Albert Oehlen (b. Krefeld, Germany, 1954) is one of the most influential painters of the past few decades and one of the most controversial artists in post-war Germany. His painting style, which is unmistakably contemporary, draws from a blend of techniques rooted in advertising, the expressionist brushstroke, surrealist gesture, and computer-generated images.
Oehlen is a conceptual artist who uses painting as a medium, and whose work—specifically his paintings—has contributed to the debate on the death of painting which has emerged every so often since the mid-20th century. Regarding the interpretation of his works, he states: “Think whatever you like. It is boring to talk about meaning. I’m not looking for the public’s connection or understanding. They are all free to feel.” Over the past few years, his paintings have developed what he defines as his main topic: artistic freedom. This is made patent in his bravery and abandon when facing the canvas, using new techniques that maintain the vocabulary from the past, yet awaken a strange, paradoxical sensation that this is something new, yet familiar.
This exhibition, made up of three series, two self-portraits, and a newly-created collage-painting, does not aim to be a retrospective exercise, but rather an artistic statement. The first series is abstract and dates back to the eighties; the second is made up of computer works from the nineties; and the third, begun in 1989 and still underway, deals with trees. The exhibition explores “to which extent we are able to see behind the image.” Although the paintings selected for this show are formally different at first glance, the three series bear a common core that associates and connects them. With Oehlen the image dissolves into irony and innuendo. Superficially dilettante gesture, or “bad painting,” shatters these ideals of classical panel painting radically and enduringly. This painterly openness is also reflected on a thematic level.