Andreas Oehlert

The Bliss of the Commonplace

“That man is very far from being an artist, whose last and deepest enthusiasm is the raffiné, the eccentric and satanic; who does not know a longing for the innocent, the simple, and the living, (…) for the bliss of the commonplace!” says Tonio Kröger in Thomas Mann’s novel of the same name.
The artist Andreas Oehlert (born 1966 Fürth, Germany) named the first two series of his coloured ink drawings after the three protagonists from Thomas Mann’s story. Hans + Ingeborg is the first, Tonio the second.
He quite obviously empathises with these characters that deal with unfulfilled love and above all the relationship between art and existence. The opening quote alludes to the conflict of these spheres and at the same time sheds light on Andreas Oehlert who uses the association between the raffiné and the innocent, the eccentric and the simple, to give his art allure.
Oehlert savours this ‘bliss of the commonplace’ in sculpture, installation and photos.
His work celebrates kitsch, the mundane, the worthless and shows their sophistication through a limitation of materials and manipulation. It is enough to put a fake nose and glasses on the bust of a black woman and document this fleeting sculpture with a photo. But it is not his intention to ridicule the petit bourgeoise environment from where his finds come. Rather the confrontation between the humorous and the exotic-erotic seems surprisingly aggressive, almost like a violation. This creates a very special effect, one that is accurately characterised by Peter Handke’s title: Der gewöhnliche Schrecken (the commonplace horror).
As a counterpart a fragile porcelaine figurine with a rabbit head seems only by contrast more innocent. But even there is the seemingly cute instead subtly horrifying, as if the human animal hybrids of Max Ernst’s collage novels have been transported into the cool era of Jeff Koons. Even the satanic can be married to the ordinary.
Further proof for this are his snakes that limply hang from a metal cube on the wall and are not at all reminiscent of their agile conspecifics from the Laocoön group or the phallic tempters from Franz von Stuck’s paintings. They are rather those sausage-shaped draught excluders on doorsteps or windowsills. Here the archetype of evil is turned into the innocent and ordinary. Read as commentary on the sleekness of minimal sculpture though, those snakes regain some of their original quality.
Andreas Oehlert spent 2004 at Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris, in a room with Seine view; here he began his ink drawings that from page to page, series to series, intrigue anew with their seemingly infinite creativity. The filigreed, often luxuriantly detailed sheets show the artist from his vulnerable side without allowing an interior view since they grow out of the act of drawing itself. One is tempted to say, they are drawing themselves. Florals and abstracts, mushrooms and dots create ornamental structures but never solidify into a pattern. It opens up a true cosmos of cocoons and webs, of florescence and rootstocks, of radiolarians and ciliates, of labyrinths and fireworks.
Closely related to those drawings is his large installation hit where coloured wool strings replace the ink line. Oehlert used approx 20 kilometres of acrylic wool in 16 colours. Depending on your interpretation the symphony of colour begins or ends as cacophony, the string composition as primal skein of wool. What seems to be pure colour in one half, in the other looks like hairy matter that heavily hangs from the ceiling until it pours out as a colour mash on the floor. The contrast to the elegantly proportioned filigree of the étagère, standing on its head, couldn’t be greater. The shelves are perforated and penetrable for the wool strings. ‘And each receives and gives, at the same time / And flows and rests’: Conrad Ferdinand Meyer’s poem describes this effect, reminiscent of an upturned fountain. Colour after colour disappears until only white remains. From darkness to light and back again. Chromatics after Newton, Goethe, Runge or Itten however is not the artist’s concern. Rather he sorts his colours like a child would his crayons and felt tips. Unconcernedly of all theory, the colours shift and shimmer. They surface and vanish again to make room for other, perhaps more beautiful colours.
The adjacent chaos is beginning or end, in any case a necessary corrective. In the same way as the ‘bliss of the commonplace’ can only be enjoyed if not all remains only innocent and simple. Nobody knows this better than Andreas Oehlert.

Thomas Heyden