Gagosian is pleased to present Tramonto Spaventoso, an exhibition by Albert Oehlen comprising the second part of his version of the Rothko Chapel in Houston as well as other new paintings. The first part of the project—consisting of four paintings that mirror the imposing scale of the Color Field compositions in the Chapel while opposing Rothko’s contemplativeness with their frenetic energy—was exhibited at the Serpentine Galleries, London, in 2019–20. Both parts make up the work Tramonto Spaventoso (2019–20).
Oehlen uses abstract, figurative, and collaged elements to disrupt the histories and conventions of modern painting. By adding improvised components, he unearths ever-new possibilities for the genre. While championing self-consciously amateurish “bad” painting, Oehlen continues to infuse expressive gesture with Surrealist attitude, openly disparaging the quest for reliable form and stable meaning.
In the large-scale canvases on view at the Beverly Hills gallery, Oehlen employs acrylic, spray paint, charcoal, and patterned fabric to interpret and transform John Graham’s painting Tramonto Spaventoso (Terrifying Sunset) (1940–49), a work by the Russian-born American modernist painter that he discovered in the 1990s and has been fascinated with ever since. Using Graham’s puzzle-like painting as a vehicle for repeated interpretation, Oehlen reconfigures elements in diverse and absurdist ways across multiple compositions. The exhibition, which goes by the same title, is therefore in part an homage to the earlier, lesser-known artist.
Reworking motifs from Graham’s original, including a mermaid and a man sporting a monocle and a Daliesque handlebar moustache, Oehlen improvises on his source. In explosive abstractions in acrylic and spray paint, he combines graphic brushstrokes, deliberate “painterly” drips, surprising color combinations, and textural obfuscations to test the limits of coherence and legibility. Oehlen’s paintings are characteristically disparate, challenging the viewer with unexpected shifts in aesthetic and thematic direction.
To accompany Tramonto Spaventoso, Oehlen commissioned music by Steamboat Switzerland, the experimental jazz ensemble with whom he also collaborated at the Serpentine Galleries. Played at intervals throughout the day, the recorded composition draws connections with Oehlen’s own visual strategies.
A fully illustrated catalogue, featuring a conversation between the artist and curator Mark Godfrey, will be published on the occasion of the exhibition.
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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
Extended through November 9, 2019
September 12–November 9, 2019