Albert Oehlen - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, October 5, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Gagosian Gallery, New York
    Private Collection, New York

  • Catalogue Essay

    Central to the rehabilitation of painting in the 1980s and challenging the preconceived artistic canon, Albert Oehlen positioned himself as the enfant terrible of the 1980s German art scene. The present work, Untitled, is an outstanding example from Oehlen’s Computer Painting series, in which the artist first introduced digital technology into his disruptive painterly practice. As one of the first painters to unmistakably incorporate computer imagery in his works, the artist liberated the formal boundaries of painting through the pixelated nature of his compositions. Presenting the viewer with Oehlen’s powerful and divergent forms, the layers of the composition are built upon one another to form an erratic and charged composition.

    With unremitting energy radiating throughout the composition and violent clashes of lines, Untitled gives an impression of visual chaos, with unruly linear configurations clamouring for attention. Black sensual lines intertwine, jostling against a white background they leave the viewer pondering where each line finds its beginning and end. Impulse seems to be at the core of Oehlen’s oeuvre, though on closer inspection the chaos has been carefully and aesthetically arranged. In his Computer Paintings the artist creates an abstracted pattern, first rendering his composition with a mouse, the artist then prints, silkscreens and or paints these gestures onto his chosen material, canvas or paper. Often combining these techniques, regardless of the repeated patterns, in his Computer Paintings, the artist creates varied and layered compositions. Composed on a computer programme, the series is founded on the notion of seriality. Through the process, Oehlen instills the work with a sense of irony as the use of the human hand to perfect the final product destroys the legitimacy of the term Computer Painting. Arguably scornful of the artist's hand, using digitally rendered images Oehlen appears to be questioning the skill of painting. In contrast, however, through perfecting the final image with oil paint, the artist celebrates the infinite potential of digital imagery. Disrupting, complicating and obscuring the pictorial plane, Untitled assertively pushes the boundaries of painting and compositional structures, engaging multiple perspectives. Utilising paper on canvas the artist increases the dimensionality of the work and questions the limits of the pictorial plane.

    Embracing digital manipulation, the artist began this celebrated series following the purchase of his first laptop computer in 1990 and only concluded the series around 2008. Executed in these final years, the present work encapsulates the artist’s creative genius. With the initial works from 1992 rendered in fully monochrome, from the mid-1990s the artist spent a period creating vibrantly coloured Computer Paintings before returning to black and white. In the present work we see the artist going back to his initial experimentations, devoid of colour. Untitled pays homage to the earlier works and is considered a consolidation of the artist’s perfected aesthetic. Having spent over a decade replicating computer derived digital motifs, Oehlen fully explored his abstract imagery through varying and manipulating the composition whilst persistently utilising the same imagery. Simultaneously a cataclysmic explosion of forms and a tempestuous abstract, violent configuration, Untitled synthesises the manual and the digital. Placing technology at the centre of Computer Paintings, the artist creates an innovative and mesmerising visual experience.

    The line is the protagonist of Oehlen’s work. The sensual delight of forms and the physical menace and tension of varied layers is evident at many points throughout his oeuvre. At times recalling Willem de Kooning’s graphical equilibrium, Oehlen masterfully interrogates the dimensionality of the picture plane. Similarly, invoking Brice Marden’s layering of lyrical forms and manipulation of colour with ghostly and partially erased lines, both artists allow the coils to remain atop the canvas, provoking further contemplation of the depth of the composition. In Untitled, Oehlen uses these expressive bands to blend physical human creation with digital imagery, some lines are digitally rendered and others are man made gestural strokes. In his celebrated series the artist sparks debate, with his use of computer generated imagery prompting dialogue on the excitement of newfound digital pictorial mediums. Oehlen was a trailblazer of sorts, testing preconceived boundaries of creation and incorporating technology into art at a time when the two were directly opposed. A school of creativity followed his initial experiments with digital media, such as the work of Wade Guyton and Cory Arcangel. Within a present day context with the proliferation of digital concepts, the gravity of the initial shock of the Computer Paintings seems incomprehensible. Untitled is deeply rooted in art history, it is both timely and resolutely innovative.

    In the early 1980s in Berlin, Cologne and Hamburg, Oehlen and his contemporaries, Werner Büttner, Georg Herold and Martin Kippenberger garnered public attention for their desire to shock and provoke. Amidst the experience of his surroundings in post war Germany within an environment of punk music and Gestalt theory, the artist studied under Sigmar Polke and rebelled against the prevailing aesthetic of the time. Occupied with abstract means of representation, Oehlen engaged with divergent forms of presentation. The artist took up painting, a radical decision at a time when conceptual art dominated and painting was considered passé. Believing that the only way to revive painting was to dismantle it from the inside out by re-establishing its techniques, the artist denuded centuries of aesthetic tradition, disregarding all types of established visual codes to expose new uncharted potential for the medium. Here, seeking to challenge the viewer and present new and rare forms of creation, the artist bridges the boundaries between the representational and the abstract, questioning notions of perception.

    In Untitled, Oehlen characteristically intertwines symbolic content with formal investigations into the power of the image. Purposefully creating playful, content related, misunderstandings, the artist leaves his work notoriously challenging to classify. The work is rich with the artist’s characteristic engagement of the artwork as a means for communication and interrogation of the notion of creation. The present work, from the culmination of the artist’s celebrated Computer Painting series, is a powerful and captivating composition, conveying the aesthetic of a crucial turning point in the path of contemporary history - the visual impact of digital technology in the early 2000s. Exploring the limitations of abstraction, Oehlen presents a masterful canvas brimming with meaning yet simultaneously fantastical in its execution.

  • 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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signed and dated 'A. Oehlen '08' on the reverse
spray paint, inkjet, oil and paper on canvas
240 x 200.7 cm (94 1/2 x 79 in.)
Executed in 2008.

£400,000 - 600,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £729,000

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 6 October 2017