Lot 2
  • 2

ALBERT OEHLEN | Ingwertopf (Ginger Pot)

800,000 - 1,200,000 GBP
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  • Albert Oehlen
  • Ingwertopf (Ginger Pot)
  • oil on canvas
  • 190 by 160 cm. 74 7/8 by 63 in.
  • Executed in 2000.


Patrick Painter, Santa Monica
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2001


Santa Monica, Patrick Painter, Albert Oehlen: New Paintings, April - June 2001


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate although fails to convey the fluorescent nature of the orange paint in the original and overall the tonalities are brighter and more vibrant. Condition: Please refer to the department for a professional condition report.
"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

Ingwertopf is a powerful and impactful painting from a period of Albert Oehlen’s career that was particularly rich in experimentation. This work is characterised by an idiosyncratic melee of conflicting forms, shapes, and patterns; abstract passages wrestle with discernible figurative forms whilst darker and deeper moments are subsumed beneath kaleidoscopic fragments of colour. This work is also rich in art-historical reference, blending the autographic freneticism of Willem de Kooning’s work with a subtler reference to Vincent van Gogh. Ingwertopf is one of 7 large scale paintings that Albert Oehlen made in the lead up to his 2001 exhibition at Patrick Painter gallery in Los Angeles. Ingwertopf translates to 'ginger pot', a type of high-shouldered round-lidded style of Chinese ceramic that was commonly made during the Qin dynasty. Although originally used to store spices as the title suggests, ginger pots have been prized by collectors since the early Nineteenth Century for their decorative style. In the context of Oehlen’s oeuvre, one might read this title as a mocking jibe toward the fine art and collectibles market. We can recall Self-Portrait with Blue Mauritius (1984) in which Oehlen pictured himself holding up a highly prized postage stamp in parodic reverence. However, it is more likely that the title of this work is an art historical reference. Van Gogh used ginger pots in his early still lifes and their intricately decorated sides were one of the primary means with which he infused his oeuvre with a sense of japonisme. We know that Van Gogh was an artist that Oehlen was inspired by and reliant on. As he has said in interview: “My father was a graphic designer. He made cartoons and designed covers and illustrations for stories, novels, and children’s books… I remember that in the house, we had reproductions of a Picasso, a Van Gogh, and a Beckman. I was always staring at them” (Albert Oehlen cited in: Jennifer Samet, ‘Beer with a Painter: Albert Oehlen’, Hyperallergic, 8 April 2017, online). We might also discern the influence of Van Gogh in the most prominent figurative motif in this work – the skeletal bust of the upper left. Oehlen’s figure seems a direct approximation of Van Gogh’s famous Skull with Burning Cigarette, sharing the same deep eye sockets, gnarly clavicles, and abbreviated cigarette. Many of the works in this series seem to use Van Gogh’s precedent in a comparable manner: not as a point of imitation or even particular influence, but rather as a pictorial starting point, from which the artist could explore new avenues of painting. For example, Sitzplatz appears to reference Van Gogh’s Chair, not only in title but also in ghostly form, while elsewhere works such as Die Menscheit and Eines Tages feature clearly identifiable sunflower forms.

Ingwertopf typifies Oehlen’s trademark post-non-representational style. He uses figurative and abstract forms judiciously and in tandem with each other, deployed not for contextual importance but rather for aesthetic merit. A comprehension of this leads us closer to Oehlen’s fundamental artistic intention: not to impress a didactic message upon his viewers, nor to represent or imitate any specific art historical subject or trope, but rather to push the limits and boundaries of painting as both medium and genre. The effect is mesmeric: "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-line since there is no beginning nor end. This all thrusts forward, like in a cathode with a tremendous current. A kind of machine that transforms signs into intensities… Oehlen’s painting-machine is a mixer that flings objects, images and traces into outer space” (Pierre Sterckx, ‘Albert Oehlen: Junk Screens’ in: Exh. Cat., FRAC: Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain Auvergne, Albert Oehlen, 2005, n.p.).