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
Extended through November 9, 2019
September 12–November 9, 2019
Albert Oehlen: In the Studio
This film by Albert Oehlen, with music by Tim Berresheim, takes us inside the artist’s studio in Switzerland as he works on a new painting.
Albert Oehlen and Mark Godfrey
Albert Oehlen speaks to Mark Godfrey about a recent group of abstract paintings, “academic” art, reversing habits, and questioning rules.
Albert Oehlen and Hans Ulrich Obrist
Hans Ulrich Obrist interviews the artist on the occasion of his recent exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries, London.
Albert Oehlen: Maximum Chance Maximum Control
The artist met with art historian Christian Malycha to discuss his newest paintings.
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.
April 7–13, 2021
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 is perhaps best known for his embrace of “bad” painting. Alongside his many rules, he allows a certain awkwardness 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: Alejandro Ernesto/EPA/Shutterstock
Albert Oehlen has created a playlist of fourteen tracks on Spotify ranging in genres from free jazz to techno. Featuring musicians such as Steamboat Switzerland and Colin Stetson, the playlist shares the title of his upcoming exhibition at Gagosian, Beverly Hills, in which he interprets and transforms John Graham’s painting Tramonto Spaventoso (Terrifying Sunset) (1940–49). The artist discovered the work by the Russian-born American modernist painter in the 1990s and has been fascinated with it ever since.
Albert Oehlen in his studio, Ispaster, Spain, 2020. Artwork © Albert Oehlen. Photo: Esther Freund
Albert Oehlen: New Paintings is available for online reading from April 7 through May 6 as part of Artist Spotlight: Albert Oehlen. Published on the occasion of the artist’s first exhibition in Asia, in 2019, this volume presents a series of new paintings in watercolor on canvas. Emphasizing the importance of spontaneity within his artistic method, Oehlen’s decision to use watercolor marks a stylistic return to his hazy, blended, almost impressionistic oil paintings dating from 2016 and earlier. The catalogue features a text by Christian Malycha, as well as photographs of the works in process, and is bilingual, in English and Chinese.
Albert Oehlen: New Paintings (Hong Kong: Gagosian, 2019)
00s. Collection Cranford
Les années 2000
Through May 30, 2021
Mo.Co. Contemporary, Montpellier, France
This exhibition of work from the Cranford Collection, established by Muriel and Freddy Salem in 1999, aims to define the identity of the 2000s by creating a dialogue between one hundred artworks by a multigenerational array of artists who contributed to shaping the beginning of the millennium. Work by Glenn Brown, Damien Hirst, Mike Kelley, Albert Oehlen, Gerhard Richter, Ed Ruscha, Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall, Franz West, and Christopher Wool is included.
Albert Oehlen, Schmilzender . . . , 2002 © Albert Oehlen. Photo: Jörg von Bruchhausen
“Grandi quadri miei con piccoli quadri di altri”
September 5, 2021–February 20, 2022
Museo d’arte della Svizzera italiana, Lugano, Switzerland
In this exhibition, Albert Oehlen: “Big Paintings by Me with Small Paintings by Others”, select works from Oehlen’s personal art collection are on view alongside some of his most significant paintings. In staging this large-scale exhibition, Oehlen aims to make relationships perceptible between his artworks and those by artists whose practices he has long admired. Work by Richard Artschwager, Mike Kelley, Jeff Koons, and Christopher Wool, among others, is included.
Albert Oehlen, Untitled, 1997/2005 © Albert Oehlen. Photo: Lothar Schnepf
September 23, 2020–January 3, 2021
Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris
Presented in conjunction with a retrospective on Cindy Sherman, Crossing Views examines a selection of works from the collection of the Fondation Louis Vuitton, chosen in collaboration with Cindy Sherman. Echoing the artist’s work, the exhibition unfolds across two floors and is centered on the theme of the portrait and its interpretation through different approaches and media, including painting, photography, sculpture, video, and installation. Work by Damien Hirst, Albert Oehlen, Cindy Sherman, and Andy Warhol is included.
Albert Oehlen, Rock, 2009 © Albert Oehlen
Amy Sillman—The Shape of Shape
October 21, 2019–April 12, 2020
Museum of Modern Art, New York
In The Shape of Shape, Amy Sillman—an artist who has helped redefine contemporary painting, pushing the medium into drawing, installations, video, and zines—has created a revelatory Artist’s Choice installation drawn from the museum’s collection. The exhibition features works, many rarely seen, spanning vastly different time periods, places, and mediums. Work by Jay DeFeo, Helen Frankenthaler, Howard Hodgkin, Henry Moore, Albert Oehlen, and Christopher Wool is included.
Albert Oehlen, Untitled, 1989, Museum of Modern Art, New York © Albert Oehlen