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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY OF A EUROPEAN GENTLEMAN

Studio 1

Studio 1
signed, titled and dated 'A. Oehlen 2005 "Studio 1"' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
82 3/4 x 102 1/2in. (210.3 x 260.3cm.)
Painted in 2005
Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2006.
H. W. Holzwarth (ed.), Albert Oehlen, Cologne 2009, p. 654 (illustrated in colour, p. 453).
A. Bonito Oliva, Albert Oehlen, exh. cat., Naples, Museo di Capodimonte, 2009 (illustrated in colour, p. 30).
H. W. Holzwarth (ed.), Albert Oehlen, Cologne 2017 (illustrated in colour, p. 314).
Graz, Kunsthaus Graz am Landesmuseum Joanneum, Die Götter im Exil. Salvador Dalí, Albert Oehlen u.a., 2006, pp. 199 and 201.
London, Whitechapel Gallery, Albert Oehlen. I Will Always Champion Good Painting / I Will Always Champion Bad Painting, 2006, p. 4 (illustrated in colour, p. 72). This exhibition later travelled to Bristol, Arnolfini.
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. 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.

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Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Interim Head of Department

Lot Essay

Held in the same private collection since shortly after its creation, Studio 1 (2005) is an atmospheric example of Albert Oehlen’s ‘grey paintings.’ These important monochrome works, made in two phases during the 1990s and early 2000s, punctuate a practice more often associated with garish excesses of colour and form. Across Studio 1’s large canvas, Oehlen deploys an array of techniques to conjure a hazy, enigmatic scene. A ghostly figure—perhaps the artist himself—appears at the lower left. Marbled streaks, smears and stipples convey the presence of objects behind him: we see what might be an easel, musical instruments, a table loaded with materials. Oehlen’s greys are richly variegated. Silver light shines out from the background, throwing charcoal-dark shadows into relief. Cool gunmetal greys meet warmer passages of sepia. The artist’s brushwork, too, ranges widely, from broad, dragged blurs to translucent drips and washes, soft chiaroscuro and thickets of impasto. In 2006, the work was included in Oehlen’s major UK solo show Albert Oehlen. I Will Always Champion Good Painting / Albert Oehlen. I Will Always Champion Bad Painting, at the Whitechapel Gallery, London and the Arnolfini, Bristol.

Oehlen’s grey paintings are exceptional within his oeuvre not only in their chromatic rigour, but also in their comparatively traditional facture. Amid a riotous practice that has encompassed oils, acrylics, patterned fabrics, collage, inkjet printing and digital mark-making—with multiple such modes often piled into a single work—they are a rare series made solely using paint, brushes and canvas. Oehlen has said that his grey paintings worked in counterpoint with his gaudier compositions. ‘I wanted to paint pictures that were even more colourful,’ he explains, ‘and prescribed myself grey as a therapy to artificially increase my greed for colour’ (A. Oehlen, quoted in H. W. Holzwarth (ed.), Albert Oehlen, Cologne 2009, p. 378).

Beyond this refreshing self-denial, the grey paintings also provided an opportunity for Oehlen to further the wider artistic project that has occupied him since the 1980s: a critique of painting from within the medium itself. With a history that runs from the grisaille studies of the Old Masters to Pablo Picasso’s black-and-white compositions, the inscrutable greys of Jasper Johns and Christopher Wool’s angsty, erasure-ridden monochromes, greyscale painting represents its own distinct vein of inquiry. Oehlen tests and toys with the colour’s prior incarnations. He views painting, he explains, ‘with a certain disdain, or at least a lack of respect. For me, painting is just one of many possible ways of making art. So I can romp around in it. And now that I’m having fun with it, I can take its postulates very seriously’ (A. Oehlen, quoted in D. Diederichsen, ‘The Rules of the Game’, Artforum, November 1994, p. 71).

Oehlen’s most important precedent in grey is Gerhard Richter, the elder statesman of post-war German painting. Richter’s early monochrome works, based on black-and-white photographs, drew his eye to the abstract dynamics of blur and shadow. ‘All that interests me is the grey areas, the passages and tonal sequences, the pictorial spaces, overlaps and interlockings’, Richter wrote in 1965. ‘If I had any way of abandoning the object as the bearer of this structure, I would immediately start painting abstracts’ (G. Richter, ‘Notes, 1964-65’, The Daily Practice of Painting: Writings and Interviews, 1962-1993, Cambridge, MA, 1995, p. 37). During the early 1970s, that is precisely what he did, embarking on a long cycle of abstract grey paintings: the ‘most complete’ monochromes he could imagine. These included the austere Vermalung (Inpainting) series, whose densely-worked surfaces seem to picture the scrubbing out of figurative content. This exercise in negation, like Oehlen’s self-imposed grey periods, ultimately led Richter back to colour.

Oehlen’s own work foregoes the solemnity of Richter’s. Throughout the grey paintings, he runs amok among ideas of greyness, abstraction and figuration, refusing to land on a single approach. Some, such as the gloomy face of Traurigkeit (Sadness) (2005), play with the colour’s emotive associations. Others are facetiously figurative, as if mocking the misty erasures of Wool or Richter: in Bad (Bath) (2005), the greys become steam rising from a hot bathtub, and in Raucher (Smoker) (1999) they are clouds of pipe smoke. Others veer in more eccentric directions. Interior (1998) conveys a sinister room of random, vaguely mechanical parts. Vergessen auf Rädern (Oblivion on Wheels) (2005) looks like a medieval Apocalypse. Ein Versuchstier (A Laboratory Animal) (1998) presents a grotesque, Picassoid hybrid with a staring eye, and Fibreglass Scroll (2004) an abstracted stag’s head. Studio 1 evokes countless different approaches to grey, plunging the artist and his studio into a fog of intrigue and ambiguity. It is a picture of a painter with endless, murky possibilities at his fingertips.

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