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Blues nach Noten (Blues by Notes)

Blues nach Noten (Blues by Notes)
signed, titled, inscribed and dated '44 "Blues nach Noten" A. Oehlen 96' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
75 3/8 x 75 1/2in. (191.3 x 191.7cm.)
Painted in 1996
Private Collection, Germany (acquired directly from the artist in 1997).
Oslo, Galleri K, Albert Oehlen, 1997.
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. Please note that at our discretion some lots may be moved immediately after the sale to our storage facility at Momart Logistics Warehouse: Units 9-12, E10 Enterprise Park, Argall Way, Leyton, London E10 7DQ. At King Street lots are available for collection on any weekday, 9.00 am to 4.30 pm. Collection from Momart is strictly by appointment only. We advise that you inform the sale administrator at least 48 hours in advance of collection so that they can arrange with Momart. However, if you need to contact Momart directly: Tel: +44 (0)20 7426 3000 email: This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

Brought to you by

Michelle McMullan
Michelle McMullan Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

A wild, symphonic explosion of line, colour and texture, Blues nach Noten is a thrilling large-scale example of Albert Oehlen’s abstract practice. Spanning nearly two metres in both height and width, it offers a virtuosic tableau: marbled layers of raw impasto are overwritten with streaks, drips, smears and arabesques, creating a tactile interplay of marks and forms. With visceral, intuitive gestures, Oehlen orchestrates a vivid chromatic spectrum ranging from deep teal and burnished yellow to shades of orange, peach, purple and aquamarine. Painted in 1996, and acquired from the artist by the present owner the following year, the work attests to Oehlen's longstanding love of music. Its title translates as ‘blues by notes’, hinting at the relationship between improvisation and formal notation that lies at the very heart of Oehlen’s approach to painting. Semi-recognisable symbols and forms flicker amid the chaos—signs, notes, shapes—only to dissolve amid illegible flourishes. Building blocks strain to be seen, yet any sense of logic ultimately remains oblique. Like a graphic score, the painting seems to contain a sense of music within its very DNA, every loop, scrawl and colour prescribing rhythm, tempo, discord and melody.

Oehlen came to prominence in 1980s Cologne, during the heyday of Neo-Expressionism. He and his contemporaries, including Martin Kippenberger, Georg Herold and Werner Büttner, embodied the punk spirit of their time, championing a breakdown of aesthetic boundaries and embracing a subversive, anti-establishment approach they dubbed ‘bad painting’. Music, for Oehlen, played a vital role in this outlook, and—as in his art—he moved seamlessly between genres. His tastes have encompassed everything from acid house and techno to Frank Zappa, Frankie Laine and Captain Beefheart; he has collaborated with musicians including Red Krayola, Jailhouse and his brother Markus, and ran his own experimental electronica label, Leiterwagen, during the 1990s. The improvisatory aesthetics of free jazz became a particular source of inspiration over the years, with Oehlen titling many of his works after tracks by the saxophonist Ornette Coleman. The year before the present work, notably, he staged an exhibition at the Gesellschaft für Gegenwartskunst in Augsburg entitled Abortion of the Cool: a nod to Miles Davis’ legendary 1957 album Birth of the Cool.

The musical overtones of Oehlen’s practice situate him within a long lineage: from Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee, to Jean-Michel Basquiat, who routinely punctuated his canvases with references to America’s great jazz heroes. Yet ultimately, for Oehlen, music was just one ingredient within a broader synesthetic outlook. The artist had first begun to embrace free abstraction after a trip to Spain with Kippenberger in 1988, during which the two artists tested the limits of their practices. Reviving the lessons learnt under the tutelage Sigmar Polke during the 1970s, Oehlen began to widen his purview, exploring fabrics, iridescent pigments, silkscreen and even making use of computer technology as early as 1990. These multi-media experiments fed into the language of his paintings, spawning complex textured surfaces that played with the dialogue between chance and control. Oehlen would often set himself playful rules, alternating between cheap and expensive paint—for instance—or only using pigments from the first half of the alphabet. In the present work, music becomes a potent analogy for this spirit: like a soloist riffing upon written notation, his brush swoops and soars, weaving new melodies from structures that remain unseen.

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