The cycle of large and small format drawings presented in the current exhibition at Jahn and Jahn Munich was created during a stay in America in Los Angeles last year (2020). They are all black and white drawings, for which Albert Oehlen chose ink on handmade paper. The central theme and at the same time all-determining pictorial means of these drawings is the line, which the artist allows to vary greatly. Black lines, sometimes set with calligraphic precision, sometimes blurred, stand alone, cross over or condense, open up or close off pictorial surface and space. By means of the gestural and free formal language, the lines challenge the viewer to look closely, to follow their course; they make the spontaneous artistic act of drawing tangible. The process of drawing is fast, direct and intuitive, yet Oehlen controls the pictorial structure in every detail.
Oehlen's graphic work represents an independent category within his entire multimedia oeuvre, which now spans 40 years. Nevertheless, the abolition of the distinction between form and content, figuration and abstraction, plays a central role here as well. Since the 1970s – when painting was declared dead and an obsolete medium, and when "bad paintings" and conscious dilettantism were proclaimed by young artists – Oehlen has critically and provocatively dealt with the medium. Together with Sigmar Polke, Martin Kippenberger, Werner Büttner, Georg Herold, his brother Markus and others, art was to be created that defied the status quo of art reception.
Albert Oehlen pushed the medium of painting to the limit with his claims to expose it, to let expectations run into the void, and ultimately to free art from the claims. From the beginning, he questioned the methods, means, and hierarchies of painting, but – comparable to Gerhard Richter – he articulated his fundamental skepticism within the medium and did not turn away from painting. On the contrary, by incorporating new technologies – one example being the computer-generated images created in the 1990s, which gave new impetus to abstract painting in particular – and his ever-changing artistic approaches, he has brought about a broadening of awareness of the medium of painting and of the concept of art in general. With his pictorial themes and their accompanying solutions to problems, Oehlen has succeeded in transforming reality into a purely autonomous painting assertion that has made him one of the most internationally respected contemporary artists.