Albert Oehlen – “Big paintings by me with small paintings by others”
MASI Museo d’aJe della Svizzera italiana, Lugano
September 05, 2021 – February 20, 2022
From 5 September 2021 to 20 February 2022, MASI present the exhibition titled Albert Oehlen “big paintings by me with small paintings by others“. For this project Albert Oehlen is at the same time an artist, a curator and a collector. Iconic works embodying different phases of his painting career will be displayed alongside a selection of more than thirty international artists belonging to his private collection. It is always very interesting when artists collect art, and this is particularly true in the case of a reserved, elusive and sometimes even cryptic artist like Albert Oehlen. This is the first time that masterpieces by Oehlen are exhibited alongside works from his private art collection in such an extensive form and in a display conceived by the artist himself in partnership with MASI. This project not only offers surprising insights into his work, but also allows visitors to discover, or rediscover, a series of exceptional artists. The core group of works, representing the essence of Oehlen’s art, and the extraordinary chance to admire a part of his private collection in a museum, will enable visitors to engage with the depth and breadth of his pictorial exploration. For many years Oehlen has been expanding his collection with works by artists with whom he feels a connection, not in terms of likeness, but because they address ideas – often associated with the concept of painting – that are very relevant to him too. However, while all the works featured in the exhibition reveal inspiration and similarities (in some cases very evidently), we must not forget that the artist rejects all kinds of classification and rational analysis of his oeuvre.
Indeed, Oehlen has always actively shunned interpretative methods that seek to define the meaning of form and content, or, more simply, rejects an approach focusing on the wish to understand art in general. Consequently, the exhibition does not aim to suggest comparisons between Oehlen’s work and that of other artists or to insert his work in a “genealogy”, but rather to give visitors an exceptional glimpse into his private collection and allow them to enpage – perhaps for the first time – with the work of important international artists in an original and exciting narrative that recounts the history of the art of recent decades from Oehlen’s personal perspective. The exhibition project designed by Oehlen presents both works by famous artists, including Willem de Kooning, Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Duane Hanson, Franz West, Julian Schnabel, Konrad Klapheck, Richard Lindner, Richard Artschwager, Daniel Richter and Malcolm Morley, and works by equally stimulating but lesser-known artists such as Peter Bruning, Martha Junpwirth, Michaela Eichwald, John Graham, Eupene Leroy, Joyce Pensato, Christina Ramberg, Karl Wirsum, Ed Paschke, Gernot Bubenik and Gino De Dominicis. The intentionally provocative title of the exhibition immediately reveals Oehlen’s irreverent attitude and the sense of humour of someone who takes his profession seriously, but plays with the art system, making fun of the conditions that it often entails.
Albert Oeh len (b. 1954) is one of the most influential contemporary painters of the international art scene. Since the 1980s he has been exploring the potential and limits of painting, constantly questioning its subjects and the methods and media that it employs, through his continuously evolving style and technique. Born in Krefeld, Germany, Oehlen studied at the Hochschule fur bildende Kunste in Hamburg from 1978 to 1981 , and soon became a prominent figure of the Berlin and Cologne art scenes. Durinp that time, he was considered an artist of the lunge Wilde (Young Wilds) movement, along with Martin Kippenberper and Werner Buttner, producing works that challenged the categorisation of art and rejected the art system itself. Oehlen deconstructed painting, stripping it down to its constituent parts – colour, gesture, movement and time – and advancing his artistic quest with rules and restrictions that he imposed upon his own artistic process, which offered him new starting points to continue redefining the understanding of painting.
Over the years, this way of working, which Oehlen continues to use today, has led to surprising series of works that combine abstract and figurative art and different styles and techniques. Since the time of his Bad Paintings, Oehlen also features clumsiness and ugliness in his work – disturbing gestures, roughly depicted figures, artificial smudges of paint, darinp and jarring colours – constantly applying pressure to the painting system and displaying infinite combinations and manipulations with which he creates new perceptive challenges for the public too.