Qualities that I want to see brought together: delicacy and coarseness, color and vagueness, and, underlying them all, a base note of hysteria.
Albert Oehlen’s oeuvre is a testament to the innate freedom of the creative act. Through expressionist brushwork, surrealist methodology, and self-conscious amateurism he engages with the history of abstract painting, pushing the basic components of abstraction to new extremes.
Oehlen studied at the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg in Germany from 1978 to 1981 and quickly rose to prominence in the Berlin and Cologne art scenes. He came to be associated with the Junge Wilde artists, including Martin Kippenberger and Werner Büttner, who sought to create work that defied categorization and refuted the artistic status quo. Straddling various debates surrounding the nature of painting, Oehlen’s work deconstructed the medium to its constituent elements—color, gesture, motion, and time—and evolved out of constraints he applied to his artistic process. This line of investigation, which Oehlen has continued to pursue in the decades since has resulted in striking variations between—from works that combine abstract and figurative styles, created in response to the Neo-Expressionism of the 1980s, to paintings comprising of grids of colored squares.
As Oehlen began to incorporate new technologies into his work—inkjet printers, computer-aided design programs, and references to the pixelated lines of computer screens—the parameters that he set for himself shifted, offering new obstacles and challenges. Some of these self-imposed “rules” include limiting his palette and combining perambulating black lines with carefully blended gradations (in the Baumbilder [Tree Paintings]), and utilizing erasure and layering to juxtapose bright and muddy colors, as in the Elevator Paintings, a single work in nine parts from 2016. In the late 1990s, Oehlen spray-painted over collaged imagery that had been transferred to canvas with large, industrial printers typically used to create billboards.
Oehlen is perhaps best known for his embrace of “bad” painting. Alongside his many rules, he allows a certain awkwardness or ugliness to enter his work, introducing unsettling gestures, crudely drawn figures, visceral smears of artificial pigments, bold hues, and flesh tones. In this way, he attests to the infinite combinations of form made possible through painting, and shows that these combinations can be manipulated at the artist’s will to produce novel perceptual challenges for the viewer.
Photo: Katherine McMahon
September 12–October 26, 2019
SEXE, RELIGION, POLITIQUE
October 13–December 21, 2018
Elevator Paintings: Trees
February 28–April 15, 2017
West 21st Street, New York
February 5–March 24, 2016
Grosvenor Hill, London
“Home & Garden” Annex
June 17–September 4, 2015
Park & 75, New York
June 6–July 18, 2014
May 23–July 26, 2013
June 8–July 27, 2012
Gagosian Quarterly Fall 2019
The Fall 2019 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring a detail from Sinking (2019) by Nathaniel Mary Quinn on its cover.
Cows by the Water
At the Palazzo Grassi, Venice, a career-spanning exhibition of paintings by Albert Oehlen, entitled Cows by the Water, went on view in the spring of 2018. Caroline Bourgeois, the curator of the exhibition, discusses how the show was organized around the artist’s relationship to music.
Thursday, October 10, 2019, 6pm
Gagosian, Hong Kong
Gagosian senior director Han-I Wang will lead a tour of Albert Oehlen’s first exhibition in Asia, a series of new paintings in watercolor on canvas. In these works, Oehlen emphasizes the importance of spontaneity within his artistic method. Oehlen’s use of watercolor in this series diverges from his recent works created with oil or lacquer on aluminum or the aluminum composite Dibond, and marks a stylistic return to his hazy, blended, almost impressionistic oil paintings dating from 2016 and earlier. To attend the free event, RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. Space is limited.
Albert Oehlen, Untitled, 2019 © Albert Oehlen. Photo: Jeff McLane
Art Basel 2019
June 13–16, 2019, booth C9
Gagosian is pleased to participate in Art Basel, presenting works by Georg Baselitz, Joe Bradley, Alexander Calder, Willem de Kooning, Urs Fischer, Ellen Gallagher, Alberto Giacometti, Katharina Grosse, Mark Grotjahn, Jeff Koons, Man Ray, Albert Oehlen, Pablo Picasso, Richard Prince, Ed Ruscha, Richard Serra, Andy Warhol, Mary Weatherford, Tom Wesselmann, and Franz West, among others.
Jeff Koons, Sacred Heart (Magenta/Gold), 1994–2007 © Jeff Koons
Albert Oehlen: The History
Art Basel Hong Kong 2019 Online Viewing Room
We can now see that this painting marks the exact point where all of Oehlen’s influences—de Kooning, Rauschenberg, Richter, Polke—come to a head, and how it acts as a departure point for what he will do over the next thirty years.
Learn more about Albert Oehlen and the history behind this monumental 1988 painting with Gagosian directors Andrew Fabricant and Sam Orlofsky.
Through November 10, 2019
Lokremise, St. Gallen, Switzerland
This exhibition, whose title translates to Unfinished, features a range of works by Albert Oehlen from the 1980s to the present day, including paintings and video. Additionally, Oehlen has created a new site-specific installation, based on an earlier work, for the show.
Installation view, Albert Oehlen: Unfertig, Lokremise, St. Gallen, Switzerland, July 6–November 10, 2019. Artwork © Albert Oehlen
The Foundation of the Museum
Through January 19, 2020
Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, Los Angeles
To mark the museum’s fortieth anniversary, this exhibition presents a selected topography of artworks that speak to the diversity of MOCA’s collecting over the past four decades. With special emphasis on works associated with the museum’s remarkable history of exhibitions, The Foundation of the Museum: MOCA’s Collection shows the institution’s holdings as shaped by a changing landscape of developments in contemporary art and curatorial focus, as well by as the social and cultural backdrops that inform them. Work by Chris Burden, Mike Kelley, Bruce Nauman, Albert Oehlen, Nancy Rubins, and Ed Ruscha is included.
Chris Burden, Exposing the Foundation of the Museum, 1986 © 2019 Chris Burden/Licensed by the Chris Burden Estate and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Squidds and Nunns
October 2, 2019–January 12, 2020
Serpentine Gallery, London
At the center of this exhibition is an installation that marks the beginning of Albert Oehlen’s process of interpreting the Rothko Chapel in Houston. Oehlen has made four new paintings—of the same scale and size as the four horizontal canvases by Mark Rothko found in the chapel—specifically for the exhibition. A selection of paintings by the artist from the past two decades and a newly configured soundtrack by Steamboat Switzerland are also included.
Albert Oehlen, Sohn von Hundescheisse, 1999 © Albert Oehlen. Photo: Archive Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin|Paris
Through September 2019
Aïshti Foundation, Jal el Dib, Lebanon
Trance is a solo exhibition by Albert Oehlen. Oehlen is also curating a group show drawn from both the Aïshti Foundation’s collection and from his personal collection.
Albert Oehlen, Paravent 3, 2015 © Albert Oehlen