In Aromasucher, Oehlen skillfully exploits the spectral viscosities of oil paint. Demarcating a rough perspectival space through his drawing, the artist creates a deceptively shallow mise-en-scène that brings the dynamic composition into focus. The present work establishes not only Oehlen’s virtuosity in oil paint – an automatic adroitness that feeds directly into the artist’s more contemporaneous, seminal abstractions over appropriated advertisement posters (see, for example, English Courses (2008)) – but it also attests to the artist’s serial engagement with art historical tropes, aligning himself with the canonical arc of modernism and its technological outmoding. The motif of the Roman statuary and the quasi-architectural space in Aromasucher would appear to echo Giorgio de Chirico’s The Uncertainty of the Poet, 1913, bringing into play an unfashionable classicism that Oehlen “remixes” with a superbly brazen and idiosyncratic style. What emerges is not an archaic semblance, but a pluriform dynamism that unites historicity with the expressive attitude of German Neo-Expressionism.
Dismantling and collaging the trademarks of Marcel Duchamp, the chessboard of the present work nods to the grand master of Modernism and his famous withdrawal from contemporary art practice to pursue chess. Representing a principal painting from the artist’s early career, Aromasucher begin to fundamentally shift the conceptual concerns of painting away from the language of Pop Art in the work of Oehlen’s tutor Sigmar Polke, towards an anachronistic, painterly montage of eclectic material and techniques. As Art historian Fabrice Hergott has observed: “Oehlen is not the master of a single style, unless, perhaps, it is that of shuffling the deck” (Fabrice Hergott cited in: Rod Mengham, ‘Storm Damage’, in: Exh. Cat., London, Whitechapel (and travelling), Albert Oehlen: I Will Always Champion Good Painting; I Will Always Champion Bad Painting, 2006, p. 60). The collaging of surfaces and forms in Aromasucher – a spider’s web of tethers and keyholes – prefigures the artists formal concerns related to composition and structure, and illustrates Oehlen’s masterful dexterity with oil paint that has grown to be his signature.
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