Lot 46
  • 46

ALBERT OEHLEN | Ohne Titel (Untitled)

350,000 - 450,000 GBP
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  • Albert Oehlen
  • Ohne Titel (Untitled) 
  • signed and dated 82
  • oil, lacquer and collaged mirrors on canvas
  • 170 by 140 cm. 67 by 55 in.


Lambert Maria Wintersberger (acquired directly from the artist in 1983) 
Thence by descent to the present owner


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although they are deeper and richer in the original, and the illustration fails to fully convey the reflective nature of the mirrors. Condition: This work is in very good condition. Very close inspection reveals some spots of drying craquelure in a few places, most notably to the pale pigment in the upper left quadrant. Further very close inspection reveals a hairline circular crack towards the centre of the composition, and an associated spot of inpainting which fluoresces when examined under ultra violet light. No further restoration is apparent.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Executed in 1982, Ohne Titel (Untitled) was painted during a landmark period of great experimentation, art historical confrontation and provocative humour in Albert Oehlen’s oeuvre. This work belongs to a series of mirror paintings which the artist produced during the 1980s by embedding pieces of mirror directly into his compositions. These works forefront the mirror as one of the most venerable, enduring and indeed contradictory symbols employed throughout the canon of art history. From the great paintings of classical mythology and Biblical allegory to the famed seventeenth-century masterpieces by Diego Velázquez and Johannes Vermeer, the mirror has been invariably adopted as a dichotomous emblem of virtue and vanity, beauty and narcissism, myopic vision and illuminating clarity. Described as icons of a “highly contradictory” nature by Katja Hesch, the author of Oehlen’s 2005 exhibition catalogue, Albert Oehlen: Mirror Paintings, the mirrors in Ohne Titel conjure paradoxical associations of reflection and opacity, lightness and dark (Katja Hesch, Exh. Cat., Berlin, Galerie Max Hetzler, Albert Oehlen: Mirror Paintings, 2005, p. 29). Positioned sporadically across the composition, the mirrors simultaneously reflect and distort the viewer’s appearance, complicating our relationship to the pictorial plane. By incorporating real mirrors rather than painting illusory replicas, Oehlen at once invokes and lampoons the seminal painters of the past who conceived of painting as a window into another realm. This is further emphasised by the densely painted and deeply ambiguous interior scene, which appears to portray a dark and ultimately impenetrable doorway. Describing the duality inherent in his work, the artist has explained, “I define a vocabulary of qualities that I want to see brought together: delicacy and coarseness, colour and vagueness, and, underlying them all, a base note of hysteria” (Albert Oehlen cited in: Press Release, ‘Albert Oehlen Elevator Paintings: Trees’, Gagosian, January 2017, online). Oehlen's work of the early 1980s is deliberately rebellious in nature, seditiously mocking paintings from the great canon of art history and revelling instead in the lude, crude and provocative. Indeed, alongside his fellow artist, close friend, and drinking partner Martin Kippenberger, Oehlen gained an infamous reputation as the enfant terrible of 1980s Cologne. Both Oehlen and Kippenberger famously subscribed to the notion of “bad painting”, flagrantly rejecting aesthetic standards and traditional practices in a bid to “to get as far away from meaning as possible” (Albert Oehlen cited in: Sean O’Hagan, ‘Albert Oehlen: “There’s something hysterical about magenta”’, The Guardian, 5 February 2016, online). As works such as Ohne Titel exemplify, Oehlen’s early paintings stand at the juncture of modernist hegemony and punkish resilience: with their frenzied dynamism, deliberately crude paint-handling, and collaging of themes and images, the works from the 1980s positioned Oehlen at the cutting edge of contemporary painting.