Curator at Large of Live Programmes Claude Adjil leads a tour of the Albert Oehlen exhibition. BSL interpretation is available on request for all our Saturday Talks.
Albert Oehlen (b. 1954, Krefeld, Germany) is one of the most innovative and significant artists working today. He has been a key figure in contemporary art since the 1980s and the diversity of his painting is a testament to the intrinsic freedom that remains at the heart of the medium. Through expressionist brushwork, surrealist gestures and deliberate amateurism, he engages with the history of painting, pushing its essential components to bold new extremes.
Oehlen studied at the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg in Germany from 1978 to 1981 and quickly rose to prominence, working with artists such as Martin Kippenberger, Georg Herold and Werner Büttner, who sought to create works that defied categorisation and contradicted the existing artistic status quo. Straddling various debates surrounding the nature of painting, Oehlen’s work deconstructs the medium to its essential elements: colour, gesture, motion, and time. This line of investigation, which Oehlen has continued to pursue in the decades since, has resulted in striking variations between works that combine abstract and figurative styles using a range of techniques, from oil painting to spray paint, digital printing and collage.
At the centre of the Serpentine Gallery is an installation that marks the beginning of Oehlen’s process of interpreting the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas. Four new paintings – the same scale and size as the four horizontal canvases found in the Chapel – have been made specifically for this exhibition. Alongside this central installation is a selection of paintings from the last two decades. A newly-configured soundtrack plays at intervals through the duration of the exhibition.