It was a full house at the opening of the Lothar Wolleh Raum, on the 26th of April, during Gallery Weekend in Berlin. This new archive and exhibition space, at the heart of Berlin Mitte, is devoted to the creative output of photographer Lothar Wolleh, to Vintage and Modern Prints. The exhibition ‘Raum 1’ was opened with a speech by Antoon Melissen.
The exhibition ‘Raum 1 - People, Colour, Light’ is a first and retrospective presentation of Lothar Wolleh’s photographic oeuvre. With his portraiture, collaborative artists’ books, photographic folios and editions, Lothar Wolleh created a highly unique body of work in the span of just two decades.
A commercial photographer by profession, Wolleh ‘reinvented’ himself in the early 1960s. And yet, his earliest portraits from 1959-1960, from his first year at the renowned Folkwang Academy in the German town of Essen, already attest to a highly personal take on photography. It is with his artist portraits, started in the early 1960s, that Wolleh ‘invented’ his own niche, portraits that also reflect his close ties to the international avant-garde. The distinctive qualities of these photographs lie in Wolleh’s ability to connect with the artists portrayed, to capture the essence of their artistic practice through his visual language.
Portraits and beyond the figurative
Lothar Wolleh’s colour photography and black-and-white portraiture, his artist’s books and editions all testify to an unwavering love for the arts. And yet, there are also overarching qualities at the formal level, qualities that have not come to light as they do in this retrospective exhibition. Properly considered, Wolleh’s true medium is light, the enticing, comforting, illusionary and visual properties of the elusive, of the transient. These aspects also speak from his colour photography of the early 1960s, works unknown to the larger public and also on show in this presentation. In many of these photographs, rather than a capturing of the ‘real’ visual information of the moment, we recognize an artist balancing on the fine line between figuration and abstraction. And again, we recognize such typical ‘Wolleh-esque’ qualities as a speculation on the visual properties of colour, light and darkness.
All the above made me wonder: how exactly can one convey the multiformity and richness of such an oeuvre in a short speech at the opening of an exhibition? The ingredients of my research for a monograph on Lothar Wolleh, to be published in 2020, proved a good starting point. For that is the beauty of compiling a monographic publication: one does not necessarily look for the most beautiful, the best, the most famous works of the artist. More interesting – and more telling – are decisive moments in an artist’s oeuvre. These can be new finds, innovations, new approaches and formal ‘inventions’, but also encounters with kindred spirits and friendships. Here, in this first presentation at the Lothar Wolleh Raum in Berlin, both lines come together: the headstrong course of the visual artist as well as the passionate networker, the man who was so eager to connect with the world outside his studio.