London, England. -
The Whitechapel presents the first major UK show of an artist bringing painting back to the forefront of contemporary art. Albert Oehlen is the first survey of the work of a painter who engages directly with the history of painting. Rebellious, discordant and allusive, his paintings are driven by an explosive collision of line, color and form. Yet behind their often chaotic appearance lies an intense investigation of the limits of painting, that has influenced a generation of artists, including Chris Ofili, Peter Doig and Glenn Brown.
Focusing on exposing art's failures, Oehlen borrows from traditional genres and techniques to show the limits of abstraction and representation, describing his work as 'post-non-representational'. Co-organized with Arnolfini, Bristol, the exhibition surveys his work since 1988 and explores how Oehlen's irreverent and playful work has pushed the vocabulary of painting - color, form, composition and space - into a deliberately ugly anti-aesthetic.
Born in Krefeld, Germany, in 1954, Albert Oehlen studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Hamburg with Sigmar Polke and came to prominence in the early 1980s alongside Martin Kippenberger, with whom he often collaborated. Working in the aftermath of conceptual art's rejection of the medium of painting, Oehlen was influenced by German painters such as Georg Baselitz, Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter. His work focuses on the process of painting itself, making visible its fundamental elements rather than exploring painting as autobiographical expression. 'No magic, no science, no excuses', Oehlen has said, 'I want an art where you see how it's made, not what the artist means but the traces of production.' By making visual references to styles and methods artists have used to compensate for art's failings, his work is based on the possibilities of creative function rather than aesthetics.
Oehlen's work ranges from large abstract canvases more than 2 meters wide to computer-generated works, collages and posters. He often begins his works by creating collages on canvas, forming an initial structure that is gradually erased in layers of overlapping paint. Figures, interiors or elements of landscape are occasionally suggested, but are partly obscured by more abstract forms. No individual element is given prominence or provides a focal point for his compositions. Instead, our eyes are drawn in a multitude of directions, over the eventful surface of each canvas.
A collaboration between two art organizations, the Albert Oehlen exhibition is shown in two parts. The first, I Will Always Champion Good Painting, is at the Whitechapel from 7 July - 3 September, with more than 25 of the artist's major abstract paintings, grey paintings, collages and collage paintings. Then from 30 September - 26 November the Arnolfini presents I Will Always Champion Bad Painting, with over 25 digital poster works, computer paintings and collages. This exhibition model allows works such as the gray paintings, where figures and objects disappear into shades of gray, to be seen alongside Oehlen's bold, color-clashing abstract paintings at the Whitechapel and then recontextualised when shown with his computer paintings at the Arnolfini.
Born in 1954 in Krefeld, Germany, Albert Oehlen now lives and works in Switzerland and Spain. In 1978 he graduated from Hochschule fur Bilende Kunst, Hamburg. He has exhibited internationally, including at Kunsthaus Graz (2006), MOCA Miami (2005), Secession, Vienna (2004), Musee Cantonnal de Lausanne (2004), Musee d'Art Contemporain, Strasbourg (2002), Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hanover (2001), Kunsthalle Basel (1997) and IVAM Valencia (1996).
Albert Oehlen is curated by Andrea Tarsia, Head of Exhibitions & Projects, Whitechapel, and Martin Clark, Curator, Exhibitions, Arnolfini. The first part of the exhibition is at the Whitechapel, London from 7 July - 3 September 2006, the second part is at Arnolfini, Bristol, 30 September - 26 November 2006.
A major publication, co-produced by the Whitechapel and Arnolfini, accompanies the exhibition. Includes essays by Martin Clark, Rod Mengham and an interview with the artist and Andrea Tarsia. 112pp hard back. Published by the Whitechapel. Special exhibition price ˆ19.95. The exhibition is organized with the support of Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin and Thomas Dane Gallery, London.