“We can now see that this painting marks the exact point where all of Oehlen’s influences—de Kooning, Rauschenberg, Richter, Polke—come to a head, and how it acts as a departure point for what he will do over the next thirty years.” —Sam Orlofsky
Learn more about Albert Oehlen and the history behind this monumental 1988 painting with Gagosian directors Andrew Fabricant and Sam Orlofsky.
Albert OehlenUntitled, 1988
Albert Oehlen is one of the most influential artists born during the postwar period in Germany. This moment in German history was understandably clouded by the dark past of Nazism and impacted by the fractious Cold War dividing the East and West during the second half of the twentieth century. This rupture between two opposing ideologies was nowhere more overt than in Germany, where prosperity in the capitalist West contrasted with the harsh rule of Communism and the Soviet Union in the East (fig. 1).
The Berlin Wall, near the Brandenburg Gate, 1988. Sign reads: “Attention! You are now leaving West Berlin”
“We have long followed Oehlen’s work and watched it develop over time. It’s clear that we are on the verge of an upward trajectory. It’s just a perfect moment for him and this painting.” —Andrew Fabricant
Gagosian directors Andrew Fabricant and Sam Orlofsky discuss the recent sales trends for Albert Oehlen and where they see his market heading.
Albert OehlenUntitled, 1988
This offering of Albert Oehlen’s expansive abstract painting from 1988 presents a rare opportunity to acquire a work that fully encapsulates a crucial shift in his journey as a painter. The year 1988 marked a distinct pivot in Oehlen’s work. It was the moment when he moved away from his earlier, often ironic, approach to figuration and began a dedicated exploration of abstraction that would challenge the viewer to uncover any traces of iconography. The desire and competition for paintings from this period is currently at an all-time high, a fact that has been evidenced publicly at auction in recent years. Though a work from this period at this size has never been available at auction, in the last six months two untitled abstract paintings, both from 1989, at a size of 94 ½ by 78 ¾ inches (240 by 200 centimeters), sold for $4,072,302 (fig. 1) and $2,652,500 (fig. 2).
“Qualities that I want to see brought together: delicacy and coarseness, color and vagueness, and, underlying them all, a base note of hysteria.” —Albert Oehlen
Photo: Katherine McMahon
Albert Oehlen’s oeuvre is a testament to the innate freedom of the creative act. Through expressionist brushwork, Surrealist methodology, and self-conscious amateurism he engages with the history of abstract painting, pushing the basic components of abstraction to new extremes.
Oehlen studied at the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg in Germany from 1978 to 1981 and quickly rose to prominence in the Berlin and Cologne art scenes. He came to be associated with a new generation of Neo-Expressionist painters known as the Junge Wilde (German for “wild youth”)artists, including Martin Kippenberger and Werner Büttner, who sought to create work that defied categorization and refuted the artistic status quo. Straddling various debates surrounding the nature of painting, Oehlen’s work deconstructed the medium to its constituent elements—color, gesture, motion, and time—and evolved out of constraints he applied to his artistic process. This line of investigation, which Oehlen has continued to pursue in the decades since, has resulted in striking variations within his work, which includes canvases combining abstract and figurative styles, created in response to the Neo-Expressionism of the 1980s, as well as paintings comprising grids of colored squares.