Kunst ist wenn sie trotzdem entsteht (Art is when it is created anyway)
Organized in collaboration with the Mail Art Archive at Kunstraum Potsdam
11 February – 16 April 23

Robert Rehfeldt, Mail Art to Guttorm Nordø, 1990 print as postcard with stamps and handwriting. 10.5 × 15 cm

At the same time as the exhibition at Kunstraum Potsdam, DAS MINSK Kunsthaus in Potsdam is opening the exhibition Nichts Neues, which provides an overview of the work of Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt.
Further information: www.dasminsk.de


The exhibition Kunst ist wenn sie trotzdem entsteht compares the two artists Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt and Robert Rehfeldt by focusing on a crucial moment in their lives: the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story of Robert Rehfeldt and Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt begins in the early fifties, when they first met and shortly thereafter decided to wed. Robert, already a recognized painter and an artist with a radically experimental aura, inspires and encourages Ruth to paint and create art on her own. The two begin parallel careers, each developing their own personal and ideological languages connected through the ramification of postal art, a movement in which Robert Rehfeldt is considered a pioneer in Germany.

Enclosed in East Germany, as isolationist policies tighten and the polarization constituting the Cold War grows stronger, the couple finds in Mail Art a gateway of solidarity and inspiration, a network that allows them to stay in touch with artists, friends, colleagues and activists around the world. The title of the exhibition Art is when it is created anyway refers us directly to the constraint upon the expressive needs of the two artists, despite repressive circumstances and little-to-no visibility in an international context. But what happens when the surrounding social-political situation, the source of the qualifying “despite”, fails? A revolution as enormous as the one created by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain?

The exhibition at Kunstraum Potsdam questions precisely this transition, the socio-political change seen through the mirror of the works of this artistic pair. Immediately and irrefutably visible is the explosion of color and vibrancy in Robert Rehfeldt’s paintings of the early 1990s. Whether this is perhaps a deliberate and necessary openness to more Western canons, a clear influence of Pop-Art and the language of advertising, economic boom and prosperity exacerbated by pro-American aesthetics now clearly open to the East, or a simply personal liberation from previous constraints, symbolized perhaps by the painting titled The New Person (1992), is left to interpretation and speculation, the truth most probably being a reality oscillating between the two. 

In any case, these works undoubtedly present us with a real stylistic revolution, a common fact and at the same time, a turning point that follows the mechanisms of the so-called reunification, which for many remains seen as an annihilation of the East by the West.

Significant in this sense is how Robert Rehfeldt reworks many of his paintings from before the fall of the wall: instead of starting new canvases, he rewrites and erases existing ones with new motifs and colors. 

As for Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt, she instead opted for a much more radical decision: to stop creating art altogether. The situation around her had changed so much that she no longer felt she could add meaning to this enormous upheaval. But before deciding to completely break from her artistic practice, Wolf-Rehfeldt produced a final body of work markedly different in its expression of colors and pop-direction (similar, in a sense, to Robert Rehfeldt): she made use of the introduction of Xerox photocopying machines and colored paper to reproduce motifs with this new medium before almost exclusively presented in black and white (except for rare examples on pink and blue paper).

The presentation of Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt’s work in this exhibition therefore focuses on this last creative impulse. In the showcase dedicated to her, we find examples of historical photocopies from the early 90s, surrounded by replicas of original works pasted on the walls, containing various motifs on colored paper.

In addition, a table with a photocopying machine is made available to visitors, who are encouraged to produce their own copies and send them by mail. This interactive moment recalls Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt’s performative display in the 1975 exhibition in Warsaw at Galeria Teatru Studio, the first exhibition where Rehfeldt and Wolf-Rehfeldt co-exhibited abroad. At the center of Wolf-Rehfeldt’s installation was a typewriter for the public to use at will.

To this degree, this contemporary homage to the two artists and their important historical legacy aims to inspire a connection between individuals that speaks of harmony and correspondence.

The exhibition also brings together a series of Mail Art showcases, each containing contributions sent by a different artist with whom the couple came in contact during the 1970s-90s. The selection comprises works by Anna Banana, Guillermo Deisler, Damaso Ogaz, Pavel Rudolf, Jiří Valoch, Natalia LL, Stanisław Dróżdż, Andrzej Lachowicz and Permafo Gallery.

Text and curatorial concept by Jennifer Chert / The Mail Art Archive of Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt and Robert Rehfeldt

 


Digital archive of the contents of the Mail Art Vitrines:

Anna Banana

Damaso Ogaz

Guillermo Deisler

Pavel Rudolf & Jiří Valoch

Natalia LL, Stanisław Dróżdż, Andrzej Lachowicz & Permafo Gallery


Biographies:

Robert Rehfeldt (b. 1931, Stargard, Germany – d. 1993, Berlin).
Robert Rehfeldt graduated from the University of the Arts in the Western sector of Berlin in 1953. While working as a freelancer in graphic art and press illustration, he carried on his artistic practice. Since 1963, he was one of the experimental artists in the Eastern part of the city and became a member of the Association of Fine Artists of the GDR. In the first years of the 70s he came into contact with the international Mail Art movement and quickly succeeded in building up an international network, becoming a pioneer of the movement in East Germany. In 1986, Rehfeldt organized the East Berlin meeting of the first “Decentralized International Mail-Art Congress.” Robert Rehfeldt died in 1993.

Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt (b. 1932, Wurzen, Germany) lives in Berlin.
In 1950, Wolf-Rehfeldt moved to Berlin to attend the Workers’ and Farmers’ Faculty. Later she was employed by the exhibitions department at the Academy of Arts, and spent her spare time making paintings, pastels and drawings. By 1970 she started to develop her characteristic typewriter graphics (Typewritings) around the same time Rehfeldt became involved in the production and circulation of Mail Art. Eventually, Wolf-Rehfeldt began to develop her own network of correspondences. Mail Art became a way for Wolf-Rehfeldt to engage in a system of participation and exchange with the outside world despite being confined within the GDR. Wolf-Rehfeldt became a member of the Association of Fine Artists of the GDR in 1978, and her special status as a member of the AFA allowed her to print a limited number of 50 “miniature graphic” works (Kleingrafik) in print shops. Each of her works consists of an original – either an individual typed work or a series – and of further reproductions in the form of carbon copies, postcards or prints in formats ranging from A6 to A4. In this way, her typewritings were especially well suited to Mail Art regarding accessible distribution. Subsequent to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Wolf-Rehfeldt stopped her artistic production completely.

The Mail Art Archive of Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt and Robert Rehfeldt is a long term exhibition and publication project presenting the entire archive of Mail Art works collected by the two German artists from the beginning of the 1970s until the early 1990s. Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt and Robert Rehfeldt became influential figures of the Mail Art movement within the GDR, propagating a global network of correspondences with other artists.

 

Anna Banana explores the historical and contemporary implications of Mail Art and highlights a unique approach to humor, disguise, and the democratic potential of print media and critique. Born in 1940 as Anne Lee Long in Victoria (British Columbia), Banana is a Canadian artist known for her performance art, writing, and work as a small press publisher. She has been described as an entrepreneur and critic, and pioneered the artistamp, a postage-stamp-sized medium. She has been prominent in the Mail Art movement since the early 1970s, acting as a bridge between the movement’s early history and its second generation. As a publisher, Banana launched Vile magazine and the Banana Rag newsletter; the latter became Artistamp News in 1996. Banana lives in British Columbia and operates Banana Productions, calling herself the Top Banana.

Guillermo Deisler was born on June 15th, 1940 in Santiago, Chile. He studied set design and theater graphics. After the 1973 military coup he was arrested for two months. Some friends managed to obtain for him a French visa so he could emigrate to Paris. From there he decided to move to the former GDR. Because of decisions made by Chilean comrades he met in the GDR and an agreement between the socialist states, he was “banished” to Bulgaria as a quota refugee, and only in 1986 was he allowed to return to the GDR. Deisler lived there until his death in Halle/Saale. He became intensely involved in experimental and visual poetry and in 1987 founded the artist and Mail Art project UNI/vers(;), which he carried on, with 35 issues, until his death. In 1988 he organized the exhibition Visuelle Poesie (Visual Poetry) together with Karla Sachse. Two years later he edited the anthology wortBILD. Visuelle Poesie in der DDR (wordIMAGE. Visual poetry in the GDR) together with Jörg Kowalski. In all countries where he lived Deisler published original books by graphic artists with print runs between 3 and 50, including GRRR in Chile in 1969, Le Cerveau in France in 1975, Packaging Poetry in Bulgaria in 1977, and Make-up in the GDR in 1988.
In 1995, he died of cancer in Halle. His archive with more than 5,000 pieces of Mail Art is stored today in the archives of the Berlin Academy of Arts. His works are in the Sächsische Landesbibliothek in Dresden, the Schiller-Nationalmuseum/Deutsches Literaturarchiv in Marbach, the Sackner-Archive of Concrete & Visual Poetry in Miami and the Public Library of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Damaso Ogaz (Damaso Víctor Manuel Sánchez Ogaz) was born on August 17th, 1924 in Santiago, Chile and died in Caracas on March 14th, 1990.
His artistic practice included painting, literature, poetry and theater. Ogaz was a leading proponent of Mail Art and an international pioneer of this art movement in Venezuela and Chile. Ogaz experimented with collages, drawings, paintings, and objects, along with postcards, stamps, slides, Xeroxed publications and handcrafted printed materials, all preferred for their easy distribution by mail.
He studied art and design in Santiago, where in 1961 he also began mounting exhibitions. In 1967 he moved permanently to Venezuela, joining the art-literary group El Techo de la Ballena and displayed his works – essays, poems, and drawings – alongside them. In 1968 he began teaching in different places in Venezuela and founded the Escuela Experimental de Diseño in Valera (1976). In addition, he founded the experimental magazines Cisoria Arte and Ediciones La Pata de Palo, both in the early 1970s.
A solitary and anarchic artist by nature, Ogaz cultivated erudition and black humor while constructing hybrid images of disjointed figures and rough calligraphy. Ogaz did not seek many allegiances nor did he receive much praise beyond that of the writers and artists of El Techo de la Ballena. Although Ogaz was a follower of Surrealism, he sought to go beyond dream plays. He appreciated canonical literature but preferred the chaotic and often subversive combination of words and images.
Ogaz’s work incorporates elements of the New Figuration movement and Arte Informale, dissolved in a whirlwind of images and letters that accumulate on his collages, drawings and postal experiments. There the words flow, free of punctuation, with shredded syllables as if to escape the univocal nature of semantic conventions. His language is torn between the playful and the rational. 

Pavel Rudolf, born in 1943, is a painter, graphic artist, photographer and author of installations in space and of artist books. Rudolf is one of the important representatives of Czechoslovakian conceptual art and geometric abstraction.
From the very beginning his work is closely related to Lettrism, and in later years he continually returned to the theme of letters and text. Many of his works refer to geometric structures that he created according to a simple predetermined rule.
A system of points forms the vertices of individual patterns and figures. These connectors, a kind of trajectories, are the record of the linear or compound movement that creates the final visual result on the canvas, most often in the form of thin drawing lines. Pavel Rudolf’s work is linked to the city of Brno, where he lives and works. He has been present on the art scene since the early 1960s (In 1959-1963 he graduated from the Brno School of Applied Arts) and his work has been closely followed by the famous art critic Jiří Valoch, which is also widely present in the Mail Art Archive.

Jiří Valoch (6 September 1946, Brno, Czechoslovakia, now Czechia) is an art historian, curator, artist and poet. He graduated in Czech and German studies and aesthetics from the Faculty of Philosophy at the Masaryk University in Brno (1965-1970), with a thesis on the development and typology of visual and sound poetry. He has created visual poetry since 1963 and exhibited since 1966. By the end of the 1960s Valoch got closely engaged with concrete poetry and conceptual art. In 1968 he organised the Computer Graphic art exhibition in Brno, which travelled to Jihlava and Gottwaldov (now Zlín). From 1968-1972 he was a member of the Klub konkretistů (Concretists’ Club). From 1972-2001 he worked as a curator at The House of Arts in Brno (Dom umění města Brna), preparing exhibitions of Czech artists (V. Boštík, Milan Knížák, Vladimír Boudník, J. Kolář, B. Kolářová, A. Šimotová, L. Novák), after 1990 also international artists (R. P. Lahnse, G. Graser, R. Mieldsam, R. Barry). After organising the exhibition Contemporary Czech Drawing he was forbidden to publish. Starting in the early 1970s he was involved in organising unofficial exhibitions across Czechoslovakia. Valoch was also a member of the Brno section of the Klub konkretistů 2 (from 1997) and the TT Klub of Creative Artists and Theoreticians (from 1991). He lives in Brno.

Natalia LL was born in Żywiec in 1937. In 1963, she received her diploma from the State High School of Arts in Wrocław (currently the Academy of Fine Arts), where she studied under the supervision of Professor Stanisław Dawski. One year later she became a member of ZPAF, the Polish Art Photographers’ Association. From 1970 to 1981 she ran, together with Andrzej Lachowicz, Zbigniew Dłubak and Antoni Dzieduszycki, the PERMAFO Gallery, staging exhibitions and designing publications. Their activities largely contributed to the development of neo-avant-garde tendencies in Poland. Together with Andrzej Will and Andrzej Lachowicz, she organized the International Drawing Triennial, acting as its curator and vice-president. In 1975, she joined the international feminist movement, participating in numerous symposiums and shows. In 1977, she went to New York as a Kościuszko Foundation grantee. In May 2007, she was awarded the Silver Medal for Merit to Culture – Gloria Artis, and in 2013 she received the Katarzyna Kobro Award, given by artists to artists. From 2004 to 2013 she worked as a senior lecturer at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań (currently University of the Arts Poznań). Her works are classified as conceptual art, photo art or body art. She worked in painting, sculpture, installation, photography, video, performance and drawing. Natalia passed away on August 12, 2022 in Wrocław.

Stanisław Dróżdż (1939, Sławków, Poland – March 29, 2009, Wrocław) was a Polish artist. He is a representative of concrete poetry and a pioneer of this movement in Polish art. He graduated from the University of Wroclaw.
Dróżdż’s visual poems follow the experimentation of the avant-garde, encompassing language, signs and images. He developed his work in artistic forms arranged in two- or three-dimensional spaces, keeping in mind that “traditional poetry describes an image. Concrete poetry writes in images.”
In 2003 he represented Poland at the 50th Venice Biennale with the work “ALEA IACTA EST” – curated by Paweł Sosnowski (owner of Propaganda Gallery). The title of the work is based on Julius Caesar’s famous phrase “Alea iacta est.” In this work Dróżdż proposes a game, since games are archetypal of conflict, but the conflict here is heightened by the desire to win.
Since 1968 Dróżdż has held about 300 individual and group exhibitions in Poland and abroad. Dróżdż’s works belong to the collections of national and international museums.

Andrzej Lachowicz (born 1939 in Vilnius, died 2015 in Wroclaw) Polish graphic designer, photographer, painter, filmmaker, art theorist, member of the Permafo group and co-founder of the eponymous gallery.
For 40 years of artistic activity, he was the organizer of many art initiatives. Since 1968 he has been a member of ZPAF. Pioneer and creator of the International Drawing Triennials in Wroclaw. From 1970 to 1981 he managed the Permafo Gallery. Participated in the Wrocław Art Symposium ’70, in collaboration with Zbigniew Dłubak and Natalia LL. Received fellowships from the Kosciuszko Foundation in New York (1997), the Verien Kulturokontakte in Vienna (1991) and PRO-HELVETIA in Switzerland.
In 2009 he was awarded the Silver Medal for “Meritorious Service to Culture Gloria Artis” and received the Katarzyna Kobro Prize.
An important area of his activity has been theoretical texts, including Energy Levels of Art (1978), Doubt and Hope (1986).

Permafo Gallery was established by the art group with the same name which consisted of the artists: Natalia LL, Andrzej Lachowicz, Zbigniew Dłubak and the art critic Antoni Dzieduszycki. It conducted its activity during the years 1970 – 1981.The activity of the gallery was interrupted by the introduction of martial law in Poland.
In the years 1972 – 1980 the group was publishing the “Permafo” journal. The publication, which bore the logo of the group designed by Andrzej Lachowicz, was characterised by a minimalistic graphic design. Texts to Permafo were primarily written by Antoni Dzieduszycki, but also by, inter alia, Jerzy Ludwiński, Jan Świdziński and Adam Sobota.