Wednesday, June 22, 2011

On Oehlen

(Albert Oehlen, FM 17, 2008)

In Jordan Kantor’s article about Albert Oehlen’s “Finger Paintings” (summer Artforum) he uses the word “campaign” to describe bouts or surges of a certain something happening in a painting. For example:
Following [Oehlen’s] previous body of work – in which collaged, printed elements jostled with campaigns of virtuoso brushwork in visual mash-ups – this series constitutes a new chapter in Oeheln’s sustained investigation into gesture and how it might signify in the context of contemporary painting.
I like the idea that an artist attacks a painting, that there is waging. I can relate to the approach. You look at the paper and then you go, you go for it, and you don’t really know what’s going to happen.

Investigation is also a key word, as it implies a searching, an inquisitiveness. Kantor argues that Oehlen leaves questions open, that he doesn’t argue a specific point. “Points” and “Positions” and “Intentions” are very important in art school and also for curatorial packaging and gallery marketing. But they bring art to a semantic level, and lessen the primacy of the visual and the visual experience.

So here I am talking about words used to describe an artist whose work isn’t best understood by thoughts and concepts, but through visual marks and scrawls and their possible significance – if any.

Kantor says:
So while they still operate within the aesthetic sphere of painting, these fingered marks speak to some primary moment of abstraction, when the first artists had an idea that mark-making on a flat picture plane might stand in equivalence to other lived experiences.
What makes Oehlen contemporary, is the way he doesn’t assert meaning like many AbEx Iers might have. Marks are no longer considered transcendental – although they might be – but are acknowledged as personal and contingent and also minor.

In short, conflicting impulses and contradiction make for challenging artwork that opens new doors.

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