Albert Oehlen - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 20, 2020 | Phillips
  • Overview


    Combining oil paint, collage and two photographic segments, Die Veränderungen displays Albert Oehlen’s formally succinct and eclectic style, which has become known for attending to traditional media and genres only to immediately challenge, twist and subvert them. ‘If almost every major Oehlen is to some degree slung over the bones of a collage’, writes John Kelsey, ‘it’s also true that the painting itself is a collage of different moments and gestures, and that in many cases the moments we would call painterly are often followed and extended by further layers of actual collage’.i With its falsely flat geometric construction – debunked by the presence of overlaid paint and photographic additions – Die Veränderungen deftly exemplifies the artist’s continuous experimentation with both physical and painterly layering, as well as his tendency to revisit previously mounted collages. Specifically, the present work echoes Ursprung Collage 9, a virtually identical small-scale collaged work that Oehlen created in 2003. Included in the artist’s important Vienna Secession show in 2005, Ursprung Collage 9 was subsequently used as a premise for the present work, which Oehlen devised in larger-than-life dimensions. Testament to its importance within the artist’s oeuvre, Die Veränderungen was exhibited at the Kunsthaus Graz, Museum Joanneum, in 2006, and at Kunstraum Grässlin in 2010-2011, on the occasion of two major solo shows.

    'Oehlen’s sensibility and calculated practice is very focused on collage. The fragmentation and combination that are aspects of collage figuratively configure his abstract paintings. And now as he literally attached a collage element at the beginning of a painting, the collaged paper and the painted elements became one.' —Klaus Kertess

    A primordial technique within Oehlen’s practice, collage has constituted the basis of a number of his pictorial manifestations throughout his career. Looking at Oehlen’s myriad small collages dotting his production in the mid-2000s, one is indeed immediately able to discern two themes: grids and rooms. For his gridded compositions, the artist appropriated newspaper or catalogue pages which he visually arranged as blocs or columns of information; for his rooms, he borrowed the contents and structures of homes displayed in lifestyle magazine and furniture advertisements – the result of which was usually interspersed with cut-out figures and various other intruding objects. Belonging to this latter category of collaged works, Die Veränderungen portrays the zoomed-in, altered and rejigged area of a domestic space, facetiously interrupted by a rising white mannequin and mutilated black boot. Recalling Matisse’s cutouts, David Salle’s multi-layered compositions, and myriad other handcrafted formulations, Die Veränderungen presaged a number of Oehlen’s subsequent creations, which continued combining textures and pictorial methods on a single flat plane. Subject-wise, Oehlen moreover returned to the domestic theme in later artistic iterations, namely on the occasion of his seminal solo show entitled Home and Garden at the New Museum, New York, in 2015, where he created an installation comprising a painted self-portrait tucked in a physical bed, haloed by a Vienna Secession exhibition poster on the wall. Positing as a three-dimensional rendition of his Interior series, the Home and Garden installation became a perennial testament to the importance of Die Veränderungen and its sister paintings in Oehlen’s later oeuvre.


    Giorgio Morandi, Large Metaphysical Still Life, 1918, oil on canvas, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan. Image: Scala Images, Florence.

 Giorgio Morandi, Large Metaphysical Still Life, 1918, oil on canvas, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan. Image: Scala Images, Florence.  

    The subject matter at the heart of Die Veränderungen, though not immediately evident to the naked eye, is one that holds significant art-historical precedence. The depicted objects, varying in verisimilitude from true to quasi-abstract, suggest a curated moodboard laid atop the wall of a room – perhaps Oehlen’s vision of an artist’s studio. This possibility is supported by the presence of a soaring white mannequin in the painting’s lower-left quadrant, which further likens the space to a creative atelier. In this perspective, Die Veränderungen summons such landmark images as Henri Matisse’s Pink Studio, or Giorgio Morandi’s mute renderings of his object-filled home. Equally, the serendipitous distribution of objects recalls the overarching theme of orderly chaos that frequently dominated surrealist creations – a comparison Oehlen specifically alluded to in conversation with Daniel Baumann on the occasion of the Die Götter im Exil show. In the present work, the rising black silhouette, the white mannequin and the single, disembodied leg standing erect in the lower-right quadrant of the work constitute an intriguing, fragmented study of the human body, which further echoes the symbolism so often found in surrealist compositions. ‘Each of these layers contain discursive dead ends and tangent incidents of paint/image/materiality that refused classical pictorial cohesion’, writes Tom McGlynn.ii Fostering a passion for Salvador Dali since the 1980s, and living in Spain at the time of creating the present work, Oehlen could have been inspired to include some fantastical undertones to Die Veränderungen as a response to the Spanish artist’s surrealist creations, which similarly emanate sentiments of animation and absurdity whilst attending to rigid pictorial parameters. 

    'With his strategies of the complication of painting, Albert Oehlen is working toward the maximum possible openness in his work. Everything is in perpetual movement, and must remain in the balance.' —Ralf BeilIndeed, despite its inherently anti-formulaic motivations, Die Veränderungen is a distinctly geometric tableau. Squares of content are placed atop each other, while textures vary across the canvas’s surface. The predominantly yellow ground lays flat on its two-dimensional support, substantiated only by the two photographic additions in the lower-right area and central-left quadrant of the painting – embodied by the booted leg and the bricks, respectively. At the same time, the process with which Die Veränderungen was achieved follows a strong legacy of experimental painting that systematically refused oil and acrylic paint as exclusive tools for the production of a picture. In Oehlen’s case, the departure from a formal and traditional understanding of the painterly medium does not derive simply from a desire to experiment; rather, it follows the artist’s iconoclastic proclivities, which saw him ceaselessly rebel against established modes – specifically in reaction to the Neo-Expressionist generation that preceded him. Forming part of a generation that emerged in Berlin and Cologne in the 1980s, Oehlen would use parody – both thematic and compositional – to dethrone romantic notions of the artist and the creative process. A result of this adversary and derisive spirit, Die Veränderungen attests to the artist’s tendency to challenge the limits of the media he employs in favour of an overarching facetious critique – engaging with what critic Tom McGlynn has termed ‘a tradition of anti-tradition in post war German painting’.iii

    i John Kelsey, ‘Collage and Program: Rise of the Readymetal Maidens’, Parket no. 79, May 2007, reproduced online.
    ii Tom McGlynn, ‘Albert Oehlen: Fn Paintings’, The Brooklyn Rail, November 2019, online.
    iii Tom McGlynn, ‘Albert Oehlen: Fn Paintings’, The Brooklyn Rail, November 2019, online.

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 2005

    • Exhibited

      Kunsthaus Graz am Landesmuseum Joanneum, Die Götter im Exil, 4 March - 7 May 2006, pp. 167, 199 (illustrated, pp. 166-167)
      St. Georgen, Kunstraum Grässlin, Mike Kelley, Martin Kippenberger, Albert Oehlen, 10 June 2006 - 5 March 2007 (illustrated, n.p.)
      St. Georgen, Kunstraum Grässlin, Albert Oehlen: Werke aus der Sammlung, 12 September 2010 – 27 November 2011

    • Literature

      Secession, exh. cat., Secession, Vienna, 2004, p. 57 (collage illustrated)
      Hans Werner Holzwarth, ed., Albert Oehlen, Cologne, 2009, pp. 122, 654 (illustrated, pp. 122-123)
      Hans Werner Holzwarth, ed., Albert Oehlen, Cologne, 2017. pp. 86, 492 (illustrated, p. 86)

Property from an Important German Collection


Die Veränderungen

signed and dated 'A. Oehlen 05' on the reverse
oil, acrylic and photo-paper collage on canvas
299.5 x 280.4 cm (117 7/8 x 110 3/8 in.)
Executed in 2005.

Full Cataloguing

£700,000 - 900,000 

Sold for £809,000

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 20 October 2020