Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction


Albert Oehlen
B. 1954
signed and dated 07 on the reverse
oil and paper on canvas
200.3 by 340 cm. 78 7/8 by 133 7/8 in.
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Skarstedt Gallery, New York

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007


New York, Skarstedt Gallery, Albert Oehlen: Computer Paintings, April - May 2009

New York, New Museum, Albert Oehlen: Home and Garden, June - September 2015, pp. 116-17, illustrated in colour 


The perfect amalgamation of the machined and the hand made, Untitled is an innovative and grandly scaled example of Albert Oehlen's celebrated Computer Painting series. The artist started producing this pioneering grisaille body of work in 1992 having acquired his first laptop. Formulating his own digital motifs on the computer, he would continue to employ these symbols in variation in his own works until the completion of the series in 2008. Operating in the margin between digital and manual, pictorial and literal, the artist’s post-Duchampian appropriation and incorporation of quotidian technology, such as printers, into the realm of painting, allowed Oehlen to formulate an entirely novel visual and conceptual dialogue. An ingeniously challenging rumination on notions of originality and authorship, Untitled utterly encapsulates Oehlen's creative genius. 

Conceived at the dawn of the Internet age, the Computer Paintings heighten the tension between technological modes of production and traditional artistic techniques. In their creation, Oehlen employed the then foreign artistic tools of a laptop, Photoshop, and an inkjet printer. He relished the slick lines and angular forms that primitive early technology engendered, and even exacerbated the effect by presenting his printed shapes in juxtaposition with lyrical lines of cursive spray paint. Indeed, such were the limitations of computer programs and printers when he started the series, that the resultant images that were printed were so pixelated that Oehlen had to fill in the squares by hand in order to give them the clean lines of an actual computer image. The fact that technology was so imperfect that the artist had to complete its tasks by hand, lends the Computer Paintings an endearing irony. The viewer is instantly reminded of Roy Lichtenstein’s Brushstroke series, in which he recreated splashy Abstract-Expressionist strokes of paint in the minute mechanical exactitude of his idiosyncratic Ben-Day dot pattern. This subversive approach to painting is typical of Oehlen, who has long argued that beauty can no longer be attained by following the established fundamentals of art: “I am convinced that I cannot achieve beauty via a direct route; that it 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 trodden. That means working with something that is improbable, 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, Albert Oehlen, 2012, p. 71).

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 to painting. 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 imagery, to attempts to create deliberately ‘bad’ paintings that echo Martin Kippenberger’s interest in notions of failure. In the present work, the isolated asinine lines of spray-painted black, and the heightened tension between manual mark-making and mechanical modes of depiction echo the work of Christopher Wool, Oehlen’s long-time friend and artistic conspirator. Along with Kippenberger, whose influence can also be divined in the jumble of abstract and pseudo-figurative forms that populate this canvas, Wool and Oehlen have entirely revitalised painting in the contemporary period. They should be viewed as titans of their genre, unimpeachable in their dissident majesty, as exemplified by works such as Untitled.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction