Martin-Gropius-Bau
Exhibition poster “Wols Photographer. The Guarded Look”
Exhibition poster “Wols Photographer. The Guarded Look”

Wols Photographer. The Guarded Look

Wolfgang Schulze, known as Wols, was born in Berlin in 1913. As a painter and graphic artist he is considered to have been an important trailblazer of Art Informel. For the first time the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin is presenting the largely unknown photographic oeuvre of Wols. These works foreshadow his development in the direction of non-representational art.

Wols grew up in Dresden, where he had an early encounter with photography as a profession through his attendance at a course in the studio of the Dresden photographer Genja Jonas. In 1932, after a brief sojourn in the milieu of the Berlin Bauhaus – then in the process of breaking up – the young Wols set off for Paris to realize his artistic ambitions.

Soon he was involved with the local Surrealists and made the acquaintance of other personalities in the theatrical, literary and art scenes. In this period Wols was mainly active as a photographer. In 1937 his works were exhibited for the first time in the prestigious Parisian Galérie de la Pléiade, which established his reputation as a photographer. It was at this time that he adopted the pseudonym Wols. One of his commissions was to document the Pavillon de l’Elégance at the 1937 World Exhibition in Paris.

At the same time he produced striking multiple black-and-white portraits of personalities such as Max Ernst, Nicole Boubant or Roger Blin. Over the years Wols’ imagery became increasingly radical. The representational motifs gradually acquired a more abstract dimension and forced the viewer to see the objects represented in a new light. In particular, an extraordinary set of photograms confirms his interest in replacing representational motifs with non-representational ones. Transferred to painting, this trend would later make him a pioneer of Art Informel.

Immediately after the outbreak of the Second World War Wols spent over a year in various internment camps in the south of France. In this period he turned more to watercolours, most of which were lost while he was fleeing from the Nazis.

Living in straitened circumstances Wols fought a losing battle with alcoholism and poor health. In 1951, as a result of his weakened physical condition, he died of food poisoning in Paris at the early age of 38.

After his death, Wols’ work was displayed at the first three documenta exhibitions in Kassel (1955, 1959, 1964) and, in 1958, at the Venice Biennale. On 27 May 2014 he would have been 101.

The show covers all of his photographic work, including multiple portraits of famous artists, actors and writers, photographs of the “Pavillon de l´Élégance”, numerous still lifes, and many hitherto unknown motifs.

The exhibition has been curated by the Kupferstich-Kabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, where this unique collection will be kept and systematically catalogued.

Organizers Berliner Festspiele. An exhibition of the Kupferstich-Kabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden.
Media partners Tagesspiegel, Domus, H.O.M.E., fotoforum, Exberliner
Partners Wall, Visit Berlin, ALEXA, VBKI