Despite his participation in several major exhibitions during his lifetime, the eccentric German Painter Richard Oelze is now almost forgotten, due partly to the fact that he destroyed much of his output. Oelze studied at the Bauhaus but kept to himself and traveled compulsively. Moving to Paris in 1933, he exhibited with the leading Surrealists, but the war intervened, and when he returned to painting in 1945, it was from a position of poverty and obscurity. Things didn’t pick up for the artist until 1960, when André Breton and Marcel Duchamp included him in a show at New York’s D’Arcy Galleries.
This fascinating mini-retrospective showcases 30-odd paintings and drawings including Expectation (1936), which was acquired by MoMA in 1940. It reveals Oelze as a romantic in thrall to both classical German landscape and a “second reality” of dark imagination.
Combining traditional painterly techniques with experiments in improvisation, Oelze conjured settings that pulsate with supernatural life; the looming structures in Troglodyte Wall (1957) and Valley of Josaphat (1969-70), for example, appear to have been woven together from ghoulish disembodied faces. Much as it was for Edvard Much (with whom he’s been compared), nature for Oelze was never simply a phenomenon to be taken at face value.