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Ohne Titel

1988
Oil on canvas
200 x 200 cm / 78 ¾ x 78 ¾ in

One of Albert Oehlen’s earliest abstractions, ‘Ohne Titel’ (1988) was made during the most pivotal year of the artist’s career. In 1988, Oehlen and his friend Martin Kippenberger rented a house together in southern Spain. The two artists worked closely together, exchanging ideas, and critiquing each other’s new works. For Oehlen it was a transformative experience.

Oehlen had studied at the Hochschule für bildende Künste in Hamburg from 1978 to 1981, and subsequently quickly made his mark alongside the ‘Junge Wilde’, including Kippenberger and Werner Büttner, all of whom created expressive figurative paintings in a direct rejection of Minimalism and Conceptual Art. Although the artists had emphatically different styles, their paintings were characterized by similarly powerful brushstrokes, crepuscular color palettes, and an entirely subjective figurative visual language.

‘I always had a wish to become an abstract painter. I wanted to reproduce in my own career the classical development in the history of art from figurative to abstract painting. But I wasn’t ready to make the change before 1988.’ —Albert Oehlen

Since his studies Oehlen had been interested in exploring and challenging the very nature of painting, deconstructing the key elements of his chosen medium, especially color and gesture. But it was not until 1988 that Oehlen started painting his celebrated abstractions: ’Spain was extremely productive … For me it was the start of my abstract paintings, a radical revolution in my painting, the decisive step in my development.’ This seminal painting exemplifies what Oehlen describes as his ‘post-non-representational’ work and marks the very beginning of the artist’s striking reinvention of abstraction.

In ‘Ohne Titel’ Oehlen contrasts colors, textures, and spontaneous, broad brushstrokes with exacting, precise lines that conjure up enigmatic imagery that evokes his previous figuration. Curator Hamza Walker describes the extraordinary cacophony of Oehlen’s work as a ‘chorus of contradictory gestures; figuration is set against abstraction, form against anti-form, the rhythm of pattern versus a meandering stroke, and a muddy mix of colors juxtaposed against vibrant pigment straight from the tube.’

Exhibited in the New Museum’s ‘Albert Oehlen. Home and Garden’ exhibition in 2015—the artist’s first museum exhibition in New York—‘Ohne Titel’ encapsulates the artist’s radical investigation of the possibilities of painting. It is difficult to overstate the impact of Oehlen’s work on subsequent generations of painters, who have similarly grappled with the history of painting. ‘Ohne Titel’—with its formal complexity and expressive painterliness— highlights why Oehlen’s new modes of painting helped usher in a resurgence of the medium in the following decades.

On view in Zurich

Since opening our first gallery in 1992, Zurich continues to be a key location for Hauser & Wirth with two spaces in the former Löwenbräu brewery building, along with our Publishing Headquarters and newest gallery on Rämistrasse. Albert Oehlen’s ‘Ohne Titel’ (1988) can be viewed by appointment at Hauser & Wirth Zürich, Limmatstrasse 270.

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Albert Oehlen, Ohne Titel, 1988 © Albert Oehlen. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2020; Albert Oehlen pulls Martin Kippenberger’s ear at Erhard Klein Galerie, Bonn, 1983 © Camillo Fischer. Photo: Camillo Fischer; Installation view, ‘Albert Oehlen. Home and Garden’, New Museum, New York NY, 2015 © Albert Oehlen. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2020. Photo: Benoit Pailley; Exterior and interior views of Hauser & Wirth Zürich, Löwenbräu, Limmatstrasse 270, Zurich, Switzerland.