After Sigmar Polke in 2016, François Pinault is once again offering his Venetian palazzo to a German painter. For the past few months Albert Oehlen, 63, has been installed at the Palazzo Grassi, where over 80 of his canvases are on show until Januar y 2019 in an exhibition put on with the help of curator Caroline Bourgeois. Yet Oehlen is much less well known than Polke, among the general public at any rate. In France he’s only had two big institutional shows: in 2009 at the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, and in 2002 in Strasbourg (even if the Villa Arson was showing him as early as 1994). But in 2015, when New York put on a big exhibition at the New Museum, an “Oehlen moment” seemed to be crystallizing. In March 2017, his Selbstporträt mit Palette [Self-Portrait with Palette] went for £2,965,000 at Christie’s London (about e3,365,000), doubling his previous record. The famous dealer Joseph Nahmad gave him an exhibition in November 2017, while his German gallery Max Hetzler followed up in March by showing new works and is planning another show in its Paris space this autumn. Need we add that Oehlen is also now a member of the Gagosian stable?
None of which has stopped him from being presented as a true punk. But looking closely at his canvases, it’s less a 70s-style rebellion than a well-mastered Postmodernity that meets the eye. His painting borrows from all over the place, going from one style to another: post-Pop, post-figuration, post-abstraction, post-new technology… One thinks of Polke, of course, who was his teacher, of Willem De Kooning, of Martin Kippenberger, who was his friend, of Brice Marden – a whole stratum of 20th-century painting is reconfigured in his hands.
Oehlen is still producing a whirlwind of disparate and colourful images, as though he were some compulsive-obsessive of deformation, reformation and reinvention of painting, both of its limits and also of its methods.