ALBERT OEHLEN „FN PAINTINGS“ AT SKARSTEDT GALLERY

„Fn Paintings“ is an exhibition of selected works from Albert Oehlen’s 1990 series, now on view at  Skarstedt Gallery, New York. Presenting twelve of the twenty paintings in Oehlen’s seminal Fn Series, this exhibition brings the largest number of these works together since 1991.

Neither figurative nor abstract, the series champions the failures of painting – brash juxtapositions of color, discordant symbolic references, and an altogether unconventional approach argues the potential of achieving beauty in breaking the fundamental rules of art.

The title meaning ‘footnote’, suggests an annotation to the legacy of traditional painting, allowing for a multitude of alternatives to arise in the contemporary moment.

Marking a year of transition for the artist, 1989 inspired a shift toward non-figurative painting – and with the fate of the medium unknown, his aim to reinvent the picture was all the more invigorated.

Yet the Fn Series occupies a unique position, which defines Oehlen’s lineage to post-modern German artists such as Sigmar Polke, with his isolated moments of figurative depiction, Gerhard Richter’s exploitation of texture, and the constant compositional shifts in orientation employed by Georg Baselitz.

These elements are combined and enhanced by Oehlen’s conceptual approach. Testing the relationships and distinctions between figuration and abstraction, Oehlen creates a picture plane in which both are equal. An American flag is washed over with strokes of yellow, the glazed curl of carved wood floats disembodied in colorful layers of contours and abstract shapes.

For Oehlen, abstract painting does not exclude figuration, but utilizes it through transformation – reshaping reality into a two-dimensional picture plane. Traditional hierarchy is disrupted; and with no attempt to create meaning, Oehlen’s Fn paintings are on the subject of painting itself.

The artist states “I am convinced that I cannot achieve beauty via a direct route; that can only be the result of deliberation… That’s the interesting thing about art: that somehow, you use your material to make something that results in something beautiful, via a path that no one has yet trodden. That means working with something, where your predecessors would have said, ‘You can’t do that.’ First you take a step toward ugliness and then, somehow or other, you wind up where it’s beautiful” (Albert Oehlen in: exh. cat., Bonn, Kunstmuseum Bonn, Albert Oehlen, 2012, p. 71).

Oehlen was born in Krefeld, Germany in 1954. He attended the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg, where he studied under Sigmar Polke until 1981. During the early stages of his career, Oehlen’s artistic inclinations and thematic interests were diverse, ranging from music to painting. Neo-Expressionism became the prevailing aesthetic in the 1980s, inspiring him to combine abstract and figurative elements throughout his paintings. Oehlen’s spatially complex works use the collision of figuration and abstraction as a strong reminder of the multiple forces involved in the resurgence of painting at the latter part of the previous century.

ALBERT OEHLEN
FN PAINTINGS
SKARSTEDT GALLERY
NEW YORK
Through 02 November 2019
https://www.skarstedt.com

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