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  • Overview

    Forming part of a sequence of paintings Albert Oehlen created between 2007 and 2009, Control demonstrates the artist’s propensity to blur the boundaries between diverse artistic media, locating his production at the threshold of painting, sculpture, and the readymade. With its neon-like borders, its typeset writing, its photographic component and its strokes of blue and ochre paint, the composition straddles calculation and spontaneity, intellectualism and instinct, devising a number of layers from which to envisage the final image. The artist ‘attacks with paint the shallow clamour of transferred digital pixelation and, in some works, glued-on advertising posters’, writes Peter Schjeldahl. ‘He wrestles their visual quiddities – how they look, irrespective of what they represent – down into the body and makes them groan’.i Building upon this synaesthetic framework, and forming a feverish mêlée of pictorial animation, Control demonstrates Oehlen’s ability in producing precisely what the work’s title enunciates: total and exacting discipline in conjuring a multifarious image. Recognised as one of the most innovative and significant painters working today, Oehlen was recently celebrated on the occasion of his major solo exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries, London, in 2019.’

    'For my recent work, I stuck posters on the canvas and smeared paint over them. I was aiming at abstract painting that had an innate irritability caused by the obtrusive adverts… Every now and then, the interplay between two posters creates a joke, but there’s no statement behind the content, the content implodes.' —Albert Oehlen

    Discussing the origins of his painterly practice, Oehlen declared that ‘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’.ii In these interstices between tradition and modernity, impasse and potential, Oehlen flourished and ushered a new, revisionary approach to the medium, populating his canvases with profusions of traditional painterly elements only to better undermine them thereafter. With Control, Oehlen’s adversary take on the medium forms part of a wider questioning he undertook throughout his career, whereby he would identify key art historical tropes – herein, the dominance of two-dimensionality – and subsequently subvert them. In the 1990s, he began to compound computer-generated images, painted with a mouse and applied to a canvas with an inkjet printer, with more traditional painting materials such as oils and acrylic. Through these mechanically made pictures, Oehlen was able to redefine the notion of artistic authorship. ‘[Oehlen] adopts the critical attitude of Conceptual Art’, explained Chirstoph Schreier, ‘but articulates it not from the outside, but from the inside – from inside the painting itself’.iii The result, in the present composition, aptly typifies the artist’s self-coined ‘post-non-figurative’ style, blending a variety of visual information on a single, flat ground.

     

    Marcel Duchamp, Mona Lisa (L.H.O.O.Q), 1919, ready made with pencil, Philadelphia Museum of Art. Image: Scala Images.
    Marcel Duchamp, Mona Lisa (L.H.O.O.Q), 1919, ready made with pencil,
    Philadelphia Museum of Art. Image: Scala Images.

    Boasting a humorous mix of written and visual content, amounting to a derisive disruption of the painterly tradition, Control recalls the conceptual gestures undertaken by Marcel Duchamp decades before, when the artist utilised familiar images that he would alter with his own hand, and caption with enigmatic quips. Exemplifying this irreverent approach, Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q, 1919, takes the iconic image of the Mona Lisa and turns it on its head, labelling the result with an acronym that, when read aloud, translates to ‘There is fire down below’. Similarly, Oehlen’s Control devises a legible linguistic component at its core, that reads ‘Aaaarrghh’ – as if textually embodying the hodgepodge of information that is distributed across the canvas. Both playing with visual codes typically prevalent in the advertising realm, L.H.O.O.Q and Control reveal the methodic approach with which collaged compositions can be created, outwitting the parameters that are usually understood to frame the painterly medium.

    'My intention is to have abstract paintings with the aspect of cheapness of bad adds, to activate anti-commercial feelings.' —Albert Oehlen

    i Peter Schjeldahl, ‘Painting’s Point Man’, The New Yorker, 15 June 2015, online.
    ii Albert Oehlen, quoted in Jorg Heiser and Jan Verwoert, ‘Ordinary Madness: An interview with Albert Oehlen’, Frieze, Issue 78, October 2003.
    iii Christoph Schreier, ‘Storm Damage – Albert Oehlen’s Painting as a Visual Stress Test’, Albert Oehlen, exh. cat., Kunstmuseum Bonn, 2012, p. 71.
     
                 

    • Provenance

      Thomas Dane Gallery, London
      Private Collection, U.K.
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      London, Thomas Dane Gallery, Albert Oehlen, 29 February - 29 March 2008, no. 3 (illustrated, n.p.)

    • Literature

      Hans Werner Holzwarth, ed., Albert Oehlen, Cologne, 2009, pp. 579, 655 (illustrated, p. 579)
      Hans Werner Holzwarth, ed., Albert Oehlen, Cologne, 2017, pp. 377, 493 (illustrated, p. 377)

    • 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 ◆32

Control

signed and dated 'A Oehlen 07' on the reverse
acrylic, printed paper collage and oil on canvas
230 x 200 cm (90 1/2 x 78 3/4 in.)
Executed in 2007.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£400,000 - 600,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £475,000

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4026
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 20 October 2020