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

3rd Gear - It's All Right

Details
Albert Oehlen (b. 1954)
3rd Gear - It's All Right
signed, titled and dated 'A. Oehlen 98 3rd gear - it's alright' (on the reverse)
oil and resin on canvas
59¼ x 59¼in. (150.4 x 150.4cm.)
Executed in 1998
Provenance
Luhring Augustine, New York.
Private Collection.
Luhring Augustine, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2013.
Literature
H. W. Holzwarth (ed.), Albert Oehlen, Cologne 2009, p. 351 (illustrated in colour).
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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Katharine Arnold

Lot Essay

‘First gear, it’s all right (Honda, Honda, go faster, faster)
Second gear, I’ll lean right (Honda, Honda, go faster, faster)
Third gear, hang on tight (Honda, Honda, go faster, faster)
Faster, it’s all right’ —THE BEACH BOYS, LITTLE HONDA, 1964

‘Painting gazes over its own shoulder, as it were, and thereby formulates each brushstroke as an ambivalent gesture between self-expression and commentary. Like every important painterly oeuvre of the last thirty years, the painting of Albert Oehlen attains its authenticity only through the mode of non-authenticity'—S. BERG


3rd Gear - It’s All Right (1998) is an outstanding large-scale vision, displaying Albert Oehlen’s brush at its pyrotechnic best. A churning galaxy of de Kooning-esque corals, peaches and pastels is beset by swathes of emerald and khaki, strafed with dark brown rays, spattered with fireworks of white, orange and yellow. From this chaos of paint – by turns pearlescent and swampy – a face emerges. Outlined in royal purple, his most prominent features are a scalloped nose and extravagant curlicued moustache, which echoes the fanciful calligraphic form of a large brown ‘H’ to the upper right. The same purple describes what looks like a wooden crossbeam behind his head, and a scaffolding of supporting lines almost lost in the maelstrom. The title is taken from the chorus of the 1964 Beach Boys song ‘Little Honda,’ a playful ode to a popular small motorbike of the time: First gear, it’s all right … Second gear, I’ll lean right … Third gear, hang on tight … Faster, it’s all right. The lyrical association with freewheeling speed and movement aptly reflects Oehlen’s gleeful approach to painting, whereby he pushes representation, composition and colour to their limits. The mind-altering mirage of the present work verges on anarchy, but confronts the practice of painting on its own terms. ‘I see it this way: it’s the confluence of earnestness and ridiculousness that allows the artist to run riot,’ Oehlen has said. ‘It’s comparable to a classic jazz soloist. He runs riot within his harmony and stretches it as far as it can go’ (A. Oehlen, quoted in ‘Fredi Fischli and Niels Olsen in conversation with Albert Oehlen’, Albert Oehlen: Home and Garden, exh. cat., New Museum, New York, 2015, p. 102).

Oehlen – who listens to a wide variety of music as he works – has often discussed his process in the musical terms of experiment, iconoclasm and improvisation. ‘People can interpret them how they want, but, for me, painting is about trying to get as far away from meaning as possible, which is perhaps the most difficult thing of all. Really, I am just trying to make something new every time. I’m an experimenter who can live with the contradictions and even the mistakes that experimentation entails. If we were talking musically, it’s definitely Frank Zappa, not Leonard Cohen’ (A. Oehlen, quoted in S. O’Hagan, ‘Albert Oehlen: “There’s something hysterical about magenta,”’ The Guardian, 5 February 2016). Perhaps there is even a memory of Zappa in the moustachioed visage of 3rd Gear – It’s All Right: he would certainly make an appropriately eclectic, irreverent and inventive avatar for Oehlen’s painting. The moustache also reveals the artist’s own improvisational methods. Its curved design echoes not only that of the gothic ‘H,’ but also the face’s left nostril, as well as numerous further abstract loops, spirals and serifs that can be glimpsed in the surrounding psychedelia. Line suggests form, which melts back into line; with the surface’s subsequent blurring, veiling, sunbursts and eruptions, Oehlen only partly covers his tracks, deliberately leaving his painting turbulent with existential dilemmas. As Stephan Berg has written of Oehlen’s work, ‘Painting gazes over its own shoulder, as it were, and thereby formulates each brushstroke as an ambivalent gesture between self-expression and commentary. Like every important painterly oeuvre of the last thirty years, the painting of Albert Oehlen attains its authenticity only through the mode of non-authenticity’ (S. Berg, ‘Cold Fever,’ in Albert Oehlen, exh. cat. Kunstmuseum Bonn, 2012, pp. 32-33).

Beach Boys guitarist Carl Wilson recalled the genesis of ‘Little Honda’ in a 1976 interview with Rolling Stone. ‘I remember – this is so funny – when we did “Little Honda,” Brian wanted me to get this real distorted guitar sound, real fuzzy. “This guitar sounds like shit,” I said. “Brian, I hate this.” And he goes, “Would you fucking do it? Just do it.” When I heard it, I felt like an asshole. It sounded really hot. That was before fuzz became a big deal’ (C. Wilson, quoted in D. Felton, ‘The Healing of Brother Brian,’ Rolling Stone, 4 November 1976). Brian Wilson’s bold disregard for traditional sound made for a hit single: Oehlen’s exuberant disruption of paint likewise creates a new and electrifying image. ‘I try to have something really difficult or daring,’ he says, ‘because the more daring it is, the more surprising the result is’ (A. Oehlen, quoted in A. Tarsia, ‘In Conversation: Albert Oehlen with Andrea Tarsia,’ Albert Oehlen: I Will Always Champion Good Painting/I Will Always Champion Bad Painting, exh. cat. Whitechapel Gallery, London 2006, p. 1). 3rd Gear – It’s All Right is the payoff, the ‘surprising’ reward of this artistic daring. Racing free from any painterly comfort zone, Oehlen careers around the canvas like a teenage biker, revving everything up to fever pitch: we might worry that the painting will overwhelm itself, but somehow, in all its dynamism, energy and clashing contradictions, it’s all right.
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