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Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London

Albert Oehlen
B. 1954
FN 32
signed and dated 90 on the reverse
oil on canvas
214 by 214 cm. 84 1/2 by 84 1/2 in.
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Provenance

Galerie Max Hetzler, Cologne

Private Collection, Cologne

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2005

Exhibited

New York, Luhring Augustine, Albert Oehlen, February - March 1991

Cologne, Galerie Max Hetzler, Robet Gober, On Kawara, Mike Kelley, Martin Kippenberger, Jeff Koons, Albert Oehlen, Julian Schnabel, Cindy Sherman, Thomas Struth, Philip Taaffe, Christopher Wool,  May - June 1992, p. 38, illustrated in colour 

Paris, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Qui, quoi, où? Un regard sur l’art en Allemagne en 1992, October 1992 - January 1993, p. 103, illustrated in colour 

Hamburg, Deichtorhallen Hamburg, Albert Oehlen: Malerei, December 1994 - January 1995, p. 63, illustrated in colour 

Literature

Galerie Max Hetzler and Luhring Augustine, Eds., Albert Oehlen: Gemälde II, Cologne and New York 1992, p. 57, illustrated in colour 

Hans Werner Holzwarth, Ed., Albert Oehlen, Cologne 2009, p. 198, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

Fn 32 belongs to perhaps the most celebrated series of Oehlen’s career. Neither figurative nor abstract, hand painted or mechanical, this series heretically champions painting’s own failure in the contemporary moment. Garish colour juxtapositions, jarring brushwork, and incongruent symbolic referents comprise the substance of these works that propose the possibility of artistic invention in pictorial breakdown. There are 20 paintings in the Fn Series, whose title stands for Footnote, a significant number of which today reside in prominent collections across the globe including the of the Broad Museum in Los Angeles, and the Sammlung Hoffman in Berlin.  

Across the entirety of Fn 32’s dramatic composition, isolated vignettes and moments of figurative depiction emerge from the background, only to be subsumed by passages of opaque colour. A skull and cross bones is visible as well as a small dog, while the central motif appears as a cartoonish approximation of an artist's palette, rotated and ringed with a collar of radiant orange. All of these motifs are washed over by various shades of paint, precluding their legibility or any sense that they might be linked. This approach typifies Oehlen’s seditious style. While he uses figurative motifs, he makes no attempt to link their form with meaning. To him, once you are engaged in painting – itself a perverse warp on reality – the tensions between abstract and figurative modes of depiction are immaterial. In his own words: “In painting, you really have a completely absurd way of going about things. You’ve got something three-dimensional reduced to two dimensions, and that’s abstraction. Without this abstraction, you’d have to try painting on the object itself, or even to become this object. The work you do, the reshaping of reality into the picture, is such a remarkable transformation that it really doesn’t matter much whether an apple is still recognisable as such or not… If you understand the accomplishments of abstract painting, then you don’t have to paint abstract at all anymore. With hindsight, the difference is not that great” (Albert Oehlen cited in: Hanz Werner Holzwarth, Ed., Albert Oehlen, Cologne 2009, p. 188).

Although Oehlen has often been associated with the Neue Wilde painters of the 1980s, the artist has explicitly denounced such a suggestion, instead preferring a more conceptual approach. His expansive investigations into the medium have resulted in a wide range of painterly strategies, varying from the appropriation of advertising images, to the incorporation of digitally-generated pictures, in an attempt to create deliberately ‘bad’ paintings that echo his contemporary and friend, Martin Kippenberger’s approach. However, there is no doubt that he is now considered the rightful heir to a lineage that includes the most important German artists of the post-modern epoch. In the present work, we are particularly reminded of Sigmar Polke, who created works of a similar style, where isolated motifs were lost in veils of diaphanous paint. We might also think of Gerhard Richter, who is perhaps the ultimate oil paint technician, able to exploit the medium's viscosity and opacity with the same effortless fluency that Oehlen displays in the execution of this work. We are even put in mind of Georg Baselitz, another artist who tweaked and inverted the gravitational axes of his compositions in order to force his viewer to focus on the materiality of their representation, rather than the implications of their perceived content. 

In an appreciation of Fn 32, we are reminded of Oehlen’s fundamental artistic argument, that beauty cannot be attained by following the established fundamentals of art: “I am convinced that I cannot achieve beauty via a direct route; that can only be the result of deliberation… That’s the interesting thing about art: that somehow, you use your material to make something that results in something beautiful, via a path that no one has yet trodden. That means working with something, where your predecessors would have said, ‘You can’t do that.’ First you take a step toward ugliness and then, somehow or other, you wind up where it’s beautiful” (Albert Oehlen cited in: Exh. Cat., Bonn, Kunstmuseum Bonn, Albert Oehlen, 2012, p. 71). This work is a visually stunning example of Oehlen’s idiosyncratic ability to create unexpectedly beautiful works of art through rejecting the pre-existing expectations and conventions of painting.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London