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Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London

Albert Oehlen
B. 1954
CONDUCTION 7
signed, titled and dated 11 on the reverse
acrylic and charcoal on canvas
210 by 270 cm. 82 5/8 by 106 1/4 in.
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Provenance

Thomas Dane Gallery, London

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2011

Exhibited

London, Thomas Dane Gallery; Chicago, Corbett vs. Dempsey, Albert Oehlen, October - December 2011, pp. 62-63, illustrated

Catalogue Note

Juxtaposing a rigid architectural space with lyrically swirling forms, the present work is an excellent example of Albert Oehlen’s series of Conduction paintings. Continuing the compositional approach of the acclaimed Computer paintings, this body of work resumes Oehlen’s powerful aesthetic in a reduced palette that emphasises the formal and compositional aspects over the explosive colour of earlier works. Named after the music of Lawrence ‘Butch’ Morris, an American jazz composer known for his style of structured free improvisations called Conduction, Oehlen’s painting visualises the contrasting elements of a rigidly ordered space with free-flowing lines that constitute a visual equivalent to Morris’ musical programme.

Having never adhered to a stylistic or aesthetic programme, Oehlen’s eclectic oeuvre is perhaps best understood in terms of attitude, which also characterised the punk-generation of the 1970s during which time the artist studied under Sigmar Polke. Oehlen’s approach to painting shares an irreverence towards the medium that was explored by Polke and furthered by contemporaries such as Martin Kippenberger, Christopher Wool, and Richard Prince – each of whom consciously attempted to undermine the very medium in which they were working. Many of Oehlen’s projects come from this tension between the artist and his chosen medium: from his early attempts at ‘bad’ painting through to the self-consciously ironic figurative paintings and indeed the paintings based on computer-generated imagery.

If none of these paintings can be understood in terms of a coherent programme, the best way to understand Oehlen’s diverse body of work is through the notion of method, which he describes as a driving factor in his oeuvre and which is expressed through the series of self-imposed, sometimes absurd, parameters within which he works. As the artist explains: “I have always liked the method. I don’t have theories; maybe that word is wrong, but I call it method, the method of painting” (Albert Oehlen in conversation with Andrea Tarsia, in: Exh. Cat., London, Whitechapel Gallery (and travelling), I Will Always Champion Good Painting; I Will Always Champion Bad Painting, 2006, n.p.).

The Conduction series is an excellent example of Oehlen’s idiosyncratic approach to the medium, in which geometric structures are juxtaposed with what appear to be loosely painted, improvised shapes. Originating from the concept of visualising musical phenomena and emphasising its formal appearance, in the same way that jazz is often considered a formal style rather than emotional (colourful) genre, the work is also characteristic of Oehlen’s interest in music and its influence on art. As Pierre Sterckx remarks: “Oehlen tries to do with painting what others (Coltrane, Zappa) have attempted in jazz or rock: to immerse the listener in a burst of overlapping, saturated and expansive strata, getting rid of any story-lines since there is no beginning nor end” (Pierre Sterckx, ‘Albert Oehlen: Junk Screens’, in: Exh. Cat., Auvergne, FRAC: Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain Auvergne, Albert Oehlen, 2005, n.p.).

Unlike Oehlen’s Computer paintings, which use computer-generated, printed imagery as their basis, the Conduction paintings are entirely hand-painted, but have a visual connection to the former. Despite the absence of colour, the confident and energetic brushstrokes of Conduction 7 are equally powerful in appearance, and capture the artist’s original approach to abstraction. Perfectly encapsulating Albert Oehlen’s idiosyncratic methodology and unique visual language, Conduction 7 is an outstanding example from the artist’s influential practice.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

|
London