In idiosyncratic style, Oehlen instigated a new artistic process in the creation of these works, mixing photography, collage, and painting, in order to tease at the boundaries of each media and undercut the practice of painting from within. He acquired a range of different photographic source materials and glued them directly onto the canvas. He focussed on found images that seemed to bastardise or adopt poses from a high art context and thrust them back into the same arena after they had been refracted through the prisms of advertising or popular culture. For instance, in the present work we see a male figure in gaudy beads and heavy make-up; he looks like a cheap magazine advertisement or a glam-rock artist, but in the context of Oehlen’s painted interior he appears as a pastiche of the art historical semi-profile portrait hung against heavily decorated wallpaper, and underlines Oehlen’s parodic approximation of a modern painting.
That this work depicts a bedroom is significant. It is by far the most recognisable of any of the scenes from the series, and it would appear to have personal significance for the artist. Aged 15, in adolescent rebellion, Oehlen had wallpapered the rooms of his own bedroom at home with cheap supermarket advertising. As he has recounted in interview: “It was my kind of protest. I was living with – what I considered – a bourgeois family” (Albert Oehlen cited in: Bill Powers, ‘Humans will have the Last Word: A Talk with Albert Oehlen’, ArtNews, August 2015, online). Oehlen returned to the bedroom theme for his landmark exhibition at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice; he created an installation where a painted self-portrait was lain flat on a mattress and tucked into bed, the bed was then placed in a wall-papered room with a pointed Vienna Secession exhibition poster on the wall. This installation can be read as a three-dimensional interpretation of the earlier Interior series; that the artist chose to focus on the present work speaks to its importance. The use of such a developed and defined interior setting in this work further instigates a number of art historical comparisons. The close warped perspective and the paintings on the wall call to mind Vincent van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles, meanwhile the curlicues of wallpaper foliage and pink palette call to mind the Pushkin Museum’s Pink Studio by Henri Matisse.
Schlafzimmer is a painting of paradox, at once familiar and bizarre; preclusive and engaging. It summates the invention at the heart of this artist’s oeuvre and gives the viewer insight into some of the motives behind his work. As Matthias Hermann, President of the Secession at the time of this exhibition, has written: “Albert Oehlen’s oeuvre articulates an unbounded pleasure in making pictures, a calm carefreeness in dealing with the conventions of art – and an ability to expand these conventions, to bend and break them. Oehlen’s radical artistic thinking and practice make possible pictures that are compelling but inexplicable, that defy clear analysis. The source of his ideas and materials thus remains in a gray area not unlike that offered by the Internet: the suggested closeness of the individual to the download is lost amid the anonymous mass of users. Albert Oehlen’s works displays an openness to painting and painters, past and present, who are confronted in his canvases with a fully formulated but constantly changing position. The speed at which the outlines, paint, and structure seem to be flung into the picture matches the restlessness of their content, as it spreads, changes, and disperses. The fact that the artist is forever rethinking and reshaping his position and output is what makes an encounter with his work so exciting" (Matthias Herman in: Exh. Cat., Vienna, Vienna Secession, Albert Oehlen, 2004, p. 93).
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