Friday, May 15, 2009

Technique & Tension: Albert Oehlen

[“Mujer,” (2008), oil and paper on canvas. “Electrodomé,” (2008), oil and paper on canvas.]

Luhring Augustine Gallery is currently hosting its eighth solo exhibition of German artist Albert Oehlen. In this new group of works, Oehlen paints over, under, and around Spanish advertisement posters. By piecing together, indeed, reworking those images and juxtaposing unrelated advertisements, Oehlen has undermined the original content of those ads. Oehlen, however, is far more interested in the unnerving emotional affects resulting from the ubiquitous presence of advertising than in manipulation of pop iconography.

Instructively, Oehlen studied with visual revolutionary Sigmar Polke—who in 1963 founded an art movement called Kapitalistischen Realismus” (Capitalistic Realism) with Gerhard Richter and Konrad Fischer. A parody on “Socialist Realism”—the officially approved style of art in the Soviet bloc from which Polke had fled with his family—the movement also was a critique of marketplace-driven “commercial art” found in the West. Polke was also a participant (with Richter and Fischer) in the Düsseldorf exhibition, “Demonstrative Ausstellung.” Polke’s approach in his watercolors and gouaches from the 1960s and 1970s was subversive. Embedded in those works were sardonic comments upon the postwar consumerist society. With that lineage, Oehlen emerged during the 1980s with contemporaries and fellow enfants terrible Georg Herold, Werner Büttner, Günter Förg, Dieter Göls, and Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997). The latter, who experimented with different styles and media—and shared Oehlen’s prolificacy—was seen as one of the most talented German artists of his generation.

Oehlen kinetically grafts various elements together in his works: No matter how connected those elements are, there is still movement. While there is a singularity in these pieces, the merger is never absolutely completed—giving rise to multiple velocities. The constant pulling in Oehlen’s work between plural and singular and between obscurity and familiarity is energizing.

In a point of departure from his previous work, Oehlen has reduced his use of paint to emphasize subtle interplay between the paint, brushstrokes, and culled images. In so doing, he focuses on their raison d'être. By deliberately negating corporate imagery, these provocative paintings eschew formal convention, underline technique and deliberation, and advance the function of utilized media. Furthermore inherent relationships and counterpoints are easier delineated in this lessened use of paint.

While Oehlen’s 2005 MOCA (Miami) show was his first solo exhibition in the United States, he has had significant exhibitions at the Stedelijk (Amsterdam), Kunsthalle (Basel), Whitechapel Gallery (London), and Musee Cantonal des Beaux Arts (Lausanne). Oehlen’s present show at Luhring Augustine calls forth underlying subtleties and tensions vis-à-vis function, symbolism, abstraction, and figurative and aesthetic factors.

Albert Oehlen

Through May 30, 2009

@ Luhring Augustine

531 West 24th Street, NYC 10011

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