Albert Oehlen (b. 1954)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Albert Oehlen (b. 1954)


Albert Oehlen (b. 1954)
signed and dated 'A. Oehlen 86' (lower right)
oil on canvas board
9 ½ x 7 1/8in. (24 x 18cm.)
Painted in 1986
Galerie Max Hetzler, Cologne.
Galerie Bärbel Grässlin, Frankfurt.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
P. Pakesch, Albert Oehlen: Der Übel, Graz 1987 (illustrated, p. 41).
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Cristian Albu
Cristian Albu

Lot Essay

‘We understood very well what the other was up to...I felt that I was supplied with painterly ideas and didn’t need his inspiration… He on the other hand, more than once saw the pictures I had made as an opportunity to respond. He didn’t take anything from me, and I loved it. I benefitted from the liberties he took with his ideas, which were sometimes quite conceptual in nature. That’s the point in which we came together’ (A. Oehlen quoted in Albert Oehlen Interview, J. von Perfall, Kippenberger & Friends: Conversations on Martin Kippenberger, Berlin 2013, p. 98).

Captivating and irreverent, Martin Kippenberger and Albert Oehlen are known for their thought-provoking and expressive transformation of the 1980s and 1990s art-scene. Working closely together, sharing exhibition spaces, publications and ideas, these two artists formed part of the younger generation of bad boy German artists which emerged in the wake of the German Neo-Expressionists. Painting at a time of rapid transformation, powered by Germany’s efforts to shed the memory of the political horrors that beset it during and immediately after the Second World War, both Kippenberger and Oehlen used humour and wit to make light of such attempts and through their works endeavored to free Germany from its troubling past, while simultaneously questioning the social function of art.

Kippenberger’s Berdirfnisse: Kreig Böse of 1992, translated to mean Evil War Requirements is a deliberate misspelling of the word Beduerfnisse (requirements), in six parts. This work is a remarkable example of Kippenberger’s skillfull handling of paint and the importance he placed on visual appeal, despite his often controversial and provocative subject matter. Typical of his oeuvre, Kippenberger has layered the paint in the same way that the work has layered meaning. Behind the coats of paint applied on each letter there is the motif of a tank. This thought-provoking work shows a return to his key Kreig Böse series that he began in 1983. The works from this series adopted the tank motif as a reference to the German aggression in the Second World War. In Berdirfnisse: Kreig Böse, Kippenberger has physically white-washed over this motif as a way to illustrate the attempts of a nation to gloss over the horrific atrocities that were committed in German history. In the early works from this series, Kippenberger disperses any sense of threat through the familiar, loving and innocent motif of Saint Nicholas. This seemingly unlikely and disconcerting juxtaposition of motifs is characteristic of Kippenberger’s humorous and ironic oeuvre as a way of dealing with the notion of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (literally coming to terms with the past), a term which relates to the guilt felt by Germans after the atrocities that were committed under the Third Reich.

Despite the absence of Saint Nicholas or indeed any other figure of frivolity in Berdirfnisse: Kreig Böse, Kippenberger’s playful wit and humour is still in abundance in this work. For his purpose, misspelling of the word Beduerfnisse charges the work with a childlike naivety. This is further heightened by the fact that the six panels are interchangeable like an alphabet game for children. As the panels can be placed in any order, the work becomes even more obscure and thus Kippenberger is again commenting on Germany’s attempts to forget their haunting past. The themes of children’s toys and education appeared in many of Kippenberger’s works after the birth of his daughter in 1989. Therefore this composition, like his other works on this theme, also invokes Kippenberger's own status and role as a father, one which he himself questioned.

Oehlen’s use of wit and irony as a mechanism to deal with the haunting shadow of Germany’s past, much like his dear friend Kippenberger, is illustrated in his Untitled of 1986. The work depicts a desolate colonnade with a small dark entrance, above which is an obscure mysterious sign. Rapidly painted in a muddied palate of grays, browns and oranges, the painting is charged with tension. At first, any references to the horrors that took place under the Nazi regime cannot be seen, but, typical of Oehlen, upon closer inspection the composition’s contentious and challenging subject matter unravels.

The sign above the inconspicuous door in the work, reads ‘Die Kunst ist eine erhabene und zum Fanatismus verpflichtende Mission’ which translates to mean ‘Art is a sublime mission, compulsive of fanaticism’. This statement was made in a speech by Adolf Hitler at the Great German Art Exhibition, which displayed the art of Nazi approved artists in Munich in 1937. Famously this exhibition coincided with the Degenerate Art Exhibition held at the same time, which attracted over two million more visitors. Oehlen’s Untitled therefore offers a considered commentary on the absurdity of the Nazi regime in his characteristically ambiguous manner. As he once stated, painting has the possibility to ‘fool a country, but not the whole world’ (A. Oehlen, quoted in Albert Oehlen: der u¨bel, exh. cat., Grazer Kunstverein, Graz, 1987, p. 41). Untitled of 1986 is a striking example of Oehlen’s true mastery of his ability to address such complex and contentious subject matter in an almost nonchalant way.

Extending on this engagement, showing just how entrenched they were in the post-war condition, even the subject matter of Oehlen’s Self Portrait of 1983 is instantly recognisable and a comment on Vergangenheitsbewältigung. Briskly painted using dark earthy browns, this work is a playful and subversive self-portrait of Oehlen where he unabashedly looks remarkably like Hitler, with his slight moustache and a messy side parting. Presenting himself in this way, he does not try to resist the guilt like many Post-War Germans at this time, but by contrast, confronts his country’s past and reflects on the actions of his predecessors.

The inclusion of a mirror in Self Portrait broadens the question of guilt even more, as by suddenly reflecting their own accusatory gaze, the viewers also become implicated in the work. This is a compelling turn of events, which forces the audience to face the ghosts of their past, something that Oehlen and Kippenberger were both seeking to achieve. As Kippenberger stated ‘You add little jokes, which may bewilder people at first, but the piece is about self-recognition for them, not for me. You can't stand yourself next to every picture you paint and explain things. Pictures have to talk for themselves’ (M. Kippenberger, quoted in Completing Picasso,’ Interview between Martin Kippenberger and Daniel Birnbaum’, in Martin Kippenberger, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London, 2006, p. 62).

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