Albert Oehlen - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Wednesday, October 4, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    A reoccurring motif throughout Albert Oehlen’s extensive and divergent oeuvre, the tree motif acts as a conceptual foundation upon which the artist developed a profound reflection of representation and abstraction. Simplified in their composition, the present works contain bold signifiers, such as a thick trunk and tangled branches, which mirror the twisting roots below. The absence of background liberates the trees from their natural setting in a traditional landscape painting. Instead the forms float within the expanse of the picture plane. Oehlen’s characteristic shift from figuration is further emphasised by the monochrome colour palette, the trees are demarcated using thick expressive brushstrokes demonstrative of the artist’s preference to portray the process by which artworks are made. The limited palette prevents any tonal distraction and encourages the spectator to enter into a state of sublimity, triggered by the organic tree forms. Concerned with the subjectivity of aesthetics, the artist notes, ‘what I see are unbearably ugly tatters, which are then transformed at the last moment, as if by magic, into something beautiful’ (Albert Oehlen quoted in ‘Albert Oehlen im Gespräch mit Wilfried Dickhoff und Martin Prinzhorn’, Wilfried Dickhoff, ed.,Kunst Heute 7, Cologne, 1991, p. 78).

    In the present lots, the tree is presented as an experimental subject, which Oehlen explored as a parameter to test the boundaries between abstraction and figuration. Oehlen’s tree paintings track his artistic investigations exploring differing notions of perception, a journey the artist first embarked upon in 1988 together with friend and fellow artist Martin Kippenberger. Devoutly focused upon following abstraction, the artist asserted ‘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 quoted in Glenn O’Brien, ‘Albert Oehlen’, Interview, May 2009, p. 106).

    Precursors to the significant and esteemed Elevator Paintings, the link between these bodies of work was aptly highlighted in the Gagosian show, Elevator Paintings: Trees (28 February – 15 April 2017). The Elevator Paintings presented the artist’s absolute transition into the realm of abstract art through his tree paintings. The present works, therefore, mark an important stage in Oehlen’s artistic culmination. Just as the raw sheets of both works bare the soul of their creative process, alongside their visible brushstrokes, so Oehlen encourages viewers to join him along every stage of his creative journey, in following the development of the tree motif in the build-up of the Elevator Paintings.

  • 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 '90' lower right
blue ink on paper
127 x 97 cm (50 x 38 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1990.

£30,000 - 50,000 

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 5 October 2017