De Beers

Olav Westphalen, De Beers, 2010 Acrylic on paper © Olav Westphalen. Courtesy Galerie Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Vallois, Paris

Olav Westphalen

Olav Westphalen’s paintings of diamonds have a revealing duality. The subject is more or less identical with the advertisements for luxurious jewel empires in the global media flow that has been the artist’s source, but the intention of these pictures is complicated by the way the artist has executed them.

At a distance, the paintings may appear as seductive and enticing as the adverts aim to be, but at closer range they seem to dissolve in the runny, “sloppy”, dripping black paint. Some of the paintings feature the company logo, which becomes almost indecently prominent in the blown-up format.

Olav Westphalen’s recycling of the original adverts add to the paintings a shifting, indefinable content. While his images exploit the raw sheen of luxury consumerism, they also reveal a fascination with the seductively hard surface of the advertising image, and with the beauty of the precious stones. In Westphalen’s deft interpretation, the prismatic cut of the crystals has an intentional resemblance to the appearance of abstract modernist painting. The art scene has obvious similarities with the diamond industry, in its fetishist adulation of objects, authenticity and artist signatures. This zone between valuableness and worthlessness is a theme that Westphalen often returns to in his paintings, drawings and sculptures – which are often desirable objects in themselves.

The paintings of gems were made at the same time as the sculpture Drums (2010). Like a petrified fountain, a couple of stacked petrol cans produce a black pool of oil. This colourfully contemporary pop art sculpture may appear to contrast sharply with the more subdued paintings. But the works share a reference to carbon, the common element of both oil and diamonds, and the avarice that is the driving force behind the extraction of both these materials. They reflect not only the abundance in our culture but also the paranoid, sometimes wistful, fantasies of failure and collapse – how historically matchless forces go hand in hand with the looming fear of impotence and defeat.

Olav Westphalen

Born 1963 in Hamburg [DE]
Lives and works in Stockholm


1994 M.F.A. Visual Arts, University of California, San Diego [US]
1987 M.A. Gestaltung, FH Hamburg [DE]

Selected solo exhibitions

2010 PROW and Anti-PROW, utställning I två delar på/two-part show at Sara Meltzer Gallery & Art In General, New York [US]
2007 The Disciplines, Brandenburgischer Kunstverein, Potsdam [DE]
2003 The First Long Island City Blimp Derby, Sculpture Center, Long Island City [US]

Selected group exhibitions

2006 Draft Deceit, Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo [NO]
2004 Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York [NO]
2000 Greater New York, PS1, Queens [US]

Selected bibliography

Olav Westphalen, Twentyfour Artworks Scaled According to Market Value, (texter av/texts by: Gregory Williams, Gerrit Gohlke), Brooklyn, NY; Shelf Publishing, 2009.
Dan Graham and Olav Westphalen: “The Artist as a Lumpen Conceptualist”, Olav Westphalen, Ü-Drawings, Office for Contemporary Art, Oslo, 2008.
Joerg Heiser, ”Slapstick Und Das Gerfrorene Grinsen: Maurizio Cattelan, Andreas Slominski, Olav Westphalen”, Plötzlich Diese Übersicht. Berlin: Claassen Verlag, 2007.

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