Oehlen’s oeuvre is suffused with the idea and research into the history of painting. Constantly reinventing his artistic approach and experimenting with different techniques, the German artist has redefined the traditional parameters of a medium that has long been declared obsolete. In the present work, Oehlen offers a commentary on painting and the history of Modern and Expressionist art via its subject matter. The screaming stag is in itself quintessentially expressive and reminiscent of Edvard Munch’s The Scream or Francis Bacon’s tortured figures trapped in cages and boxed. Similar to Oehlen’s precursors, the stag is confined to a corset of conventions, an impression that is further accentuated by the work’s imposing scale.
Emphasising the importance of the present work, a painting from the same series as Untitled served as part of Oehlen’s celebrated staging of Richard Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser in Bremen in 1987. Tannhäuser, who encounters love in the realm of Venusberg perceives himself as an outsider in conflict with societal conventions that negate any form of lust, sensuality, and sexuality. Similarly, the stag in Oehlen’s painting stands as the naturalistic and irrational counterpart to the human, cast in a suit to follow the guidelines that society has imposed upon him. Echoing these feelings of constriction, in Untitled the animal is transformed into a large composite being torn by the limitations of society and screaming to be freed from the chains of external restrictions.
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