He was the only Austrian in the circle of Parisian Surrealists, at Frida Kahlo’s invitation he moved to Mexico, and he influenced American artists Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko: Wolfgang Paalen was truly a world-wide trailblazer of art in the mid-twentieth century. Scant attention has been paid to him in recent years, but now the time has come for the Belvedere to dedicate a comprehensive exhibition to his oeuvre.
Born in Vienna in 1905, Wolfgang Paalen was drawn to Paris in 1929, where he joined the Surrealists. It was there that he developed the technique of fumage: By means of candle smoke, Paalen would “paint” hallucinatory motifs on blank canvases, wood, or paper and then continue them in an associative manner partly with oil paint. With these paintings, the Viennese artist quickly rose to international fame. Together with Duchamp, Man Ray, and Salvador Dalí, he designed the ground-breaking 1938 Surrealism exhibition at the Parisian Beaux-Arts gallery. One year later, the Second World War forced him into exile in Mexico – at the invitation of none other than Frida Kahlo.
From there, between 1942 to 1944 he published the influential art journal DYN and wrote numerous articles and texts which inspired young representatives of American expressive-abstract painting, such as Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko. Inspired by quantum physics and the art of totem poles from North America’s northwest coast, he further developed the unique look of fumage into a completely new spatial concept of painting. The exhibition at the Belvedere is primarily dedicated to these two of Paalen’s creative periods. It presents a series of never-before-seen Fumage and Spaciales images, supplemented by numerous biographical objects such as photos and letters and a comprehensive archive of the DYN magazine. Paalen’s research and collection over many years of indigenous art in British Columbia and Mexico, as well as his literary works that include poetry, short stories, plays, and art theory texts, appear in the exhibition as further elements of his complex work.