Albert Oehlen - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, March 7, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    The present composition from Albert Oehlen’s highly inventive and varied oeuvre belongs to his Conduction paintings, a series of lyrical works titled after American Jazz musician Butch Morris’s improvisations. Interlocking arabesque-like forms manoeuvre the plane, displaying Oehlen’s distinctive approach to creation.

    Oehlen’s Conduction works push the boundaries of painting and compositional structures. Visually connected to his Computer paintings, the entirely hand-painted Conduction paintings mark a break from the digitally produced former series which he had commenced in the 1990s. Commenting on the evolution of his linear compositions and the return to non-computer generated imagery, the artist notes: ‘To make the “computer paintings” sounds as far as it could be from the paintings I was making in 1990, when I had the idea. But I had no idea how to make them. It turned out that instead of going along with the computer and profiting from its possibilities, I had to go against it, ignore what it’s made for and do what I do anyway. What my art stands for is a method. It has a procedure of instructions and automatisms and does not aim for a special look’ (Albert Oehlen, quoted in Painthing On The Möve, exh. cat., Thomas Dane Gallery, London, 2011, p. 48). The geometrically linear paintings in the Conduction series substitute the erratically produced computer lines with imagery from the artist’s smaller drawing collages. Blowing the images up to a larger format, he painted and drew the compositions onto canvas, each line imbued with the artist’s gesture and channelling the energy of the smaller works.

    The present work does not seek equilibrium; the composition moves across the canvas, each confusing line merging with another, freeing the painting from its certainty. Black lines of varied thickness and ranging in their geometry appear like ridges against a pure, white background. The dizzying circuits of lines are thrust one into the other, finishing in more intricate scribbles. These scrambled lines, almost like cables confusingly cloistered together, create a painting that seems almost overcharged, wriggling with electricity as it constantly converges. This sense of lyrical energy lies at the heart of the series; the artist seeks to visualise musical sensations. The constant changes of tempo within the canvas reflect Oehlen’s own interest in music and culminate in a painterly equivalent of Morris’s structure-free musical improvisations. Morris's direction of distinctive large-ensemble music based on collective improvisation is mirrored in the present composition. Oscillating between figuration and abstraction, the artist engages multiple perspectives and creates a work colliding with structure and formlessness, rhythm and cacophony. The work delights in its own musicality as it assimilates the free-flowing nature of jazz music. Commenting on the artist’s affinity to music, Pierre Sterckx notes: ‘Oehlen tries to do with painting what others (Coltrane, Zappa) have attempted in jazz or rock: to immerse the listener in a burst of overlapping, saturated and expansive strata, getting rid of any story-lines since there is no beginning nor end’ (Pierre Sterckx, ‘Albert Oehlen: Junk Screens’, in, Albert Oehlen, exh. cat., FRAC: Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain Auvergne, London, 2005, n.p.).

    Consistently pushing pictorial boundaries, producing canvasses with unremitting energy, Oehlen, innovator amongst the new spirit of the 1980s German art scene, continues to reject the univocal, instead producing powerfully anarchic, disruptive and alluring works that maintain and repel the vocabulary of painting. The artist’s divergent output channels the outlook of his contemporaries, having studied under Sigmar Polke in the 1970s the artist’s approach channels Polke’s investigative, rebellious and irreverent approach to creation. Each artist unequivocally undermines and challenges their chosen medium. Oehlen mediates between two conflicting aesthetics, combining experiments of the past with lyrical momentum towards future experiment. Consistently rebelling against the prevailing aesthetic Oehlen devises an entirely unique and fascinating investigation into what it means to paint.

    In the present composition, the artist employs a reduced palette to heighten the striking contrast and lyrical nature of the free composition. Drawing directly on musical sources, the series explores the relationship between creation and memory and the methodology of improvisation. Referencing the spontaneous nature of his practice and the parallels to musical creation, Oehlen acknowledges how ‘memory plays a role in both disciplines, but …the ability to forget is more important in painting’ (Albert Oehlen, quoted in Painthing On The Möve, exh. cat., Thomas Dane Gallery, London, 2011, p. 48). A prominent composition from the apex of Oehlen’s investigative approach to creation, Untitled is exemplary of the artist’s significant and challenging practice.



signed and dated 'Albert Oehlen '10' on the reverse
acrylic, charcoal and spray enamel paint on canvas
190 x 230 cm (74 3/4 x 90 1/2 in.)
Executed in 2010.

£250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for £345,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 8 March 2018