Gagosian Beverly Hills is pleased to present a major exhibition of new and recent paintings by Albert Oehlen.
For Oehlen, the practice of painting, with its inherent unpredictability, is a subject in itself. The guiding principles of his method are impulse and eclecticism, while his tools are fingers, brushes, collage, and computer. He treats abstraction as gesture or geometry, superimposed on or conflated with a figurative register; pictorial form is a trigger rather than an end in itself.
Oehlen often begins by imposing a set of rules or structural limitations. In some paintings, landscapes lurk in messy patches of paint; fleeting visions are provoked and just as quickly abandoned. Collage is both a conceptual and formal construct, from the heterogeneous combining of elements to the damaged or torn signs and magazine advertisements that form the foundations of his paintings and eventually fuse with the painted surface, composed of seemingly informal gestures, swipes, and erasures, awkward drawing, and the occasional crude cartoon. Nothing coheres in a way that could be said to have substantive narrative dimension or pictorial legibility, except for visible stops and starts that prod the limits of content.
In a new series of huge four-part aluminum panel paintings, rendered in a simple, striking palette of red, black, and white, Oehlen creates treelike forms as vehicles for a methodical deflation of content. The tree has been a recurring motif in his work since the 1980s; the isolated, more literal trees in paintings such as Untitled (1989) undermine the common role of identifiable images through “bad” painting. In the new schematic forms, trunks and branches are silhouettes that suggest the digital marks of art and design software, although they have been meticulously handpainted in oil paint. Flattening surface, color, and content through cut-and-paste reimaginings of a fundamental natural structure, Oehlen calls the most essential tools of painting into question.
In his recent Finger Paintings, color-blocked advertisements are an extension of the canvas, providing fragmented, readymade surfaces for Oehlen’s visceral markings, made with his hands, as well as brushes, rags, and spray-cans. Oehlen exuberantly demonstrates a tension between man- and machine-made imagery, while branch-like sprays mitigate any sense of pure abstraction. Open-ended, “unfinished” dialogues between binary oppositions are unsettling yet compelling: in any one work, the paint, the collaged pictures and texts, and patches of white canvas occupy their own spaces, like clutter on a worktable. The provisional appearance of the surfaces gives way to mesmerizing color-layers of graffiti—a testament to Oehlen’s ability to elevate common genres and materials through rigorous experimentation.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with an essay by Daniel Baumann, a discussion between Oehlen and Alexander Klar, and a photo essay by Esther Freund.
Albert Oehlen: Terrifying Sunset
The artist speaks with Mark Godfrey about his new paintings, touching on the works’ relationship to John Graham, the Rothko Chapel, and Leigh Bowery.
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: 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 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.
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
June 10–July 24, 2021
Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles
Extended through November 9, 2019
September 12–November 9, 2019