Wols: Cosmos and Street

February 13 - May 26, 2014 /
Sabatini Building, Floor 3

Born into a well-off Berlinese family, Otto Wolfgang Schulze "Wols" (Berlin, 1913 - Paris, 1951) is one of the most enigmatic figures of 20th century art. In his work, which includes both photographs and graphic and pictorial works in diverse formats (drawings, etchings, watercolours and, towards the end of his career, oil paintings on canvas), there is constant play between abstraction and figuration: they draw from one another and at the same time remain differentiated, thereby generating an area of fluctuation or transition which is both vast and microscopic, vigorous and subtle.

Wols, who took on his pseudonym while living in France (where he had moved when the Nazis came to power and where he would stay until his premature death at the age of 38), began his artistic activity as a photographer, and his work in this medium became quite well-known. But when World War II broke out he was forced to move continually among different houses and internment camps, and this led him to focus primarily on drawing. During the war he produced some of his strangest and most intricate and beautiful pieces.

Considered one of the most influential representatives of "tachisme" (the movement frequently viewed as the European equivalent of abstract expressionism), from a contextual point of view it can be said that his work embodies and reflects the evolution of Parisian surrealism from the 1930s up through the existentialism of the post-war years and artistic currents such as art brut or informalism, anticipating the conception of space that would be explored and developed by Giacometti, Dubuffet, Fautrier and, ultimately, Tinguely and Vassilakis Takis.

This exhibition does not attempt to offer a panoramic or chronological reading of his work (Wols never dated or titled his pieces: it was his wife and friends who, after his death, performed this task). Instead it shows how his photographs, which often have a certain hallucinatory quality, tried to depict ordinary life, the most elemental and mundane details of human existence ("the street"), while his graphic and pictorial work, which became increasingly abstract with the passage of time (as shown by the devastating and disturbing oil paintings from the end of his career), tried to capture and represent universal energy ("the cosmos"). And he achieved this with compositions that –far from the crystalline and geometric nature of the abstraction spectrum most often associated with cosmological speculation– are not only furious, abrupt and visceral, but are also full of biological and organic reminiscences.

Exhibition´s details

Organized by: 
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
Guy Brett