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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by Deutscher Kunstverlag (DKV) December 30, 2017

Die Zukunft der Vergangenheit Richard Oelze (1900 – 1980) and Post-war Reflection

Eleanor F. Moseman


The Surrealist artist Richard Oelze’s postwar enterprise was one of inner reflection and personal questioning linked to the broader project of coming to terms with the past. The essay takes a critical view of his artworks and his automatist Wortskizzen to assess the manner and extent to which Oelze utilizes his artistic practice as a mode of working through his, and Germany’s, complicity with the Nazi regime. Analysis of the Wortskizzen exposes how verbal probing informs Oelze’s visual expression of inner turmoil, while implied gaps and voids in paintings and drawings puncture space as well as time, illuminating memory and blending the past with the present. Oelze’s serious play with word and image in turn invites his viewers to release repressed memories through reflective contemplation.

* I would like to thank Jessica G. Davis, Emily K. Abraham, Erik V. Davis, Marc B. Davis, Till and Hilde Schargorodsky, Julia Bachmann, Nina Schargorodsky, and Boris Brockstedt for opening their collections of Oelze’s drawings and paintings for study. Special thanks to Jessica Davis, Till and Hilde Schargorodsky, and the Richard-Oelze-Archiv at the Kunsthalle Bremen for facilitating my archival research, which deeply informs the present essay. My gratitude to Catherine DiCesare, Linny Frickman, Christiane Hertel, Andreas Huyssen, Elizabeth Jones, Rachel Kirby, Linda Leeuwrik, Sherwin Simmons, Beth Tropman, and the anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. I am thankful for opportunities to present my research on Oelze at Idaho State University in Pocatello; at the American Comparative Literature Association conference in Vancouver, BC; and at the University of King’s College symposium “… a past that has never been present?” in Halifax, NS. Funding for research in Germany was provided in part by a grant through my university’s Professional Development Program and through the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD). In referring to Oelze’s artwork, the notation “Schmied 1987” followed by a letter and number designates the 1987 catalogue raisonné record (see note 4). All translations are mine unless otherwise noted.

  1. Photo Credits: 1, 2 Kunsthalle Bremen – Der Kunstverein in Bremen. – 3, 4 Kunsthalle Bremen – Der Kunstverein in Bremen, Photo: Karen Blindow. – 5 Kunsthalle Bremen – Der Kunstverein in Bremen, Photo: Lars Lohrisch. – 6 Collection of Jessica Davis and Family, Colorado and photographer Gary Huibregtse. – 7 Art Institute of Chicago. – 8 Hamburger Kunsthalle through bpk/Art Resource; Photo: © bpk/Hamburger Kunsthalle, Christoph Irrgang. – 9 Köln, Museum Ludwig through rba/Rheinisches Bildarchiv; Photo: © Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln, RBA 145 148. – 10 Berlin, Nationalgalerie through bpk/Art Resource; Photo: © bpk/Nationalgalerie, SMB, Jörg P. Anders.

Published Online: 2017-12-30

© 2017 Eleanor F. Moseman, published by De Gruyter