ALBERT OEHLEN AT THE SERPENTINE GALLERY LONDON

This extensive exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery London focuses on a recurring thread in German artist Albert Oehlen’s practice through a selection of works dating from the 1980s until the present day, which are brought together under the rubric of the John Graham Remix series.

Taking its title from the eponymous American Modernist figurative painter, this body of work appropriates elements of Graham’s painting, Tramonto Spaventoso (‘Terrifying Sunset’) (1940 – 49), which have then been interpreted, remixed and reconfigured by Oehlen across multiple compositions.

Graham’s painting becomes a singular starting point for the artist’s experimentation, ‘a vehicle  for endless interpretation’ that he has continued to return to throughout his career.

The unique architecture of the Serpentine Gallery, in particular its domed central space, is the site of a new installation that forms part of Oehlen’s interpretation of  the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas, founded by John and Dominique de Menil, located  in Houston, Texas.

A selection of new paintings based on Graham’s painting, which match the scale and size of the four horizontal  paintings by American painter Mark Rothko displayed in the original chapel’s interior spaces, are exhibited at the Serpentine for the first time.

Permeating this gallery is a newly configured soundtrack by the hardcore, avant-garde trio ensemble, Steamboat Switzerland, playing at intervals throughout the day, which draws connections between the movements, rhythms  and systems of music and the internal strategies of Oehlen’s paintings.

Oehlen’s site-specific response to the Serpentine Gallery follows his interest in extending the internal logics of his paintings to the sites in which they are exhibited. It is this significance of architecture that results in unique installations that have a distinctly mutable relationship to space. As the artist says: ‘I am not interested in the idea of staging my work in a space specifically  conceived for it. I think that art should adapt to the architecture or fight with it.’

Neither figurative nor abstract, the work of Alber Oehlen  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.

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 paintings are on the subject of painting itself.

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
SERPENTINE GALLERY
LONDON
Through 02 February 2020
https://www.serpentinegalleries.org

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