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Albert Oehlen’s Painting: Merging the Home and Garden in NYC
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Albert Oehlen’s Painting: Merging the Home and Garden in NYC

Picture of Austin Seidel
Updated: 12 December 2015
Albert Oehlen has been involved in the art world ever since the late 20th century and now, he finally has a solo exhibition at the New Museum. But what is Albert Oehlen, a painter by practice and heart, doing in a contemporary art museum; a space relatively devoid of paintings? ‘Home and Garden’, his ambitious exhibition at the New Museum, sets out to answer this complex, and at times terrifying, question.

The New Museum stands as an asymmetrical white building, wedged between Rivington and Stanton streets. As its chrome has contrasted with its brick neighbors, the Museum has housed some of the world’s most infamous contemporary artists: Chris Ofili, Camille Henrot, Haroon Mirza. Currently, the German artist Albert Oehlen’s exhibition, ‘Home and Garden’ calls this asymmetrical chrome its home, where it will reside until September 13.

Albert Oehlen’s paintings take up two floors—the fourth and third—of the New Museum. His works fill the floors with mainly abstract paintings, which are simultaneously organic and mechanic. For example, Gripensis Posterion, one of Oehlen’s works from 1997, portrays this tension between the organic and the mechanic. A mainly black-and-white canvas, Gripensis Posterion is a collage of lines, dots, and other patterns. Its interlocking black and white shapes recall pipelines—or perhaps roots, a jungle’s branches. All works in ‘Home and Garden’ blur like this. All of his works force the viewer to draw connections between disparate elements: the home, the mechanical, the pipelines, and the garden, the roots and branches.

Oehlen’s large canvases ultimately explode—with texture, with color and shape. As visitors meander around the white walls of the museum, Oehlen’s works envelop the viewer into a painterly cyberspace.

Albert Oehlen began cultivating this cyberspace during the 1970s in Hamburg, Germany, right when the art world saw a surge to return to painting as a medium. Using other German painters, such as Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke, as models and guides, Albert Oehlen sought to understand the process of painting—a kind of return to the medium. Oehlen pushed the boundaries by combining painting with less typical and more industrial techniques, such as rags, spray-cans, and inkjet printers.

By incorporating such a range of medium into his art, Oehlen makes a statement about painting as a whole. In an epoch dominated by technology, Oehlen stresses that, beneath all the pipes and computers, painting still matters. Painting still has a place and purpose. It offers a new perspective on the mechanical, and it organizes ideas just as successfully as a piece of software. Painting is ultimately relevant in the 21st century—and perhaps even now more than ever.

Original Painting by Albert Oehlen | ©RenaudCamus
Original Painting by Albert Oehlen | ©RenaudCamus

Oehlen’s works, along with the exhibit as a whole, illustrate painting coming to terms with technology’s influence on the art world. The title even suggests this tension (‘Home’ being technology and ‘Garden’ being painting), and his works puzzle through what it means to be a painter in the 21st century—the age thought of to be the Internet, not the easel. By combining the home and garden, two forces frequently at war with one another, Albert Oehlen creates a new home for the painter—a home that synthesizes, despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

By Austin Seidel

Originally from the pine forests of Georgia, Austin now splits her time between Hong Kong and the Bay Area. Currently an undergraduate at Stanford University, Austin studies English and Art History, fascinated by the roles visual art and the written word play within culture. In her moments of free time, you can find Austin in a coffee shop, with a cappuccino in one hand and a book or pen in the other.