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  • Provenance

    Luhring Augustine, New York
    Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne
    Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York

  • Catalogue Essay

    Discussing the origins of his painterly practice, Albert Oehlen relates ‘what sparked my interest was a desire to be involved with the medium that quintessentially represented High Art but which at the time, in the late 1970s, was coming under fierce attack. Added to which, there was a general feeling of massive potential in painting, since so little was happening in that field’ (Albert Oehlen in Jorg Heiser and Jan Verwoert, ‘Ordinary Madness: An interview with Albert Oehlen’, Frieze, Issue 78, October 2003). In these interstices between tradition and modernity, between impasse and potential, Oehlen’s work has flourished. He takes an expansive and revisionary approach to the canvas, populating his work with profusions of shape and colour that defy ready categorisation.

    Translating as ‘landscape,’ Landschaft takes a sideways look at an enduring painterly practice, envisaging space at a 90° anticlockwise rotation. On the left of the painting, shades of pastel blue recall a mid-afternoon haze. This sky is punctuated by three hemispheres of sun-parched orange, beyond which lie two rather more indistinct forms: the intimations of a windswept tree in dark green and a sharp peak in beige and grey. In these vivid but indefinite shapes, there is the trace of a Post-Impressionist inheritance. Towards the right and centre of the work, the image becomes more crowded, and less easily intelligible; waves of deep brown and cream hint at, but never affirm, an expanse of rocky ground. Reflecting on his move towards abstraction at the end of the 1980s, Oehlen remarked ‘in a way it was because I thought that art history went from figurative to abstract ... And I should do the same. I should have the same development in my life as art history’ (Albert Oehlen in conversation with Glenn O'Brien, Interview Magazine). The present lot finds him at a turning point in which both forms co-exist: the landscape imagined is neither entirely representational nor entirely abstract. It is a tricky expanse, full of geographic and theoretical obstacles.

    Then there is the matter of the grid: a form which the artist puts to deconstructionist effect. A rectilinear shape in the centre of the piece, it exposes the mechanics of painting. It appears as a framework for creating depth: an admission of the processes by which artworks take form. Elsewhere in his ouevre, Oehlen draws similar attention to the practice of making and viewing. Incorporating mirrors in his early works, he made manifest the viewer’s complicity in artistic creation. As it demystifies the painterly technique, the grid also lends Landschaft a curious compositional element. It recalls a practice employed by Francis Bacon in pieces like Seated Figure (1961) or Head IV (1966) by which lines are used to enclose space around a central figure. Although such a figure is absent from the present lot, it draws on the claustrophobic potential of these forms. It is not just Bacon whose influence is felt. At the bottom of the piece, a pair of tooth line jaws seems to open up. Here, the painting is at most ghastly and surreal, recalling those landscapes dreamt by Salvador Dali.

    Reflecting on his transition from acrylic, Oehlen recounts ‘the reason why I went to oil was mainly because I didn’t control it. I was looking for the insecurity of it. I mean, I might have found another reason later, but at that moment, the reason was I was looking for the insecurity’ (Albert Oehlen in conversation with Glenn O'Brien, Interview Magazine). Rendered in oil paint, the present lot reflects this uncertainty; imagining a spatial and psychic landscape, it is enlivened by Oehlen’s unquestionable ability to bring disparate modes into conversation.

  • 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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oil on canvas
160 x 200 cm (63 x 78 3/4 in.)
Signed and dated 'A. Oehlen 87' lower right.

£250,000 - 350,000 ‡ ♠

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

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London 29 June 2015 7pm