that pushing your artistic practice into the unknown begins with the most basic of tasks: ‘It starts when you’ll go shopping for art supplies. You make decisions, and they’re always the same, like the kind of brushes you buy. And if you’re forced to change something, it gives insecurity to the work that is very helpful. It makes you find out what you really need.’ (Albert Oehlen in conversation with Glenn O’Brien, Interview Magazine, January 2011).

    The present lot, titled Greifen, meaning to grasp or touch in German, is compositionally adorned with various hands, thinly outlined in deep teals and lavender purples and reminiscent of the finely outlined comic-like figures of fellow German artist Sigmar Polke. The hands can be found in a variety of poses: on the far left of the composition a teal hand is seen in a fist, while directly below a pair of hands are wringing intensely, with what look like soap suds bubbling in a halo around them. A lilac hand on the far right of the picture plane is seen in profile, cupped as if receiving an offering. All three sets of hands are seen in the middle of a particular action in order to emphasize the tactility of these gestures. The removal of the artist’s own hand in the role of painting has been one of increasing interest for Oehlen: while the present lot seeks to remove traces of Oehlen’s hand from its creation, it places a delicate visual substitute within the actual composition.

    Curator Hamza Walker has called Oehlen’s paintings ‘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, Albert Oehlen: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, exh. cat. 1999). Oehlen’s strict non-adherence to any specific practice is not a lack of systematic technique, but rather a constant and methodical exploration in the traditional definition of ‘good painting.’ Oehlen explains that to him painting is an act that an artist must take serious responsibility for: ‘you have to give it an importance.’ Finding the beautiful is a process of consistent investigation. ‘I don’t think you can really, seriously — or philosophically — try to find out what it is that a painting does to you. It’s contradictory. You can’t come to an end because, if it’s good, it’s beautiful—everything that’s good will be at the end called beautiful. But I like very much if you do things that seem to be forbidden and seem to be impossible, like a test of courage.’ (Albert Oehlen in conversation with Glenn O’Brien, Interview Magazine, January 2011) .

  • 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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18

Greifen

2004
oil, acrylic on canvas
230 x 180 cm (90 1/2 x 70 7/8 in.)
Signed, titled and dated '"Greifen" A. Oehlen 2004' on the reverse.

Estimate
£400,000 - 600,000 ♠ †

Sold for £398,500

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
[email protected]
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 12 February 2015 7pm