On occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Wols (Wolfgang Schulze, 1913–1951), the Kunsthalle Bremen and the Menil Collection in Houston are presenting the exhibition “Wols: The Retrospective”. This is the most comprehensive exhibition in almost twenty-five years and comprises more than two hundred works. The curators, Dr. Ewald Rathke and Toby Kamps, are presenting the artist as a leading protagonist of the post-war avant-garde.
The Kunsthalle Bremen is presenting “Wols: The Retrospective” and is thereby opening a new perspective onto the work of the artist. For the first time, Wols’ oeuvre is being shown not primarily as a reflection of his tragic biography and catastrophic world events. Instead, this retrospective focuses on Wols’ oeuvre itself, in complete correspondence with the artist’s own viewpoint: “In the act of seeing, one should not fixate upon what could be made of what one sees. One should see what actually is.” (Wols. Die Aphorismen, edited by Hans-Joachim Petersen, Munich 2010, p. 13, aphorism 9, translated by George Frederick Takis)
This new point of view reveals the extraordinary formal diversity of Wols’ oeuvre which includes paintings, drawings, watercolours, prints, illustrated books and also photographs.
Over a period of only some fifteen years, the stylistic development of his motifs underwent a spectacular transformation: The subjects of the early works are inspired by Surrealism and are situated between reality and dream. Over the further course of his development, however, references to reality are abandoned and a new form of abstract art emerges, which became known as Art Informel. Wols is considered to be a leading European pioneer of Art Informel, and as such he is being honored by the Kunsthalle Bremen with a comprehensive retrospective. On the basis of an extensive selection of works and a chronological presentation, the retrospective in Bremen makes it possible to trace in detail the consistent development of the artist.
The point of departure for this retrospective is a selection of black-and-white photographs from the nineteen-thirties and -forties. These works already provide a hint of Wols’ subsequent progress towards abstraction. The figurative motifs lose their original significance through the surreal arrangement and give the represented objects new meanings. During the mid-nineteen-thirties, the first drawings and watercolours are created under the influence of Parisian Surrealism. These works already hint at his intensive search for new pictorial worlds and exploration of novel creative processes. Over the course of these years, Wols’ pictorial language develops increasingly towards abstraction. In 1946, Wols turns to oil painting and his extraordinary formal language culminates in the relief-like surface textures of these works. The unique character of these works is based on the superimposed layers of paint and the so-called “grattage” technique in which Wols treats the paint surface with his brush or paint tubes. In all phases of his artistic endeavour, Wols’ motifs, structures and textures demonstrate a great capacity for creative versatility and transformation. In this respect Wols is a true avant-garde artist and this retrospective reveals as a leading figure of the post-war art.
Wols between Surrealism and Art Informel
In Paris, Wols came into contact with Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy and Alberto Giacometti. In 1938, the International Surrealism Exhibition in Paris served to catalyze Wols’ development. His main interest during this period was focused on creating visionary pictures close to the images of dreams, an endeavour which is particularly apparent in his drawings. The viewer, in Wols’ opinion, should not consume the works of art through analysis and scholarly study, but should have faith in his own feelings and perceptions. “Having difficulties understanding my drawings? … feel them … Neither analyses nor explanations, please!” (Wols. Die Aphorismen, 2010, p. 41, aphorism 103, translated by George Frederick Takis)
The notion of Art Informel, which indicates “formlessness”, is exemplified by the late works from 1945/46 onward, above all by Wols’ paintings. The artist increasingly concerns himself with expressive gestures as well as with surface structures, and less with motifs standing in analogous relation to reality. His works convey an intense, often almost physical experience which not only functions as the lyrical abbreviation of an emotional state, but also evoke suffering and desperation along with high spirits and buoyancy. The abstract works, however, are not the result of a spontaneous expression or expressive gestures. Wols’ working method was characterized by a controlled process of composition in which he utilized a formal vocabulary which he repeatedly combined in new ways.
Works in the exhibition
This retrospective is the most comprehensive exhibition on Wols in almost twenty-five years. On the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the German artist, the Kunsthalle Bremen and the Menil Collection are presenting more than 200 works including paintings, watercolours, drawings, prints, illustrated books and photographs. Being shown together for the first time are all three works of the so-called Circus Wols series. With a total of thirty-six paintings, almost half of the complete painterly oeuvre of the artist is being presented. A number of works from private collections are on view to the public for the first time. The exhibition covers Wols’ complete period of creative output over some fifteen years up to his death in 1951.
The basis for the presentation are the extensive holdings of the Menil Collection in Houston and of the Karin und Uwe Hollweg Stiftung in Bremen. Further substantial loans come from private collections and from institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Kunsthaus Zürich, the Bayrische Staatsgemäldesammlungen in Munich and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. After the presentation at the Kunsthalle Bremen, the exhibition will travel in slightly reduced form to the Menil Collection in Houston, where it will be presented from 13 September 2013 to 12 January 2014.
Short biography of Wols
Wols was born in Berlin in 1913 as Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze. His artist name consists of the first letters of Wolfgang Schulze and is derived from a 1937 telegram which accidentally shortened his name to “Wols”. From 1931, he worked for a few months with the photographer Genja Jonas in Dresden. In 1932, he left Germany and lived in France except for a two-year residence in Spain. For a long time Wols was stateless. After the outbreak of the First World War, Wols was interned for over a year in various camps. Besides enduring miserable living conditions, Wols increasingly struggled with alcoholism and, in his final years, suffered from serious health problems. He was introduced to a wider public only in 1947 through an exhibition at the Galerie René Drouin in Paris. After his death in 1951, Wols was represented in the first three documenta exhibitions (1955, 1959, 1964) and at the Venice Biennale in 1958. He died in 1951 from food poisoning; on May 27, 2013, he would have been one hundred years old. He was buried at the famous Parisian cemetery Père Lachaise.
A catalogue in German and English with texts by Ewald Rathke, Toby Kamps, Patrycja de Bieberstein Ilgner and Katy Siegel is appearing in the Hirmer Verlag. 29 Euros.
The audioguide features a conversation between the curator Ewald Rathke and the journalist Thorsten Jantschek (Radio Bremen). It is available for 3 Euros.
Karin und Uwe Hollweg Stiftung
Medienpartner: Ströer Deutsche Städte Medien GmbH
Kupferstich-Kabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden | Wols Photograph. Der gerettete Blick | 17.05. – 26.08.2013
As a photographer, Wols remains a discovery waiting to be made, even today. The Kupferstich-Kabinett in Dresden is home to the most important collection in the world of his photographic oeuvre - rare modern prints of the original negatives and precious original prints from Wols’ own hand. For the first time, a comprehensive tribute is being paid to Wols’ photographic works on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of his birth. The exhibition “Wols Photograph. Der gerettete Blick” questions the “myth of Wols” and brings to the fore his artistic achievements.
More about the exhibition in Dresden »
Museum Wiesbaden | Wols: Das große Mysterium | 17.10.2013 – 26.01.2014
In 1961, the Museum Wiesbaden was among the first institutions to turn their attention to Wols’ oeuvre. The museum is presenting the exhibition “Wols: Das große Mysterium” and traces the stations of his life from Dresden through to Berlin and Paris. On view are oil paintings, drawings and watercolours, photographs and prints, as well as personal documents from the period between 1933 and 1951.
More about the exhibition in Wiesbaden »
Menil Collection Houston, USA | Wols | 13.09.2013 – 12.01.2014
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid | Wols | 2014