Albert Oehlen’s first major institutional exhibition with the title Abräumung (Clearing Away) took place in Kunsthalle Zürich in 1987. Now, almost thirty years later, Kunsthalle Zürich presents its second installment of works by this German painter, who was born in 1954 and has been living in Appenzell for the last decade.
Looking at his most recent works it becomes apparant that Oehlen is rightly viewed as a game-changing artist, precisely because he continues to upset our ideas of painting, beauty, vision and reasoning. This includes assertions by the artist, which, like his art, leave us asking questions. A few examples:*
“The lights are out in the land of motifs.”
“Just push a window open and, as one of my friends says, let justice in.”
“Art has always quarreled with reality, coming up close and cheekily trying to chat up the actual.”
“Right, you have to expose the medium to as much pressure as possible, and then proper beauty will come of it.”
Shown in conjunction for the first time, An Old Painting In Spirit in the Kunsthalle Zurich brings together works from the 1980s, two new painting cycles and a selection of about fifty rarely shown drawings. On first impression the variety dominates as if several artists are at work here. A fierce brown-grey painting style meets brightly colored canvases – collages made from scraps of advertising posters – which in turn hang next to a series of recent paintings executed on large Dibond aluminium panels. The panels reveal tree-like black shapes on red, blue and white backgrounds, brimming with unromantic severity. In An Old Painting In Spirit visual concepts and painting styles interact with each other in a way one would not believe possible. All test the boundaries of painting and challenge our expectations. And yet they also tell of something quite different: Of the daring required to clear the way with the brush, again and again, to obtain a space in which unexpected forms of beauty may occur.
*The quotations were excerpted from:
Albert Oehlen/Daniel Baumann, Im Land der Motive brennt kein Licht mehr/The Lights are out in the Land of in the Land of Motifs Interview in: Die Götter im Exil/Gods in Exile, exh.cat. Kunsthaus Graz, Cologne 2006. / Albert Oehlen, ex.cat. Salzburger Kunstverein, 1993, S. 6. / A. Oehlen. Albert Oehlen im Gespräch mit Wilfried Dickhoff und Martin Prinzhorn, Cologne 1991, p. 73 and p. 78.
Artist: Albert Oehlen
Venue: Kunsthalle Zürich
Exhibition Title: An Old Painting in Spirit
Date: May 30 – August 16, 2015
Photography: Stefan Rohner.
Text (press release) and images, provided by the event.