Lot 449
  • 449


1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD
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  • Albert Oehlen
  • Treppe
  • acrylic and oil on canavs
  • 110 1/2 by 134 in. 280.7 by 340.4 cm.
  • Executed in 2006.


Luhring Augustine, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in February 2007


New York, Luhring Augustine, Albert Oehlen: Painter of Light, September - October 2006, p. 20, illustrated in color


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Catalogue Note

Vividly lyrical and brazenly cacophonous, Albert Oehlen’s Treppe provides a triumphant ode to individual expression, exemplifying the rebellious spirit of the artist’s oeuvre. Executed in 2006, Treppe represents the artist’s sensational return to pure painting after an extended period of experimentation with digital manipulation, and epitomizes the masterful combination of spontaneity and control that characterizes his paintings of this period. Oehlen initially became associated with the group of avant-garde German artists known as the Junge Wilde, the “Wild Ones,” whose paintings of the 1980s challenged traditional theories of line, color, and composition, and refuted clear categorization in favor of individual expression. As such, Treppe revives the ethos of Oehlen's earliest paintings with heightened fervor. The title, meaning staircase, grounds the present work in representational terms, alluding to the fundamental push-pull dynamic of figuration versus abstraction that defines the very best of Oehlen’s works. Grand in scale and epic in format, Treppe embodies the essence of the artist’s ambition: “Qualities that I want to see brought together: delicacy and coarseness, color and vagueness, and, underlying them all, a base note of hysteria” (the artist in “Albert Oehlen: Interview by Fredi Fischli and Niels Olsen,” Kaleidoscope, No. 24, 2014, online). A dynamic juxtaposition of strict geometry and supple elasticity structures the present work, creating a palpable sense of energy and vigor. Vibrant swirling lines of jet black, tangerine, lime, ruby, and goldenrod pigment dance across the canvas, intercepting the hazy swaths of cool brown and rich grey that unify the composition under a cloud-like mirage. Beneath these organic forms, viewers can discern the rigidly gridded lines of a tiled floor and the crisp outline of a white “L” shaped form that cuts across the canvas. The synthesis of disparate forms and tones calls to mind Kandinsky’s foundational forays into abstraction. Describing such variegation in Oehlen’s works, critic Alastair Sooke writes, “Most successful, though, were his large vibrant canvases characterized by violent clashes of color. They give an impression of visual chaos, with unruly brushstrokes clamoring for attention. But spend a few minutes in front of them, and you realize that the chaos has been carefully thought out” (Alastair Sooke, “I want my paintings to like me,” The Telegraph, July 2006, online). The colors of Treppe collide in a mad torrent, breathing soul into the various intersecting forms.

Oehlen crafts a virtuosic interplay between figuration and abstraction in Treppe, inviting his viewers to carefully consider its constitutive elements. He draws them into an irresistible game of decoding its composition in search of hidden figurative elements. As curator Bonnie Clearwater explains, the effect of such encryption is beguiling: “Not only does Oehlen introduce fragments of representational images in inconsistent scales, but he also varies the size of the abstract units in a painting: the relative size of each shape moves the viewer’s attention towards, away from, and across the picture plane in rapid succession. The figurative elements exist without dominating the canvas. At first glance, the paintings appear purely abstract. Only after the viewer has spent some time with these works do the figurative elements reveal themselves” (Bonnie Clearwater in Hans Werner Holzwarth, Ed., Albert Oehlen, Cologne 2009, p. 422). With its intoxicating cadence and rhythmic potency, Treppe stands as a veritable testament to the abiding individualism of Oehlen’s artistic project.