The artist’s first museum exhibition in the U.S.
As Wols: Retrospective will make abundantly clear, the draftsman, painter, and photographer known as Wols (1913–1951) was one of the most ingenious and influential figures to emerge in postwar Europe. He was, along with Jean Dubuffet, Pierre Soulages, and Georges Mathieu, a leading figure in Tachisme, a movement in painting considered to be the European equivalent of American Abstract Expressionism. Derived from the French word tache, meaning stain, Tachisme was an outgrowth of the larger movement known as Art Informel, or “art without form,” emphasizing free lines and forms that flow spontaneously from the unconscious.
Organized by Menil Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Toby Kamps in collaboration with noted Wols scholar Dr. Ewald Rathke and the Kunsthalle Bremen, Germany, Wols: Retrospective opens at the Menil on September 13 and will remain on view through January 12, 2014.
The exhibition—the first an American museum has dedicated to the artist—aims to illuminate the many forms, innovations, and delights of Wols’s work. “During his short life,” said Kamps, “Wols made a spectacular body of paintings, drawings, watercolors, photographs, and engravings that flows freely and exhilaratingly between representation and abstraction. Raw, mysterious, and heedless of fashion, Wols’s ever-morphing images earned him a reputation as an innovative descendant of Surrealism and the prime progenitor of art informel.”
And yet Wols—son of the chancellor of the German state of Saxony, who entered the world as Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze before a telegram typo inspired his self-rechristening—is a woefully under-recognized artist. He died in 1951, some twenty years after he had left Germany to work as an artist in Paris. Although familiar with the leading figures and movements of his time (a number of his prints illustrated books by Antonin Artaud, Franz Kafka, Jean-Paul Sartre, and others), Wols remained an artist’s artist, an outsider who blazed new aesthetic paths. To this day his oeuvre is difficult to assimilate in the history of modern art.
Comprised of 21 of the artist’s 80 known paintings and 79 drawings, watercolors, and photographs, the exhibition supplements the Menil’s holdings of the artist’s work (the most comprehensive in the world) with significant international loans, providing a thorough overview of the artist’s universe.

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