Is it a book? Is it photography? Is it a three-dimensional work of art? However legitimate these questions might be, the hybrid nature of many of his projects was key to Lothar Wolleh. These projects reflect his sheer joy in artistic experimentation and intensive exchange with like-minded artists across Europe.
In terms of reproducibility, photography has quite a lot in common with a distinct twentieth-century invention: the multiple, a signed and numbered work of art issued in an edition. Just as several prints can be made from one photo negative, thereby making it impossible to speak of an ‘original’, so do multiples exist by virtue of their seriality. Bringing such different media together in elaborate cassettes––photography, multiples, graphic works as well as the written word––played a central role in Lothar Wolleh’s artistic conception.
French Nouveau Réaliste Jean Tinguely seems to have invented the term ‘multiple’ around 1955. For many artists of the post-war avant-gardes, the multiple embodied a new order. Due to its relative affordability and accessibility, the multiple was thought to represent a highly democratic stance. And it is precisely this aspect that appealed to Lothar Wolleh, who – including among his artist friends –attained the status of a tireless promoter of the arts.
Hybrid and collaborative editions
Uecker. Eine Dokumentation von Lothar Wolleh from 1970–’71 was Lothar Wolleh’s first published collaborative project, bringing together different media. Distinctly multiform in character, the cassette contains a book featuring photographs by Lothar Wolleh and graphic prints by Zero artist Günther Uecker, three etchings, an embossed print and a lithograph. The linen-covered cassette, pierced with a large nail––an iconic Uecker ‘trademark’ - emphasizes the object - related nature of the project. It was a quality that Lothar Wolleh highly valued, including in relation to his own photography, and that would characterize later projects.
In 1971, Wolleh initiated the folio Art Scene Düsseldorf, portraying his artist-friends from the larger Düsseldorf region. The portraits were issued in an elaborate cassette, including artworks in an edition. Several collaborative projects were to follow the Art Scene Düsseldorf-publication, with Lucio Fontana, Joseph Beuys, Jan Schoonhoven and the group of the Nouveaux Réalistes, among them the spiritual father of the multiple, Jean Tinguely. Projects such as these reflect both the innovative character of Wolleh’s artistic practice and the range and importance of his network.