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Albert Oehlen: Spiegelbilder. Mirror Paintings 1982–1990
Text Raphael Rubinstein


Englisch
Hardcover mit Banderole
24 x 28,5 cm
84 Seiten
46 Farb- und 5 Sw-Abbildungen
978-3-947127-22-1
45,00 Euro

 

Spiegelbilder zwischen 1982 und 1990 – zwischen Albert Oehlens Frühwerk, das in der gegenständlichen Malerei mit losem Pinselstrich und subversivem Humor neue Freiheiten findet, bis zum Ende des Jahrzehnts, als er vor allem abstrakte Bilder malt, in deren erfindungsreichen Kompositionen er kunstgeschichtliche Anspielungen und spielerische Motive versteckt. Als Oehlen die ersten Spiegel mitten in die Leinwand klebt, sind sie Teil einer Strategie der manchmal absurden malerischen Herausforderungen an sich selbst. Mit dicken Farben und Schichten von Firniss um- und übermalt, werden die Spiegel gleichzeitig Teil der Komposition, Bruch im Bildraum und augenzwinkernder Einbezug der reflektierten Betrachter in Darstellungen von Wohnzimmern, Museumsräumen und ziegelummauerten Bühnen. Diese konzeptuell vielschichtige Serie war zentral für Oehlens Entwicklung über ein Jahrzehnt und wurde 2019 in zwei Ausstellungen in der Galerie Max Hetzler in London und bei Nahmad Contemporary in New York in Auswahl präsentiert. Die Dokumentation wird hier durch einen Essay von Raphael Rubinstein begleitet, der die ikonografischen Zusammenhänge und kunstgeschichtlichen Bezüge der Spiegelbilder aufzeigt: „Die quer über die Spiegelbilder verteilten reflektierenden Oberflächen stehen sinnbildlich für eine unermüdliche Neugier, die für Oehlens Werk so typische Offenheit“, schließt Rubinstein seinen Text. „In ständiger künstlerischer Selbsterneuerung steht bei ihm nur eine Sache fest: dass die Malerei eine offene Frage bleibt, ein visueller Raum, in dem einfach alles auftauchen kann, genau wie in diesen aufgeklebten Spiegeln alles auftauchen kann.“

 

ALBERT OEHLEN’S MIRROR PAINTINGS, AN INESCAPABLE CONTINGENCY
(Auszug aus dem Essay von Raphael Rubinstein)


The Mirror Paintings are not only mirror paintings and paintings with things attached to them, they are also what might be called “room paintings,” that is to say, they always depict some kind of architectural space, usually an interior. The variety of these spaces is striking. Some look like basements partially closed off by cinder-block walls (inevitably evoking the Berlin Wall); others present dramatic views of circular staircases; and many others portray drab domestic spaces. A relatively large canvas, Treppenhaus alt (Old Staircase) features five separate mirrors, as well as subtle passages of purple spray paint, small clumps of paint scrapings, and a stark up/down division (sinuous railings above, a gridded floor below) that could almost read as a visual allegory of nineteenth- versus twentieth-century design. In 1991, just after he had made what remains the last of the Mirror Paintings, Oehlen explained why he paired mirrors and architecture, and also how he went about choosing which spaces to paint: “I only used mirrors in pictures depicting rooms, so that the viewer can place himself in the room. These rooms were chosen not on the basis of design, or architecture, or any other such criteria, but on the basis of their meaning, which I attribute to them in relation to society. Museum, apartment, Hitler’s headquarters, things like that: a summons to appear in the picture.”


Before we consider the kinds of spaces Oehlen chose, and the historical and societal issues those choices invoke, we need to ask: Why attach mirrors onto paintings of interiors and not onto any other kind of painting? Oehlen’s explanation—“so that the viewer can place himself in the room”—focuses on the moment when viewers see their reflection in one of the mirrors, but most of the time Oehlen’s mirrors reflect empty space rather than human figures. This means that the mirrors on the Mirror Paintings generally reflect the same kind of subject matter as depicted in the painting: an interior (assuming, of course, that paintings will nearly always be exhibited inside a building). There is thus a consistency, even a tautological relationship, between what Oehlen paints and what the mirrors in his paintings reflect, which, obviously, wouldn’t be the case if the Mirror Paintings carried images of landscapes or still lifes or human figures.
Since its origins in the 1960s, conceptual art has been fascinated with tautology, with the ways in which works of art can establish internal redundancies that undermine our assumptions about representation. It’s no surprise, then, that conceptual artists frequently utilize mirrors in their work. But despite the depicted rooms plus mirrors equation, Oehlen isn’t interested in tautology. If he were, he probably wouldn’t paint over parts of the mirrors so frequently, often to incorporate them into the depicted scene.
On an untitled painting with four mirrors from 1984 showing a room containing a gray built-in bookcase and a purple curtain, Oehlen placed one of the mirrors so that it covers part of the curtain and bookcase (the mirrors are always attached to already painted surfaces). He then added vertical purple and gray strokes onto the mirror to assimilate it into the picture, though by the mere fact of being painted onto a reflective mirror instead of an absorbent canvas, these brushy lines stand out. The spines of the books are economically delineated with loose brushstrokes of rust orange, charred-wood black, and drab cement gray, while the floor and wall of the room feature copious paint drips—some of them oriented sideways—in deliberately unpleasant shades of scum-like green and corrosive orange. Like nearly all the Mirror Paintings, this canvas offers a wealth of bravura painting moves: layered tempests of broad wet-into-wet brushstrokes, strategic spills of multi-directional drips, declarative lines, brittle lines, flurries of brief brushwork, and what seems like a hundred different textures.

 

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In Zusammenarbeit mit Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin | Paris | London und Nahmad Contemporary, New York