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  • Provenance

    Thomas Dane Gallery, London
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Distinctive of Albert Oehlen’s coveted series, Computer Paintings, Abyss, 1997, is an exquisite example of the artist’s extensive experimentation into technological abstraction. Signifying Oehlen’s mandate to rehabilitate and reinvigorate painting as a chief medium, the present work offers a rich economy of line, superimposed on a backdrop of graffiti-inspired gestures. A ruptured explosion of linear marks ignites from the upper right region of the canvas. Form and colour are turbulent, colliding into an abstract panorama of disorder. Heralding a new epoch of innovation and technical prowess within Oehlen’s oeuvre, the German artist began his celebrated Computer Paintings in 1990 following the purchase of his first laptop computer. Using a computer program, Oehlen fashioned functional symbols and motifs, applying a new vernacular until the series’ conclusion in 2008.

    Of German descent, Oehlen studied under Sigmar Polke at the prestigious University of Fine Arts in Hamburg. Rising to global prominence in the early 1980s, Oehlen was affiliated with a generation of artists that openly and actively rejected the dominant cultural values. His contemporaries included Martin Kippenberger, who, like Oehlen, demonstrated a profound dissatisfaction with the status quo. For his irreverent disregard of stylistic boundaries, Oehlen was considered as the enfant terrible of the German art scene, dismantling the history of painting in order to reconstruct and revise its techniques. Questioning centuries of aesthetic tradition in a bid to expose new, uncultivated potential, Oehlen created a coded lexicon by weaving an innovative modus operandi. Drawing painting into the digital age, Abyss is a charismatic and dynamic picture that represents the artist’s opening of a new creative space, which re-invents and re-shapes the sovereign medium of art.

    Using a mouse and basic computer software, Oehlen creates onscreen digital drawings, which are then enlarged and printed onto canvas. Implementing rules and structural limitations, the artist approaches abstraction through gesture or geometry, superimposed and combined, or conflated with a figurative register. Pictorial form is therefore a trigger rather than an end in itself. Abyss is thus a means of questioning how digital media might shed new light on the power of painting. The series, therefore, probes the relationship between man and machine, a concept adopted by his contemporaries Christopher Wool and Wade Guyton. With the use of new digital technologies, such practitioners examined the functions and limitations of the computer at a time when few artists dared to explore this unchartered, post-human realm.

    Within the present work, the frantic nature of the line juxtaposes with the rigidity of the geometric forms, resulting in a paradoxical peculiarity. The viewer’s eye may never rest on one particular space within the painterly microcosm, due to the chaotic and haphazard composition, a composition in which wild multi-coloured arrangements exist in the same pictorial field as hovering geometric shapes. Cascading bands of candy-cane pink and yellow, are suspended alongside a diamond design of green. The title of the work calls to mind a deep and vast chasm, a seemingly immeasurable space, which enriches the sense of disorder and infinity conveyed by the artist’s touch. Examining Abyss, the viewer becomes aware of how impulse and eclecticism are at the core of Oehlen’s guiding principles.

  • 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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Ο ◆17


signed and dated 'A. Oehlen '97' on the reverse
inkjet, oil, acrylic and spray enamel on canvas
201.6 x 303.1 cm (79 3/8 x 119 3/8 in.)
Executed in 1997.

£1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for £2,165,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 [email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 29 June 2017