Critics’ Picks

Birgit Megerle, Radiation, 2018, oil on linen, 43 x 33 1/2".

Birgit Megerle, Radiation, 2018, oil on linen, 43 x 33 1/2".


“big paintings by me with small paintings by others”

Museo d’arte della Svizzera italiana, Lugano
Piazza Bernardino Luini 6
September 5, 2021–February 20, 2022

Albert Oehlen’s name used to be associated with parties as outsize as his oeuvre, which consistently calls into question the modalities of painting. A former protagonist of the Junge Wilde, the German artist now lives in remote eastern Switzerland, maintaining a rather reticent relationship with the public—perhaps one of the best ways to express his indifference toward the expectations and conventions of the art world at large.

For the exhibition “big paintings by me with small paintings by others,” MASI Lugano, introducing Oehlen as “an artist, curator, and collector,” has assembled more than thirty works from his very own “Wendy Gondeln Collection” (named for Oehlen’s alter ego). Oehlen’s own contributions are casually interspersed among those of predecessors and contemporaries as diverse as Hans Bellmer, Willem de Kooning, Paul McCarthy, Mike Kelley, Jever, Martha Jungwirth, Christina Ramberg, and Joyce Pensato. While some of Oehlen’s paintings—such as the 2020 oil on canvas Space is the Place–measure up to nearly one hundred inches on each side, the exhibition’s title is, of course, not to be taken literally. Rather, it heralds the goofiness saturating the show.

Any attempt to systematize these works or find similarities among them will fail, though one could argue that the female figure is a motif (see Ed Paschke’s 1971 oil on canvas Painted Lady; Bruno Goller’s 1970s-era pencil drawing Weiblicher Halbakt; and Birgit Megerle’s paintings Wüste Tochter, 1999, and Radiation, 2008). Those who look too hard for a possible genealogy of Oehlen’s aesthetic will meet the averted gaze of Duane Hanson’s Man with Walkman, 1989. Those who resist the urge to categorize, however, will get a very private glimpse into this artist’s peculiar taste.