Car­roll Dunham / Albert Oehlen. Bäume / Trees

30.11.2019 - 01.03.2020

[Detail. For a full view, click on the picture] Albert Oehlen, ohne Titel (Baum 35), 2015, Foto: de Image © Albert Oehlen

The world-renowned painters Car­roll Dunham (*1949 in New Haven, Con­necti­cut, lives there and in New York) and Albert Oehlen (*1954 in Krefeld, lives in Gais, Switzer­land), who are enor­mous­ly in­flu­en­tial es­pe­cial­ly for a younger gen­er­a­tion of artists, will be fea­tured to­geth­er in an ex­hi­bi­tion for the first time.

Both artists are known for their ex­treme­ly in­de­pen­dent and com­plex oeuvre. At the very moment when Albert Oehlen shift­ed from fig­u­ra­tive “Bad Paint­ing” toward ab­strac­tion in the late 1980s, Car­roll Dunham went in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, de­vel­op­ing from his early or­gan­ic ab­stract work into a sur­re­al fig­u­ra­tion in which dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters shape entire blocks of work, which in turn build on each other with an almost con­cep­tu­al rigor.

While Dunham in­tro­duced a figure with a phal­lic nose wear­ing a hat in his work be­gin­ning in the 1990s, which years later was re­placed with female “bathers” with some­times grotesque­ly ex­ag­ger­at­ed sexual organs, Oehlen pro­claimed his “post-non-fig­u­ra­tive” paint­ing and was one the first artists to work with dig­i­tal tech­niques.

Both share the fact that within their self-im­posed pa­ram­e­ters they con­tin­u­al­ly test the pos­si­bil­i­ties of paint­ing, tire­less­ly create signs, and cover up their tracks, while ex­per­i­ment­ing with tech­niques, sur­faces, and struc­tures in an ex­treme­ly in­de­pen­dent manner.

Nowhere is this more ev­i­dent than in the sub­ject of trees, which both artists have re­peat­ed­ly in­clud­ed in their work and in­ter­pret­ed in their own ways. While Albert Oehlen’s trees are bare and leaf­less, with roots that some­times dom­i­nate the scene and become the fig­u­ra­tive im­pe­tus in ab­stract pic­tures, in Car­roll Dunham’s work they are shown bloom­ing, whipped by the wind, or fresh­ly felled and dead.

The com­bi­na­tion of Dunham and Oehlen, each of whom sees the other as “prob­a­bly the world’s best painter of trees,” sug­gests count­less philo­soph­i­cal, the­o­log­i­cal, so­ci­o­log­i­cal, eco­log­i­cal, and of course art-his­tor­i­cal views based on the sub­ject of the tree. From the bib­li­cal Tree of Knowl­edge and thus the place of the Fall of Man to the fa­vorite sub­ject of the Ro­man­tics, and from Piet Mon­dri­an’s rad­i­cal mod­ernist frag­men­ta­tion to Joseph Beuys’s plant­ing of 7,000 oaks, the tree has long been a cen­tral sub­ject of our re­li­gious, in­tel­lec­tu­al, and cul­tur­al his­to­ry.

When Car­roll Dunham and Albert Oehlen con­tin­u­al­ly de­clare trees their cen­tral sub­ject, they are of course aware of all these cul­tur­al- and art-his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ences. And yet, for them trees are an op­por­tu­ni­ty for pure paint­ing, a place for tire­less ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, a test case for the un­tapped po­ten­tial of an an­cient ana­logue medium. Ul­ti­mate­ly it is about the ques­tion of the ab­strac­tion of the world, and thus for Dunham and Oehlen noth­ing less than the visual mean­ing of life in art.

The ex­hi­bi­tion is a pro­duc­tion of the Kun­sthalle Düssel­dorf and is cu­rat­ed by Gregor Jansen and Cor­nelius Tittel in close co­op­er­a­tion with the artists. Car­roll Dunham / Albert Oehlen: Bäume / Trees brings to­geth­er large-scale paint­ings span­ning three decades and also pre­sents re­cent­ly cre­at­ed works. These are sup­ple­ment­ed with draw­ings, etch­ings, and mono­types by both painters in which they ex­plore the sub­ject of trees in their rad­i­cal­ly in­de­pen­dent pic­to­ri­al lan­guages.

To ac­com­pa­ny the ex­hi­bi­tion, a richly il­lus­trat­ed cat­a­log with texts on the work of both artists will be pub­lished by Verlag der Buch­hand­lung Walther König in Cologne.
The ex­hi­bi­tion will later be shown at the Spren­gel Museum in Hanover from June to August 2020.

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